Sizing is Out of Control – Why Sizing and Women Are At Odds

It’s been mentioned often in the petite community, and is a contentious issue for women in general…sizing is out of control.

- Women who used to wear a certain size at their slimmest and youngest a decade or more ago, are now wearing several sizes smaller, despite a weight gain.

– Women can have anywhere from two, to four or more different sizes in their closets, depending on the store/brand. How do you shop when you don’t even know what size you are?

and in the petite community:

- Size 0 and 00 clothing is dangling off healthy women.

– Women who were once able to shop certain brands, can no longer fit even their smallest sizes.

– Adult women are forced to wear children’s and teen sized clothing.

There has been a call for standardized sizing in the women’s garment industry, and a recent article from the NY Times described the phenomenon as “vanity sizing”.

Another website, written by Kathleen Fasanella, a garment manufacturing industry insider, rebukes this and claims vanity sizing is a myth. I like her explanation for the whack-a-doo sizing in women’s clothing, and will try to do it justice with an abbreviated run-down below:

- The population, as a whole, is growing taller and wider. Clothing sizes have to grow along with the general population, or else the general population will have nothing to wear.

– Each brand has to decide who their target demographic is. The target age, general body-type, socio-economic status, general size range (plus, missy, teen, etc.), among other factors, all has an effect on the garment sizing. For example, a brand who’s target demographic is a young, twenty-something with no children will be sized much differently than a brand who’s target demographic is an older, forty-something who’s had children. The body type of these two groups is just different, and each brand’s sizing will reflect those differences.

– Every so often, a brand does research on their target demographic, and what her measurements are. The median size of the target demographic gets labeled as “size medium” for the brand, and all other sizes are adjusted accordingly. If the population as a whole grows larger, the brand’s target demographic grows larger, and so the brand has to re-align it’s sizing with the target demographic.

– Since each brand may have a different target demographic, the median size for one brand may be wildly different than that of another brand. Hence, you’ll be one size at one store, but a different size at another.

– The arrival of such “tiny” sizes as 0 and 00 are merely the brand’s attempt to provide sizes for women who have been left behind by the shifting of the sizing curve due to the target demographic growing larger.

But none of this makes sizing any less confusing. If you don’t fit in a certain brand’s clothing, you may be out of their target demographic, whether it be your age, body type, size, etc. But most brands don’t openly tell us who their target demographic is, or how their sizing curve compares against other brands, so how would you ever know? And if you find yourself in the middle of a brand’s sizing restructure, you may find your world crazily out of whack when “your size” no longer fits, sending you into a fitting room hell of trying to re-discover the size and fit that suits you. Not to mention, the notorious inaccuracy of brand sizing charts…sizing is a mess.

Other companies have tried to solve the problem of sizing, including a call for women’s sizes to be labeled in inches like men’s (read this great explanation as to why this isn’t feasible, and don’t forget part 2), and building complicated and expensive machinery that will supposedly align your measurements with brand sizes.

The online petite community has taken interesting steps in solving the problem of sizing for ourselves, and I’ve been watching with great interest. I have my own idea about how women can find clothes that fit, but that will have to wait until my next post… ;)

For more reading on this subject:
The Myth of Vanity Sizing – wonderful website with lots of industry insights.
Why the Smallest Sizes are Understocked via YouLookFab

How have you dealt with out of control sizing?

Disclosure - Clicking or purchasing through the links in this post may yield commissions for AlterationsNeeded.com. See the Alterations Needed Disclosure for more details.

33 Comments

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Loren

    I'm a short lady and petite but not 'thin' (my hips are about 40 inches at their widest). But I own loads of size 0's & XSmalls, I've been more worried about my extra tiny cohorts lately since I am wearing the extra smalls what are the actual extra small ladies wearing?

    I did notice last time I was there that The Gap has started listing waist measurements on their pants (or have they always done this?). I understand why it isn't feasible for ladies pants to be available in a vast array of different sizes like men's pants, but I don't think there would be any real problem with at least listing the waist measurement on bottoms.
    I'm not even looking for hip measurements just something to give me a clue if I am a 6 or a 0 in this store.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    ShortBlonde

    Blogging helps me deal with it! I was a frustrated wreck before I discovered the petite blogging community. However, I'm still frustrated with sizing (and try not to hold angry sentiments against the larger community.) My wardrobe is mainly casual, therefore most of my clothes aren't worth the price of tailoring, so it's a great hunt to find clothes that fit without tailoring necessary. Having a teeny torso is the most challenging part- tops and dresses rarely fit as they should.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Elaine A (TOBeautyReviews)

    Really great post Kelly, I found Kathleen's take on things really interesting.

