Rethinking How to Sell Women’s Clothes, This Time With Bra Sizes

Quincy Apparel, a New York start-up founded by two Harvard Business School grads, is attempting to change the way women shop for clothes — by asking for their bra size.

The concept represents a huge shift in the way women shop for clothes. Currently, women’s sizes are based on standards created in the 1940s, said Christina Wallace, Quincy Apparel’s co-founder and CEO. But Wallace said a lot has changed. Women are taller and there are a larger variety of shapes.

Most importantly, “we are definitely bustier,” she said.

The idea for creating a new line of clothing, based on bra size and sold over the Internet, came after Wallace and her co-founder Alex Nelson graduated and were shopping for business suits.

“We were both misfits, but the more we talked to friends, we found that everyone considered themselves to be a misfit,” she said. “If no one can wear these clothes, our bodies aren’t the problem.”

Traditionally, men buy suits based on their inseam and waist size and have jackets tailored to fit their shoulders and arm length. In contrast, women buy suits off the rack in dress sizes, and are rarely offered tailoring as part of the sale.

The result is poorly fitting clothes. Jackets and blouses ride up, don’t provide enough coverage, gape at the chest, or fall flat because of extra room.

“Men are astounded that this is how women’s clothes are sized,” Wallace said. “I don’t know a single man who hasn’t had a suit tailored to fit him.”

Last week, the site started selling five different jacket varieties, ranging from a two-button sandstone blazer to a more hip burnt orange one-button wool jacket. For now, inventory is limited while the company gets off the ground. It has plans to expand soon to blouses, dresses, pants and skirts.

The clothes are sewn in New York City and are sold in a variety of sizes, such as 38-C/D Tall or 32-A Short. If women aren’t particularly sure of their bra size, there’s a short questionnaire that helps confirm which size you should order.

Wallace said they have raised an undisclosed amount of capital in a seed round, but generally had a hard time getting the attention of venture capitalists.

“I think it has been interesting to raise for this,” Wallace said. “We are going to middle-aged investors who don’t get the market. They go ask their wives, who haven’t been in our market for awhile, and so there’s been some questioning as to whether this is a problem or a need. We need to launch and show the need.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik