Sunday, 30 June 2013

Size Matters

I've been thinking about size a lot recently. More specifically clothes sizing, most specifically women's clothes sizing and how very arbitrary and unhelpful it is for numerous reasons. I proably won't be able to cover all of my problems with it in one post, so I might try to cover the issues very generally now, and then come back to some select points at a later date, we shall see.

Why must we define our size with just one number?
I understand that it is not possible to make every item of clothing a company has for sale in every single possible combination of sizes, obviously it would be never ending. I also see that compared to men's clothing it makes sense, as they tend not to go in for all in one items*, and these numbers are 'dress' sizes. When trying to design and fit an item that covers 3 of the key measurement areas (bust, waist, hips) as well as the question of length in body, skirt and arms, it must be difficult to average it all out to a point where it fits the majority of women. Clearly the people in the know have had to perform some complex maths in order to create a univerally applicable sizing system that makes shopping a breeze.
 But they haven't. Or they did, but it was decades ago and it's become largely obsolete with modern diets, lifestyles, style of clothes we're wearing and the underwear we are choosing.
Even if it did still function it wouldn't matter because individual retailers and designers have free rein to fudge the numbers and make the customer feel better or worse about themselves, to sell more clothes (flattery), to sell less clothes (exclusivity) or just to be a pain in the arse (I have no proof of this one, it's just a suspicion). I've found that the older the target market of a store, the more generous the sizing. Also, the more expensive the shop the smaller the range of sizes they hold. Is this an indicator of production limitations or an effort to refine the customer base (the range will be at the smallest end, without fail.)
 *Perhaps the ubiquitous onesie may change this, should it prove to have sartorial staying power, but I doubt it. On a similar note I have never fathomed the logic of selling men's shirts sized only in relation to neck measurement, the smallest measurement you could base it on, except perhaps wrists. At least for women it tends to be your widest part that gets the deciding vote. 

Why is it only jeans that get the two measurement treatment?
A minor gripe, but for denim it seems someone decided we desrve a more accurate fit, and bestowed upon womankind the chance to have something that fits in both the leg and the waist. Not the hips though, which is odd, because for a good few years womens jeans didn't even reach the waist, they started somewhere just below the belly button, or lower (thanks Britney) so what measurement is that? Lower waist? Upper hip? Crotch girth? How can you sell something on the basis of a measurement for a body part that isn't even covered by the garment? Could I get this sweater in a 32" leg please?
What the hell is up with bra sizes?
I don't even know where to start. It seems that there are at least 3 different methods of measuring and sizing bras, and again some of the methods haven't changed since the first bras were created a century ago. It's hardly suprising that, as is often quoted, 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. The current sizing system defies logic for the most part, and creates all kinds of misunderstandings, making buying this most basic item of clothing fustrating and in some cases demoralising. If it is the intention of retailers to ensnare their customers by make shopping somewhere else massively inconvenient then they've succeeded. Perhaps we should all just strap them down until the lingerie powers that be sort their shit out.
In a sense none of this is a huge problem, because you go to the shop, you buy what fits, you learn who's selling what and how their sizing compares. The problems occur when people begin to define themselves and others by a number that has no real meaning but which can be used as a stick to beat them with, or an ideal to live up to.

One way we can get around all of this is by making our own clothes. Idealistic, yes, there's not many people who have the time and money to make their entire wardrobe, but once you've made just one thing for yourself, from scratch, you have a much better understanding of your own shape and how your clothes should fit the best.

As I said, I'll be coming back to these issues in the near future, with a bit more research and hopefully a few more answers, but I'd love to hear what you think now. Do you have a sizing pet hate? Are there stores you always have problems with? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I totally agree with everything you said, Nat!
    Having a long body, large bust, small shoulders and a high waist, I find all my tops ride! I constantly tug on them to bring them close to the waistband. If the double measurements of jeans were applied to top I may just have untuned tops at last!
    Some companies design clothes for busty women (apparently cup size D is larger than average). All the tops and dresses, it seems, are designed with those silly little capped sleeves that supposedly balance out the large bust with the shoulders. Well, many of us busty women also hate our arms and would like actual sleeves, thank you! A boat neck would do the same job, but they all seem to excercise the same lazy designs.
    Bring on the revolution I say - until then I will avoid Mango, Karen Millen and anything Italian...

  2. Yes, I find Mango difficult too, and Zara, for legs in particular, always a good 8 - 10" too long! And Vero Moda (used to be one in Liverpool) I couldn't even fit my arms in the sleeves of a shirt there once!

    I don't believe D is larger than average, not if everyone measured the same way, but more on taht another time!

  3. Yip I have the same problem. I have found a couple of shops that I know exactly what size I will be in any item of clothing (Hobbs being one of them) so I rarely venture into buying from other stores online because I know it will probably end in a trip to the post office.
    I have the same problem with bra sizes. I'm a small 28 back and a FF cup so I always end up paying around £35-£40 for a basic bra which is really annoying.

    If I want to feel extra bad about my body I make a trip to Topshop and try their jeans on (never enough allocated bum space in them!).

    Totally agree that designer stores never stock anything larger than a 14 which is ridiculous in this day and age.

    Nice post!


    1. Thanks Michelle!
      I'm a devotee of H&M jeans, never buy anywhere else, but the rest of their sizing is a bit mad too, you can't win!

  4. Great post! Gemma from has wrote a lot about "vanity sizing" worth a read if you haven't already x

    1. Thanks Susie, I was having a look at one of her posts the other day actually, really interesting stats. I think I'm going to be mulling over this topic for quite some time!


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