Two, four, six, eight–the great sizing debate

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Last weekend I went shopping with my 14 year old daughter. We were at the outlet mall and went into Banana Republic, J. Crew, Off Fifth (Sax’s outlet retailer), and the Gap. It was way more work than it needed to be. At each store both of us had to try on items we liked in several different sizes. At Banana Republic, I was a size eight. At the Gap, I was a six. At J. Crew it depended on the item–in pants I was an eight, in shirts I was a twelve. The worst was Off Fifth, a store that carries many different designers. I was a fourteen in one dress and a six in another. I put on jeans that varied from a 29 to a 32.

In fact, the only sizing that was consistent was in shoes. I tried on shoes at several different places–Reebok, Nike, Off Fifth and Nine West and, in every store, I was an eight. The entire experience made me crazy. Why oh why can’t the fashion industry come up with somewhat consistent sizes? I understand that, with all the variation in women’s bodies, that exact sizing is not, on a large scale, possible. But surely the industry could have a set of measurements that all retailers use. (Don’t even get me started on Chico’s at which I, who have size 14 jeans from the 1990’s that still fit, am a zero. If that’s not pandering, I don’t know what is!)

Surely this isn’t an impossible dream. We’ve managed to make shoe and bra sizes more or less standard. What’s the deal with clothes? My husband doesn’t have this problem. He buys a shirt (16/36) and it always fits! The same is true for him with pants. The waist and length size is true and doesn’t vary by maker. Is it all a marketing ploy? Are we women more likely to buy the smaller size independent of any actual basis for such size?  Apparently the answer to that question is yes. We like what’s called vanity sizing–sizing that designed to make women feel thinner and thus, in the fashion industry’s world, better about themselves.

The whole thing seems misguided to me. Most of us are watching are wallets and our watches as we shop. I would feel better about shopping (and in particular on-line shopping) if I had the sense that when I choose a size ten at any given store that article of clothing would be sized in the same way as the same article in the store next door. I don’t want to have to try on clothes in each place I go just to figure out what the appropriate size is.  I value my time over my ego in this case. I’d rather be the same size in all stores than be pandered to and confused about what size I should take back to the dressing room.

What’s your experience here? Is this just an American phenomenon? Are you more likely to buy a pair of jeans–or any other article of clothing–if the size is small? What stores have the most consistent sizing?

- Dabney AAR

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13 Responses to “Two, four, six, eight–the great sizing debate”

  1. dick says:

    Men have the same problems. Most of my lilfe, I’ve had a 31 inch waist (and yes, I’m bragging a bit). I used to be able to buy Levis without trying them on by simply finding the right waist and length, but no more. The waist size stated on the label may be off as much as an inch in either direction. And the problem becomes even greater when S,M,L are substituted for more exact measurements. And, you know, when it comes to shoes, getting a pair that truly fits when most have only N, M, W for the widths is a trial. I unfortunately wear what used to be known as a combination last–different widths in the toe and heel. Very difficult to find. I’ve decided part of the problem is where the clothing is put together–from Mexico to India–or perhaps a decline in quality control.

  2. Noelinya says:

    In France we have another sizing system, and it’s quite the same in every store (sometimes a little too short or too large, but about half a size, not much more). I would go crazy if I had to try everything everywhere because of too much difference

  3. Well, Kirstie Alley (now on DWTS) claims that she is now a size 8.
    http://www.usmagazine.com/healthylifestyle/news/kirstie-alley-im-almost-a-size-6-2011214

    Eight???? Really? She’s a bit bigger than I am in the booty and thighs, and I take a size 14-16, depending on the cut. I would guess her at a goodlooking, fairly sleek size 18. So I have to say, vanity sizing must be alive and well, and driven by, well, vanity.

    Clothing manufacturers are, of course sales driven, so I have to think it’s working, and it explains the fact that 20 years ago there was no size zero, that I can recall, and now lots of women are a big old zero; seems to me the zero of today is the 5/6 of yesteryear.

    Until we get over the number, on the scale or tag, it’s going to be that way, I guess.

  4. xina says:

    When you go into a store and usually wear, let’s say an 8, and end up in a 4, that is called “vanity sizing”. Chicos does this and I don’t know who else, but the store makes you feel good about yourself because you are a smaller size than you thought. (yay…happy, happy) Still, a poor way to sell merchandise.
    I buy jeans at The Gap and sometimes J. Crew. I am a 4 at Gap, a size 27 at J. Crew. I don’t go to other stores and try to stuff myself into jeans. I don’t need that drama. :) At all. Years ago when I was in college I weighed in at a hefty 105 and wore a size 2. Now I am closer to 123 and wear a size 4. That says something. I’m sure many years ago I would have been at least a size 8. I don’t know what that says about today’s marketing.

  5. Jane AAR says:

    I’m always reminded of this when people vent about today’s impossible standards of beauty. They always point out that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12. Of course, that’s the size 12 of the 1950s and early 1960s, which is probably closer to a 6 or 4 today.

  6. Dabney AAR says:

    I still cringe when I think of the time Elizabeth Hurley said she’d kill herself if she were as fat as Marilyn Monroe.

  7. Lynn M says:

    It makes sense that men’s fashions don’t vary as they don’t have “sizes” but rather exact measurements. A 16/36 shirt will always have a 16″ neck and a 36″ sleeve, regardless of the maker. A 34/34 pant will have a 34″ waist and a 34″ inseem.

    So why don’t they do that for us women? Instead of reducing all of the various measurements in an item of clothing down to a single number – size 8 – why can’t they give us clothing in measurement terms. Pants would be waist in inches/inseem in inches. Maybe throw in a second hip measurement to differentiate our varying booty sizes.

    Shirts might be more difficult given that we have many points of measurement and fabrics make huge differences in fits (a knit shirt will never fit like a cotton blouse). Still, there has to be a more consistent method.

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