Pricewatch: Readers’ queries
What is going on with women’s clothes sizes?
The vagaries of clothes sizes are nothing new. A size 10 in one shop can be a 14 in another
Makers of women’s clothes deceive to flatter with sizes
We got an interesting letter from a woman mystified by clothes sizes. “During the past week I bought two garments for myself – I am 5ft 4in and weigh 12 stones. One, a top that could be described as roomy, is labelled size 14, while a jacket that only just about buttons down the front is labelled size 20,” she writes.
“I know from buying for my menfolk that men’s clothes sizes are honestly labelled.”
The vagaries of clothes sizes are nothing new. A size 10 in one shop can be a 14 in another, mostly because the numbers are meaningless. Clothes sizes only became a thing in the 1920s, when mass-production techniques allowed chain stores to sell huge amounts of ready-to-wear clothing. Back then, clothes-makers created their own sizing system without using standardised measurements. Chaos ensued until the late 1930s, when the US carried out a survey of women’s measurements to create a standardised sizing system.
Nearly 20 years later, a commercial standard size was published, and combined a figure for bust, height and hip. However the system was quickly out-of-date, as body shapes changed a lot from 1939 to the 1960s, and have continued to change, leading to the free-for-all that exists now.
Some clothes makers indulge in vanity sizing, which means making their 10s more generous in order to make people feel better about themselves. Geography is also at play, with US sizes tending to be bigger than European ones.
On the excellent website sizes.darkgreener.com, data analyst Anna Powell-Smith collected and parsed data related to clothes sizes in shops in the UK. She found that a size 16 at Jaeger has a bust of 108cm, a waist of 88cm and hips of 114cm, while a size 16 at Banana Republic has a bust of 98cm, a waist of 77cm and hips of 103cm. “That’s a four-inch difference, and it’s not unusual,” she writes.
She assumed that the pricier stores would size smaller, “but that’s not actually true. Counter-intuitively, a size 10 from upmarket Whistles, Zara, or Reiss is actually quite a bit bigger than a size 10 at Asos, Monsoon or M&S. And mass-market Next consistently has the smallest sizes on the high street,” she says.
She has also found that different body shapes are flattered by different stores. “Broadly, M&S, Karen Millen and French Connection look the most pear-shaped: Banana Republic and Warehouse are best for the top-heavy: LK Bennett and Zara are cut for a fitted waist; while Oasis and TopShop seem most up-and-down.”