22/11/2012 06:04 GMT | Updated 22/01/2013 05:12 GMT

'Virtual Tape Measure' Can Measure You For Jeans With A Webcam

Shopping for jeans could be made easier - and potentially more humiliating - by a new system which is able to measure shoppers by webcam.

Developed at the University of Surrey, with body-mapping specialists Bodymetrics and digital creative agency Guided, the system uses a smartphone or computer webcam as a 'virtual tape measure'.

It is able to take accurate chest, waist, hop and chest measurements, and advise users of which size clothes they should buy based on the specific shape of different manufacturers' clothes.

Previously lasers and other systems have been used to measure shoppers for clothes, but most have been very expensive and unwieldy to use.

The idea is to take the guesswork out of shopping, and bring sanity to the notoriously unreliable standardised sizes in high street shops.

Currently around 30-50% of clothes bought online are returned, it is claimed.

The makers of the 'virtual tape measure' claim it could "save retailers and shoppers millions of pounds a year in return postage costs, as well as eliminating the hassle involved in sending back clothes that are the wrong size or fit".

It was developed thanks to a £350,000 grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The project's makers explain via a press release:

Moreover, most online shoppers currently buy clothes simply on the basis of waist size, for instance, or small/medium/large categorisation, whose accuracy is inevitably limited and often depends on the shopper's subjective perception of their own body size.

The new system avoids these problems. Once they find the item they are interested in, the shopper simply clicks their mouse to activate the software, stands in front of their webcam or smartphone in their underwear, takes a photo, types in their height and lets the software do the rest.

The photo remains entirely confidential and is not transmitted over the internet in any way. The height measurement gives the software the starting point for ascertaining the body size of the shopper.

"The potential benefits for the fashion industry and for shoppers are huge," says Philip Delamore from London College of Fashion. "Currently, it's common for online shoppers to order two or three different sizes of the same item of clothing at the same time, as they're unsure which one will fit best."