/ Shopping

Does clothes sizing have to be a lottery?

Clothes shopping

Clothes sizes seem to mean nothing. From shop to shop sizes vary significantly, leaving me wondering whether there’s a need for standardised sizing, or maybe a re-think of clothes sizing altogether…

Last week, a frustrated shopper took to Facebook to complain about clothes sizing in H&M. Lowri Byrne found that despite being a size 12, she couldn’t fit into a size 16 dress in H&M’s Plymouth store.

And I couldn’t help but empathise.

Clothes size lottery

Commenting on my shape, an outdoor pursuits instructor in the Austrian Alps once charmingly told me: ‘We have no wetsuits to fit you. The thing is, you have, as we say in Austria, too much wood at the front of your house’, so I also find it a real struggle to find clothes that fit properly.

With tops, they’re either that little bit too tight or so baggy they would need taking in. And I find that dresses that fit my top half often look like I’m wearing a tent on my bottom half.

Frustratingly, sizes are rarely consistent from brand to brand. In one shop, I’ll be more or less a 14 on top; 12 on bottom. In another, I could be a 16 or even an 18. Then in those that are more generous with their sizes, I’ll come out with size 10 bottoms or size 12 tops/dresses.

If I haven’t bought clothes from a shop before, I’ll find myself taking in at least two sizes into the changing room, just to get something that vaguely fits.

And I’ve all but given up online clothes shopping because it gets expensive when you have to order multiples of everything.

Standard sizing

A spokesperson from H&M responded to Lowri’s plea, stating:

‘It is only ever our intention to design and make clothes that make our customers feel good about themselves, any other outcome is neither intended nor desired.

‘H&M’s sizes are global and the sizes offered in the UK are the same in all the 66 markets in which we operate in and online. As there is no global mandatory sizing standard, sizes will differ between brands and different markets.

‘Our dedicated, in-house sizing department works according to an average of the sizes and measurements suggested by the markets we operate in. H&M sizes are continually reviewed by our in-house sizing department.’

Now, I realise these brands have probably determined sizes to suit their customer base, but surely it makes more sense if a size 12 in one shop is also a size 12 in another?

Once sizing is standardised, why not introduce in-between sizes? For example, instead of the too-tight size 14 and too-baggy size 16, you’d have a size 15 that was just right. Or, for men, have odd sizes, such as 35, 37, 39, etc.

I definitely appreciate the half sizes you get in some shoe shops (I’m a 4.5), so I reckon there must be loads of in-betweeners like me who aren’t catered for.

Failing that, more stores could offer free tailoring. That way, you could have those tailor’s tacks put in without having to spend a fortune on alterations, or even waste your evenings and weekends altering clothes yourself.

Do you struggle to find clothes that fit properly? Should sizes be standardised? Would you find in-between sizes useful? Or do you have another solution?


It seems to be an eternal problem. Getting a Tutu the right colour is hard enough, but I always have a problem squeezing into one. And does no one make size 15 ballet pointe shoes any more? Just because I’m 6’3″ this shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a hard life for us ex-wrestlers, that’s for sure.

Ian, you need to shop when Monty Python got their clothes (cf John Cleese). I think that where you look for items can be important, so I bet you in Manhattan you’d easily find something that fits given their wonderful drag culture.

Similarly, Melanie, the Austrian Alps may not have been the best place to look for a wet suit (unless it was a joke?), though I know that diving in mountain and other lakes can be of interest. It may be easier to find what you need where there is a big deep sea diving, surfing, wind-surfing community.

Pret-a-porter is a great thing, but it has its limits. We’re all of different sizes, but our shapes also vary wildly. I do agree, however, that sizes at least should be standardised throughout as far as possible. How? What they consider small in the US of A is probably seen as large here. (But we’re catching up. Another matter.)

Pity tailor-made clothes are so expensive. Open more tailoring schools, set up more tailoring businesses? Maybe there’s an opening there somewhere, with a lot of unemployment out there.

Wow! I was just thinking too narrowly, Melanie! :0)

Good you got something kind of OK. It may still be worth checking out diving etc stores next time you’re near the sea and there is this community I was talking about. You never know. It still doesn’t solve our general sizing problems. We haven’t even broached the bra subject yet… Ian, any tips?

“We haven’t even broached the bra subject yet… Ian, any tips?”

I thought Ian had claimed to be an ex-wrestler, not a lumberjack 🙂 🙂 🙂

If you want help with bras, just contact customer support, Sophie.

They don’t seem to do X sizes in Bras…

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Found exactly the same thing with men’s sizes, whether it’s t-shirts, jumpers, jeans, shorts or trousers – every shop and brand is different. Usually I’m a S, sometimes an M fits fine – often I’m somewhere in between.

