A Four is a Two is a Six
Posted on August 7, 2020 Posted by Athena Scalzi 120 Comments
One thing to know about me is that I love shopping. Like, so much so that it’s an issue. Much like Ariana Grande said in 7 Rings, “think retail therapy my new addiction.” However, there are so many reoccurring issues I run into when shopping, that you’d think they’d be enough to deter me from the activity overall. For instance, as many of you know, I’m 5′ 10″. This alone makes shopping difficult enough, since almost all pants are highwaters (capris) on me and all dresses are too short for me.
To add to this, I’m chubby as hell. Thicc with two c’s. A real tubby marshmallow, to put it plainly. Being tall and overweight is a tough combination. And while the tall thing is a relatively new issue, I’ve been overweight for half my life. So once I became old enough to shop for myself, and did so quite frequently, finding my size became a bit of a challenge.
For the past few years, I’ve been stuck between “normal” sizes, and “plus” sizes. Normal sizes are typically 00-12 and plus is 14-30. I am constantly on the border between the two, sometimes I fit a 12 and sometimes I fit a 14. And sometimes I’m a 16. And sometimes I’m a medium, and sometimes I’m a large, but also sometimes I’m an x-large.
Point is, women’s sizes are confusing! It’s so hard to know what you are when every store, every clothing line, every designer has different measurements for their cookie cutter sizes. A pair of size 12 pants in one store might fit you perfectly but a pair of 12’s in a different store might be completely different. If you’ve ever seen this image floating around, originally posted by @chloe______e on Twitter, in which all of these pants are a size 12, you can start to see why it’s so hard for women to know what size they really are.
Meanwhile, men’s pants sizes aren’t some random number, like a 4 or an 8, they’re actual inch measurements! 30×32, 33×30, these are numbers with real meaning. This is not to suggest this issue doesn’t happen to men though, because I’ve seen a men’s shirt in a medium and an xx-large be identical before.
As someone who is always stuck in between the normal sizing and the plus sizing, it makes it hard to find clothes at either type of store. For example, if I go into a plus-sized only store, like Lane Bryant, everything is too big, despite the fact that I don’t fit into any of the normal sizes at other stores. There are certain stores, like Rue 21, which divide their stores in half, one half is for normal sizes and one half is for plus sizes. I think this is kind of a bad way to do it, because it feels alienating at times, but I can see how it would work if you assumed everyone knew their size without fail. But in stores like that, I always find myself bouncing back and forth between the two sides, and it’s frustrating!
Not only are the same sizes inconsistent across different stores or brands, but even the same brands will be inconsistent with their sizing, like when a women named Riley Bodley showed that her size 4 jeans were actually smaller than her size 0 jeans, from the same company, but the size 0 pants were bought a few years earlier. Which means that American Eagle made their bigger sizes smaller! I’m in awe, really. How do we (me included) let ourselves be so distraught by what size we wear, when companies are constantly changing the sizes, let alone making them consistently smaller?
I mean what can we expect when clothing companies put out these pre-cut clothes, when every single body is different? How can we think that the same pair of jeans will fit a hundred different people just because they’re all an eight, or a ten, or a four?
So you would think with all this, I would hate shopping, but on the flip side of this chaos, when you actually do find something that fits, and looks good, that moment of joy is fucking addicting. I am someone who does not have stellar body confidence. So when I find something that looks decent on me? I have this innate need to buy it. Because who knows when I’ll find something that fits this well again? Who knows when a dress will look this nice on me again? Better play it safe and buy it. And I have this mentality for literally dozens of clothing items, which leads to me spending way too much on clothes.
Also, I think clothing is such a great way to express yourself! There are so many different styles to explore, aesthetics to showcase. Everyone has such unique taste in clothes, it’s hard not to love fashion when it can be so fun. But I can also understand people who don’t feel the same, who prefer function over fashion, comfort over cuteness. Why waste money on an expensive outfit when a t-shirt and jeans do the trick? And honestly, to each their own. You should always do whatever makes you most comfortable and happy!
This post really is just to express one of my many, many frustrations with the fashion industry. My biggest complaint about the fashion industry is far less surface level than sizing, and has to do with where our clothes come from and the factories and laborers that produce our clothes. Which gives me a perfect opportunity to promote a fantastic book I read not so long ago called Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman! I highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in the source of most of our clothes and the people behind the garment making.
Anyways, that’s all I really had to say, just a bit of a vent piece. I hope it was relatable to some of you! Or at least enjoyable if nothing else. And I hope you have a great day!
(Also, someone in the comments of my last post asked me what the M is for. It’s my middle initial!)
The sizing on men’s pants used to be inches. These days they’re approximations. I regularly wear 32″ waist pants, my actual waist is 34″, and the pants are loose.
I think you’ve summed up the frustration of just about every woman. I can buy clothes for my husband on line without a second thought, but anything for me had to be a brand I know well and returnable.
I recently moved to Ireland, from the US. I had been wearing a 14 misses short in Lee jeans. After we moved to Ireland, I discovered the Dorothy Perkins brand. I bought the UK 16 short size, since according to the tag on the jeans, they were equivalent to the US 14 short. As it turned out, the Lee jeans (which I bought in the US) are hella big on me, and the 16 short here in Ireland are also too big. So, basically, I’m still wearing a 14 short, but in a UK size, and the tag tells me it’s equivalent to a US 12. Which would explain why the Lee jeans were too big…
As a man, relying on pant sizes (which are in actual units linked to standards defined by NIST) is a similar (butt certainly not as extreme) exercise in futility as at least the waist can vary over several sizes. But there is hope: on the Koh’s website they recently asked me what pants (make and model) size was fitting me and they accurately recommended the size for the pair I was looking at. I almost wept…
Right, “M” is for Middle initial, that’s obvious :)
And what Jim says: the inch on men’s clothing is a rather flexible thing these days – different brand, different year, sometimes even just a different color… +/- two inches. Add being seriously tall, and you know why I hate shopping for clothes – and when I find pants in my size, I buy all the stock (that is, the one or two jeans they have at hand).
I’ve heard the effect called ‘vanity sizing’, and it’s the worst, both because it makes everything horribly inconsistent and because it aims to inspire more and more insecurity among women (and sometimes men as well). There was a point around 2007 when I noticed that tops that fit me at the same time ranged from a size (x) to a size (x+10). Later when I was travelling abroad, I discovered that women’s clothing sizes in North America are now noticeably offset from those in the UK, meaning you have to add 4 to the range you’re aiming for when you go over there and go shopping. Go figure.
For these reason and similar concerns about exploitative labour, etc., I basically gave up and started buying almost all my clothes at thrift shops and garage sales. But then it was still the case that I always needed to look through a big range of sizes and try everything on. Began messing around with making my own clothes. Sometimes I just improvise and make things without a pattern, but otherwise, using commercial sewing patterns has been a revelation. They depend on measurements, and where they use sizes, those have stayed more-or-less the same for decades. Not perfect – they assume certain body shapes (my waist is not that small relative to other things!), and some customisation is always going to be necessary anyway for the best fit. But the pattern sizes are really striking. I usually describe my clothing size as a (y) or a (y+2), and in sewing patterns, I’m a (y+12). In the 1960s or 1970s, I bet both of them would have been (y+12), but we’ve been on a slippery slope ever since, and now sizes such as ’00’ exist.
