Monday, 18 April 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All, Revisited

(Apologies in advance a) that it’s a bit of a rant and b) that all measurements are in inches – just feeling my age a little!)
A recent shop conversation got me started on the clothing sizes issue again.  I was chatting to three other women (like you do …). Coincidentally, two of us were size 10, two were size 24.  Two were 5’1”, two were 5’9”; we covered the permutations for the four parameters short/tall thin/fat.  To somebody watching, we looked probably like OiIo.  The young, bored assistant looked at us as if we had all crawled out from under a rock.

Size of a top?
(Disdainfully) It says on the label - Large.
How large is large?
Size 14.
These skirts?
Well they’re elasticated, one size.
What does that mean?
One size fits all.
But the elastic on this one only stretches to about 40 inches, so that’s at most a size 14/16? ….

Too small for the size 24s and potentially too loose for the size 10s.  They all appeared to be the same length - too long for the 5’1, too short for the 5’9”.  I doubt the sales assistant cared, but 4 women x 2 items of clothing = 8 potential sales.  Score for the store = 0/8.  And I don’t care if they can order one in (what might be) my size, or have something made to measure.  It would have to be absolutely perfect to make me forget about making it for myself.

I first encountered the 10/small, 12/medium, 14/large when I was a teenager.  I remember my much younger and slimmer self, at a time when size 12 was average, hating that at size 14 I was considered Large.  It was like name-calling.  You’re large = you’re big, you’re fat.  So a 16 would be Extra Large and beyond that?  Huge, giant, gargantuan?     I used to wonder whether very slender women at the other end of the scale minded being extra-extra small?  Come to think of it, I’m not sure there was much in the range of size 6 clothing then.  If you were that small, you probably had to shop in the children’s department!  At least the range of available sizes has improved since then.

Anyway, size 14 isn’t Large!
The average size for UK women is now 5’4” 14-16 (Bust 39-41”, waist 32-34”, hips 40-42”*).

(*Source: Fashionworld, part of J D Williams & Company Ltd.  They have done a lot of research into clothing sizing and specialise in providing clothing in larger sizes as well as different lengths.)

There has also been quite a shift in clothing sizes over the past 30 years, particularly in the waist measurement.  When I was a teenager, size 14 was generally 36-26-38, (although the ‘ideal’ was 36-24-36), so 10” between bust and waist size was usual.  Now 7” seems to be the norm, much to the annoyance of those with curvy hourglass figures.  Were I the same size today as I was when I was 18 (I wish!) then I would be wearing a size 12.

The difference implied by the words Average and Large is enough to make you forget that there’s only nominally 2” difference between sizes. Sizes may also differ by 2” between one manufacturer and another.  And then there’s fashion ease, the designers’ idea of how loosely or tightly a garment should fit, another 2” or maybe more.  Plus or minus 4”, (that is, roughly 10%), may be insignificant or may be the difference between something fitting, or not.

In the end, the clothing size label is only a guide, but we get hung up on sizes and measurements, as if we’re defined by them.  Our bodies’ measurements, in all their variations, are just numbers reflecting our individuality.  My advice is, know your measurements, carry a tape measure, try things on in any size you think will fit (if it’s available!) … and remind shop assistants that one size does not fit all, and a size 14 is not Large!

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