The most frustrating thing though is inconsistencies from the same brand. I recently had to send a shirt back because it was too big, despite already owning something from them just in a different colour! (Bought a couple of years apart – so maybe they just decided to change?!).

Maybe I’m just awkwardly shaped.

I don’t buy clothes on line. I enjoy choosing from the rack and know that size, colour and over-all fit is going to be correct. If there are size variants, I can either go to another shop or find the one that fits. One particular gigantic store (you can get lost in there) has provided me with half price, named brand, trousers for many years and it is almost a day out in itself.

Why not simply ban arbitrary sizes like dress sizes and “S/M/L”, and just use sizes which are real measurements which everyone can understand worldwide (OK, not the USA and Liberia, the only two countries that don’t do metric)? Let’s have waist/chest/hips/neck/inside leg/feet or whatever is needed, measured in centimetres and be done with it.

It is annoying having to remember which size you are according to the shop you are in. Sometimes for knitwear I am an L but in other stores I need an XL for comfort and fit. I would certainly prefer actual measurements.

Men’s formal shirts are usually shown in actual measurements for collar size and then by fit [regular, tailored, tight, impossible] plus sleeve length occasionally and I usually find this reasonably consistent across retailers and fairly reliable, but for ‘leisure’ shirts – where looking casual rather than smart is the object of the exercise – it has all been reduced to S, M, L, and XL and I generally find I have to select from the larger sizes to make sure I can breathe in them.

Outerwear is the most difficult to get right because the sizing will depend on whether or not an overcoat or raincoat is to go over a coat/jacket or jumper. Luckily it’s easy to try these on without having to use the changing room.

You wouldn’t think it should be necessary to try on a scarf but some are made so skimpily they barely wrap around the neck and cover the chest, but then they have become a show item rather than protection from the cold.

I don’t like one-size-fits-all socks which are usually excessively baggy around the toe and heel.

Especially annoying is when the sizing on the coat hanger or garment label does not correspond with the particular item. I always check the garment label which is correct more often than not.

I can remember when every clothes shop had a sales person with a tape measure to check the customer’s measurements and guide them in selecting properly-fitting clothes.

“I’m free, Mr Ward!” 🙂

I’ve just bought two branded, same name polo shirts from an on line store. One was 2″ (5cm) narrower, shorter and with smaller sleeve lengths and widths. Both shirts had the same logo stitched on the chest and the same labels but were manufactured in different countries. Surely it’s the seller’s duty to inspect the quality and sizes produced by its suppliers.

Ann S says:
19 June 2017

I buy jeans from M&S, their Classic range and have found that sometimes I need different lengths, as they are not consistent over short, medium and long.

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Duncan, you say that the “vast majority” of the clothes sold by M&S are made in “sweat shops” and the workers are paid in “buttons”. That is not at all true. I believe that M&S goes further than most UK retailers in ensuring that its merchandise is responsibly sourced and that workers are not exploited. Practices differ in different countries and so do wage levels and production costs. I believe M&S is considered one of the better traders for good practice in other market places. The wages you quote might be better than average in the particular economies. I have no issue with any facts stated by the reporter but I am concerned about unfair interpretations. I am not here to defend big retailers but I cannot support dishonesty in attacking them. I think you need to look around the entire garment trade before you make sweeping castigations against one particular company.

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If you make serious allegations against any company – M&S in this case – you need to provide facts to support them. I’m sorry, but all too often commenters make allegations against organisations without proper substantiating evidence, and unfortunately Which? does not seem to ask those organisations to respond. The outcome can be a distortion of the truth which some people will latch on to

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I don’t see that as any excuse for presenting unsubstantiated allegations. Perhaps Which? would ask M&S to respond?

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This discussion has gone a tad off-topic. Can I please ask that you all try and stick to the topic of this convo. Also, I’d like to remind everyone that comments left should align with community guidelines and should a comment breach those guidelines we may edit or remove comments. Thank you

All sounds a bit fishy, duncan. However if it is cheaper to ship fish abroad to be processed and then have it returned what do we do? The end price is what the consumer wants – as we seem to find with washing machines. They don’t care where it is made or by whom. Do we subsidise UK wages? Not in my view. We should do what we are good at.

However the topic is about sizes. I seem to have no problem with trousers, jackets and shirts despite having slightly longer arms and legs. Buying online – click and collect – from M&S allows you to order more than one size, select the one that fits, and return the others for refund free of charge.

Getting back to the topic, I agree sizes vary so much from shop to shop which is a real pain as always have to try things on to make sure ok. I’m an 8, a 10 at a push for some things but have bought a few things from H & M recently and had to go for a size 12. Without the assistance of the fire brigade (albeit a v pleasant thought!), I might have got in the dresses but would have had a hard job ever getting back out again.