“I’ve seen a men’s shirt in a medium and an xx-large be identical before.”
As a guy I’d assume that either the garment was mis-labeled or _someone_ didn’t follow the laundry instructions. I like buying pre-owned wool shirts and sweaters from e-bay but it’s always a crapshoot. My smaller friends love it ;-)
If I were in need of ‘business’ attire I’d spend the money on good tailoring.
Two things. First, AMS is a medical abbreviation for Altered Mental Status, so that’s what I will be thinking when I see your initials.
Second, a women’s cut is different from a misses cut. That is part of why nothing in Lane Bryant fits you. The same clothing line may have a size 14 misses and a size 14 womens, and they will fit differently because the cut is different. The same is true between junior sizes and misses sizes. Not that this changes any of your points; they are all true, and all frustrating.
M for “My middle initial”. I like it.
As a dude who buys dudes’ clothes, I do appreciate the (relatively) information-rich system of men’s sizing. Although I’ve been known to buy two items of identical sizes from the same maker* to find them fit differently, it’s never been more than an inch or two’s variation.
*With my clothes, using the term “designer” would be a reach.
Hello and welcome, and Middle is the best middle name I have ever heard. Have you thought about learning to sew? I’m a funny shape, and have always made clothes to fit me, or at worst, altered then to suit
Oh yes, this post is unfortunately incredibly relatable.
I buy a lot of my clothes at the same store. I have used the same salesperson for 20 years. She will go to the rack and pull 4 different sports coats in 4 different sizes and they all fit. Same for pants and shirts.
I pay extra at that store compared to a big box, but the expertise and time saving is worth it! Plus, I have ZERO style, fashion, or color sense and her selections always work.
I’m also a woman 5’10 and distinctly overweight. I’ve had a lot of luck with the Woman Within cluster of online catalogs. A good number of their pants are available in tall, which is the main thing I need. I’m also about five hundred years older than you are, so style tastes may differ, but for me it’s a good place to get basics. I also buy a lot of men’s shirts. Having sleeves that are long enough is a big bonus.
I have an opposite problem, and I am not sure it is preferable. I am a very easy fit and I hate shopping for clothes – period. Definitely cheaper though.
So there is stuff in my closet that is considered formal, and every 20 years the cycle brings it back again. Given that the cycle has been badly broken by the pandemic I am not sure how frozen my closet should remain (hydrogen frozen vs CO2 frozen vs mercury frozen).
The non-formal stuff gets worn until it is destroyed. That takes about eight years.
I wish I could say things were different in the UK… but they’re not. I’m UK size 14 – okay, edging more towards a 16 post lockdown weight gain! – and have sometimes had to buy size 18 clothes from particular brands. (Other times, the 18 hasn’t fit and I’ve walked away rather than try a 20.) Sometimes I’m a medium, sometimes large, sometimes extra large. I’ll add that the average woman in the UK is a size 16, so this is shops’ regular customers they’re annoying.
At least these days I can buy from mainstream brands. A few years ago I was a lot heavier and buying clothes in person was an absolute nightmare – most shops had a limited choice if any at all. Almost all shopping had to be online. As for sizing… Well, the jacket I bought that said “6XL” was ridiculous and insulting, when other times I could just get a large. And then there was one plus size specialist brand I found online, but didn’t buy from, which IIRC had a ‘small’ (or maybe even extra small, I can’t remember?) as equivalent to a size 16 and went up from there – almost as stupid as the 6XL…
And then there’s the fact that I have a really big chest… Up until maybe 4-5 years ago I think there was only one company I could really buy bras from that did my cup size, and they were a specialist. Now I have more choices including at least one major department store, but bras are still a lot more expensive than most people have to pay. And an awful lot of clothes just don’t fit over my bust! I’ve learnt to ignore all the oft-repeated things like “don’t wear high necklines with a large chest”… If I followed that rule all the time I’d have my clothing options cut in half, and be freezing during winter.
Well said. I think many women can identify with this, including me.
I’ve been stuck between regular sizes and plus sizes for my entire adult life and it sucks. I find shopping for clothes to just be so tiring and frustrating. I prioritize comfort and utility but I want to be able to wear fun clothes too! I often feel bad for complaining about having trouble finding clothes when I know so many women who wear larger sizes than me who have it even worse. Thank you for your vent! This fellow stuck-in-the-middle person definitely feels you.
Absolutely feeling this. I’m a six foot tall woman, so finding things that are long enough (sleeves that reach my wrists, pant legs that reach my ankles, and dresses with waists that aren’t hovering somewhere on my ribcage) is really difficult. Add in having both sizable hips and butt, but a fairly small waist, and pants are nearly impossible to come by. Heaven forbid you find a pair that fits well and don’t buy extra, because that style will be gone for good in six months. As for sizing, on the same day when I was doing a shopping marathon with a friend, I fit well in a size 10 in one brand, and a size 2 in another. The vanity sizing pain is real, because there’s no way I should ever be wearing a size 2!
Hi Athena! I’m enjoying your foray into Whatever.
In the interest of demystifying the process of clothes (SO frustrating – I am also tall and beyond thicc), and the doggie interest of actually using my otherwise utterly irrelevant degree in the study of clothes:
The industry is completely gaslighting all of us. Sizes like 0, 2, etc. don’t actually have an external meaning, only an internal (brand) meaning. There’s some rare exceptions to that, but the size actually refers to the size label on the company’s dress form, and many companies/brands change the sizing on their dress forms seasonally or from year to year.
Other things such as sleeves also have set sizing, and may be the same length or have the same size opening across multiple sizes (this drives me up a wall as I have broad shoulders on top of the rest of it).
While it doesn’t offer anything remotely approaching assistance I hope it at least sheds a light on this whole bizarre experience of attempting to remain clothed while tall, thicc, and human.
Ah, there’s a problem with men’s pants when you go international, it’s not just the size that matter, but the cut.
Frex, here in Australia the blokes have big arses, so the pants are generously cut, but, if in a fit of madness an Aussie bloke tries on an equivalently sized pair, from, say, an Italian source, where the blokes have small arses, it’s very much like stuffing a sausage skin. And, if you try a pair that are adequately cut, you end up like the clown with the hoop for a belt!
(As the single-parent of a teenage daughter, I have spent many, many hours dealing with the disappointment of non-standard sizing.)
Vanity sizing. The sizes keep changing so women won’t feel fat. I fit into size 16 jeans now but 30 years ago when I was actually thinner the smallest size that fit comfortably was a 20. Price matters, too. The more money you’re willing to spend the more likely you are to find garments that at Walmart would be a 3X described as a 12 or even smaller.
I want to recommend Universal Standard as a clothing company to everyone with this issue. They have really well made clothing in sizes 00 to 40. They. Are. AMAZING. I had the same issue with being between manufacturers—too big for “normal” stores, too small for Lane Bryant. I’ve bought so many pieces from Universal Standard now; they’re at least 10% of my closet, and gaining fast. (Or at least they WERE gaining fast until I stopped buying clothes because pandemic and who cares.). Their pants have POCKETS. I could go on and on. Check them out!
And you haven’t even mentioned pocket sizes in women’s clothes (assuming they have any at all). My daughters constantly, and entirely appropriately, complain about the size of the pockets in my jeans compared to their jeans.
