What’s Up With Sizes In Women’s Clothing?

Buying clothes should be simple. Can you imagine how much more enjoyable shopping would be if you could walk into a trendy boutique, grab a pair of jeans off the rack sized to your measurements, and find that they fit perfectly?

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. We’re all familiar with the scenario — you find a piece of clothing that is sized the same as items already in your closet, only to find that it doesn’t even come close to matching your physique. Oh well, back to the rack it goes, and you’re off to the next store to find something that actually fits.

Why do we have to put up with the inconsistencies of clothing sizes? Simply Shine Boutique has the answer, and it’s as bewildering as you might think.

The Formative Years of Sizing Women’s Clothing

In the early 1940s, the federal government commissioned a study of the American female body in an attempt to establish some kind of standardized method for sizing women's clothing. Previously, the ready-to-wear sizing system that was implemented for women’s clothing was based on menswear standards, not womenswear.

The study proposed a system of numerical sizes that weren’t based on a specific set measurement, but instead took into account the diversity of the female physique. Looking for a logical way to craft a variety of clothing sizes for their customers,  manufacturers quickly latched onto the standards, and they were commonplace across the industry within a few years.

The original study was revisited in the late 1950s by the National Bureau of Standards, when statisticians took additional measurements from another group of women and added them to the findings. Based on these results, the restructured sizing standards became compulsory for the clothing industry, and they remained that way until 1983 when the U.S. government abandoned the involuntary guidelines entirely.

The clothing manufacturing industry, not surprisingly, took government abandonment of the rules as permission to turn the world of “sizing” into a Wild West exhibit where anything went. Every manufacturer had a different idea of how to size for their clients, and the result was a hodge-podge of guidelines that didn’t make any sense when shopping from one brand to another. That trend continues to this day.

Modern-Day Updates

A size 14 body type was long considered to be average for American women. This changed when a study published in 2010 showed that the average size had increased to 16-18. This study went on to urge clothes makers to immediately update their standards on size.

It seems parts of the industry are listening. More stores are now carrying larger sizes, and fashion designers are becoming more aware of the fact that not all women have the same body type as Taylor Swift and other skinny celebrities. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has introduced industry-wide standards based on the 2010 study, and more and more U.S. companies are giving credence to a standard that can possibly work for everyone involved, from creator to customer. Only time will tell if the ASTM’s guidelines are finally set in concrete.

Vanity Sizing

The fashion industry eventually realized that many women do not want to admit - openly, anyway - what their real size is when shopping for clothes, so “vanity sizing” was introduced as a way to make manufactured clothing more appealing to shoppers. Essentially, vanity sizing is when a manufacturer assigns smaller sizes to articles of manufactured clothing than is really the case, in order to encourage sales.

While vanity sizing may make you feel better about your body - being able to fit into a size 3 dress as opposed to normally wearing a size 8 is bound to increase your self-esteem - it’s incredibly disingenuous and has led to severe sizing disparity among clothing makers, labels, and designers. That pair of size 6 jeans in your closet may fit you perfectly, but try to buy a size 6 pair at the store down the street and you will likely find they are either too baggy or too tight.

Since its inception, the marketing gimmick known as vanity sizing has increased substantially. Not only do many clothes makers consider a size 0 to be the “ideal” for women, they have a habit of frequently shrinking the bar — in 1958, for example, a size 8 corresponded with a waist of 23.5 inches. By today’s vanity sizing-standards, a size 8 has increased by five to six inches in that measurement.

Love it or hate it, vanity sizing is not going anywhere anytime soon. Until another organization finally sets forth a standardization that is acceptable to everyone in the clothing industry, those involved in it will continue to size women’s clothing according to their own concepts.

Clothing For Every Woman, No Matter Your Size

At Simply Shine Boutique, we cater to an eclectic group of clients. Big or small, we’ll carry something that will fit you just right and highlight your ingrained beauty. From jeans to dresses to tops, you’ll find something to fall in love with.

Visit our website to browse our wide selection. We look forward to helping you find that perfect piece of clothing!


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