Saturday, 11 May 2013

Clothes sizing: Why can the fashion industry not get this right?

Unintentional clones

If you were to wake up randomly in a park or playground, having lost your power of hearing, in my opinion you could still pretty quickly work out if you had landed in the UK despite not being able to hear the language being spoken.

How?  Just a quick glance at the fashions being sported by the mums.

As with any culture built by humans with an innate need to fit in, we have developed different uniforms for different roles in society.  In England the uniform is fairly clear for a trip to the park with the kids.  If you are less than a UK size 12 and therefore can get away with skinny skins, or Jeggings,  these will be your uniform of choice.  Combined with a fairly snug Tee, or a fitted smock top (the sort that look like a mini dress but are worn with leggings.)

However, you might, like me, be unable to find a pair of skinny jeans or Jeggings that actually fit your hips.  You may, after all, have hips, and an hourglass figure, that the manufacturers of fashion often forget exist.  For you, the trip will, despite your better intentions, probably result in the Sweats uniform.  You'll have plenty of pairs of sporty tracksuit bottoms from all the good intentions of joining and subsequently not attending the gym.  Add a bland v-necked T-shirt and you can kid yourself that everyone will assume you have come straight from Yoga class to the park.  

Do we have a choice?

It's not that we want to opt for these casual, some would say scruffy, others may even go as far as saying slovenly clothes.  We often have limited choice.

Unfortunately, this uniform is one bred of poor UK fashion sizing.  Whoever decided that all woman could be categorised by a number that supposedly tells you your entire shape somehow got away with the stupidest sizing system in history.  Show me two size 12 women who are identically proportioned and I'll show you two identical Rose buds. 

If this was it, if it was just a case that there were clothes that were size 12, and clothes that were size 14, and I could work out which I best fit into and buy that size from any store with confidence as to what dimensions it would be, well that would be brilliant.  But it isn't like that either.  

We are fed this misconception that we are one size, but then all the fashion houses dictate their own sizing and proportions for each of the 'sizes' given.  It means that I can buy size 14 jeans from one shop that will fit perfectly, and size 12 jeans from another that are, confusingly, enormous on me.  It means that women spend HOURS trudging the high street, having their confidence slowly but surely ground down by store after store full of clothes that just don't fit.  

If you get REALLY lucky, you find a store who seem to cut their clothes to a size that works for you.  The danger then is that you end up looking like a walking advert for one store, and if they suddenly go a bit crazy with the fabrics and you don't like the actual colours and styles, well, you are stuck.

What about the men? Do they fair any better?

Men at least get the comfort of a neck size, measured by actual inches with a tape measure, when picking shirts, but again the fashion world has decided that apparently the size of a mans neck will dictate EXACTLY the rest of the size of their torso!  

How has this happened?

As consumers we are usually extremely demanding folk.  It is our consumer behaviour that eventually led to the downturn of high street giant HMV.  What we buy, and how we buy it, dictates the success, or not, or billions of businesses.  So why have we not been able to demand a better system of clothing sizes than this?

Maybe all tape measures are actually different!

Is there any fashion company anywhere that would be willing to size clothes using a tape measure?  I'd love to be able to measure my hips, waist, bust, and maybe even, gosh let's go crazy, my height too, and pick up a dress off a rail that was precisely proportioned to my measurements.

The closest we have got to this is the sizing of bras, and even then the designers seem to use different tape measures.  I, according to my tape measure, am a 34E.  Even with the aid of supposedly precise measurements, I can't order a bra on-line and guarantee it will fit.  My 34 inches are strangely converted to 36 in many bra designs, and often even the E cup isn't suitable.

We have the ability to build houses, without getting the size of the roof wrong, so why can't clothes designers and manufacturers use a tape measure properly?

What about children's sizing?  Is that any better?

The problem unfortunately starts at an early age.  We went shopping for some shorts for this summer for our two girls.  They are not skinny, but they are not overweight. They like their food and have something of a belly on them after a good meal.  Princess Peppa, nearly 6 years old now, has a curved build like me and will never have a Twiggy figure.  Little Miss George is now 4 and has the stocky build of my husband.

