Monday Musings: Dress sizes

Dress size . . . there was a time that I could walk into a dress shop and buy something off the rack without trying it on.  I knew it would fit.  Not anymore and it is very frustrating.   I was looking at skirt sizes on eBay last night (these were for new skirts) and I noticed that waist bands for a size 16 can range from 80cm to 100cm (the brand name clothes tended to be the smaller measurements).  That is a 20cm differences.  However if I looked at a size 12 I could find waist bands that ranged from 70cm to 85cm and size 14 can overlap both the smaller and larger size.  It would be like buying a litre of milk and never knowing quite how much milk I would get.  That is why we have standard measures, expect for clothing.  

Australia has been without a uniform standard for adult clothing sizes since 2007 (I didn’t know that!) when the most recent standard were withdrawn because it was considered no longer relevant. (and no one thought about replacing it with something relevant?) Established in 1959, the standard used was based on a 1926 study of women conducted by underwear manufacturer Berlei and some US Department of Commerce Standards. After 1970, several revisions were made to the standard by the Australian Women’s Weekly when 11,455 female readers measured themselves and posted in the results (I wonder how accurate that would be - I would pretend I was slightly thinner than I was). But despite a heavier population, thicker waist lines (I know all about that!) and changing body shapes, no new data was collected for the women’s sizing standard after 1975.
CHOICE Magazine says men generally have it better than women when it comes to clothes shopping because their clothing is generally measured using specific waist and neck measurements in inches. There is a standard for children’s clothing sizes currently used in Australia. So why can’t there be standard size for women, what makes us different.  I think I know why — women don’t like to buy clothes indicating their “real” size, so designers and manufacturers often understate clothing sizes in a bid to flatter customers' egos and persuade them to buy. This is known as vanity sizing.  “Vanity sizing” is a well-known practice in the $2.8 billion dollar industry, with generous sizes designed to entice the consumer into buying the garment because they feel flattered to fit into a size smaller than their usual one.

I just want to be able to look at a size and know it fits (especially when I am buying on-line) . . . it is very annoying and I am sure I am not the only one who has this problem.  But I doubt it will be fitted any time soon. Anyone else who suffers from this problem? Is this a problem in the USA?


  1. Oh yes it is! I weigh 135 pounds and am 5'8" tall. One store I frequent (well, used to frequest - I rarely buy things anymore!)
    was so extreme in their vanity sizing that I could sometimes wear a size two. At other stores I'm a four, a six, an eight, or maybe even a ten. At other stores they don't have things small enough to fit me. It makes no sense! I'm not a little toothpick!

    In patterns I take a 12 (sometimes a 10 on top, or a 14 on bottom, if it is cut quite snug). In true vintage patterns I even have to watch the 12s....sometimes a 14 is what I really need. It makes for an awful, awful shopping experience, and I believe that it is one reason that I make so much of my own stuff now.

  2. Yes Jo it is frustrating isn't it! I could never buy anything without first trying it on.

    Not only am I unsure of the sizing, but sometimes something may fit, but just doesn't look any good because of my body shape etc.

  3. I didn't know the standard had changed, but now it makes sense why sizes have been so wildly different in the past few years - like you, I used to be able to tell exactly what size I would need! Vanity sizing is ridiculous - what is wrong with this world that people can't just face up to the truth anymore??? We live in a fake world half the time!
    I don't buy many clothes from the shops anymore, so commercial sizes haven't become that important to me, but as I get older I have noticed that even sewing pattern sizes can vary quite a bit... I guess the older you get the more difficult it is as your body shape changes quite a bit. Ugh. I never knew growing older came with so many changes!!

  4. I think this has worked to my advantage. I was a size 14 when I left school and still am now, apparently, despite the kilos I have gained over those 30 years.
    I never buy without trying either for the same reasons as Amanda.

  5. It is terribly frustrating! I'm not very fashion aware & hate shopping for clothes. Having to try everything on drives me nutty.

  6. I am glad that I am not alone on this problem - it is very frustrating that vanity sizing can take over from common sense! What next will they do it with. As I buy most of my clothes over the net I need to be very careful with the sizes and ask questions if they are not adequate. I generally get it right:)

  7. Well, having come from the US and now living in the UK, I can tell you most assuredly, NONstandard women's clothing sizing is a major problem in both places. All the sizes are different, no matter what the numbers say. A 14 in one store is not necessarily a 14 in the next, or even on the next rack over. And "vanity sizing" is a big part of the problem in the US, definitely. It's frustrating because you have to spend so much extra time trying to figure out what the right size for you really is, just in that one particular garment. I buy ALL of my clothes online, because where I live there is nothing at all, and even if we drive to Inverness (an hour away) there is very, VERY little choice and virtually no quality. And yes, buying online has its downside because of the sizing. Like you, I have to read carefully and ask lots of questions. It's crazy, isn't it?


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