I have a really nice lady at the dry cleaners that I go to that does alterations. She charges $18 a garment, no mater what it is. For common items like polos and tshirts (which are generally what most men wear anyway) I don’t bother. For dress shirts and nice casual wear, I just plan on them costing me $18 dollars more and buy them a little big. Takes a lot of stress out of the finding something to fit part.
My sewing machine is a life saver. If I buy off the rack I can alter anything to fit, and I make clothes for my daughters and myself. They are on the thin side, but the top measurement never matches the bottom measurement in off the rack styles.
Learn to sew – basic stitches are all you need – and a world of style will be open to you!
You are so right, Athena! If I were you, and still held out hope for feminine self expression in my clothing choices, I might heed the call of the self-clothiers here and get a sewing machine. That was, after all, the way of things a few hundred years ago. As a lady heading into middle age and scraping in at just under six-foot, I went the other way, and transitioned entirely to wearing mens’ clothes. I had been getting my pants from the mens’ section since high school, but the final transition happened somewhere in my maternity wear and breast feeding phase, when the belly and the boobs no longer made sense in context. I bought myself some mens’ overalls from the big-and-tall and was finally at peace. Aside from the obvious sizing advantages, I find men’s clothes more durable, more comfortable, and more convenient than womens’ styles. The pockets alone! Who wants a purse when there are functional pockets! But what about the bust you ask? Let me tell you: womens’ styles require a bra to shape you into them. Mens’ styles don’t work with a bra, but that’s fine because the neckline is high enough in mens’ styles that your tits don’t have to be lifted and restrained to avoid escape. Mind you, it took me a decade to reconcile this with my social training. And I do choose my shirts for the camouflaging effect of their patterns. And I probably couldn’t get away with it if I worked at a bank. But as it turns out, dairy cows don’t need the support, and neither do I. I am free at last.
I’m related to a number of AMSes because our last name is a hyphenate of an M-name and an S-name (so my late grandfather, an uncle, an aunt, some cousins, my niece, my daughter…). Though some of them have middle names in addition. No doubt I have had a monumental impact on everyone’s day with this crucial information…meanwhile, I add myself to the coterie of men nodding sympathetically at the insanity that is women’s clothing sizing (and pockets).
My daughter (22, short, round) likes Torrid.
Yes, what you said; what Denise Leigh said.
I am extremely large and an average height for a woman. I deliberately dropped a bunch of weight a few years ago and enjoyed buying clothes to fit my still-very-large body when the clothes I had been wearing were pretty much falling off me. And I started noticing how much more extreme the variations have become in recent years. I see bunches of super-cute clothes on line, but when I check the size charts, the measurements for their ***largest*** size, a 5XL works out to equal a size 18 (US sizing). Sizes 18-20 were an simple XL back in the 1970s and ’80s. Size large covered Misses 14-16; and medium covered 10-20. Once you got to size 18, they were all women’s cut rather than misses. I’ve seen 12 inch differences in bust measurements in clothing marked the same size. Your jeans example was very effective at showing just how much variation is out there.
God, yes, the in-between is SUCH a pain. I wish to goodness that they sold pants for women like they did for men with actual measurements.
One wonders if there is a profit margin about women feeling off-kilter and insecure about our bodies, huh?
Huh. It’s almost as if women’s clothes are sized to force women to conform to someone else’s ideal size system.
I’ve been married for 15 years and been clothes shopping with her and previously with several girlfriends, so I can appreciate what you’re saying. Their solution was to find brands that were reliable in their sizing and shop those brands, but that was them and you are you and you are much younger and still changing more than them.
My wife is an astronomer, runs a 3.5 meter telescope. I pretty much exclusively wear cargo pocket pants that I buy from Duluth Trading. Now, her job requires her to do a lot of physical work, including engineering, and this means schlepping tools. This means needing good pockets. She bought a pair of cargo pocket pants that were the same model as mine (felt-lined: below freezing temperatures in the dome in the winter). Mine, I can put my hands in so deep in the pockets that the top comes up a couple of inches past my wrist. Hers? Same vendor, same model: barely gets her hand in. Even the cargo pockets are vastly smaller.
And these are advertised as ‘rough and ready’ work pants made out of fire hoses.
I’m tempted to make a video of the women at the observatory showing the inadequacy of their pants. These women have PhDs and Masters in astronomy and astrophysics and can’t find good pants with pockets for carrying tools in.
Why isn’t women’s clothing objectively sized by some set of measures? Even if waist and inseam measures aren’t sufficient to fully specify women’s pant sizes, they’re at least a start. I’m male, and generally, if I know my waist and inseam of the pants, and the fit (I usually like the looser fits), and the pant type (I got parachute-type pants in my size and found that they were tighter than I liked) then I don’t worry, because the pants will generally fit. I don’t understand why that can’t be done for women’s clothing or why it’s not (other than “Because clothing manufacturers hate you” which might be true but isn’t helpful).
I’m what used to be called a ‘petite’,ie, very short-waisted. Not tall, but wide …. These days, I’m thankfully much less wide, but sizing is as you say A Problem. Not helped, too, by the fact that sizing has changed over time as well – I am wearing clothes now that are (UK) size 12 which I am sure would have been (UK) size 16 10 years ago. Sigh … Fortunately, I can still find enough to wear that I haven’t been compelled yet to learn dressmaking!
I am much older than you, Athena, but I have had this problem for… oh… longer than you have been alive I am certain that part of what is going on is stores and brands that need somehow to make women feel bad about their bodies. The smk Chick posted about the difference in shape between Juniors, Misses and Women’s sizes. All too true! And the difference is in things that are not in the size charts. Things like torso length. And of course, the thing that bothered me a lot when I was younger (and thinner). – in tops, the different size ranges assume different bust sizes. I mostly gave up on woven shirts because I have a misses shaped body, but a bust size larger than even the women’s size range.
I have taken to doing most of my clothing shopping online at QVC. Why? Consistancy! A size 2X top will be the same size in just about any brand they carry. They sell enough clothing to make brands willing to adjust to their sizing.
i’m around your dad’s age. it’s dangerous to go alone… i take my wife when shopping for my daughter, and my daughter when shopping for my wife. i am part of the picking process, but NOT the sizing process. (and possibly not really the picking process. i’m easily lead)
M is for… Mallet?
With regards to men’s sizing having numbers that actually mean something, I suggest you read this:
Not lack of foresight but lack of money is why so often I heave a sad sigh, when something I like wears out, and wonder… why didn’t I buy duplicates?
Short and thicc here.
For some reason, clothing manufacturers seem to think if you wear a size 14, then you’re 6 ft tall. So at 5’3″, anything I buy is waaaaay too long and has to be hemmed. Although I guess hemming is easier than trying to find extra length.
And yes, I also fall into that in-between size where I can rarely find anything in Target because it’s all just a hair too small, but if I go to Lane Bryant or a “plus sized” store, everything is too big. So when I do find something, I buy one in every color and pattern so that I know I have clothing that fits.
OTOH, since March, I’ve mostly lived in Fabletics leggings (long and capri length) and oversized tshirts or sweatshirts. I am kind of craving some reason to get dressed up and go out, but that won’t be for a while.
