Have you ever been shopping for clothes, whether in-store or online, and the clothes look so cute on the models or mannequins, but when you try the clothes on, they don’t look quite right? Or how about when you try on clothes from one store, you’re a certain size, but when you try on that same size at a different store, the clothes don’t fit. Even more frustrating is when you try on clothes from the same store, like pants in the same size but different styles, but they fit completely different.
I know firsthand that is so frustrating and can sour the whole shopping experience. Whether you’re trying on clothes in the dressing room or your own room, if piece after piece doesn’t fit and the clothes don’t look right, you may even start thinking that there’s something wrong with you.
I’m here to tell you: It’s not you; it’s the clothes.
Standardized Sizing History
And it all started back in the early 1900s. Up until that time, most women/girls’ clothes were made either by themselves or by someone who took their measurements and sewed clothes for them. Men’s clothing had been standardized since the 1860s because the US had to mass produce uniforms for the Civil War, and most men had a common ratio of chest size/waist measurement/pant leg length. The textile industry wanted to make manufacturing women’s clothes more efficient and profitable. In 1941 the US Department of Agriculture published a research project called “Women’s Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction.” Researchers took 58 different body measurements from nearly 15,000 women, and after analyzing their data (without computers), they picked the five measurements they felt were necessary for sizing clothing: bust/chest, waist, hips, height and weight. But even with a sample size that large, unfortunately the data they got was actually flawed. The women who participated in the project volunteered because they needed the money and were likely malnourished. Additionally these women were mostly white, so other races and ethnicities’ body shapes and sizes weren’t factored in. And the study assumed all women had an hourglass body shape (which they don’t).
The standardized sizing for women’s clothing created from this project didn’t work for many women, making for a lot of unhappy customers. Standard sizing was reanalyzed and readjusted multiple times over the next few decades. Then in the early 1970s companies started integrating vanity sizing, where they’d label clothing a smaller size than the actual/standard size. Companies knew they could make more money off women’s insecurities. If a woman was shopping for a dress, and fit a size 10 at one store and a size 8 at a different store, she was more likely to buy the size 8 dress because it made her feel better about herself. From then on clothing companies had all sorts of different sizing standards.
Some Sizing Improvements
Up until about 20 years ago, those standards were based on women having an hourglass figure, and very few brands offered options for anyone with a different body shape or non-standard size. It wasn’t until around the early 2000s that tall and short lengths, and straight and curvy fits were offered. I think clothing companies finally accepted that there is no “standard” body type because girls and women have so much variation. In more recent years I’ve noticed an increase in diversity in pictured models’ heights, body shapes, body sizes, race and ethnicity. Even mannequins got adjusted to reflect actual human bodies.
Reduce Shopping Frustrations
While things *have* improved, shopping for clothes today can still be discouraging. I may not be able to solve all the fashion industry’s issues, but I do have some suggestions that I hope will help reduce your shopping frustrations.
It’s Not You; It’s the Clothes
First, and most importantly, please remember: it’s not you; it’s the clothes. There is nothing wrong with you or your body. You don’t need to change yourself to fit–literally or figuratively–into a clothing brand’s narrow sizing standards. Your self worth does not depend on your clothing size, body shape, or weight–they are not connected to your worth. You are enough, just as you are. It’s not you; it’s the clothes.
Next, your usual size may not fit all the time. Sizing standards are different for each brand, and the same brand can have different sizing for certain pieces or styles. For example, you may fit a medium size shirt at Store A, and fit a large shirt at Store B. Or at Store A you could wear a size 6 in wide leg jeans, and at that same Store A fit a size 8 in leggings.
Fabric Affects Fit
Fabrics will fit in different ways, too–some give more stretch (knits, poly blends, spandex) while others are much more stiff (denim, wool, satin, 100% cotton). Check the clothing tag or product information to see what the item is made from. You might need a different size than usual because of what fabric was used.
Change is Normal
Also, during your tween and teen years, your body will change and grow, so with that, your clothing size will change, too–and that’s normal. For girls/women, there is no common measurement ratio like there is for men. A girl could fit a size large for her waist, or for her chest size, or because she’s tall. Some people get hung up on a size number or letter. They insist on buying a certain size, even if it doesn’t fit well, just to say they wear that size. But buying clothes that don’t fit is uncomfortable, the clothes may bunch in places or feel restrictive. Sizes themselves don’t matter; just buy the size of clothes that fit and make you feel good.
Check Size Charts
If you do a lot of online shopping, I find it helpful to check a store/brand’s size chart so I can see the measurements they use for their sizes. The charts usually show bust/chest, waist, hips, and inseam for pants–the measurement from the inner top of the pant leg to the bottom of it. The measurements will either be in inches or centimeters, so pay attention to which it is. If you don’t know what your measurements are, you can find out using tailor’s measuring tape and wrap it comfortably around you to measure your chest/waist/hips/inseam. If you don’t have tailor’s measuring tape, you can take string or ribbon, and–same thing–wrap it around the measurement you’re taking and mark it where the string meets. Then use a ruler or tape measure to measure from the beginning of the string/ribbon to the mark you made and write that measurement down for future reference. Now you’ll know what your measurements are, so when you check a store’s sizing chart, you’ll know which size you should buy for your measurements. If the online shop has a generous return policy, you might want to buy a couple sizes you’re close to, see which fits the best, and return the ones that don’t.
Another tool to help you determine what size to wear is customer feedback. People leave reviews for a clothing item and report on if it runs too big/small/true to size. Sometimes they’ll include what size they bought along with their own height and weight. Some stores will even list these details for the models pictured, however, they way something looks and fits on the model or mannequin may look and fit differently on you. Not only because every body is different, but also because sometimes stores will adjust or alter the clothes (like cinch extra fabric) to make the clothes look more flattering than they actually are so the store can sell more product. But customers are typically pretty honest when leaving reviews, so reading their opinions can help you make an informed decision on whether to buy and which size.
Shopping for clothes can be kind of a pain. The fashion industry has a complicated history and today it still has plenty of room for improvement. But I hope this discussion helps take away some of the frustrations so you have an easier time finding clothes that fit and make you feel good.
It’s Not You; It’s the Clothes Poster Printable
To help you remember all of this, I created a “It’s Not You; It’s the Clothes” poster for you to print out, personalize, and post on your wall where you’ll see it, remember it, practice it, and believe it — that’s the important part.
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