Posts Tagged: sizing

The Pros and Cons of Standardized Sizing

pros cons standardized sizing

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!

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Reader Request: How to Style a Full Skirt

how to style a full skirt

Reader Marina sent me this question in an e-mail:

I’ve noticed recently how many lovely, full-skirts you rock (whether as parts of dresses or actual skirts), and I’m wondering if you might consider one of your reader request posts for similar outfits. Particularly for long-torso’d people. I’m thinking how to match full-skirts with tops that aren’t just blouses or button ups, and/or full-skirted tall dresses.

When I first started wearing skirts, pencils and A-lines dominated. My first full skirt was an orange pleated one from Banana Republic that still gets loads of wear to this day, and I remember wondering how on earth to style it when it first came into my possession. Now full skirts are my go-to style, and I’m delighted to share my tips for making them work.

But first some quick definitions: A pencil skirt is shaped to the figure at the waist and hips and generally curves in at the knees a bit. An A-line skirt takes the shape of a capital letter A when laid flat, so it flares out from the low hip. A true full skirt is A-shaped, too, but can have pleats, gathers, or other design features that cause it to have more fabric below the waistline than an A-line. This adds volume, motion, and a certain flippy-ness to full skirts. And, in my opinion, makes them incredibly fun to wear.

Now let’s look at some guidelines for wear:

Fitted tops generally work best

Already Pretty outfit featuring red cardigan, floral print midi skirt, cognac wedges, navy blue handbag, tagua nut necklace

By their very nature, full skirts have a lot of volume. To create balance in your outfits and show the true shape of your figure, it generally works best to balance fullness in one half with fitted-ness in the other. Naturally, “fitted” doesn’t need to mean “skin tight” and also doesn’t always equate to a single, thin, clingy layer. Feel free to opt for a fitted blouse, sweater, or tee with your full skirt, but a fitted, structured blazer or jacket can work beautifully, too, so long as it’s the right length. Which leads me to my next point …

Tuck or opt for short tops

Already Pretty outfit featuring plaid scarf, navy sweater, olive green pleated skirt, Frye Vera Slouch boots

Since full skirts have more bulk and flare than A-lines, it’s essential that your top not interfere with the skirt’s natural shape. So make sure to either tuck your top in (and add a belt to complete your look!) or choose a top that’s short enough that it won’t grab onto any pleats, folds, or gathers. Sweaters with short bodies are marvelous for wearing with full skirts, and offer an alternative to blouses and button-fronts. The shorter-length rule also applies to jackets and blazers: Boyfriend-style and longer jackets will cause full skirts to bunch up, so pick one that hits at high hip or above.

Some busty women are intimidated by full skirts as they have natural figure volume up top and are loathe to add outfit volume on the bottom. This really comes down to personal preference. A fitted top in a short but not cropped length and a full skirt can look absolutely marvelous on a busty woman, but she has to love the look and be comfortable with an outfit that has lots of serious curves. Also some full skirts are fuller than others, so choosing versions that sit a bit flatter or are made from thinner materials can help ease the bottom bulk. More on fibers shortly.

Separates draw the eye to where they meet, so bear that in mind here. If you love and want to draw attention to your waist, go for high-contrast colors (hot pink top, navy skirt) and a bold belt. If you’d rather not show off your waist, opt for low-contrast colors (cobalt top, navy skirt) and a belt that blends a bit more.

Mind your fabric weights

kokoon2_outfit1

Floaty, unstructured tops can work with full skirts, but you’ll need to create some balance in the weights of your fibers. A sheer diaphanous blouse with a lightweight silk full skirt may look elegant and romantic, but it also might also look a little loosey-goosey depending on the construction of the two pieces. All that floaty-ness might overwhelm your figure or create an outfit that looks somewhat droopy. If your skirt is lightweight, it will frequently pair well with more structured tops – everything from sturdy knits to stiff leather jackets. If your skirt is made from stiffer stuff, floaty lightweight tops can work beautifully in contrast. (This is my beloved orange skirt, mentioned above!)

In dresses, make sure the waist hits correctly

brownboden_outfit

If you’re doing a dress with a full skirt – and many fit-and-flare styles will feature full skirts – you’ll want to make sure the waist hits where you want it to. An inch can be worked around with clever belting, but if a full-skirted dress has a waistline that hits well above or below where you’d like it to, your proportions will be thrown way off. In most cases you want the dress waistline to hit at your natural waist – the smallest part of your torso. This means the skirt nips in where you’re smallest and flares out over your hips. If you have pronounced hips and try on a full-skirted dress that hits BELOW your natural waist, the fullness will be exaggerated when it gets pushed out by your hips. Regardless of your proportions, a full-skirted dress that hits ABOVE your natural waist may add gobs of volume below your bustline making you look bigger than you actually are.

