Sizing up Sizes: What Size Am I Really?

November 2, 2008 • Magazine

Sizing up Sizes: What Size Am I Really?

Sizing up Sizes: What Size Am I Really?

Sat, 2008-11-01 11:00

Dear Bean:

I seem to face a constant struggle whenever I go shopping. I noticed that almost every item I try on that claims to be my size fits differently. The pants I try on at Banana Republic are two sizes smaller than those in Max Studio, and they both fit me the same. And the Medium in J. Crew is different than the Medium in Mango. Is there a way to know what size I am without having to try on four sizes in each store?


Dear Sized-Up:

Over the years, asking a woman’s size has become a complicated affair. It used to be very straight-forward: “I am a 6”, “I am a 12”, and so on. Now instead we have to ponder and respond: “Well I’m a size 6 in this store, a size 4 in this one and a size 14 at this other one”. Sizing has become as wide-range as the average woman’s shoe collection.

In the United States we prefer to be original and inventive. Therefore we still use miles instead of kilometers, and we created our own standard clothing sizing. We can walk into any vintage clothing store and know that those clothes were not originally sized the same as the ready to wear lines in stores now. One of the primary reasons for that is, in the 1980s, the United States created its coined “Catalog Sizes”, which are on average six sizes larger than the original standard.

Then in 2006, an article in the Boston Globe stated that many stores created new sizing measurements to cater to petites and women of a certain age (read full article at: So not only has our clothing sizes changed over the years, but in some situations sizing standards are deemed irrelevant.

Women’s sizes are divided into various types, depending on the overall height and the relative measurements of the bust and waistlines. Unfortunately, when you have James Perse denote sizes by 1, 2, 3 or 4, we have to decipher what that means. And Tibi’s sizes of 0-12 measure drastically differently than that of Diane von Furstenberg’s 0-12. Then we deal with finding the right jean and pant size. And let’s not even talk about the differences between S, M, L and XL.

If specific retailers are changing their sizes that in no way relate to their counterparts, no wonder we are left with a closet full of numbers ranging from 0 to 14.

Without the specific measurements of the garment printed on the clothing tag, I am sorry to say we are left with a game of chance. Some things we can do are:

• Ask the store associates on which dimensions their store’s clothing is based
• Know your own measurements, and if there are none provided, make sure to take one size smaller and one size larger into the fitting room
• Get to know the designers you like and what size of their clothing fits you well. It’s a great way to avoid the guessing game.

It seems that with the fluctuation of sizing within stores and the alteration of the national size chart itself, there unfortunately isn’t any easy way to truly know one’s size. Perhaps one day we won’t have to deal with this frustration. Until then, I will see you in the fitting room!

Pictured, top to bottom
US Standard Clothing Size Charts
Tibi Tango Silk Asymmetric Top and Size Chart $270
Diane von Furstenberg Top Delph Silk Top and Size Chart $200
Earnest Sewn Zazo High Waist Jean and Size Chart $186
7 For All Mankind Straight Leg Jeans and Size Chart $165

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