Clothing Sizes: The Good, The Bad And The Sanity - une femme d'un certain âge

Clothing Sizes: The Good, The Bad And The Sanity

Two current J.Crew with less wackadoodle.

Two current J.Crew stylingsNow With 40% Less Wackadoodle™!

While the swirl of sputtering disbelief, occasional outrage and relentless ridicule that initially greeted J.Crew’s announcement that it was adding “XXXS” sizes has subsided (turns out it wasn’t about pressuring women to be smaller, but rather to serve a more diminutive customer as J.Crew plans to extend their retail reach to Asia), at least one side-effect of the move is now manifest: J.Crew has expanded their Petite (under 5’4″) offerings to include jeans and some tees and knits. That THUMP you just heard was the clumsy end result of me attempting a happy cartwheel.

There’s been a lot of ink lately dedicated to the vagaries of vanity sizing, but as the New Yorker article linked above explains:

…the notion of “vanity sizing”—whereby retailers deliberately increase the measurements of each clothing size so that women feel better about the number on the tag and therefore spend more—is a myth, at least as it’s usually described. Because Americans have gotten heavier over time, retailers have had to adjust their sizes upward to keep their “medium,” which today corresponds to a size eight or ten in the U.S., as the most popular size. (To use fabric efficiently, Fasanella said, “you should be selling two mediums for every small and every large.”) If your weight has remained constant over many years, you might wear a smaller size today than you did ten years ago.

So it doesn’t sound like the Fashion Fairy will be granting our collective wish for universal, consistent sizing anytime soon. I’ve come to the conclusion there’s some Bad News/Good News in all of this.

Bad News – Sizes Are Meaningless.

You’ll continue to experience sizing inconsistencies between retailers, and often between styles among a single retailer or designer. You still won’t be able to walk up to a rack of pants and pick your waist/inseam measurement the way men can. You’ll still have a wardrobe in multiple sizes. You’ll still often have to take several sizes to the dressing room, or order and try on at home, to get the right fit.

Good News – Sizes Are Meaningless.

You are not a size. You can let go of the angst and value judgments about that number on the tag and can finally drop those last vestiges of measuring self-worth or success based on what size you can squeeze into. You can look at size labels as a starting point, nothing more. It won’t affect the quality of your day or week when you find out you need a different size today than you did last season. You can quit worrying about numbers and focus on FIT.

How do you deal with sizing inconsistencies? Have you found any retailers whose sizing seems to be more consistent?

Affiliate links in this post may generate commissions for

Stay in touch.

Affiliate links in posts may generate commissions for See my complete disclosure policy here.


  1. July 30, 2014 / 3:59 am

    I can be an 8, 10 or 12, in the UK, it’s so hard to buy things online now, I really find it all so frustrating.

    • Rita
      July 30, 2014 / 6:26 am

      Most websites supply a sizing chart, its always a good idea to check that instead of relying on sizes anyway.

    • Cindy
      July 31, 2014 / 9:23 am

      I long ago gave up on thinking I would ever be a consistent size when shopping. I only order online from Brands I know and am confident their clothes fit my UNIQUE body shape. Otherwise, I have to go shopping (oh dear!) and do the dreaded dressing room shuffle. The only thing about this post that amazes me is that after all this time, the retailers still believe that they should stock and we should buy 2 mediums for every 1 small and 1 large in a product. Seriously!! Your average new grad marketing/finance/economics student can look at a spreadsheet of sales and see that philosophy is full of holes. Stop adjusting your size scale and adding infinite combinations of sizes and just fill your stores with the actually sizes that seem to be purchased by your clientele. If the only size on the markdown rack is a medium, you aren’t stocking properly.

      • Victoria
        August 2, 2014 / 7:30 am

        That comment in the article refers to profit margin for the manufacturer – for best yield from a bolt of fabric, to lay out the pieces it’s ideal to make two mediums and one each small and large.

