Some Small Sense

Shopping experiences and store reviews by a very petite woman. Indeed, it sucks. 4'10", 87 pounds, and full grown - is it a surprise I have trouble finding clothes?

May 21, 2006

Industry Sizing Standards

Well, it comes as no surprise, but the sizing standards for women's clothing is completely all over the place - both within and between brands. In menswear, their system of sizing is, for the most part, based on real measurements - neck, arm length, waist, inseam, etc. For menswear, there's not that much playing around with the numbers for the consumer's vanity. Men get standardization. Women don't. What gives?

Women have no idea how to describe their clothing size to other people. It usually comes down to "I'm a size 2 in Banana Republic, size 0 in Ann Taylor, size 6 in ...." You have to admit, this is a little weird, not to mention completely annoying and inconvenient. I long suspected that the reason for why it's done is twofold.

First, women's shapes are so different, that standardization is hard for manufacturers. Not only are there differences in height and weight, but that weight is distributed very differently for everyone. Someone can be slender or curvy. She can have a large chest but not have wide hips, or any other combination. To be fair, there have been efforts to push standardization upon clothing manufacturers. SizeUSA is an ongoing study and standardization project jointly sponsored by the clothing industry and the U.S. Department of Commerce (Unfortunately, I'm not quite willing to pay several hundred dollars to get a report). The American Society for Testing and Materials has done the same for a variety of categories. So if some standards have been recently set, what gives?

This is the second, harder half of the answer. But basically, it's because women have shown that they like it better and therefore, don't demand a more sensible system. Women as a whole don't like admitting personal numbers, particularly weight, size, and age. And for all these things, is it a coincidence that lower seems better? The entire 0,2,4, etc. sizing scheme is a deliberate effort to add a layer of abstraction to sizing clothing. The focus is no longer on the real measurements anymore, but, again, on this floating scale of nice low numbers. It is certainly not a lack of information that prevents clothing companies from clearly indicating the actual measurements. After all, they specified the actual measurements in the first place! But rather, it's a consumer bias towards the fake scale. There is definitely a social attitude, healthy or not, that 'skinnier means better' for women. Somehow, being a size 8 sounds much more appealing than having a 28" waist. And if a size 8 sounds better, why not size 4 for the same actual waist size? If making the shopper feel slightly better about her size can tip the scale towards a purchase, why should manufacturers change the way things are done?

"Oh my God! I can't believe that I can still wear a size 6!" a woman in the dressing room next to mine exclaimed. It used to surprise me how excited and happy than woman sounded. But over the years, I've heard similar refrains so many times in dressing rooms that it's undeniable. Deep down, everyone knows if they've been gaining or losing weight, so no one's really fooled - but the women in the dressing room would prefer to keep her illusion even though she really knows differently.

Size inflation (when a label for a particular size is placed on a garment that was considered larger than that size in the past) has been rampant during the past few years. I find it particularly painful because I have, for the most part, been completely sized out of the major brands. I've noticed that Banana Republic has shifted 2 "sizes" already for skirts in the span of less than a decade, which was noted here in the cons section (stores claim that if you sort of fit a regular 4, you'd go up one size in petites). Americans have been getting bigger over the years - both taller and wider. It makes sense that clothing has shifted towards bigger people. J.Crew, for example, has special sizing to account for the trend. They carry clothes for tall people and size 16. They've also expanded their swim wear for D cups, longer torsos, and "slimming" suits. Good for them! I'm all for this. Why shouldn't taller or bigger people get things to fit? But what particularly bugs me is that A) actual small sized clothing is disappearing, to be replaced by similarly labeled clothing a lot bigger, and B) it's a real effort to figure ways of dealing with it.

The partial solution is to get women to stop buying into the current sizing system and demand standardization. According to TC2, the consulting firm that performed the SizeUSA study, companies have already readjusted the fit so that more people can purchase from their new standards, which in turn, leads to a more loyal and satisfied customer base. However, I hope that this will also lead manufacturers to adopt a universal industry standard for sizing. Or if I had my way, just tag every article with every real measurement that matters.

So how does this help me? Well, it's clear that the size demographic that I fit into is tiny (no pun intended). So I'm screwed anyway. But it's cruel that manufacturers right now give me a glimmer of hope by posting their outrageously incorrect sizing charts and by producing sizes like 00 that seem like they should work. Hey, if something's not going to fit, just let me know. It's ok - just stop lying about your sizes and I'll appreciate that I won't have to waste my time looking.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is really interesting and very well written. I am looking forward to reading further installments.

May 22, 2006 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Great blog, Amy. Things on the men's side are indeed a lot easier, although their are still a few glitches. For one, even such a reputable store as Macy's does not carry a single pair of men's size 14 shoes. Also, the growing girth of the American male means that most shirts I find are either two inches short on the sleeves or fit like a trash bag.

May 24, 2006 1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This! I have been 5'3", 113 lbs since high school. I used to wear a 2/4 (S or sometimes even M in shirt size), and my size was available in ever style.

Now, I am a ooP or XXS or some other ridiculous combination of micro-sounding characters. Stores like Ann Taylor Loft (I am essentially sized out of the regular Ann Taylor) and Banana Republic make about 10% of their styles in these "micro-"sizes, so I am left with slim pickings (if I'm lucky enough to find anything in the store!). This is ridiculous. Many women, like you, are much smaller than me.

At this point, I will have to go to the kids' section OR upgrade to expensive brands like Theory in order to find clothes that actually fit me.

June 28, 2011 10:55 AM  

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