If you’ve ever gone clothes shopping – and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume you have – you are likely aware that a size 12 at the Gap fits differently from a size 12 at J.Crew. Doesn’t matter if you’re talking Gap jeans versus J.Crew jeans, which should be a fairly apples-to-apples comparison: There WILL be some variation in sizing. One may be loose in the hips and tight in the waist, while another fits snugly everywhere. And sizing within brands even shifts over time. You may still be wearing that size 4 dress from LOFT that you snagged five years ago, but if you walk in now you could be a 2. Or an 8. Who knows?
Most mall brands are using some form of vanity sizing by now, and they are loathe to abandon this tactic since it’s been proven to boost customer self-esteem and bolster positive feelings about vanity-sized brands. So unless you’re sewing your own clothes, you’re bound to find some sizing variation at just about every shop and in just about every brand.
And this makes you want to pull our hair out in large handfuls, right? Especially when it comes to online shopping – the hassle of paying for shipping, finding out that the size you normally wear is FAR too big/small, having to get the item back to the merchant, awaiting exchanges and refunds. Such a waste of time, money, and energy. Because of this, many people have declared that a system of standardized women’s sizing is needed. Which I completely understand. But unfortunately, I am yet to see a suggestion for such a system that would completely and finally fix the fit issues we experience.
Use inch/centimeter measurements instead of sizes
PROS: Here in the U.S., most women’s clothing is sized by numbers (0 -34) or descriptors (Small, Large, Extra Small, etc.). These sizes offer only a rough idea of what might fit our bodies. If we were given actual measurements for the garments – as is the case for some menswear items – we could measure ourselves and make more informed choices. Removing imprecise words like “large” from clothing descriptors might be beneficial, too, as straight numbers can feel more scientific.
CONS: While this system works relatively well for men’s clothing, many women’s bodies have more curves that need to be accounted for, so determining which inch measurements to use could be tricky. Although the bust-waist-hips set is fairly standard, what about shoulders? Underbust? And what about women whose natural waist is hard to locate? Also, anyone else out there ever ordered a custom garment using your own measurements and had it fit wonky? I know I have. And I follow measurement instructions VERY CAREFULLY. Furthermore some vendors include inch measurements in their sizing charts, but they’re often wrong. Just straight-up wrong. And since men’s clothing is subject to vanity sizing now, too, even their garment measurements can vary. Inches are far from foolproof, unfortunately.
Create a set of women’s sizes that can be implemented across the board
PROS: If designers and brands put their heads together and created a set of sizes – which would likely be linked to inch/centimeter measurements in some way – and agreed to use them across the board, we could buy with considerably more confidence. If a Marc Jacobs 10 was the same as a JC Penney 10, online ordering would be a snap. In-person shopping could be done with less trying-on. We’d save time and shipping fees.
CONS: Saying that all size 8 pants need a waist circumference of X inches might work, but what about dresses? Blazers? Cardigans? Any garment that has a waistline that may fall high or low on the body (empire versus dropwaist), or that comes in a huge variety of lengths and styles (cropped versus boyfriend cardigans), or that would need more than three points of measurement (shoulders, sleeves, bust, waist, length, stance)? A size 22 blouse that is fitted may have some measurements in common with a size 22 blouse that is loose, but they will never be identical. Some fit variation is due to design, and cannot be avoided.
Label clothing based on figure shape
PROS: This one doesn’t get as many votes as its friends above, but a company called Fitlogic proposed this tactic after doing some extensive research. Since measurements don’t seem to be enough in many cases, offering clothes that have been labeled with information about the body shapes they will best fit could be beneficial.
CONS: Manufacturers balked at the idea, and we might end up with clothing tags featuring pears, apples, and string beans on them. Womens bodies ≠ fruit.
Feeling utterly unable to locate clothing that fits you can be demoralizing, and many of us leave the fitting room feeling like our bodies are strange or broken or wrong. So, please remember the refrain: It’s not you, it’s the clothes. None of those clothes in a pile on the dressing room floor fit you properly? Those must be someone else’s clothes. Which won’t help you figure out which size 4s will actually fit you, but will hopefully help you feel less upset if none of them do.
I may be alone in this, but I find the bizarre hodgepodge of sizing info to be rather freeing. Our weight-obsessed culture can get us really hung up on the sizes we wear, and vanity sizing became popular to cash in on that anxiety. Many people, especially women, will refuse to buy a size up that fits properly, opting instead for a size down that fits poorly but aligns with the size-number they’ve come to accept as their own. Clothing sizes have an awful lot of power over our collective body image … and yet, they are utterly, completely, 100% arbitrary. Especially now. Just hit up your local thrift store for proof: Contemporary clothing will fit you in a handful of sizes, but vintage stuff will fit in a completely different range. I have thrifted everything from size 4 to size 16, no lie, and that experience reinforces my knowledge that bodies defy measurement. The stats and the story are never in complete alignment.
I’m not sure that standardized sizing would fix the issues we experience with clothing and fit. There have been several attempts to create and implement a system in the past, and all have failed. This Slate article outlines studies conducted, systems devised, and complaints registered from the 1920s onward. I keep trying to dream up a system that would be helpful and easy and all I can come up with is: Bespoke. Which most of us can’t afford, money-wise or time-wise. Hate to be a downer, but I don’t see an easy solution to this one.
Do you? Do you feel that any of the ideas listed here have more merit than I’m seeing? Any alternatives? I know that many of you will say, “This is why I sew,” but if you have any fitting and sizing suggestions for those of us who don’t, we’d love to hear them!