/ Shopping

Is H&M skirting around the issue of women’s clothing sizes?

Last week H&M announced it will be making its women’s clothing bigger, responding to ongoing complaints from shoppers that its sizes just don’t measure up, but is it just window dressing?

The Swedish fashion store has been accused of selling clothes that are much smaller than considered ‘usual’ for years, and has now promised to do something about it.

The move is believed to be in support of the body positivity movement. Fashion brands have been criticised in recent years for reinforcing negative messages about body image.

Sizing running small can be particularly distressing for people who are sensitive about their body and are, in reality, a completely healthy shape and size.

However, it sounds like the changes may be as simple as labelling clothes one size bigger than usual (for exmaple, a size 14 dress could now be labelled as a 12) rather than a complete overhaul.

Does more need to change?

This may be a move in the right direction, but shouldn’t clothing stores be addressing the fact that their sizes are wildly different across their ranges? It feels like change is long overdue in the industry.

I’d consider myself a size 10, but the labels in my wardrobe range from four to 14. I don’t care much for the numbers, but in certain stores I don’t even bother trying on trousers or jeans because I know they won’t fit. Some I avoid altogether, and I know I’m not alone on this.

Not only can it be a knock to your confidence to have to buy a size or two bigger, it’s confusing to be forced to work out your size in several stores, and especially frustrating when ordering online. I’ve lost track of all the time (and money) I’ve spent returning items because the sizing wasn’t accurate.

Rethinking the approach

I’d say it’s pretty rare for someone to be the same size over their whole body. I don’t think being told you are an ‘extra small’ or an ‘extra large’  is the most endearing, or the most accurate way to describe what you wear.

And do we, as consumers, have a role to play by recognising that no one size can possibly fit all? Just 40 to 50 years ago, most people would expect to make adjustments to their clothing. Has a modern throwaway culture made us expect everything we buy to be exactly how we want it?

We’re already seeing apps that match your body shape to clothing, and eventually advances in manufacturing will likely make it possible, and more accessible, to order clothes that are tailored exactly to you, but this could be some distance off yet.

What do you think about H&M sizing, and its plans to change? Which clothing brands do you think need to pull their sleeves up when it comes to fit?


Is H&M *skirting* around the issue of women’s clothing sizes? Contrived headlines with unclever puns like that don’t make for good consumer journalism.

Hi, we’re sorry you feel that way. Which? Conversation regularly features opinion pieces such as this, which are often written in a more conversational tone than our news stories/investigations, which can be found at http://www.which.co.uk/news

Writing styles can of course be pretty subjective, and we appreciate the feedback.

Which? Conversation is noted for its catchy headlines and cheeky puns. They don’t always work but I say keep ’em coming. You want to put wordsmiths out of a job, Gothic17 ???

John Smith says:
16 June 2018

It’s fairly obvious that all clothing sold in the UK should follow the same standard. This should be for men and women’s sizes. Not all XL XXL XXXL and XXXXL are the same size across the manufacturers.

I’d say it’s pretty rare for someone to be the same size over their whole body.“. This is surely the point, isn’t it? Girls don’t come only in fixed sizes – 8-10-12-14…….30? And boys don’t come as 40 regular, 50 long, 34/32. The trick is surely the necessity to try on clothes to make sure they fit (and suit you as well) which means either going to a real clothes shop or, if you buy online, get a size either side of the one you think you need and return the two that don’t work (but what a waist).

Even then clothes may not fit perfectly, so you need to either diy or find a local seamstress.

Once upon a time, size 12 used to be a 34″ bust if I remember correctly so you knew what size top would fit without having to pick up sizes either side.

These days, if you want to try on 3 items, you have to pick up 9 of them to take to the changing rooms. Then the store assistant will only let you take 3 or 4 into the changing room…………😖

I just wish manufacturers chose a standard and stuck to it.

I have clothes in sizes 8-16. I recently ordered a size 10 of 2 different variations of the same thing from M&S as I knew one of them was the right size. I had to exchange the other for a size 16, ridiculous.

Ian Birch says:
16 June 2018

Consistency in sizing is what’s important. If H&M are out of line with most other shops they should feel pressure to conform. The size doesn’t tell you everything, but without consistency it tells you nothing.

Everyone knows that clothing sizes vary across different stores. M&S has always had ‘generous’ sizing but at least it used to be consistent across their clothing range. Then, a few year ago they abandoned this policy and now you can’t be sure any M&S item in a size 12 will fit, so you have to try a 10 and a 14 as well. Other stores, particularly those aimed at young market, like H&M and Zara, have always sized their clothes on the small side. This may be in deference to the fashion industry’s taste for ‘size 0’ and/or a way of keeping prices lower by using less fabric. What the consumer needs is consistency in sizing.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Its not just sizing that is a problem, shape is important, I’m a pear shaped lady, and I find it impossible to find trousers to fit, and I am sure apple shaped ladies have the same problems

Sue A says:
18 June 2018

When I was in my late teens /early twenties I always wore a size 12. Forty years later, and definitely bigger on the lower half, I buy size 10 for jeans & trousers half and 10/12 for upper – so clothing sizes seem to have shifted a whole size already. and all my old size 12 dressmaking patterns from back then would come out as 10s now. Having said that, like many others, I’ve found sizing isn’t standard or consistent – you have to try several options, different styles and sizes, and online ordering is guesswork. I’d rather all manufacturers used one standard – and quality control – whatever size labelling they settle on.

Men’s clothing is generally labelled in inches and centimetres, although sometimes in S, M, L, XL etc for top garments, and the fit is usually shown [e.g regular, long, tailored, etc]. I find this reasonably reliable and wonder if it isn’t the answer for women’s wear. I am sure the cost of returns impacts on the quality of the clothing as on-line retailers struggle to compete.

The NHS is in crisis because of the obesity epidemic and clothing manufacturers are partly to blame:
The Lycra content of clothing allows wearers to gradually gain weight without noticing and manufacturers keep gradually increasing the dimensions of standard sizes of their garments so that people don’t know that in reality they have ‘gone up a size’.
I seem to have dropped from M&S size 12 to a size 8 over the years without losing weight.
Women need only look at the size charts on the back of old dress pattern envelopes to see what has happened.

Trisha says:
29 July 2019

I had to try on 3 t-shirts while in H&M – all were marked XS. One was too small, one too big and the other just right. Felt like Goldilocks. Why bother putting a size on anything if they’re going to be so wildly different?