        Seems like a vast generalisation, to be sure, but it definitely doesn’t mean the speaker thinks all stores should stock two mediums for every small and large…

  2. July 30, 2014 / 4:31 am

    I really dislike the vanity sizing concept and I think that having to create an XXXS size just shows how crazy the sizing has gotten. I wish that brands/stores had some sort of consistency. I often have to take 2-3 sizes of an item into the dressing room. It’s silly.

  3. July 30, 2014 / 4:34 am

    it never bothers me what size I am wearing, nobody ever sees the label and you could cut it out if you wanted. However it is a nuisance trying to find the right size and fit. I find that the French and Italians cut smaller especially in trousers.

  4. Susan
    July 30, 2014 / 4:43 am

    I am so happy for you that J. Crew is expanding their petite sizes. Now, if only clothiers would make pants long enough for those of us taller than 5’7″ who happen to be more leg than torso. I think the ankle length pants are a cop out. What if we don’t want to wear “high water” pants? Tough luck– that is all that can be found and they are even shorter on those of us with long legs. Not a particularly good look as far as I am concerned. But, they do save fabric for the makers and as we realize, that savings drops to the bottom line. That is what really seems to matter to corporations (of any kind ) these days.

    • une femme
      July 30, 2014 / 5:40 am

      Susan, here’s a Tall length (34″ inseam) full length trouser from J.Crew, and to address LauraH’s point, they are offered up to size 16.

      • Susan
        July 31, 2014 / 3:52 am

        J. Crew’s pants do not fit me unfortunately. I resent having to limit what I can buy to “falls” when I am not THAT tall. I’m only 5’7″and one half inch. What would be wrong in making all pants long enough for those of us who are not petite and hemming them for shorter people. Men’s clothing stores do this all the time—and all of their pants come in incremental lengths.

    • Rita
      July 30, 2014 / 6:36 am

      Susan, I totally agree! And, I HATE ankle pants – I’ve tried to avoid wearing “floods” for so many years, its a reflex. Also, ankle pants emphasize large feet, look at the models in the pics. Besides J. Crew, Land’s End offers custom lengths up to 34″ in SOME of their styles, and the Investments brand, carried by Dillard’s also comes in long sizes. But it’s frustrating to have to pass up so many cute jeans and pants because of the length issue. I think you’re right about the cost thing, it’s just part of the trend of cheapening everything. Lack of pockets is part of that, also the reason contour waistbands are not so common, even though they fit better.

      • Jill Ann
        July 30, 2014 / 4:10 pm

        I don’t like ankle pants either. I’m 5’7″, so what I’ve done several times is to order tall size ankle pants from J Crew and Banana Republic, which then are regular length on me. This doesn’t solve the problem for my six-foot daughter, though!

    • adriennerichlife
      July 30, 2014 / 7:41 am

      At 6′ 2″, I struggle immensely with finding long-length pants. The best places to shop, in my opinion, are J Crew (as Deja mentioned), Banana Republic and Gap. My Banana Republic slacks are sometimes so long that I have to get them hemmed.
      I am so glad there are “tall” options readily available these days. When I was in my teens and 20’s, long pants weren’t even in my wardrobe. No one made a 36″ inseam.

    • Emily Lees
      August 7, 2014 / 11:18 am

      I am in complete agreement with Susan. We must be about the same size. “Talls” are too tall for me, plus they are too long in the rise. I refuse to give in and buy “ankle” length, which look ridiculous on me, since I have long thin feet as well as long legs! And I refuse to pay more, as some brands require for talls, only to have to shell out even more money for tailoring. My solution is to refuse to buy new pants — if I can’t find the fit I want, I am not going to be forced into the fit the manufacturer wants.

  5. July 30, 2014 / 4:49 am

    Unfortunately, sizing is the reason we must try things on. I have to visit stores and have an understanding of how certain designers fit me, before I can order successfully online. It takes less time for me to go to the store than to order and have to go through the return process. Sizing is the most frustrating part, but fit is also the most important part and we need to make sure we give it the time no matter what the retailers are throwing at us.

