Protective clothing for workers has almost become a one-size-fits-all approach with a very limited choice of sizes to fit a wide range of body shapes. Not only can limited sizing increase the likelihood of hazards being encountered in occupations that require protective clothing, but it can contribute to self-confidence issues and body dissatisfaction. Open innovation and crowdsourcing could be the solution for finding better options that reflect the diversity of worker shapes and sizes.
The problem with current sizing
Body diversity goes beyond just "sizes." All humans are built differently, and many cannot comfortably crammed into the standard S, M, L, XL, etc, sizes available in protective clothing. For example, a “boxy small” article of clothing might fit a worker poorly in the chest and hips. And a tall worker might need an XL for shoulder width or torso length, only to find the sides of the garment don’t provide a good fit. Larger garments tend to be built for wider body shapes and not athletic builds.
Sizing and fit impacts mental health
Research has found that only a small percentage of females are represented by the limited “vanity-size shape” clothing offered by global brands. Yet, the fit of clothing has played a role in body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
With the increase in online shopping and eCommerce, fit and sizing are a top concern for consumers. According to the 2022 State of Fashion by McKinsey, 40% of women and 35% of men changed clothing sizes between 2019 and 2021, disrupting demand patterns with resizing needs.
How does clothing fit impact careers?
In the workplace, assigned occupational clothing can have a noteworthy impact on job security, worker safety, and the hiring process.
Clothing fit can cause bias towards gender or size
Clothing offers an important first impression and can impact the hiring process. Gender discrimination can occur if standard unisex clothing doesn’t fit well for a body’s specific proportions.
As an example, employers may not hire a candidate if they know it will be difficult to outfit a certain body type or shape. Poorly fit clothing can add to stereotypes about a gender not being suited to do the job. Ill-fitting clothing can also lead to an assumption that someone is sloppy and not “well put together” or well organized.
Productivity is affected by uniforms and workplace gear
The USDA notes how clothing that fits poorly can hinder work; clothing that is too baggy or too tight is awkward or restrictive. Therefore, workers with ill-fitting uniforms or protective apparel can be held back from achieving full productivity.
Poor-fitting safety wear can cause a hazardous working environment
This problem of poorly fitting clothing can increase the possibility of hazards for some workers. Fit is extremely important for those who need work coveralls, turnout gear, medical gowns, or other protective apparel.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1971, Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting, requires a minimum availability of chest, waist, sleeve and inseam sizes. However, many firefighters are still equipped with ill-fitting safety clothing that merely meets the minimum overlapping requirements for safety standards.
The unisex clothing approach to personal protective equipment (PPE) has also been a problem for nurses, doctors, lab scientists, chemical engineers, construction workers, electrical engineers, and many more. A crowdsourcing challenge from NIOSH is underway to help solve the problem of sizing limitations in safety clothing by way of open innovation. Prize challenges help drive solutions and establish an innovation culture for makers and dreamers. Read more about the prize and competition rules on the HeroX challenge page.