We’ve all been there: half-naked in the dressing room of a store, with those totally unflattering, harsh fluorescent lights bearing down. Staring at yourself in a three-way mirror, shocked to see that’s what your butt really looks like. Hating the way you look in each and every piece of clothing you put on. To make matters worse, your usual size doesn’t fit in this store. You’re going to have to go up a size. But why? You’ve never been that size before in your life! Why should it be any different here, in this freaking store?
But it’s not you that’s broken. It’s the sizing system. The truth is, there is little to no consistency in sizing in the fashion industry. And with plus sizes, the inconsistency is even worse.
How did we get here?
First of all, keep in mind that this is a very complicated topic of which I’m only just going to touch the very tip of the iceberg.
The National Bureau of Standards, a government agency, established women’s sizes as we know them today, back in 1958. These standard sizes were built around women’s bust measurements, and all other measurements were based on an hourglass figure (which only 8% of US women have, according to Julia Felsenthal on Slate. You can read more about the history of sizing in her detailed article here).
Why is sizing so inconsistent?
By 1983, the government threw out the size standard entirely, and the clothing manufacturers were left to their own devices. Each clothing company has their own idea of their target customer, and therefore, their own idea of that target customer’s average size. For example, a contemporary, fashion-forward brand might believe their target customer is 25 years old and a size 4, so all of the clothing is fit on a size 4 fit model and then “graded”, or sized up and down in increments, based on that initial fit. This can lead to distortion of the larger sizes because they have now been increased about 4-8” in width without ever being fit on a larger model.
There is not always rhyme or reason to the fit decisions fashion companies make. Sometimes it is based on data, but often, it is based on perceptions the executives have of their “target customer.” For plus-size clothing, the design must start with the plus-size customer in mind. Otherwise, the increased clothing that started with a size 4 fit model will never fit quite right.
Then, there is also the issue of vanity sizing. This is the practice of re-labeling bigger clothing with a smaller size; the marketing idea being that women want to be a smaller size than reality. Therefore, the company marks a size 8 as a size 6, a size 6 as a size 4, and so on, leading to the need for a size 00 or even size 000 to compensate for their distorted size range. Some companies that are guilty of this include the Gap and J. Crew (let me know what other companies you think have vanity sizing in the comments).
And in addition to the above, there is also the matter of manufacturing in different countries and their own perceptions of size. In Asia, sizes tend to run smaller than their US counterparts. As a result, a plus size style that should be size 14-16 in US terms really fits like a size 10-12 based on the Asian size scale. The only way to control this is to give the factory exact specifications for each style that is being produced. However, this is not always viable for smaller companies.
There are recent advancements, however, that can make things a little easier.
Many virtual dressing room apps, such as Pictofit, already exist, allowing your avatar to try on clothing. Of course, this does not solve the problem of how you actually feel in the clothing; it only addresses how you look. Companies like Fits.Me offer tools retailers add-on to their website which allows shoppers to input their measurements and fit preferences, and then their suggested size comes up, based on the retailer’s product offering (we are in the process of implementing this on Belle and Broome).
In more sci-fi advancements, Amazon recently acquired Body Labs, a creator of 3D body modeling technology. This technology will allow Amazon to accurately recommend clothing sizes across their platform, presumably after you’ve submitted a full body picture for analyzing. They’ve also recently filed patents to produce an augmented reality mirror, which will digitally overlay clothing onto your reflection.
And, as 3D printers become a common household item, the day may come when we will be able to input our measurements and print out a garment that is perfectly tailored to us from the comfort of our own homes!
So what does all of this mean?
I wouldn’t hold my breath hoping for the fashion industry to implement universal sizing or to come to a new agreed-upon sizing standard. There are too many companies, too many opinions, and too much money already invested in the way things are. It is an industry that is notoriously slow to change. The most we can hope for is recent technological advancements that will fill in the blanks where the traditional fashion industry falters.
The important thing is to avoid the trap of tying your self-worth to a particular size.
It is our goal, as a customer-first company, to be very clear on sizing. It’s why we measure every garment that comes through our doors, and why we list the detailed measurements for you. It’s why we accept free returns. It’s our way of guaranteeing you the (elusive) perfect fit. Read more about our 100% fit guarantee here.
Tell me, what are your thoughts on sizing in clothing? What are your main frustrations? Reply in the comments below.