  6. LauraH
    July 30, 2014 / 5:10 am

    The sizing practices that you describe make it very difficult to buy online – and isn’t that what retailers want us to do? In Canada we lack the free returns that many U.S. retailers offer so those costs can start to add up. Yet, sticking to in-store trying and buying limits my options. It’s all a bit frustrating, not to mention time consuming. Bottom line – it’s shouldn’t be so hard.

    I’ll mention another annoyance – a number of the retailers often touted by bloggers only go up to a certain, smallish for me, size, such as 10 or 12. Adds to the frustration and another factor in making buying clothes such a hassle.

  7. July 30, 2014 / 5:40 am

    Sizes are meaningless! I wear from a 2 to a 12, and pay no attention, so long as it fits. It does make online shopping a challenge though, if I stray beyond my known brands.

    • July 30, 2014 / 9:42 am

      I’ve found that sizing is more of brand issue as opposed to a retail one, unless the retail outlet only sells one brand. Neiman Marcus marks their online clothing as Classic fit, just what it sounds like or Modern, which is slimmer cut. This helps a bit. I agree that fit is more important than size and you may need to try on several sizes of the same item.

  8. Juliet
    July 30, 2014 / 5:44 am

    There are still small people who need clothes and my sister aged 70, 5 foot tall and 78lb does not always find suitable clothes in the childrens’ department. She also complains that shoes sizes have got bigger over the years. I am not so petite however but I can appreciate her problem.

  9. Jennifer
    July 30, 2014 / 5:59 am

    I can range anywhere from 6-10 US sizing. It gets frustrating but so far I have remained in the same size for the past two year in the shops I like. Ann Taylor 6 or medium, Jcrew 8-medium, Michael Kors 10-medium, etc. it makes it more difficult to shop online but Nordstroms, Piperlime and many other places have great returns, so you can try many items. It’s most frustrating when I don’t have a lot of time to shop and cannot try a lot on or when I do try on half the store and don’t like the way anything fits. I am focusing on finding a few places where I consistently find great basics and keeping with them and they find fun or special pieces as I stubble upon them. I am also use to having a favorite become one that I cannot find anything in. I haven’t found a single item in Anthrpologie in two years and then the last time I found four items that I love.

  10. bettina
    July 30, 2014 / 5:59 am

    I don’t buy the notion that vanity sizing doesn’t exist. What Kathleen Fasanella describes in the quote IS vanity sizing, though she may call it something different. Bottom line, retailers are catering to customers who don’t want to buy something tagged with a larger “number”. (And I do wish that reporters would interview and quote someone other than Fasanella for their articles, so we could see a diversity of opinions within the industry. KF gets quoted a lot simply because she has had a blog for a long time, which means it pops up first in Google searches– not because she’s the foremost expert on the topic).

    Anyway, I decided a long time ago that I did not like spending time in fitting rooms. Either a brand fits consistently, or I don’t buy it. The method I’ve been shopping with for the last 10 or so years is to find a brand with consistent sizing and which fits my body shape, determine my size, and from then on, buy it online or off the rack without trying on. Brands with inconsistent sizing or cuts that don’t flatter don’t get my business.

    I am hopeful that sizing will become more consistent (and size charts more accurate) as more customers shop online and demand clothing that doesn’t have to be return-shipped all the time. Already, I’ve seen some improvements in size charts, where manufacturers post actual clothing measurements for each catalog item, in addition to the recommended body measurements for their clothing.

  11. Marilyn
    July 30, 2014 / 6:12 am

    Eileen Fisher is consistent–as for the rest, well, so many have said what needs to said already. Take 5 pair of jeans into the dressing room, all the same size, no 2 pair fit quite the same. Shop the stores ladies, keep more people employed.. And yes, I do shop online too, but still prefer the touch, feel, and try method quite good.

