In American Eagle, you’re a size 12. In Old Navy, you’re a small and in H&M, you’re a completely different size again.
If you experience this problem while shopping, you’re not alone.
In fact, since the 1930s, sizes have changed drastically. A size-12 dress sold at Sears in 1937 was measured as a bust size of 32 inches. In today’s sizing, a 32-inch bust is considered a size 0. These sizing changes are known as “vanity sizing” – a problem that’s on the rise an
d showing no sign of abating.
While American women have grown in height, weight and body size, sizing for clothing has shrunken, which can make clothes shopping a total nightmare.
Until 1939, all women’s clothing sizes were based on body measurements, with women making alterations to suit their own individual needs. When companies realized this method of sizing cost them more than $10 million a year ($175,652,370 by today’s standards), they decided things needed to change.
The Mail-Order Association of America, responsible for distributing catalogues for many U.S department stores at the time, as well as the National Bureau of Standards, took another look at the sizing of women’s clothing in the late 1940s to see if they could find a solution.
By 1958, a chart had been created using the sizes of women who had previously been enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. These new sizes ranged from 8-38 and were divided by height into three categories – tall, regular and short.
Over the years, the newly created government standard for clothing was used less and less, until 1983, when it was withdrawn altogether by the Department of Commerce. In 1995, sizing charts were recreated by private companies, and this meant that “ideal” sizes were also changing.
According to Time Magazine’s 2014 article about vanity sizing, a model size in the 1960s was a size 12 – a size 6 by today’s standards.
Even during the past 20 years, women’s sizing has changed so much that a size 4 in 1995 is now equal to a 2011 size 2, according to the ATSM International sizing charts.
Nowadays, stores often follow their own individual sizing guidelines, which can cause many problems when shopping, unless you know your exact size, or can find a measurement chart for that company and measure yourself like they did back in the 1930s.
“I wear usually a medium to large shirt and if I go to American Eagle, their sizes fit bigger, so I’m a small-xsmall,” says 21-year-old Brantford, Ont. resident, Morgan Mills. “In their jeans, I’m an 8, but if I go to Hollister I’m a 7 and if I go to Bluenotes, I’m a 9 or 10.”
While most stores today carry a range of sizes from 0-12/14, they don’t actually serve the majority of women today, because the average clothing size for women is approximately a 14-16 as of 2014.
“Women’s clothing has always bothered me with its sizing system, and the fact that no two stores share a similar system,” says Kathryn Herron, an English major at Carleton University. “It makes shopping for yourself or someone you know very difficult and negatively impacts women’s self-esteem and body image. When I walk into stores like Garage and see that a large fits like a small on a girl with bigger hips or breasts, it leaves me very frustrated with the fashion and retail industry.”