/ Shopping

Does size matter when you’re buying clothes?

Jeans with measuring tape

Very few of us ladies can truthfully say we aren’t pleased when we fit comfortably into a smaller size than usual. But that doesn’t mean we want to be sold inconsistent clothes sizes.

Call it naïve, blind or just plain stupid, but nothing brightens up an afternoon’s shopping more than the notion of being slightly slimmer than we thought we were.

At least, that’s what I assumed. The fashion industry does too – and has its own name for deliberately putting a smaller size on bigger garments – vanity sizing.

Customers want consistency

But latest research shows that, far from being flattered by fashion-fiddling, customers are actually frustrated at the lack of consistency between sizes.

This definitely rings true with me. I’ve long been taking two or three sizes of the same garment into the changing room with no idea which will fit best. Yes, it’s great when the smallest fits perfectly, but I’d rather know I’m always one size and stick to it.

Which is exactly what most women want, says Mintel’s ‘Size Matters’ report. More than four in ten said they were unhappy about the differences that exist from store to store. Roughly the same amount only shop in a small number of stores where they know the sizes that suit their shape.

Flattery will get retailers nowhere

So this vanity sizing is doing the exact opposite of what retailers hope for. Rather than flattering customers into buying clothes, it’s driving them back to the few stores they know they can trust.

But would we be happier if all shops stocked standard sizes to suit one universal shape? While it’s annoying to take an armful of sizes into the changing room, some argue that this haphazard approach is actually a good thing.

When we researched this in 2007 we spoke to Andrew Crawford from Size UK, which carried out a national sizing survey in 2002. ‘It’s beneficial that there’s no agreement over sizes,’ he said. ‘It means consumers can find a shop selling clothes that fit them.’

Europe needs to shape up too

But it’s not just a UK problem. At the moment, a woman with a bust of about 88cm, a waist of 72cm and hips of 96cm, takes a dress size:

  • 12 in the UK
  • 40 in Belgium and France
  • 38 in Germany and the Netherlands
  • 44/46 in Portugal and Spain
  • 10 in the USA

To my mind, all this could be cleared up by using measurements on women’s clothes – in the same way they’re used on men’s. Then there’d be no room for inconsistency, flattery or deception. We’d all just know our shape and size – and be forced to stick to it.

Do you think clothes should have standard sizes?

Yes, it would make shopping much easier (91%, 88 Votes)

No, I'm happy with sizes as they are (5%, 5 Votes)

Neither, I already know which shops' clothes suit my size (4%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 97

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Anna_anna says:
18 August 2010

I would really welcome standard sizing – I often don’t have time to try things on. H&M are terrible for this – I vary between a six and a 16 in their shops (generally I take a 10.)

Deniz says:
18 August 2010

I would really like universal sizing as it would help when buying clothes from abroad or non-British stores in the UK.

Kate says:
18 August 2010

I think the problem is that even if there was universal sizing, everybody has different shapes and bone structure even if they may weigh the same or be the same height… but it would help to close the gap a bit more. I find I can’t fit in size 8 jeans in top shop yet in Dorothy Perkins I can, which says a lot about what type of consumer they are trying to attract!


I would actually buy more if I was confident about my size in a given shop – as it is I always have to try stuff on but usually cant be bothered becuase theres a queue…


Don’t most women go to different shops for different things? Why should clothes sizes be any different from clothes styles?

UK guidelines suggest ‘size 10’ hips are 87cm-91cm. If I were designing for teenage girls, you can guarantee I’d cut my clothes to the smaller end of that scale. In fact, as it’s just a ‘guideline’, there’s every chance I’d ignore it completely in favour of more accurate data. Clothes would fit my customers better, they’d be happier and I’d make more money. Bonza.

So why is it wrong for retailers to do just that?

It’s clearly impossible to get the right information from current UK labels and crazy to think the female body can be categorised by timeless, ageless sizes; ‘Tall’ and ‘Petite’ ranges smack of an apologetic ‘sorry, we know our sizes won’t fit everyone.’

But surely it’d be better to redesign clothes labels so we get useful information – bust, waist, hips, leg – that can be standardised across different retailers, rather than trying to make all high street 10s etc. the same.

Greg says:
20 August 2010

If I were a woman I would welcome a move to standardize sizes like we men have. However, its not all plain sailing for us either. When it comes to trousers, I frequently have to take two different waist sizes at two different inside leg lengths (4 pairs in total) into the changing room to account for different stores/manufacturers’ size variations. Also, designations like S, M. L and XL also vary wildly. The most annoying thing is shopping for a suit, you can guarantee that if the jacket fits, the trousers won’t or vice versa. At least shops like M and S let you mix and match trousers and jackets; however, many upmarket stores simply say here is a suit, if it doesn’t fit, pay to have it altered.

June says:
20 August 2010

It really would be helpful to have the actual sizes which the clothes are intended to fit, rather than codes which is what we have now. We know vanity sizing exists, but it’s such a bore having to try everything on because you can’t trust the size label.

Toneboy says:
20 August 2010

As Greg has said above sizes do vary widely and if you look thru, say a Jamco catalogue, you will find that sizes given a L, XL, XXL etc can actually vary by considerable amounts depending on the brand involved.

You will also find that the cut is also very variable with suppliers like Cotton Traders making a very generous cut for all of their clothing. This can be very important for someone like me who has several hernias, which I have a stomach like the seven hills of Rome and need a loose waist band so I normally buy the next size up and use braces to hold the whole lot up..

Shoe sizing is another area which gives one a lot of problems and for the life of me I can not understand why in the UK shoe shops and online retailers never show the width sizing of their shoes.

Sarah says:
20 August 2010

I don’t think there should be standard clothes sizes because people are not a standard sizes! I’m a size 6-8 and as a result of clothes getting bigger I’m finding it more difficult to find anything that fits. Fortunately there are shops where a size 8 is small, unlike M&S where their size 8 skirts and trousers are about 3 inches too big (10 years ago they fitted perfectly). I would be concerned that if clothes were to be a standard size I would have an even bigger problem finding anything to fit.