    • Joyce
      July 30, 2014 / 6:51 am

      I also have the best results with Eileen Fisher. I am 5’1″ in height and can only wear petites (and even some of my petites still need alteration). Years ago I could wear some of Talbots but no more. Talbots’ quality has gone way down and they really have inconsistent sizing along with a style that does not suit me. It is a project finding the best fitting clothes. As said in another comment, I don’t care what the size is as long as the fit is there. That may require a good alteration person and of course that adds to the cost of the garment. Best to buy quality classic clothes that can stay looking new and stylish for several years.

      • Miss Kris
        July 30, 2014 / 9:27 am

        Right there with you, Joyce. I’m a 40-something professional desk jockey, and at 5’1″ and 110 lbs, shopping is a nightmare – both financially and psychologically. I currently wear a 00/XXS in Ann Taylor/Loft, but even with the old secretary spread, the stuff still falls off of me. A good problem to have, I suppose, but I’d rather have a root canal than shop. My closet is filled with neutral colors and classic styles.

  12. Laurie
    July 30, 2014 / 6:30 am

    Ah, the sizing nightmare. I find I wear four different sizes depending on the style, or the manufacturer. I don’t care about the number on the tag, just the fit. That said, and as others have posted, it is a pain ordering online. In fact, I haven’t ordered a garment online in a couple of years. I also work retail and see first hand the frustration of women as they try on numerous items. I always tell them, don’t look at the tag, look in the mirror. It’s all about the fit. Period. As for the xxxs, the company I work for has stores in Asia and offers smaller sizes for that particular market and has for years.

  13. citizen spot
    July 30, 2014 / 7:16 am

    What bugs me is when you find something online that fits, and then order a couple of different colors of the same dang thing, and one fits like the original, while the second doesn’t fit at all, even though it is supposedly the same exact size from the same company.

  14. amidprivilege
    July 30, 2014 / 7:34 am

    I find the European sizes are pretty consistent. I wave my hands in the direction of my body and smile vaguely when an American salesclerk asks me, “What size?”

  15. adriennerichlife
    July 30, 2014 / 7:45 am

    I often buy clothes online – especially “tall” clothing – and have gotten accustomed to ordering two and sometimes even three sizes. Returning is a pain, I admit that. But at least I increase my chances of finding something that fits! I find that even within the brand, sizes can vary wildly. It’s a hassle but I am just grateful for having options as a tall woman.

  16. Joan
    July 30, 2014 / 8:44 am

    I used to be a 7/8 in pants, and now I’m a 2 or a 0, and sometimes even the 0 is too big, so then what? I have definitely not gotten smaller! It would be great if more women’s clothing followed the men’s method of giving the waist and inseam instead of random sizes. I’m excited that Nordstom’s is coming here, which means Eileen Fisher petites! (The stand-alone store doesn’t carry very many items in petite.)

    • Miss Kris
      July 30, 2014 / 9:29 am

      And if you have a Nordstrom card, free alterations! Joy!

  17. Cecilia
    July 30, 2014 / 9:49 am

    I was shopping at Nordstrom’s anniversary sale for a pair of black pants. I am usually an 8, but found out I’m a 10 in Theory and a 6 in Lafayette 148. Also, I had to purchase a large in a Vince dress, when two weeks before I purchased a small in a Vince dress. As I am far from my nearest Nordstrom store and did most of my shopping online, you can imagine how many things I am returning. It’s exhausting!!!

  18. July 30, 2014 / 10:04 am

    I understand that I may wear a different size for each manufacturer as each is designing to a different body shape. That said, it would be nice if each designer / brand were consistent unto themselves.
    Women are larger now – not just weight but also in height. We’re almost a foot taller than our founding mothers. In a way, it makes sense for a medium to move with the average. What annoys me is that many designers refuse to admit that women have a bust and butt. I’m now seeing curvy fit and straight fit in the stores and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not fat just because I’m built like Wonder Woman.

