Tags: Inconsistent Clothing Sizes, Industry Insiders, Standard Sizing, Vanity sizing

Inconsistent clothing sizes are just the reality for American women. An item labeled as a size 14 in one brand may be consistent with a 16 in another brand, or even a 12 in yet another brand. The sizes can be so different that many shoppers will routinely grab the same garment is a variety of sizes when heading to the dressing room. From good intentions to vanity sizing there have been a lot of twists and turns that have led to the inconsistent sizes offered by retailers.

History of Clothing Sizes

Standardized sizing came about in the United States in the 1940’s. Prior to this, it was common in many American households for clothing to be homemade. Even in the early days of retail clothing items were typically not intended to fit well, because it was assumed that items would be tailored to fit an individual.

Introduction of a Standardized Clothing Sizes System

When clothing began to be mass produced, manufacturers were having difficulty determining clothing sizes. The Department of Agriculture, and eventually the National Bureau of Standards stepped in to create a standard system. It was an ambitious effort, but ultimately the project was doomed to failure. The initial sampling was not large enough to be representative of the average American. This sizing system also made the assumption that all ladies have hourglass figures, so it immediately did work for the majority of American women. The efforts were well intentioned, but they did not collect enough data to create a comprehensive sizing system.

Start of Inconsistency in Women’s Clothing Sizes

Over time many brands and manufacturers deemed the sizing system impractical. The scale did not fit everyone and brands began to shift to adjust their designs to fit their target demographics. The standardized system was intended to make it easier for consumers to shop multiple brands, but it just never achieved that goal. There was no regulation or enforcement of the standardized sizing system. Sizing was and still is determined by each brand, and this accounts for the variation.

Sizing Standard Officially Abandoned

The Department of Commerce threw in the towel in 1983 and put an end to the clothing sizes standard. Without any official oversight, clothing lines were able to assign whatever size they wanted to their products. Slowly clothing sizes migrated away from the established standards. Over time this has evolved into what is known as vanity sizing.

Outsourcing is Partially To Blame

To further complicate matters, sizing is not even consistent within one brand. As several viral posts have recently indicated a person can wear very different sizes from the same brand. Yet another contributing factor to the variance in clothing sizes lies with manufacturers. Very few brands produce their designs in house. Clothing manufacturing is often outsourced, and this work is typically done overseas. One brand may work with several manufacturers. Each manufacturer may use their own sizing charts. This is how one brand can carry a size 14 blouse and a size 14 jacket that are not the same size and may fit the same person differently. If both garments were made at different manufacturing facilities they could end up being very different.

Difficulty of Assigning Size

It is easy to criticize everything that is wrong with the clothing sizes system, but it is not an easy undertaking. Sizing is difficult because there are so many possibilities. There are consumers who may wear different sizes in shirts than they do in pants. This is part of the struggle around dress shopping, particularly when it comes to plus size dresses. For many consumers, it is almost impossible to find a dress that fits both their bust and their hips.

Same Size But Very Different Body Shape

People wear the same size for different reasons. The height and measurements can be significantly different between two plus size individuals who both wear a size 16, for instance. It is possible one person could be 6’2” and another could be 5’3” and yet both may wear the same size. The clothing will fit them completely differently. This is part of the struggle clothing designers face when designing a line.

One Segment of the Industry Tends to Stay True to Standardized Sizing

Women’s formal wear has mostly stayed true to the original sizing structure. This is why many women find that wedding dresses, bridesmaid gowns and even some prom gowns that fit are a drastically different size from everything else they wear that also fits. For example, a woman who typically wears a size 8 in casual or even business clothing, may wear a size 16 when it comes to formal wear.

Brands Use Sizing to Fit and Appeal to Their Target Customers

Brands mostly stick to what their demographics prefer, or rather what they think their demographics will prefer. For this reason, a medium blouse made by a brand that caters to older demographics can be very different from what brands that skew towards Juniors sizing call a medium.


The Emergence of Vanity Sizing

It is no secret that Americans have an obsession with being that ideal weight. A bonus of being smaller is wearing small sized clothing. Vanity sizing is a practice many brands undertake where clothing is labeled as being a size smaller than what it is actually. The logic is that this will appeal to the customer’s sense of vanity. A consumer who is a size 20 would rather buy clothing labeled as size 18 or even a size 16.

Vanity sizing is now firmly entrenched. The divide between what the standard sizing system established and what appears on the racks is consistently growing. Clothing is continually sized smaller, which means finding the right fit is an ongoing challenge.

Vanity sizing works because it appeals to the desire to be a smaller size. For many individuals, clothing sizes can closely tie to self-esteem. It is important to keep in mind that clothing sizes are inconsistent and irrelevant. What matters is how clothing fits and how it makes you feel, not what the tag says.

Vanity sizing is a ploy on the part of a brand to create a positive association between the shopper and the brand. If the shopper feels happy when they try on a garment they will be more likely to purchase that clothing. The consumer will also be more likely to seek that brand out next time they shop. Vanity sizing manipulates consumers and creates a sense of brand loyalty.