Let’s not even get started talking about bras. ;)
Mom was 5’2″ , and 105 lbs. She sewed a lot of her clothes. You’d think that size would be an easy fit, but for her it was usually simpler to sew her own. She was born in 1931, so this problem has been around for a long time.
AMS said: Also, someone in the comments of my last post asked me what the M is for. It’s my middle initial!
TM said: “What do Marta the Second, Naberius the Third, Jeannemary the Fourth, Magnus the Fifth, Camilla the Sixth, Protesilaus the Seventh, Colum the Eighth, and Gideon the Ninth all have in common?”
You could have heard a hair flutter to the floor. Everyone stared, poker-faced, in the thick ensuing silence.
Magnus looked pleased with himself.
“The same middle name,” he said.”
Excerpt From: Tamsyn Muir. “Gideon the Ninth.” Apple Books.
FWIW, I did a similar experiment on my clothing (cis male here). Pant length is generally within an inch or two of that specified (eg 36 x 30 pant is generally about 30 inches long), but width is a total scam. I measured the circumference of all of my “36 inch” pants and found they were all over the map–largest to smallest difference was almost 7 inches!
I guess someone a long time ago decided women can’t handle inches?
Also, could dresses please just have pockets? All of them? I don’t need them to be huge, but big enough to hold a key. I hate having to load up like I’m going on an expedition just to walk the dog.
i’ve been incredibly lucky in most of my adult life to have a size that doesn’t fluctuate too greatly. that is to say, i can go into a store and pray to find that number in stock and hope it fits the same as the last time i purchased that number, specifically in the pants and shorts category. i have some pants that ive had for decades that still fit nicely. but a pair i got a year ago of the same numbers are too small. when i was a kid i was taught the numbers were supposed to be inches. as an adult ive learned those numbers are just generic holdovers from 40 or more years ago and are at best, a guide post to help you land in the section of pants you want. then generally only to find the numbers that will fit you are completely out of stock.
I got so frustrated with the sizing problems (I’m very short and also on the curvy side) that I gave up and started sewing my own clothes… And let me tell you that the vanity sizing problem is not much better in the sewing world. But at least I have the ability and skills to fit everything to my own body now. Fabric shopping is addictive though.
So to tldr, frustrations are incredibly universal with the whole clothing sizing debacle.
I have the opposite problem, being 5’ 1/2”, and a bit overweight. Since jeans are jeans, I’ve found my brand. Gap short is the perfect short for me. So I’ve stuck with it. Actually their sizes have seemed to be pretty consistent over the years. In other brands ‘short’ can be variable. And don’t get me started on the return of ‘mom jeans’. Lol. Do they look good on anyone? Let alone for someone whose bottom rib almost sits on her hip bone.
I’m thinking of giving up and just wearing sack dresses. Those only have to fit in the shoulders.
Oh, you’re describing my lifelong battle, only the petite and thicc version. 5’3″, large bust, narrow shoulders, 28″ inseam, almost no waist at all. I grew up with a mother who made most of my clothing, and when I started buying off-the-rack, I discovered that pattern sizing did not translate over to buying clothes, and that trying to fit a pattern to myself ended up with whatever I sewed being too big. So it wasn’t just a prudish mother making things big. Something happened between measuring, cutting to measure, sewing, and putting it on my body. Almost worthy of a magical realist story.
It still doesn’t work. Even when I fit a pattern to myself and cut it on the small side, it’s still too big. Additionally, my post-menopausal body now means that I don’t have the hourglass figure I used to have. I can fit things around my top half, but buying pants is a major exercise in frustration. And sizing even in the same line of jeans varies widely. Five years ago I bought three pairs of Wranglers, all in their Aura line. Two pairs were one size and the same color (black, for horse shows and nice jean wear). The other pair was standard blue blue jean, and a size larger.
Luckily I’m pretty much retired these days. And after spending time in the sorting room of my local Soroptimist thrift shop (our major fundraiser for our scholarship and community funding programs), I’ve pretty much sworn off of buying much in the way of new clothing. So much nice stuff is being discarded (and this was pre-pandemic) that I decided buying used was going to be my default from then on. And I’m wearing a lot of former work clothing for everyday usage, including horse riding.
Oh. It is truly painful to discover how stupid you (me the writer) are. It somehow took until the third paragraph to realize this post is by Athena. I, obviously, thought John was writing this. Ouch, and I have to be productive for a client today. Gonna be a looooooong day …
I feel ya, Athena.
I have similar problems with sizing, exacerbated by skin contact allergies. Too much petrochemical next to my skin (virtually all synthetics start out as petrochemicals, did you know?) and I break out in a most uncomfortable rash.
The number of online stores that allow you to shop by fabric content is small and even some sites that have a fabric content search filter make it inconsistently available.
Back in the days when I occasionally did Live Shopping in Stores I was also irritated by the coy methodology manufacturers employ in revealing the fabric content of the garment. Some put it on the size tag, some put it on the care instruction tag, some put it on a separate tag altogether, and finding WHERE it was located on any garment I was looking at was occasionally embarrassing. As though I had some weird fetish that involved fondling garments.
Big Clothing is a problem in a number of ways, though, and individual sizings, preferences, etc. are only the tip of the iceberg. Not only is the “Where” important (that is an excellent book you recommend!) but the carbon footprint of readily-disposable cheap clothing is doing much to kill the planet. And don’t get me started on recycling the leftovers…
I’m hard to fit and heard about eShatki. They can do made to measure and now if I am buying anything beyond a geeky tee I just order from them instead. Lots of nice stuff and you can modify neck, arm and hem lengths. I have zero desire to go back to searching the mall all day hoping to find one thing that might fit.
I’m 5’11” and overweight (20-22 usually: 46″ bust, 41″ waist, 51″ hips, usually 34″ inseam, 18″ shoulders, 33.5″ sleeve), plus I wear a size 11.5 or 12 shoe. Yeah, I feel your pain. No good suggestions, other than knowing your measurements for online shopping and knowing what brands fit. And don’t expect to find actual pants if you ever get pregnant. I tend towards clothes are functional and shopping is extremely frustrating, so I avoid in person shopping.
I wish shoe stores (where you get your own off the shelf, the only kind I’ve found 11 or 12 at locally) would have a section just for very small and very large sizes, because searching the racks for any double digit, never mind a 12 is disheartening.
I frequently have problems at Lane Bryant with shirts because their clothes tend to be cut for shorter women – shoulders too narrow, arms too short, fits at the bust but huge at my waist. And some of the ‘seasonal’ pants don’t come in longs. I like the high waisted trend in pants because I need both a longer inseam AND a longer rise. Right now a lot of pants actually come above my hip bones!
I’ll second (third? fourth?) the call for learning basic alterations (hemming, adding darts, trimming a waist,..). And if you’re as luck as davewhuss, finding some one professional for the fancy clothes. (I can’t do a suit jacket!)
Sorry that’s kind of long, apparently I really don’t want to do any work today.
I too am in the 12-16 range, although I’m short so that helps some. I love stitch fix and have almost given up on getting clothes any other way. I told them my sizes based on where I used to shop and described my normal issues fitting in clothes from the store and they have mostly nailed them with every box. JJill also has some amazing leggings, although they tend to run big and some of the rest of their clothes scream middle-aged, which might be an issue for you. 😄
Surely the M is for Mallet?
