The truth about clothing sizes

Why aren’t clothing sizes consistent in every store? We solve one of shopping’s greatest mysteries

The truth about clothing sizes

Source: Web exclusive, April 2011

If you’re like most women, you’ve probably wondered why your clothing size is 10 in one store and eight in another. You’ve likely also bemoaned how difficult it is to walk into a store and pick something that fits. Look in almost any woman’s closet and you’ll see a wide array of numbers and letters. Are sizes meaningless? We asked the experts to help us figure out the truth behind the numbers.

The trouble with clothing sizes

Women’s sizes aren’t standardized in North America. ‘Voluntary standards were created in the 40s and 50s, but manufacturers don’t follow them,’ says Lucia Dell’Agnese, associate chair of the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto. ‘So depending on the company, the ‘ideal’ 34-28-34 woman could be a size 4, 6, or 12.’ Men, on the other hand, can find most of their clothing with a few sets of numbers, as their sizes have been standardized since the development of military uniforms.  ‘The problem with women’s sizing,’ Dell’Agnese continues, ‘is that it’s wrapped up in the mystique of the female body. Women prefer to hide their measurements in sizes. But what is a size 8? Or a size 12? There’s a lot of ambiguity.’ Don’t we know it.

Sizing shenanigans

Even if you’re a woman who is are comfortable with her measurements, shopping isn’t any easier. Most manufacturers’ sizing dimensions are kept private, along with the information on which they are based. Only a few retailers have standardized sizes, so even if you brought your actual measurements into a store, no salesperson could accurately suggest a size for you. Sizes are developed via trial and error. ‘Manufacturers create sizes based on the demographics they wish to reach, and on the type of clothing they’re making,’ says Marilyn McNeil Morin, chair of fashion studies and performing arts at Toronto’s George Brown College. Research begins at sample sales, during which manufacturers begin developing their customer profile. ‘The sample size is meant to fit the average customer, and manufacturers will grade up or down based on that size,’ Morin explains. After production, sizes are refined based on fitting and sales feedback from retailers.

Why sizing is so darn complicated

Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if all manufacturers followed standardized sizes? Not exactly. ‘It wouldn’t make sense to have sizing standards because there’s no way a company can fit [an entire] population,’ says Morin. ‘Three women with 40-inch hips could have very different bodies’this is partly why standardized sizing is so tricky’because there is so much more to the body than three measurements.’

Size really doesn’t matter

Forget the number on the tag. If you choose clothes that fit well rather than relying on the size, shopping will be less stressful and a lot more fun. Plus, your clothes will look fabulous. Learn how to choose clothes that fit.

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