    I can understand that women vary more greatly in size than men since we all carry our weight quite differently. And I do understand retailers trying to cater to their demographic so it can be difficult to cater to all women. Again for petites having petite designers or brands with petite lines would be great, but another alternative would be for stores to offer in house alterations for free or for a smaller fee than a tailor would charge. I think this is an idea that would work for all women and not neccessarily just petites.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Anonymous

    Vanity Sizing applies to SHOES as well. I am a petite 5' gal with tiny feet. European size 34 or US size 4 fit me well eons ago and they are huge now.
    I was a 2P then and a 00P now ?? My husband was a Medium and is a size Small now.
    "Cash" in my wallet has gone through a similar vanity sizing phrase too. My 100 dollar bill becomes a 20 dollar bill now.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    hugstiem

    I've read Kathleen's article before and remembering that it really angered me. She claims that there is no such thing as vanity sizing, only what she calls sizing evolution. Basically she says that retailers will just assign their mean customer an M or 8 or whatever, and since people are getting fatter, sizes get shifted.

    I agree that fatter customers require larger garment sizes; call this sizing evolution if you want. However, I completely disagree with reusing old labels for smaller garments on larger garments in this process — calling what was formerly an 8 a 0. This IS vanity sizing. If it weren't, then they would just add numbers to the end: instead of carrying sizes 2-14, a store would decide to carry 12-24, and thin people would know not to bother. I think couturiers have even stated that they abuse these labels to make customers feel better.

    Realistically, though, our enemy is less that the garment manufacturing industry is diluting the meaning of these labels, and more that people in this country are too fat and growing even fatter. A stable population size would lead to more stable sizing unless a brand significantly changed its demographic.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Keix

    It would help so much if each garment listed its actual measurements on the tag… like inseam, hip, waist, bust, length. Surely the manufacturer has this information anyway. (And I do want both hip and waist measurements–not every woman has curves.)

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Kimchi Girl

    Hi kelly!

    you have such great posts! this is def. one i relate to, as i share most ladies' concerns about the wide range of sizing in the retail clothing world. super duper frustrating! =/

    i could write an entire post on this so i'll keep it short. the reality is-is that vanity sizing is here and here to stay. so for me, even tho it's a nusance, i'll do research by reading blogs to find out how the particular garment i'm interested in fits, or i'll have to do the legwork myself and try it on before i commit to whatever i'm buying. it's a hopeless battle, but that's about all i can do. i can be a double 00 in one brand and a 4 in another brand. crazy or what!?!

    btw, it's kinda sad that i fit into Abercrombie Kids clothes and i'm not even petite! how is that for crazy! i wonder what you petite ladies think of that LOL =P

    thanks again for bringing up a great topic! :)

    kimchi girl

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Sunshine

    thanks Kelly for posting this!

    it's one thing to find out that you wear different sizes between different brands, but it's another to know that even within the same brand, you may not be able to fit into the same size everytime! this includes petite favorite brands like loft and ann taylor. i really like the suggestion of putting measurements on each garment. i feel like the fashion industry is as sneaky as the food industry…just freaking disclose all the measurements/ingredients on your labels already!

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Stephanie

    Thanks so much for the great post. I really enjoyed reading it. I'm so glad for more information on Casual clothing.

    http://www.clothingobsession.com/

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Ying

    Great post! I went to your "dangling off healthy women" link and was not surprised to see that the offender was BR! My husband just bought me and outfit from there knowing I was a size a small, but the small skirt fits like a LARGE! I can fold the waist over by two inches! That is INSANE. So needless to say, it'll have to go back.

    When I buy thrift items, I can fit in sizes 8-10, so I have to know this when I weed through the items. It is also more time consuming to try different sizes, shop different sections and BUY ONLINE. That's what will usually stop me from buying online – I don't want the hassle of returning/exchanging something that doesn't fit. Not to mention, I don't trust the size charts offered by online retailers either.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    SugarNikita

    I still think that instead of one number, the ACTUAL measurements should be listed on the clothing label, or at the very least, in addition to it. A size 2 means nothing these days. But I don't see how it could hurt to write the waist, hip, and inseam on the label. It would make shopping (especially online) so much easier. That is, assuming one knows their own measurements, and the measurements listed are correct. If I go to a store and see that none of the pants have the correct waist to hip ratio for me, then I can save valuable time, and go somewhere else. Otherwise I have to try on every size 4, 2, and 0 in the store in the hopes of finding one that might match my measurements, and more often than not, walk away empty handed…

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    AubreyOhDang!