Now, Marina was specifically interested in tips for long-waisted gals, and here’s where some exceptions come in. If your natural waist falls low on your torso and you’d like to play around with proportion a bit, full skirts or full-skirted dresses that hit above your natural waist can help. They’ll move your waistline up, visually speaking, and make you look like your waist and hips fall higher on your frame. If you’re tall and long-waisted, make sure your hemline is still long enough for your preferences; Higher waists often mean the entire dress shifts upward, so consider exploring full midis as needed. ASOS has dozens. If you have a long waist and a large bust, moving the waist of a full skirt northward may cause your bust and hips/waist to visually group, making you look bigger. Be aware of that possibility.

As always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

How many of you are full skirt fans? Do you have preferences for which tops to pair with them? Anyone long-waisted and have other tips to share for making this style work? Do tell!

Image courtesy Nordstrom.

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Reader Request: Writing Helpful Customer Reviews

writing helpful product reviews

Reader Andrea e-mailed me this question:

Just wondering if you’ve ever done a post on how to write helpful product reviews for clothing or makeup sites? I do a lot of shopping online, and finding a helpful review for an item I’m considering is so great — I’ve noticed more and more women include many of their measurements which really helps to give a good idea of how a piece will fit. Makeup is a bit more subjective, I realize, since color perception can vary (as does how one describes one’s own coloring). But I still see so many “reviews” that are along the lines of “Wow! This is a great sweater! I love it!” So. Not. Helpful.

Confession: I have found many customer reviews to be helpful and informative, but have never written one myself. I KNOW! For shame. My excuse is that I just plain forget to do it. And also that very few things I buy either dazzle me with their superior quality or anger me with their shoddy workmanship, so I seldom feel motivated to share my feedback on vendor sites. However, like Andrea, I am able to scan through the online reviews I see and dismiss the ones that I know won’t be helpful. So here are a few tips from a consumer of customer reviews:

Be specific

Seems obvious, I know, but it’s ever so important. Just saying something didn’t fit or wasn’t made well doesn’t give other customers any idea of WHY. Tell them it didn’t fit because the arms are cut narrow, or that it wasn’t made well as evidenced by pilling under the armpits and frayed seams. Explain what you loved or hated and give detailed reasons. While it’s true that a string of 50, “I love these pants!” reviews may sway a few potential buyers, it’s not the meaty information most of us are hoping for.

Tell a bit about yourself

Some feedback forms request personal information, which may seem invasive, but I’ve found it to be tremendously helpful. Anthropologie’s reviews include age range, height, body type, and style, all of which tell you if the person writing the review is similar in shape and preferences to you. If you’re not asked, tell anyway. A dress that fits poorly on a narrow, straight figure might look smashing on a curvy one. And if you say something looks too old or young to you, the reader needs some context – meaning, how old YOU are. And if you’re not asked, definitely mention if you’re petite, tall, very long- or short-waisted, or in possession of other traits that consistently affect fit.

If you are a regular, mention comparisons

Some of the “quality has really gone down in the past X years” comments can be a bit grating, especially if you’re new to a brand. On the other hand if a line typically runs true to size but a particular garment or shoe is really off, that can be good to know. Saying something like, “I usually take a size 20 from this brand, but in this dress I needed a 22 because it’s cut small across the shoulders” can be incredibly helpful to another customer.

Wait, wash, wear, review

For some reason, lots of Zappos reviewers feel compelled to review their shoes before they’ve been worn for more than 45 seconds. And since I’ve admitted to having virtually no memory capacity for writing reviews myself, I understand the instinct: Do it now, don’t forget. But especially with shoes – which often need breaking-in or can seem comfy initially but be torturous after a few hours’ wear – reviewing after  several uses will be most helpful. Honestly, this goes for clothes, too. How does it wash? So glad it fits, but does the fabric wrinkle after an hour of wear? The most helpful reviews are from folks who’ve worn, washed, and worn again.

Mention any differences from the photos

Tricky, right? Especially when it comes to colors, which can look drastically different from monitor to monitor. But, for instance, say a patterned dress has a long sash that just looks like ruching in the photo. If your dress arrived in the mail and you were surprised as heck by this detail, mention that in the review. In all likelihood, someone else will make the same visual error.

And that’s all I’ve got! Who out there is consistent about writing online reviews? Do you find that the reviews for certain brands are more helpful than others? What else would you add to this list of tips?

Screen cap from Boden

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