/ 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.

ziggy says:
22 August 2010

Umm…standard size doesn’t mean they’ll all be the same size, it means the standard of measurement will be the same. Ie. a 6 doesn’t equal a certain amount of inches…it’s simply a number chosen to represent what that store thinks is a ‘6’.

Rosie P-S says:
9 September 2010

I agree… in Topshop I can’t fit into a pair of size 10 jeans (hence why I have stopped shopping there), yet in Warehouse I fit very comfortably into a size 6 pair. Bring in standard sizing please – we’ll be able to shop much quicker, honest!

Victoria says:
23 November 2010

The whole matter confuses me! Im 5’4″, with measurements 38-31-40, i fit into shop sizes 10-12, but according to size charts i should be a 14-16!! everyone comments how petite and slim i look and i got disheartened when I saw this!
Is it that everyone who shops is actually bigger than the dress size they buy?
Ive looked online and women with similar measurements wear from a 10-16,and can look bigger or smaller than me- why is this? thanks

I tried some trousers on in H&M on Friday. I have recently tipped over the edge from a 12 to a 14 (which are a little baggy but at least I can bend over without feeling like I’ve been cut in two). I can usually walk into M&S or Next or Dorothy Perkins and pick up a 14 and be sure I’ll fit it now. Some styles may not be quite right due to different cuts. And some might need tweaking (if I could sew well enough). I appreciate we’re all slightly different shapes, and the only way to get perfectly fitting clothes is to go bespoke. And few of us can afford that.

However these very lovely trousers I tried on Friday looked a little small when I picked them up. So I took a 16 with me too. And they barely fitted!

Now I don’t really care if I wear a 10 or an 18 – clothes are clothes. But such a difference. And in a shop that caters for the age of girls/young women who are more prone to body image issues and eating disorders, I find this rather worrying. And possibly just a little bit dangerous.

MeganW says:
19 April 2011

I went to Primark today, I am a size 14 and I bought tops in a size 16 so that they were baggy, have found out i’m pregnant so need the extra inches!! 🙂

Imagine my horror when I got them home (I didn’t try them on in store, it was too busy and may I add too hot to be thinking of changing into clothes I might not buy) and none of them fit me! they are skin tight!!

So according to Primark i’m a size 18-20, even my friend who works at Primark has commented that their clothes come up small 🙁 this is unfair, no wonder so many young girls and women have got eating disorders when a shop is adding 3!!!!!! dress sizes onto my actual body size! walking around the shop most size 16’s are out of stock, meaning people of a size 12 have bought them as the size 12 doesn’t fit them!! Not many size 18’s or 20’s are available, this means that to fit into the 16 I bought which should be too big, i’d have to lose weight!

I’d like the sizes to be what they are meant to be, not bigger, not smaller but the RIGHT size, is that really too much to ask?! instead now I have to go back to the shop and do the walk of shame, buying a size 18 or 20 top that I know SHOULD be too big on me, but it will fit me! and as soon as I get it home and I know it fits I will be cutting the label out with embarrassment, so if anyone asks what size it is, I will tell them the truth! It’s a 14, disguised as an 18-20! 😉 LOL

Either get the label right or don’t put one on at all!!!!

blueGen says:
26 August 2012

I find the biggest problem with clothes sizing is buying them online/by mail order. At least in shops you have the option to try on different sizes, even though it’s time consuming and annoying, but buying at a distance is a real nightmare.
Many retailers make it difficult or expensive to return unwanted items, so it’s not always an option to simply order 4 sizes to ‘try’. And when buying from sellers on eBay or Amazon, for example, many of them won’t accept returns at all unless the item is ‘faulty’.
I have bought so many clothes that don’t fit and ended up keeping them or giving them to charity because it’s not worth the hassle of trying to return them – many of them are manufactured abroad and are nowhere near standard UK sizes, but they can’t be classed as ‘faulty’ or ‘not matching description’ because they have a label inside with the ‘correct’ size on it, so the seller is supposedly not at fault.
I take a large size, which makes the problem correspondingly bigger 🙂 Local high street retailers have a very limited selection of plus sizes, whereas there is of course a huge range available online. If I buy clothes in Matalan or Sainsbury’s, I can comfortably fit in size 20 for most items, occasionally 22 for clingy tops. I recently bought 3 tops on eBay, all from different sellers – one is a shirt, marked as 20-22, and it fits perfectly, loose and comfortable; the second is a ‘gypsy top’, marked as 24-26 (and only ordered in that size because the next one down was out of stock), and it’s so tight I can barely get it on without splitting the sleeves, and it looks awful; the third is a T-shirt, marked as size 22, and it’s like a tent and nearly knee-length on me.
I REALLY wish there was standard sizing between retailers, and that distance-sellers were required to stick to it – or that we give up on the ‘size 16’ etc and just list the measurements of everything.