Today the online dress shirt dealer ProperCloth launches a new system called "Smart Sizes," which aims to take lazy, style-challenged customers and deliver them expertly tailored shirts.
Usually, men who want to buy a dress shirt online have two options. If you're a control freak or fashionista, you'll get out your tape measure and check the length of your arms, the width of your chest, the circumference of your neck, and so on. If you're lazy and have little fashion sense (which is more likely--you're ordering this online, after all), you'll bypass the virtual tailor, click "small," "medium," or "large," and cross your fingers.
The insight of ProperCloth's Smart Sizes is that you don't actually need all the traditional nit-pickery of a smart tailor to deliver a smartly tailored shirt. "It's not necessary to get full body measurements to improve on size," Seph Skerritt, who launched ProperCloth in 2008, tells Fast Company. "With just a little more information than saying 'I'm a large,' or 'I'm a 16-32,' you can make something that fits much better than an off-the-rack-size."
Skeritt has been fine-tuning Smart Sizes for months, and says it uses "complex fit algorithms." But it translates into a pretty simple format for the user: an online survey. When a shopper advances to the sizing section of the site, he's asked a series of simple questions, only the first of which -- "What t-shirt size do you normally wear?" -- is required. All subsequent questions -- "How tall are you?" "What is your 'belly situation'?" -- allow novices to say: "I'm not sure -- skip this question."
Even so, "most of these questions an average guy can answer," says Skerritt.
And what if you can't? There is a built-in satisfaction mechanism at work here, notes Skerritt. The sort of person who can't answer simple questions about his gut size tends to be the same kind of person who isn't extremely fussy about the perfect fit. Still, the resulting shirt, "by just being a little bit better than off the rack, they're gonna be thrilled," he says. "If the shoulders were a quarter inch wider or narrower, they wouldn't even know. They're not at that level."
And should they get to that level, there will be more survey questions for them to return to--and eventually, someday, a tape measure for them to pick up.