Creation of Nonexistent Sizing

When clothing labels smaller than what it really is it causes a problem for consumers who actually fit into legit small sizes. If clothing that is tagged a size 2 is really a size 4 or a size 6, this makes finding clothing that fits a real problem for consumers who are an actual size 2. This has led to the introduction of size 0 and even size 00, which is sometimes known as sub zero.

The Futility of the Size Chart

Trying to maintain standard clothing sizes was a bit of a losing battle for many brands. Now that there is no standard system and vanity sizing has taken over things are chaotic. For a brand that only carries their own clothing, several size charts may be necessary. In department stores that carry numerous brands, multiple sizing charts may be necessary, but the store will typically only feature one. Consumers rarely have an accurate point of reference when selecting clothing sizes in a department store.

Plus Size Consumers Are Overlooked

Sizing inconsistency is all the more of a challenge for plus size consumers. Most clothing designers create garments for people who are an actual size 12 or less. It creates a greater challenge to find fashionable options. 

For plus size individuals not only are the clothing sizes pretty much arbitrary, the fit is not always consistent, accurate or comfortable. Clothing designs are rarely made for distinctly plus size in mind. What typically happens is non-plus size clothing is just sized up. This method does not take into account the way weight is carried and distributed on the body, so the fit is poor. As more plus size boutique options become available and retailers begin to acknowledge the plus size demographic there are more quality clothing options available.

Brands Create Variety to Help Consumers Find the Right Fit

Many brands have shifted to offering a variety of sizing scales within their offerings. One brand may offer a curvy scale, a long and lean scale and more. Each scale may identify size differently. A size 14 across the various scales may not be consistent, but shoppers are more likely to find clothing that fits. When the shopper identifies which scale complements their body they can then narrow down to the right size.

The good news is this provides a way for consumers to find clothing that fits. An individual is given more options, so they have the chance to find clothing that accurately fits. This can still be frustrating for a consumer. It requires research and trial and error to find the right scale and the right fit within that scale. This system then requires the consumer to remember various scales and sizes that work for them. Multiple sizing scales are a way for brands to offer a wider variety of sizes. Each brand will have their own scales, so it can be challenging for a consumer to wade through all of the options to find the right fit.

The Impact of Sizing on Online Business

As retail business is moving more rapidly from brick and mortar stores to online stores inconsistent clothing sizes are not impeding business, but they are still proving to be a big problem. Consumers in a physical store can try items on and make a purchasing decision based on fit. In an online setting, shoppers have to look at a sizing chart and make an informed guess.

Purchasing Clothing with the Plan to Return It

Return rates for online orders are higher than return rates for brick and mortar sales. Improper fit is the often the reason for clothing returns. This has even led to the trend of almost half of all online retailers offering free return shipping. Studies show the easier and less expensive the return process is the more likely consumers are to make an online purchase in anticipation of making a return. For many online shoppers, it is common practice to purchase the same garment in a range of sizes, knowing that several will be ill fitting. The plan is to keep the one that fits the best and return the rest. Since size is practically irrelevant this is the easiest way to find clothing that fits.

Business Opportunities Created by Inconsistent Clothing Sizes

The failing of the current state of clothing sizes has created a need for subscription services that work as a personal stylist online. Finding the right fit can take time and be overwhelming. Working with an online styling service can eliminate the hassle and help a shopper to find the right fit. An emerging field within the online stylist realm is plus size fashion stylist. Inconsistent clothing sizes can be a challenge for everyone, but in the plus size demographic the problem is intensified.

Technology May Improve Finding the Right Fit

Emerging technologies may help matters. Fit technology is an emerging field that aims to make the struggle of finding clothing that fits a thing of the past.

Three-dimensional scanning and digital changing rooms can determine just the right fit that helps tailors make precise alterations or can direct consumers to the proper size in a given garment. There are also some options that give online shoppers the ability to virtually try clothing on before placing an item in their cart. Software like is a tool retailer can add to their websites that allow consumers to input their measurements in order to create a virtual version of themselves. This avatar can then try on clothing and the program can even suggest sizes.

The Problem of Inconsistent Clothing Sizes May Become Obsolete

This technology could replace the current trial and error method must consumers employ when shopping and searching for the right clothing sizes. These new technologies have not been widely adopted, so the impact cannot be evaluated as of yet. The in person scanning technologies are only available in select boutiques, mostly in major cities at this time. It is hard to know how effective these technologies will be. Online shopping sales continue to outpace the numbers put up in brick and mortar locations, so it is unknown at this point if these technologies will drive shoppers back to malls and department stores. Eventually, there is sure to be a way for shoppers to be able to easily identify the size that offers the best fit through the use of technology.

The post THE PROBLEM WITH INCONSISTENT CLOTHING SIZES appeared first on Plvsh Style.

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