Oh, God, sizing! And once you find a brand and style that works, that sometimes still isn’t enough! There was one brand of jeans, I swear–I had to check the label to find out which country that particular garment was made in. The company had factories all over the world; the ones Made in Kenya fit, but the ones Made in Thailand did not . . . and so on. Frustrating? Argh. The idea of being able to buy off the rack without trying things on is just–forget it. That doesn’t happen in my life.
You have my deepest fellow-feeling here.
If you get tired of using the word “normal-size” to refer to things that are not plus-size, can I recommend “straight-size”? As I understand it, that’s the industry term. And by using it, you don’t have to feel (or make others feel) abnormal when you’re talking about clothing that falls into a particular category.
Also–hi, Athena! I’m glad you’re blogging here again.
I was going to say Stitch Fix and noticed Melissa beat me to it. I listened to a Kara Swisher podcast interview with the founder of Stitch Fix. The founder said that they carefully track what clothes people keep and what they send back based on size issues, and thus they can (1) calibrate your own actual size, and (2) calibrate the manufacturer’s size. As in, “Ah Eric will fit into a size 12 from this manufacturer and a size 16 from this other manufacturer.” As the founder pointed out, they don’t make money unless they are successful at this — both sizing you and also knowing what you’d like to wear.
Of course, this takes away from the fun of shopping yourself.
I have had the same problem for years: I’ve been pretty consistently a size 14/16 (occasionally a 12), and it is hard to find clothes that fit and flatter. I know you live in a rural area, but one thing that helped me a ton was doing a personal shopper session at Nordstrom. It costs nothing, and the personal shopper picked out so many items that I loved, many of which I wouldn’t have chosen for myself. Highly recommend!
When I hit the statement “Normal size is 00-12” I waited for someone to bring up that the average size for an American woman Is 14. (“Normal” equals 12 or smaller is a perfectly accurate expression of store stock.) I searched Google about average sizes and found that the International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education went out and measured 5000 women and found that the average is actually 16. So more than half the customers of a store that deals in “normal” are pushed into a corner — less choice, more expensive. I go for mainly men’s shirts (Big and Tall store) and home sewn skirts (home sewing is needed for pockets anyway.)
Say, what ever happened to that thing (for women) where you could be laser measured and get jeans in your exact size?
I learned a lot about shopping and apparel sizes. Enjoyably. Thanks for a great article.
Hi Athena, welcome! OMG, you are so right about the sizes in women’s clothing. As others commented, there’s definitely a difference between women’s sizes and misses sizes. I have been overweight all my life and have a lot of experience with this. I will never forget, years ago, during one of my first successful diets when the size 18’s at Lane Bryant were too big. Went to a department store to try on misses size 18’s, and had to lose 20 pounds before they would fit. Also there’s a difference between the plus sizes in a department store and the plus sizes in a store like Lane Bryant. A size 1X in Lane Bryant usually fits me the same as a 3X in a department store, or a store like Target. The wild inconsistencies drive me crazy! Last year I was shopping in the plus size department in a store called Dress Barn and a pair of size 18 pants and size 24 top both fit me. I have been dealing with this problem for 50 years and it’s so frustrating!
Yep there is a reason a certain varietal of Dude complains how long women take to shop, and it has very little to do with the “fleeting superficiality of the feminine mind”. I’m disabled and it takes me a literal day to find pants that fit. The last time I bought a bra it took two days, and yes the hours spent on day one lying down so I had the energy for day two damn well counts. It’s become such a mental and physical hurdle that I avoid it whenever possible. And no, buying a pattern doesn’t count when you don’t know which sizing convention the patternmaker used to get to a DD or B- size. I once used a chain’s website and in-store chart to start looking for a size and – using *their* calculations ended up with a chest strap fully 3 inches longer than I needed. When it hurts to move, that’s just insulting. And how do you tell what patterns will fit you, before you spent all that time and fabric on making your own?
So, with all that, the triumph on finding something both fitting and flattering is very, very real :)
Hi Athena! Welcome back! My daughter did Stich Fix until she had a decent wardrobe and the clothes looked great on her! She’s also not the average girl, but on the short side with a large bust. I have skinny shoulders and wide everything else, and, since having kids, a belly that could give Santa Claus a run for his money. I’ve switched to wearing mostly dresses with empire waists. They flow around the belly, and people are often complimentary of the dresses because they do tend to look good on me! ;) Nevertheless, I don’t even want to think of jeans shopping. Shudder! Shudder! A T-shirt and shorts combination looks hideous on yours truly. It hurts my eyes, so probably also those around me. But when I’m on summer vacation, who cares? I do a LOT of catalog and e-Shakti shopping. Good luck — the clothes problem changes over the years but it never goes away! :)
You may have noticed by now that you hit a nerve. Tall and thicc my whole life, and I’ve used some similar tactics to what I’ve read in the comments. Definitely men’s button-down shirts (broad enough shoulders and long enough arms, and you can get them intentionally loose and then wear something cute underneath and leave them unbuttoned). Separate tops and bottoms because a one-piece never fits the same way on the shoulders and the hips. And don’t get me started on pockets!
I will agree with some of the other commenters that it’s not perfect for men, either. My honey finally found a store whose shirts fit him in all of the key places (so well it seems like he could be the model, and one of their shirt styles even carries his name) and he now owns probably half of their catalog :) If I ever get that lucky, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.
I have this theory that there is a secret underground clothing guild/society that dictates this. See, it was a trade off for allowing women to have pockets. It kept order in the guild, but you pay the price. Sorry.
Ahahahahahahahaha clothes shopping is The Actual Worst.
I feel this so much! Well written post.
Relatable, because when I am not being an indie rock musician, my corporate job is for a company who makes the labels that go on all of that apparel.
I recently came across a post (I think on cashmerette, which is a sewing website and blog) about how the moderate randomness of sizing is all and all a positive, since everyone is shaped differently and if all brands were cut the same they would fit almost everyone poorly in one way or another. So on the one hand we have hunting through an entire malls worth of jeans to find the right size, but on the other there’s some hope of finding a brand and size that actually fits really well (and then buying three pairs). Which is true to extent, but encouraging brands to publish actual dimensions would be super helpful. Like, I know I have a 36″ waist and 44″ hips, but I don’t know what size that is, or if that waist/hip ratio actually exists!
wow… this was a homer…! nice work rookie…
your dad has his ‘bacon page’ and now you could well have an entire site focused upon the abuses of mis-sized clothing… <<<hint
regarding "Say, what ever happened to that thing (for women) where you could be laser measured and get jeans in your exact size?" … those shops that tried the tech found it clumsy and slow, rarely could get all their staff to utilize it, lengthy delays in supply chain (and mistaken deliveries) added to frustrations, they never advertised it to the public well enough to get a steady stream of customers and the cost of real estate inside a store going underperforming just all came together to kill it…
also: "laser scanning" is as welcome to manufacturers as OSHA inspections, given how it derails their prefered business practices of forcing people to confirm to what is best for their operations rather than adapt to consumers and protect employees… consider airplane seating… I am 190# 6 ft tall and have a bad back… last time I flew I just about begged for a wheelchair to get me from the docking port to bag claim… they reluctantly gave me a ride in a golf cart after I groveled enough… we as customers now have the upper hand and if done right could well force airlines into offering wider seats and more leg room, given how screwed they are… besides social distancing makes middle seats unsellable until there are at least a billion doses of tested vaccine…
so again, *hint*… you hit a homer…
build a brand and build a web site… call it "Consumer Rebellion For Better Products"
hahaha This is why everyone should just ignore the stupid number on the label.
