The Confusing Status of Women's Clothing Sizes Today

The Confusing Status of Women's Clothing Sizes Today

Have you ever been a size ‘medium’ in one brand, ‘small’ in the other and ‘large’ in yet another? You are not alone!

We have found that the sizing labels for clothes these days, often has nothing to do about the best fit.

According to an August 2015 report in US-based news website The Washington Post, "A size 8 dress today is nearly the same as a size 16 dress in 1958."

Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 in the ’60s, which would now be around a size 4-6.

Clothing sizes, especially for women, has become incredibly confusing.  Even though women may be physically larger than in past eras, brands have shifted their metrics beyond that to make shoppers feel slimmer which might be good for your ego but it only creates more confusion amongst sizing charts from one brand to the next.

Even if you didn’t compare sizes by the decade, just hold up a size-6 pair of jeans from one brand to that of another, and you would likely find variations in the waistband by as much as six inches, according to one estimate in US-based TIME magazine. 

Unfortunately if you are on the heavier side, you might find just a limited number of clothes that fit you, pushed to a corner in a large department store. According to a TIME report, although 67% of American women wear a size 14 or above (considered “plus size” or “curvy”), most stores don’t carry those sizes.

Why, you may ask? It’s a good question. A lot of it comes down to not only the rise of vanity sizing, or making shoppers feel good about their size (hence, the previous generation’s size 16 is today’s size 8), but also it can become very expensive for brands to carry every range of sizing from XXS - XXXL or 00-18.  Not only is managing the number of sizing difficult and expensive, what looks good on a size 0-2 petite body will likely not be flattering on an average size 14-16 body.  It has nothing to do with body shaming and more to do with what types of fashion will be flattering for your body type.

Also, today’s women’s clothing sizes (in Western stores) have their roots in a government project during the US Depression era, when a pair of statisticians were sent to survey and measure nearly 15,000 women, in an effort to pin down the average woman’s size. The idea was perhaps to standardize measurements the way it had been done with men’s clothing. Since the development of military uniforms, men have been able to find most of their clothing with just a few numbers or letters (S, M, L, XL). So, in theory this could work similarly with women, right?


Needless to say, the statisticians failed to do this with women’s sizes. With so many varieties of body types, it was impossible to figure out a way to standardize women’s measurements. So, the statisticians proposed using arbitrary numerical sizes that weren’t based on any specific measurement, and that’s what many brands still use today. Basically, we expect the sizing system that works on footwear, to work on our bodies and it just doesn't.

The problem is, when people buy clothes online, they can’t figure out their size, and have to end up returning clothes. According to some brand reports, upwards of 60-70% of customers return clothes because of sizing issues.

Perhaps it’s time that those of us in the fashion industry get our act together, and makes clothes with a clear view of the people that wear them. Newer Brands like LaaTeeDa Sports are already taking steps in the right direction, by clearly outlining measurements of each design or some brands even asking online shoppers to enter the size and brand of their best-fitting clothes, before recommending products accordingly.   The challenge will always exist that some women are comfortable with a more fitted garment and others feel more comfortable in something less fitted depending on the style.   In this case you could have two women with the exact same measurements that would each order a different size due the fit that they feel comfortable with.

Until something happens to standardize sizing and measurements based on an average fit, women are going to have to go through the grind of finding the perfect fit, in fitting rooms or by ordering online, returning and reordering until they find the right fit.    And don't underestimate the value of having a good seamstress on standby.   Depending on your body and curves that make you uniquely you, a little nip and tuck of the styles you like can make all the difference in how your clothes fit you.

It is important when ordering clothes online to pay close attention to the lay flat measurements or specific set measurements outlined by the manufacturer and compare these with clothes in your closet that actually fit you.  Order based on what you know fits your body style.   As returns continue to rise with online sales, you are sure to pay even more for clothing due to the high cost of shipping and handling.  If we all do our part to feature size charts for each style and our customers read those charts carefully before ordering, we can hopefully keep our clothing costs at a reasonable price for customers.

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