Our choice of store to buy some summer clothes was Marks and Spencer's, more for convenience than anything else as its close by.  The clothes for children are, as you'll be aware, marked by height and age.  Again, a ridiculous system that presumes everyone grows at the same rate.  If you are going to put a height on it, why bother with the age bit too?  The clothes are also, as I expected, designed for girls that have slim frames and no tummy to speak of.

The shorts that fitted Princess Peppa, even with an adjustable waist, were age 9.  Age 9!  She isn't 7 yet.  Already, at 6 years old, she is in danger of worrying about her size because she doesn't fit into a standard system built, it would appear, by people with absolutely no idea what size and shape children are.

Anyone with children will also know that often their growth spurts are predicated by a period of being constantly hungry and getting slightly pony around the middle. Then they shoot up and grow into their weight and the process starts again.

Resigned to a future of depressing shopping trips?

So what are we going to do?  Can we do anything?  Who would we lobby anyway?  I have no idea.  

I have resigned myself to a depressing trip around our local shopping centre prior to our summer holiday to find some summer trousers for me.  I know that the ones that fit over my 'mothers' tummy will be saggy around the back of my waist.  I know that most pairs, that fit over my bums nicely, won't fasten over my tummy because the waist line will be too low.  I know that the ones I find that do fit my waist and hips (if I get lucky) will probably be too short on the leg.  And I know with absolute certainty that the ones that fit won't be skinny jeans or Jeggings.

So this post is a long, convoluted question to the fashion industry:- is this really the best you can do?


  1. Aaagh! Just left you a blimmin' long and detailed commnent in support of this fab post and it vanished! :(

  2. I once bought a dress and a pair of trousers from top shop, the trousers were 14 the dress an unbelievable size 8. I got too big for the trousers after a couple of years, yet the dress still fitted!

    1. It's completely crazy isn't it! Would love to know the measurements of the actual mannequin they used to get those sizes.

  3. It is fascinating isn't it. I'm not a big fan of clothes shopping, but decided it is time to buy some new clothes and measured myself for a new site and came out as 16, but I'm currently wearing a size 10 top (I would probably put myself as size 14 at the moment, around the tummy anyway). My daughter has similar issues, although at four she hasn't realised it yet. She is tall for her age, but very slim so it is difficult to find clothes that are long enough and stay up. Thankfully she loves dress and skirts with elastic waists.

    Have you looked at dressipi? So far I've used it for clothes recommendations, but you can also put in your dimensions and it will convert it into the correct sizes at different shops.

    1. That's an interesting website Kate. I popped in my body shape and it accurately suggested shirt and skirt and coat etc designs that would flatter my shape, and they are the styles I go for! So that's reassuring. Not sure about the size guide. Looks helpful, but would have to test it!
      Thanks for the tip!

  4. I have issues too, I am a size 10. But in some shops I can't even get a 10 over my hips! I even stop and look at the jeans/clothes I am wearing just to check that I am a 10! I have noticed that some shops have a confusion with the American sizes, when they put up conversion charts. They put them only one down from the UK, but they are actually two! So a 10 in the states is a 14 here. As some shops don't put on the UK size, just Europe and the US, this can confuse shoppers. I have found that certain shops seem to be more to my size like H&M, were New Look can be a lot smaller. I think this what frustrates us and our other halfs as we can't just walk in garb a 10, quickly try it on and pay. On most occasions I have to take in an 8, 10 and 12 to the changing room! and then cross my fingers.

    1. The changing room limit of 8 items always makes my laugh, as I similarly take multiple sizes in at once, so on my last shopping trip I took 25 items to the changing room as I had everything in both a 12 and a 14!


  5. It's so annoying. It can definately give you a complex when you've been really good & go to buy some new clothes & still have to buy 14s in some shops. My issue is I'm pretty small so struggle to find trousers that fit without having to pay extra to have them taken up! Certian shops seem to think everyone is a size 6/8 & 5'10"+.
    & kids clothes - my son is 18 months & quite tall for his age so 12-18 months trousers are too short but 18-24 months are too big on waist. Tops are the same too short or too wide.
    Very annoying, he just ends up in clothes that look a bit too big for him to start with & he grows into them

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