Fashion & Style

Clothing size for women

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Why size six really is the new fourteen
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Does size matter? Why size standardization is vanishing from fashion industries

Clothing size for women is becoming increasingly difficult to decipher.  This can be attributed both to changing times and to a phenomemon known as “vanity sizing.”  While Americans have statistically gotten larger, women’s clothing sizes have gotten smaller.  The end result is that the current American clothing size system is skewed and there is no true standardization of sizing in the fashion industry.

The primary underlying problem with clothing size for women is that in the United States, sizing is based on data from 1942, when women were on average 5 feet 2 inches and weighed 129 pounds.  Today, the average woman is 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 142 pounds.  Technically, clothing sizes should be increasing to accommodate changes in the figures of American women. 

However, retailers have become acutely aware that sizing affects women’s attitudes, and attitude can affect a woman’s decision of whether to purchase a particular clothing item.  These days, each and every designer has the right to create their interpretation of each clothing size for women.  Thus, designers have adopted a trend known as “vanity sizing” 

Some brands have even revamped their entire sizing system. For example, the Chico's brand did away with the traditional 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 concept and instead carries clothing sizes that range from 0 to 3.  Designer Lane Bryant has a line of "custom jeans" that range from size one to size six....but the actual sizes compare to 14 to 28.  Old Navy and the Gap used to carry both even and odd size clothing numbers (0,1,2,3...6,7,8...etc) but today they only have even numbers. 

Some high-end designers such as J. Jill, Anne Taylor and Coldwater Creek have even introduced size 0, 00, and other subzero sizes.  It's anyone's guess as to how far the vanity sizing craze will really go.  Perhaps clothing size for women will eventually be advertised in negative integers.

In 2003, a study that measured over 1,011 pairs of women's pants found that more expensive brands tended to reflect smaller sizes than cheaper ones of the same nominal size.  The vanity sizing trend is also reflected in a line from the award winning film "The Devil Wears Prada." Happy to be a size 6, the impressionable young fashion assistant Andy Sachs is soon brought down to size: Six, her mentor declares, "is the new 14."

To see vanity sizing in action, just take a look at Marilyn Monroe, whose voluptuous body required a size 16 back in the '50s.  However, by today's sizing, Marilyn would actually more of a 6/8. Generally speaking, clothing sized in the 1950s can be cut in half for an idea of today's mainstream sizing.

The dramatic fluctuation in clothing size for women over the past few decades, along with the sizing inconsistencies between different brands, designers, and stores, has made it very difficult for many women to know exactly what size they are.  These days, it is impossible for shoppers to tell if a garment will fit unless they actually try it on.  Perhaps this is why women take so long in the dressing room! 

Whatever the future may hold for women's clothing sizes, one thing is for certain, before you purchase an item, make sure that the stores or boutiques maintains a sound return policy!

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