Whenever I go shopping, I have an experience that I suspect is familiar to most American women: I can never be entirely sure what size clothing to try on. In some stores I’m a size 2, while in others, I’m a 10. It makes online shopping a nightmare, and makes me question just what clothing companies want me to think about my size. Am I supposed to feel better if I’m trying on a 4, despite the fact that I could walk into a store next door and have an 8 fit perfectly? It makes me long for the relative simplicity of men’s sizing, where inches, rather than nebulous sizes, determine what to try on.
This is an issue that shopping malls and other companies are starting to address, according to an article in the New York Times. Wild variations in women’s clothing sizes is, however, an old problem. Whether or not Marilyn Monroe was a size 16 seems to be irrelevant, given that according to findings by Alaina Zulli, a designer focusing on costume history, “A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8…Today, she would wear a 0.”
Over the years, many brands have changed measurements so that women can wear smaller sizes, in a practice known as “vanity sizing.”
Now, companies and shopping malls are starting to try to address the discrepancies in women’s sizes. The most radical approach is a full-body scan offered by a few malls, which tells women which size to try on in which store.
“For the consumer to go out and navigate which one do I match with is a huge challenge, and causes frustration and returns,” said Tanya Shaw, who is working on one of these fit systems. “So many women tie their self-esteem to the size on the tag.”
I’m uncomfortable with the idea of full-body scans to determine sizes – instead, why not push for more informative labels?
“It would be nice just to take the pant, look at the label and say, ‘That should fit me,’” said Marie-Eve Faust, the program director of fashion merchandising at Philadelphia University.
And it’s certainly in the retailers’ best interest to address this issue; according to the National Retail Federation, the 8 percent of clothes that are returned each year may be closely related to sizing challenges. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask that sizes be standard, and that companies stop encouraging an idealized vision of the female body through “vanity sizing,” and instead simply help women find clothes that fit correctly.
Photo from Flickr.