    Wow, and I thought I was a harsh commenter, but hugstiem takes the award on this one.

    I don't know why people focus so much on sizing. Just focus on finding clothes that fit. Does vanity sizing really frustrate people that much?! c'mon really? in life, that's what you're frustrated by? I think those ppl need to fine tune their shopping skills then. or find a tailor & make him/her your best friend. & if that's not good enough, learn to sew.

    Kimchi Girl is right. If you are curious about fit, do the research yourself. Does it matter that 1 shirt is marked XXS while the other is marked Medium? as long as you walk outside looking great, who cares what the stores are sizing their clothes at?! If, by now, people can't eyeball an item and know if it'll fit or not, stores have these 2 great things people who complain about vanity sizing should consider: it's called a fitting room and a return policy.

    Lastly, I think the petite community (and maybe other communities for other body types) have proven that there are (lots of) alternatives around vanity sizing. If people can dedicate blogs to finding clothes that fit, then I say, let the stores do whatever they want to their sizes. Some how, some way, people of varying shapes & sizes are going to figure out a way to find clothes, shoes, etc. to fit them.

    Furthermore, it allows for specialty stores to emerge in the market and provide fair competition. I see nothing to complain or be frustrated about; it's been noted.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Lor - Petite in the City

    It is out of control! In the past few years, I have ranged from a size 00 to 6!! I have a small upper body, but wide hips/ass, so shopping is frustrating! I would love to do more online shopping, but the charts aren't good enough indication of the actual fit.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    CynthiaC

    @SugarNikita Actual measurements mean nothing. I've heard that guys' sizes, which always use waist measurements can go up or down a size – e.g. a 36" waist can be 37" or even 35" (usually 37").

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Anonymous

    Oh boy! I used to be able to find 00 jeans without a problem, now it's impossible! Even higher quality teen stores (eg Abercrombie, American Eagle) jeans don't fit! And one store that I used to always shop at doesn't even carry XS anymore, I couldn't believe it. Even when I go to stores that label their jeans with numbers (24, 25, etc), I'm a 22, or 23 at the largest, and most stores don't even carry this size. :(

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Anonymous

    @CynthiaC Yes but this has more to do with the cut and fabric of the jean, one inch waist difference is still more true to size than women's clothing.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    doxyloo

    @:CynthiaC: Have you the 2010 Esquire article on vanity sizing for men? Apparently a size 36 measures 41" at Old Navy. We're not the only ones affected by size inflation. A guy friend told me he buys his jeans in the women's department… So that's where all those skinny guys are getting their skinny jeans from!

    http://www.esquire.com/blogs/mens-fashion/pants-size-chart-090710

    And shoes… @anonymous
    Almost all size conversion charts say a 34 = US4. I'm almost always a 4.5, with the exception of a few 4s. However, I don't have a sing pair of 34s because I've never tried on small enough. They always fit like 5s and sometimes, even like 6s. I have a 2 pairs of 33s that do fit, but man are those rare to find.

    What do European women do if many places carry 36 as their smallest size and it fits like a US 7, that's CRAZY! Although I do hear that the size conversion works better for larger sizes, I think we should just do as the Japanese and go by actual measurements for shoe size.

  • Reply May 10, 2011

    Anonymous

    The phenomenon is happening in mens sizes as well. Working clothing retail the hardest thing to see is when a company introduces 2 new sizes – one larger and one smaller – i.e. 00 and 46 or larger, their mens department starts making clothes bigger in the S, M, L, XL, XXL, etc. But we do not get an XS. I am forces to hem and fix my clothing – even for a $15 t-shirt.

  • Reply May 11, 2011

    SugarNikita

    @ CynthiaC : Then those aren't really the "actual measurements". This is part of what I mean. Manufacturers need to change they way they do things. Instead of giving us some approximate measurement for a garment, why not tell the consumer what the garment actually measures? If they still want to stick a labeled number on it, that's fine. But if the REAL measurements are readily available, it would make things a heck of a lot easier. But I fear this is a long way off from happening, if ever. They are probably afraid that doing so might offend some cosumers, who would rather just buy a number than see what their actual measurements are. Plus, this creates more work for them.

    But honestly, even if the measurements are approximate, to me, that is STILL better than just having a label of a "size 2". To me, that means nothing whatsoever.

    But then, maybe I'm just picky, and extremely tired of spending hours upon hours searching for clothing to fit to no avail…

  • Reply May 12, 2011

    Jackie

    I think the only reason that sizing is so out of control is because, no matter what they do and how they set up the sizes, it never includes everyone. Those of us at far ends of the sizing spectrum always seem to get left out.