As a historical note, standard sizes for women were determined 100 years ago from measurements of WWI servicemen’s wives, with a 10 (=34-26-36) as “average.” (This is still the standard for sewing patterns.) Since the advent of mass production clothing, this has gone out the window, with each manufacturer deciding how much they want to flatter the egos of their clientele. There have been multiple calls to re-normalize sizing, but it’s one of those things like switching to the metric system.
There has also been a noticeable drift downwards over the past 20 years or so even within the same manufacturer: I bought three similar pairs of pants purchased several years apart from the same label with the same nominal size, but the third pair is much larger than the first pair, with the second pair in between.
A couple of people upstream said that there are differences between misses, womens, and juniors sizing. Maybe Lane Bryant still does honest women’s sizing, but my impression is that the distinction has increasingly been more about marketing than cut. I have no idea who is still making true juniors clothing.
I just want to be able to 3-D scan my body and just shop at a store that makes things that fits that model. Would easily spend hundreds of dollars without the hassle of just trying to find something my size
When I’m God-Emperor, just after we’re done with all the Blood for the Blood God and Skulls for the Skull Throne stuff I’m gonna regulate clothing so that all of it is labeled in inches/cm ***AND*** any models have to be dressed in the sizes indicated by their actual measurements.
I suggest, Rent The Runway, a dress rental company for your special evenings out. Make an Mother Daughter appointment and a long drive to one of their stores for a proper sizing.
Then when Dad’s in a rental tux on the red carpet for his movie premier, you and mom are wearing very well fitting stylish dresses, with rental jewelry.
As others have suggested, a person to do alternations is wonderful, and improves your clothes by 100%. Maybe to go to them first and help you shop.
I would recommend to go for fewer clothes but much more expensive well tailored clothes. Then you can have the sweat pants and sweat shirts for everyday use in the country.
I am a white male, a little older than your father, with no daughters, and a wife who does not care about fashion.
Even posted measurements for women’s clothes won’t necessarily help. Example: I love Duluth Trading’s women’s tank tops during hot weather. The plus size 1X is a perfect fit. If I compare my actual bust measurement to their size guide, I “should” barely be able to squeeze into a 4X.
Something tells me you hit a nerve for a lot of folks here, Athena…
I’m in my 60s, fat, and long-legged enough that I need about a 32″ inseam. Try to find a pair of size 22 blue jeans with a 32″ inseam. Just go on, try it, I’ll wait.
So I don’t wear blue jeans.
My elder kid is over six feet tall and wears a 36″ inseam. Her regular size at Lane Bryant is 18. When she was shopping for her wedding dress a few years ago, she was told that her bust was a size 28, her waist was size 22, and her hips were size 32. Not inches – sizes. The seamstress fees were an extra $300 to get the dress to fit in all dimensions. Oh, and she had to pay an extra $250 for the additional 8″ of length on the dress because she was so tall.
Yeah, you speak for many of us. Wish the clothing industry would listen.
I’ve always been confused about the “sizing” system used for women’s clothing. Like, what’s the justification here? Why can’t they just use descriptive inches like they do for men’s clothing? At least for pants and dresses. I suppose T-shirts and tops are less difficult because they it seems to me that they don’t necessarily have to fit quite as precisely as pants do. If my pants are even an inch too big, I’ll be needing a belt. And since my weight tends to fluctuate fairly significantly year-by-year, I basically need sets of pants for two people: Average Aaron and Skinny Aaron. This isn’t so much the case for shirts.
Another 5″ 10″ here. The excercise I have gotten finding jeans that fit! Or a long sleeve shirt! Don’t get me started on bathing suits!
I’m currently shopping Lane Bryant (Torrid is their Misses brand) for jeans and Lands End for basics, because LE has tall sizes. You might also look at Long Tall Sally for business wear.
Thanks to all of you for suggesting more sites to look at and things to try! And just for knowing I’m not the only one going crazy trying to find clothes that fit, look good and have pockets!
Maybe women’s clothing is sized by mathematicians working with complex numbers, and if you can rotate the clothes into the imaginary plane, they will fit perfectly. Alternatively, perhaps the sizers can be sent to the imaginary plane, so that when they send their sizing, it will work in the real plane.
Doesn’t explain pockets, though.
I lived in Japan for almost three years. As a foreigner, typically my clothing choices were more limited (the Japanese tend to have smaller bone structure, although the youth are getting taller). However, I really like how their measurement system worked. Nothing like US vanity sizing. Instead, clothes had labels that provided measurements in centimeters, hip/waist/bust / etc. Once I learned my size in centimeters, I could literally grab clothes off the rack, and chances are that it would fit me in the dressing room. Here in the US, I just typically grab “my size” plus a size down and size up because I have no idea. Even with (Ann Taylor) for example, I can be a size zero, a size four, or a size eight. The same damn company. I hate shopping for clothes. I do not understand why American companies make this so difficult; I might shop more often if the sizing issue didn’t irritate me.
I also have concerns about ethics in the textile industry. Most of my clothing purchases are technical outdoor gear, and while much outdoor gear is produced in the U.S. (or other modernized nations), the clothes still tend to be made in other countries. It’s expensive as heck, but it might still be made under worker unfriendly or environmentally unfriendly conditions. I’m glad to see more companies are doing things like Patagonia’s “The Cleanest Line.”
Hi Athena, I don’t usually comment on Whatever posts, I mostly lurk, but this one I definitely feel for you. I’m 5’1″ and “curvy” – which means the shirts that fit my shoulders are way too tight for my chest, and the ones that fit my chest and too long, etc. It’s beyond frustrating.
Anyway, I wanted to mention Dia.com (I am in no way affiliated with them, just a happy customer lol) – they specialize in plus sizes but their smallest sizes are 12-14, 0X, etc so they fit me. They’ll tailor their clothes to your body size/shape, they’ll recommend fits that are flattering, etc. So far I’ve kept more of what they’ve sent me than I’ve returned, which is awesome because (a) I detest in-person shopping and (b) I’ve gotten a bunch of compliments on the clothes I do keep from them. Anyway, might be worth checking out if you’re interested. I totally feel you on the difficulty of finding clothes that fit, but the joy of shopping that you feel is totally foreign to me.
AHH! Women’s clothing sizes! I feel your pain. I am a borderline person myself, although I am on the cusp of petite and regular. Regular size pants are far too long for my 5’4″ height, but I am also long-waisted, so petites are like wearing a permanent wedgie. So, I either drag hems and trip all over the place, or need to get everything altered. And don’t get me started on pockets! I buy far less these days because I just won’t buy pants or skirts, especially if there are not usable pockets in them.
Manufacturing is another thing. I try to buy Made in USA most of the time, although I know that doesn’t guarantee that it’s all good and rosy for the workers, either.
I think I will just concentrate on growing a nice, luxurious, soft long coat of fur. Like a Maine Coon, maybe. Although that doesn’t really solve the pocket thing, does it? Hmmmmm
Fun fact from my design degree: the difference between each size is half an inch more of fabric.
God, yes. Athena, you hit it out of the park with this post.
