Or to be more specific, the lack of it. One of the reasons we got into the plus sized clothing business is because we found the struggle of ‘average sizes’ a nightmare. Our founders all either experienced or watched their loved ones struggle with sizing – and any woman or man who knows a woman understands the same struggle.
Despite being one size in Next, the same size in Hobbs would be miles too small, or too big. It’s one of the most frustrating things about shopping for women’s clothing, and it’s quite a universal experience. And it got us thinking, how do all of these high street shops decide what a size 14 really is?
The Beginnings Of Sizing
Before mass production came about, clothes were all made by a tailor or a family member who was handy with a needle and thread, so the notion of a ‘standard size’ hadn’t even been conceived. But as the population increased and industrialization took off, manufacturers needed a way of producing clothes that fitted the maximum number of people while still being economically efficient. Soon enough, a clever soul with an aptitude for anthropometry figured out that the deviation of key body measurements in the general population was quite small and could be increased and decreased in fairly linear increments. This discovery came about at the same time that the paper pattern was introduced, so each size of pattern was given a ‘paper grade’.
‘Standardized’ Clothing Sizes
In 1957 the National Joint Clothing Council compiled the very first British Standard of Women’s Measurements and Sizes and the information in this journal is what has formed the basis of average size guides for manufacturers ever since, right up until today. The big problem with this approach is that nobody is average. That’s why high street clothes don’t always fit that well – they haven’t been made for the unique shape of your body.
But it gets worse than that. In 1982 fashion manufacturers switched to the British Standard ISO 3635 Size designation for clothes. The problem was that not only was this standard still based on the same data as the original study, but it was not compulsory to use. This began the trend of ‘vanity sizing’, where retailers started to customize the ‘standard sizes’ to flatter their target markets. This means that two garments from two retailers could be the same size on paper, but their dimensions could be hugely different.
Unfortunately, that’s where the story ends. We’re still using that same sizing standard that was invented in 1982, and it still isn’t compulsory to use the data to create it. Vanity sizing is now something every woman has been the victim of, and rather than ‘flattering’ as it was originally intended, it now causes more hurt and damage than ever before. This is especially true for any women who fall outside the ‘standard’ sizing and into plus sizing. Over the years there have been many campaigns calling on the clothing industry to truly standardize women’s clothing sizes in the same way men’s is, but with limited success. Instead, vanity sizing s used to play to women’s insecurities and manipulate them into buying more clothing just because of the size tag – or to make them feel worthless unless they can fit into those smaller sizes. And as the ‘average’ size has crept up, the fashion industry hasn’t kept up with it.
At Elle Courbee we believe that sizing should not only be completely standardized, but de-stigmatized as well. In an ideal world, ‘plus sized’ wouldn’t be a term, clothing would all just be clothing. We’d love to know where you stand on this issue, and what changes you would like to see in the sizing world.