    I have gotten use to hunting for this and that. Because money is getting so tight I have even done my own sewing where I can. I deal with it. It is frustrating at times and I agree that there needs to be a change, but until then we have to deal.

    The real problem is that this vanity sizing thing has helped turn women of different sizes and shapes against one another and sizing is starting to reflect stereotypes. I wear jeans that are anywhere from 00 – 2 but there is almost ALWAYS pulling in the crotch area and a gap in the back. Apparently, people still think that small, fit women can't have curves. *sigh*

  • Reply May 14, 2011

    Stylishly Short

    @Keix

    I completely agree with you. It is especially frustrating to shop online and not have those measurements listed. Instead, they have vague statements like "hits at hip", well who's hips?

  • Reply May 15, 2011

    Pixie

    So it's not me! I know I'm not getting smaller but a size 0 skirt at the Loft swam on my last weekend. I have a fear of having to start shopping at Crew Cuts and wearing child like ruffles and polk-a-dots!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Stylishly Short

    @Keix

    I completely agree with you. It is especially frustrating to shop online and not have those measurements listed. Instead, they have vague statements like "hits at hip", well who's hips?

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Ying

    Great post! I went to your "dangling off healthy women" link and was not surprised to see that the offender was BR! My husband just bought me and outfit from there knowing I was a size a small, but the small skirt fits like a LARGE! I can fold the waist over by two inches! That is INSANE. So needless to say, it'll have to go back.

    When I buy thrift items, I can fit in sizes 8-10, so I have to know this when I weed through the items. It is also more time consuming to try different sizes, shop different sections and BUY ONLINE. That's what will usually stop me from buying online – I don't want the hassle of returning/exchanging something that doesn't fit. Not to mention, I don't trust the size charts offered by online retailers either.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Sunshine

    thanks Kelly for posting this!

    it's one thing to find out that you wear different sizes between different brands, but it's another to know that even within the same brand, you may not be able to fit into the same size everytime! this includes petite favorite brands like loft and ann taylor. i really like the suggestion of putting measurements on each garment. i feel like the fashion industry is as sneaky as the food industry…just freaking disclose all the measurements/ingredients on your labels already!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Lor - Petite in the City

    It is out of control! In the past few years, I have ranged from a size 00 to 6!! I have a small upper body, but wide hips/ass, so shopping is frustrating! I would love to do more online shopping, but the charts aren't good enough indication of the actual fit.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Keix

    It would help so much if each garment listed its actual measurements on the tag… like inseam, hip, waist, bust, length. Surely the manufacturer has this information anyway. (And I do want both hip and waist measurements–not every woman has curves.)

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Anonymous

    Vanity Sizing applies to SHOES as well. I am a petite 5' gal with tiny feet. European size 34 or US size 4 fit me well eons ago and they are huge now.
    I was a 2P then and a 00P now ?? My husband was a Medium and is a size Small now.
    "Cash" in my wallet has gone through a similar vanity sizing phrase too. My 100 dollar bill becomes a 20 dollar bill now.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    ShortBlonde

    Blogging helps me deal with it! I was a frustrated wreck before I discovered the petite blogging community. However, I'm still frustrated with sizing (and try not to hold angry sentiments against the larger community.) My wardrobe is mainly casual, therefore most of my clothes aren't worth the price of tailoring, so it's a great hunt to find clothes that fit without tailoring necessary. Having a teeny torso is the most challenging part- tops and dresses rarely fit as they should.

  • Reply February 2, 2012

    Lorasordona

    I find it very frustrating. I can no longer buy some of my favorite brands because they have vanity sized my size out of existence. I am not petite (just under 5’8″) and I am not ridiculously skinny. I should be able to go to most retailers and buy clothing that fits well.

    I can not shop at petite stores because the arms and legs are too short.

    In Europe, Singapore, Hong Kong, I have no problem finding clothes that fits, but in the USA the smallest size in most stores is now too big. Yes I can have things tailored, but I see SO many women who are my size, it makes no sense that we shouldn’t be able wear things right off the rack.

  • Reply August 18, 2012

    Laura Russell

    I have so much trouble finding clothes that I too have started shopping European and Asian based clothing providers in an attempt to buy something without spending so much extra money in alterations. I have also noticed that some designer brands still carry my “size” but are totally out of my price range. I hate shopping any day shopping usually ends in tears and frustration. The worst is quality professional wear. I can never just go to a store and buy clothes for work.

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