I’m totally in agreement with you about sizing for women’s clothes although nearly every pair of pants I’ve ever owned has had to be hemmed significantly (Before petite sizing was a thing, I swear some of my jeans had to have 8-10″ off the bottom.) 5’2″ with short legs. Sigh. Don’t ask me how if I have any pairs sitting around waiting to be hemmed.
Clothes shopping is exhausting and dispiriting, and I’ve had very little luck with online clothes (and shoes). Second-hand is less annoying in some ways because they’re generally sorted into XS, S, M, L, and XL….so I usually look at M & L..although at the moment pretty much all clothes shopping is a no-go.
Someone mentioned pockets. I particularly loathe the little show “mockets” just for looks. I want functional pockets: don’t just tease me! Dresses and skirts should have at least one. Pants and shorts should have at least two. I have edited a few skirts to add pockets…
Also, good for you: having a middle name. :p
Meant to say: I will check out the Timmerman book – thanks for the recommendation.
One gift that I have never attempted to buy for my wife is clothing. There is little upside to getting it right. The cliff of tragedy from getting it wrong is deep with a narrow ledge.
I’ve long felt the annoyance that the measurements of named sizes varies so much from manufacturer to manufacturer for women’s clothes. But I resigned myself to it, and focused more on finding Tall sizes (I’m 5′ 9″, which still causes length issues for me.). That has meant learning to shop mail-order and online, as *most* lines which include Tall sizes don’t stock them in the local brick-and-mortar stores, if they even have such stores, and this was even before the pandemic started.
The point where I went ballistic was when I realized that the same favorite manufacturer had changed the measurements on the size. Just like the photo you show, I pulled out a 14 Tall cotton long-sleeved turtleneck which I’d bought maybe five, six years ago from this manufacturer, and which still fits perfectly, and compared it to a cotton long-sleeved turtleneck, also 14 Tall, that I’d bought last year. The newer top is narrower. Even more irritating, while it’s a little narrower in the body, the fit is not bad. But the sleeves are so narrow as to be uncomfortable. I’d feel pretty confident that I could fix the body width by going up a size, but not nearly as confident that it would fix the sleeve fit. That top did go into the donation pile.
I’ve heard reports from friends that the manufacturers are shaving width off sleeves now, presumably to save themselves some fabric costs. But that doesn’t explain the reports I’ve heard from garment sewers who are saying the *patterns* have narrower cut sleeves now, and more people are having to make bigger sleeve fitting adjustments. (I used to sew a lot of my own clothes, but put it aside for many years due to time constraints, and haven’t picked it up again yet. Soon.)
I can’t comment on the situation for men. My husband hasn’t reported the same kind of issue to me.
Back in my costume designer days, I carried a measuring tape when I went costume shopping for a show, and it became a habit. Now, when I am shopping for myself, I whip that sucker out, and check measurements before I bother trying something on.
I read the first paragraph thinking that John wrote it. That was pretty amusing. I’ve got it figured out now.
I can’t speak to the tall portion of the equation, but I’ve discovered that Gloria Vanderbilt’s “Amanda” line are absolutely amazing in terms of fitting a variety of body shapes, thanks to a little bit of spandex in the weave. And the pockets are nicely proportioned as well, even the silly little coin pocket. They’re available at Kohl’s and are frequently on sale.
Lily – If they keep changing the sizes, though, then having a diversity of sizes doesn’t help, because the place that makes clothes that fit you now might not in two years. Manufacturers could still have a diversity of sizing options even if they put the physical measurements on the clothes.
I gave up buying women’s slacks years ago, and just shop in the men’s section now. I can buy them by size and “fit” and have good quality jeans and work slacks with real pockets that fit, for less money than the shoddy junk with no pockets that never fit me well (if it fit my waist, the butt was a giant tent, and vice versa) that I could buy in the women’s department.
I’ll have to try out the tip to look at men’s shirts for long-sleeved blouses, because I’ve gotten fed up with those always being too short or having weird ties or straps that interfere with typing.
SOLIDARITY. I am also right on that 12/14 cusp these days. I usually stick to brands that I know have fit me before, but even that’s not foolproof.
I appreciate that it’s getting more common for clothing sites to show you how clothes look on multiple models and tell you what size each model is wearing If I want to know how a pair of jeans is going to fit me, I’d much rather see them modeled on someone who’s size 20 than someone who’s size 2.
Hoo boy, I hear you. The effect on me of all these sizing shenanigans has been to turn me off clothes shopping for good. I only buy stuff when I absolutely have to, and settle for a sorta close approximation of an adequate fit. I am way too frugal to get clothes tailored. Add in my constantly feeling cold, and here I am — a walking conglomeration of ill-fitting layers :) Thanks for opening this space for a rantfest!!
My wife, who sews, taught me to always carry a tape measure when shopping. Knowing a few key personal measurements saves lots of disappointments in the dressing room. On line, unless it’s a trusted brand, pick the best size plus one up and one down and return those that don’t fit. Find a good tailor or dressmaker to alter your purchases. Once you find a good fit, remove the size label, it’s only a random number.
Forgot to say the Timmerman book sounds very interesting, and my library had it available. I’m looking forward to reading it! And wow, lots of recommendations in the comments for clothing companies to try.
Leah, I can relate. Ordered a bunch of clothes at a plus size online store called Women Within. Took my measurements, found the appropriate size, and sent in my order. Everything was huge, at least 2 sizes too big. Good thing it was free shipping both ways! So providing measurements for women’s clothing won’t necessarily solve the sizing issue.
Ontogenesis, I do the same; grab what I think is my size, plus the size up and down. And I’ve had the same experience with other companies that you’ve had at Ann Taylor. Learned decades ago that just because something fits me made by X company, that if I want a different item of clothing made by X company I cannot buy the same size as the other item without trying it on. I don’t understand why they do this. And don’t even get me started on the problems of finding pants when you are short and fat with short legs!
I was just going to say that for dresses, my wife has had really nice luck w/ e-shakti, and they can do all kinds of great things, including making it the right length, and POCKETS.
It boggles my mind that we are surprised at functional POCKETS, but.. the whole thing is nuts, so there you are.
Oh yeah, I totally hear you. I’m in my 55th year on Earth and 40 of them have been spent in between sizes… everything is slightly too small or slightly too big.
I’ve learned to ignore the numbers assigned to a size aside from grabbing stuff to try on in two or three different sizes and seeing what fits and not assigning any value to that number besides “These pants fit me in size X, great!” and grabbing a couple of pairs in said size on said day.
Athena: I was telling my wife about your post and showed her the two photos that you posted, she mentioned that she likes a site called Modcloth. They use some plus-sized models, and they tell you the height of the model and what size of outfit they’re wearing. Might be helpful, I don’t know.
I’ve been on the cusp of normal and plus sizing for most of my adult life (I’m 68), so I feel your pain. As others here have said, I find men’s clothing more comfortable and long-lasting. My closet is filled with men’s shirts and my go-to choice for hanging around the house is a men’s t-shirt with jeans. As a free-lance graphic designer, I’ve always worked from home, so have only needed dress-up clothing for client meet-and-greets. I consider myself fortunate in that respect. In my 30s I was more of a fashionista than I am now and it was exceptionally difficult to find dressy clothing that I liked and which fit well. From the suggestions in the comments, there seem to more options now, which is a wonderful thing. Thanks for writing such a great post!
