Friday, July 01, 2011

The Size Is the Limit

Yesterday, after lunch with a friend, I headed out to Fallen Timbers, an outdoor mall of shops in Maumee. I didn't particularly need anything, but I wanted a little looksee through the "end of season" selection. I say end of season because stores like The Gap were already selling off their summer stuff, clearance style, in preparation to get new things in. I also discovered a new store, Charming Charlie, which is a large accessories store organized by color. I bought two large purses there, which is unlike me. I also bought two large hats at Dillard's and etc., elsewhere, so it really was quite a brazen, delightful spree.

It's the etc. I want to talk about, though: the clothes. Women have been moaning about the sizes in clothes for years, and not just about their own body size and shape. No, it's more and more about the frustration women feel when they are unable to identify their size from store to store. I experienced this frustration firsthand, in the most extreme way, on my Fallen Timbers adventure.

Theoretically, you should be able to fit into a size 6 dress in one store, go to another store, and fit equally well into their size 6. Of course, bodies have different characteristics and components of different sizes. Everyone's body is different, and it is indeed difficult to be one size from head to toe. A woman with large hips may have a small chest, and vice versa. A woman with well developed calves may have poorly developed arms. A woman with a long torso may have short legs. You get the picture. Thus, there will be some garments near one's size that just won't fit.

It is also true that, from store to store, a slight variation would be natural, depending on makers of clothing. This is particularly true for a Misses' store versus one that caters more to juniors and young women (Forever 21, for example). Women of all ages shop there, but the sizes are juniors. As Wikipedia delicately phrases it, juniors' clothes have "higher bust, shorter back." Yes, juniors' sizes are odd and misses' are evens, but they do not actually align exactly. (I'm linking to Wikipedia's chart here for easy reference.)

Then, there are the components of ease and "vanity sizing." Ease, for those of you unfamiliar with pattern language, is the amount of give in a garment's design. A nonstretch wool dress that is made to be tight to the body will have very little ease. Likewise, today's jeans have very little ease. If it fits, it fits. If it doesn't, you know immediately. A white dress shirt, on the other hand, generally has quite a bit of ease. So does a wrap dress. Clothes in a store do not have ease marked, so that can account for some size variation.

Vanity sizing is another matter entirely. This is the garment industry's response to women complaining about how big they feel. Sizes have shrunk in some stores and not in others as a result.

But, all these things considered, I am still not convinced that they account for the egregious differences I encountered in my most recent shopping missions.

Generally, I am safe with a S in Juniors' and XS in Misses', but not always--the Misses' size is sometimes too big, and I can often get away with an XS in Juniors, and other times a M. This is handy knowledge when I get a T-shirt from Delia's (S is safer these days) or a sweater from Victoria's Secret (XS or S for a garment with little ease).

Any time numbers are involved, though, the picture changes. I should note that I am well aware that I am cobbled together from many different sizes. One foot is longer, the other wider. I have a small bust and a long torso. My size has also fluctuated lately. I know all this. Well.

Including my haul from yesterday, in the last three weeks or so I have bought:
Speedo one-piece swimsuit: Misses' size 10
White House Black Market skirt: Misses' size 00 (that's right--00)
Charlotte Russe tops: size S (? or XS...these are drapey tops, and therefore a great deal of ease).
Victoria's Secret shorts: size S
Jessica Howard dress: 4P (And it was a little short under the arms and a trifle big in the bust)

I tried on but did not buy:
Cargo Capris: Misses' size 8 (a little loose, but they stayed on)
Cargo shorts: Juniors' size 3 (came down a mite too low, too short in the crotch area)

Finally, in sewing patterns, I consistently make a size 6.

Do you, as I do, notice a problem? My favorite is the swimsuit to skirt ratio. Yes, again, I have a long torso, but really. As a result of this type of problem, I hardly ever buy numbered clothing from a catalog. I simply can't. I can't imagine ordering pants and having them fit. The three times I've ordered dresses for weddings, I was anxious--and the sizes of those were a 4, a tight 2, and a loose 2, which isn't perhaps unreasonable but is still worrying.

The garment industry is in for a rude awakening if this keeps up. Women are busier and busier as the years go by. They do not have time to put up with changing room nonsense, and I have known women who have quit shopping because they never know their size and thus feel defective or overworked in a store. It isn't about vanity any more (if it ever was). It's about time, and the practicality of the event combined with the delight shopping is meant to bring. Who can enjoy themselves if they have to pick three sizes of every item to try on, and then figure out none of them is the right size? No one is going to breeze into a store because they've seen something in a window if they know it will take several tries to get the size right. People always need clothes, it's true, but the industry as a whole needs to reconsider its position and collectively work on a more agreeable sizing system.

I have hopes--scant ones, but they're there--that our gradually growing appreciation of many body sizes and shapes will have a positive effect on the garment and fashion industry. Some stores, Land's End and Victoria's Secret included, have become better about describing the fit of their garments, and making different versions or "fits" for different shapes. But if the sizes don't correlate, that isn't much help to someone who has not bought from a store before (especially if the store has changed its provider, as Charlotte Russe changed its denim brand several years ago).

The industry is ever-morphing. But if it wants to keep customers and avoid the tense frustration and even anger of unhappy shoppers, garment manufacturers need to get it together not on what a size 10 means, but what it actually is.


Cloud of Secrets said...

One trick I have heard to save changing room haulage and time is to bring a tape measure. Measure the garment across the bust and/or hips to see if it's a remote fit. Like, say my bust measurement is 36 -- I can measure across a top on its hanger to see if it's reasonably 18 across, with allowance for stretch. I think I learned that from the Pocket Stylist book.

One thing I like about Ann Taylor is that they make a conscious effort to provide consistent sizing, and accuracy in their size charts. They want women to know which size they are at Ann Taylor, and to easily order more items in that size and to know they'll work. It's like they know they deal with a lot of busy career women who don't want to order and try on four different suit pant sizes.

I'm kind of excited to hear that fall clothes are already on their way. I...just don't do well with summertime palettes and little sleeves (or no sleeves).

Abs said...

Did the book give any advice about torso length? I have the worst time with pants and swimsuits, and some shirts. It's just so hard to tell. I have never tried on more swimsuits in my *life* as I did in Dunham's trying to find one that fit. I tried on a bunch of Land's End ones at Sears, and none of those fit, either--I'm glad I didn't try to order one!
I guess I wasn't opposed to fall clothes coming so much as shocked that so much of summer has elapsed. And that it was summer clearance starting already. I'm glad I snagged some sale stuff, though!

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