As a thicc, old, bald guy ( like a 55 gallon drum ) buying clothes is always hit and miss. That is why we have the ubiquitous uniform of tank tops and shorts! Your post reaches everyone!
I am 3+ times your age and have been dealing with this most of my life, except for a few years whwn I let other people tell me what to do and lost weight. In the past few years I got a catalog in the mail from Soft Surroundings and tried a few items. To my enormous surprise, after getting the sizes correct, I have never had to return an item for size reasons. They have sizes in Petite, Misses, Tall and Women’s Plus with measurements for each garment! The prices in the regular website are expensive but they have an Outlet site where I usually shop the under $20 category. If you sign up for their emails or use Honey (download the app there are savings everywhere!) Also, they have wonderful customer service. There are stores but none in California so I have never looked where they are. Good luck in your shopping and it’s nice to have your voice here.
My daughter is 5’12” (as she does not want to be 6′), and has much the same problem. I shop with her (because I love her; I am the 70-year-old guy shopper: 30 seconds, can’t find it, leave store). She will want to buy anything that just dammit fits for a change. And won’t really want to wear 50% of it.
The difficulty of finding a fit would drive me mad. And yet, if she is with her (totally different body type) twin, she will be happy shopping for hours past the point when I would just be smashing salespeople to the floor. Yes, they are far better people than I.
And women’s sizes are an abusive conspiracy by misogynists.
Maybe try a seamstress or Taylor for a few core pieces of clothing. Then build on that. Although it sounds as if you have varied tastes, it’s comforting when you’re having a “nothing feels right today” day you have something comfortable and “perfect for you” to fall back on. You can always build on that with other things. And, always buy every color that flatters it things you find you like, maybe even multiples, I always buy at least two black and two grey of any t-shirt that is soft and fits well, you can buy individual pieces like blazers, sweaters, shawls, whatever you like on top for individuality. Also try men’s wear. As a woman with wide shoulders woman’s fitted pieces are super uncomfortable. A good Taylor/seamstress can really make a difference, when you find one that works well with you, pay well, they can make you feel like a million bucks! And not in the green and wrinkled way.
Back when science fiction conventions were held in person (Anybody remember those? Seems like it must have been decades ago), Kristi Smart made interesting fannish clothing, Civil War jackets and brocade tailcoats and things, and her sizing options included a few extra ones like “Men’s Fan Extra Large”, which fit me far better than a 2XL would have. (Or, as the Utilikilt people called their version of it, “beer gut sizes”.) She also had a few variant shapes for women as well.
I’m tall and fat, but most of my height seems to be in my torso rather than legs, and men’s jeans seem to be sized with the assumption that either somebody with my waist size is a lot taller than I am, or that I was going to want some random length, so make the legs extra long and I can hem them to whatever length we need, kind of the way traditional men’s suit pants worked.
As a 6′ trans woman, I’m just thankful that things seem to be a bit better here in the UK – I’m a UK size 22 (so 18 I think in US terms), which seems to be pretty consistent across most stores here in terms of sizing (and most stores do give inch measurements). I’ve also found a decent amount in plus sizes, although curbing my enthusiasm at the moment as I’m pre-HRT and All Measurements Are Subject to Change…
Can sympathize about the same size not being equal. I stopped wearing black jeans because while a 36 in a blue jean can somewhat comfortably fit around my stomach, a 36 in black will often give me a severe case TBS (tight belly syndrome I believe it’s called). Since I enjoy losing weight/dropping pants sizes, I no longer wear black jeans. To wear black would require going up a size, and increasing a size would not good for my mental health.
Oh Athena, I am so with you. I have lived my whole life between “regular” and plus” sizes. And then,whatever weight I am, I am short waisted. Dresses all have to have the waist, where my hips are. That never works. I don’t have any answers, I just wanted to complain with you. You are so not alone.
I’ve reached that age where when I find something that fits, I get multiples in different colors because there’s a good chance it will disappear soon (especially bras). This is also how I ended up with 5 of the same red shirts but that’s a story for another day, heh. This is such a relatable issue that you bring up!
One of the reasons I just buy Levi 501 and 505 jeans over and over (besides thinking Michael J. Fox was the coolest when I was a young man and having imprinted on that, I’ve stuck with it) is that they are more or less consistent and the measurements actually are what they say they are. My 30×36 jeans actually have a 30 inch waist and I know how they’ll fit.
Clothes are always going to be a troublesome thing. People who are close to the middle of the imagined average body get too many choices and anyone who varies much from this has trouble even finding something that will fit. I’ve got longer than average arms and legs for someone of my size so it makes finding items that go all the way to the wrist or ankle a challenge.
Even on the occasions when I’ve sprung for custom it takes so much work to get the fitting right.
I have just been shopping online for back-to-school clothes for my ten-year-old, and I am totally THERE with you on this frustration. Sometimes it helps when there are size charts online, but other times, the sizes listed on the size chart are not even the same as on the product! is XX the same as XL? Help!
It’s also very frustrating when a manufacturer lists plus sizes, but then the retailer clearly does not have them. Plus sizes often, I find, fit better on a shapely body, meaning there is more deviation between the waist and the hip measurements. But then with R, I find if I get a women’s shirt that has enough hip space, the chest measurement is way too big or the neckline is way too low. I do have the sewing skills to shorten straps or take in the sides, so lately I go for bigger rather than fitted, but it is really really annoying.
Nothing to add beyond another “yeah, this has also been my experience, and it sucks.”
(Started sewing in high school, back in my very thin but tall (5’9″) days, when nothing at all fit at the waist and in length. Ended up getting more-or-less conscripted into making a lot of my mother’s clothes; she wasn’t quite as tall as I am, but was a couple of sizes thinner. Good memories there…)
Another book song the same lines that addresses outsourcing of garment manufacture to the cheapest bidder, the race to the bottom, and things like the Rana Plaza disaster is Out Of Sight by Erik Loomis. An enthralling if disheartening read.
My (white male in his 70s) secret for successfully buying clothes as gifts for my wife of 40 years:
1.) Figure out the styles she likes (in her case, often ethnic and/or unconventional).
2.) Find shop(s) that cater to those styles.
3.) After picking out candidate items,
4.) Find salesperson most closely approximating my wife’s size and shape, and
5.) Induce her, as politely as possible, to try on the candidate items so I can see how they’d look.
A bit time-consuming, but very much worth the effort. Salespersons generally willing to help, as in many of the shops I patronize they work partly on commission; wife generally more than pleased. I can’t recall more than one or two times when an item had to be returned, generally just to be replaced with the same or similar in an adjacent size.
I remember explaining this to my husband and he was just like “WTF WHY?”. I remember crying in a store because I was trying to find jeans that fit but it had been so long I had no idea what my “size” was anymore. It’s ridiculous!
A few years ago, I discovered Torrid and they are consistent with their sizing and now I am a shopaholic. Doesn’t help that they also have nerdy clothes too so not only do I have several outfits now, many of them have Star Wars or Disney things on them so I am both fashionable AND geeky.
Interesting… 115 comments thus far on women’s clothing sizes vs 144 comments on the SF canon.
It’s not a contest!
But I am delighted both entries have inspired so much comment and engagement. This is, I will note, what I was hoping for.