  19. Ellen Faris
    July 30, 2014 / 10:32 am

    Sizing is so frustrating. I am petite, and before the advent of petite sizes it was close to impossible to even guess how clothes would look (before tailoring.) One issue now is the lack of style and taste in “special” sizes: tall, short and over size 12. We tend to feel that we must make our bodies conform to the garments, rather than the other way around. Men, I think, may have a better attitude on this point: they usually say “the shirt doesn’t fit”, not “I need to lose 10 pounds.”
    I don’t see consistency in most brands. There is cut as well as fit, and that is more consistent. Some brands accomodate longer torsos, wider shoulders, and that usually stays the same. I can’t wear Tahari, for instance, because it is always too long from the waist to the shoulder and hard to alter.
    Shoes are just as bad. I have narrow feet and narrow heels.
    It’s hard to feel pretty when the retail gods do not smile upon us. I wish I knew how to change this.
    Eileen Fisher is a good alternative because the cut is forgiving, it’s not very tailored. But if you look best with a nipped in waist, or need suits, I don’t know of a good option. Fingers crossed that BR will maybe add petite sweaters to their new knits.
    And as for XXXS – when I was in my 20s and weighed 100 pounds I would have been overjoyed to find tiny sizes like that! I’m sure the Asian market will be pleased.
    Sorry to whine, I would be grateful to hear about what works for others.

  20. GingerR
    July 30, 2014 / 12:27 pm

    I know what my dimensions are so if I am new to a retailer I check the size chart.

    I have a small chest so I in middle-aged brands, say JJill, I order down as I don’t have the extra flesh to fill out their tops. On the other end I need extra area in the seat/thighs so if the pants don’t say curvy I don’t order them. The Gap, which also publishes thigh measurements is someplace that I can order pants with confidence.

    I think a lot of it is knowing where you fit in both the age/size continuum. A 135 pound 25 y/o does not fit into clothing the same way a 135 pound 55 y/o does.

    • Jill Ann
      July 30, 2014 / 4:24 pm

      I don’t believe there isn’t vanity sizing, either. I recently bought a Talbots pencil skirt in a nice wool, in a size 10. I was cleaning out my closet and found another Talbots pencil skirt (this one in cotton pique), which is several years old, and a size 14. I put them together and they are EXACTLY the same size. Here I thought I had lost so much weight!

  21. Martha
    July 30, 2014 / 7:46 pm

    My solution is to make almost everything I wear – especially pants. But I teach teens to sew and they really struggle with the sizing and unrealistic expectations for their bodies. I too just don’t but the no-vanity-sizing response. And I’ve measured my husband’s clothing purchased at nice shops – vanity sizing there too. I was amazed at the actual measurement for a 36″ waist in pants. More like 38-39 inches.

  22. July 30, 2014 / 10:09 pm

    I have found that sizing is typically consistent with the stores that I shop (J Crew, Ann Taylor, etc..) and I can order things online and know it will fit base on the style. If I am shopping at store where they buy different brands, I will need to try it on. Every brand’s sizing is so different. I find for example that I really can’t wear much from Zara because the clothes are not cut for someone with meat on their bones.

    I was just thinking the other day that spandex/lycra has become a problem in clothing. It’s great to have it in clothing for the stretch factor but it always gives your body too much allowance to gain 5-10 pounds. If I had more clothes with less stretch, I think I may be more strict with my eating. Who knows…


  23. August 1, 2014 / 12:43 am

    You are not a size – I like that and it’s so true. Fit is matters first and foremost.

  24. August 1, 2014 / 5:14 am

    If I want to buy clothes that fit me properly, I get them online or make them (this is a goal for the coming year — to make nearly everything). I never trust a size number to be accurate, so I look for retailers that give a lot of information about fit and finished garment measurements (not just body measurements). Although the quality of their clothing varies wildly, Boden does a good job of providing tons of info online. I wish more U.S. retailers would post finished measurements as well as body measurements — I’m sure it would increase sales and decrease returns.

  25. August 1, 2014 / 7:27 am

    The vanity size argument baffles me. From my point of view, sizes have gone up! I have items bought 5 or 10 years ago that fit me in a size medium (or sometimes even small – I’m 5 feet tall and built like a miniature fertility idol…) and if I try to purchase another item of the same type (talking t-shirts and other knit basics), now I have to buy an XL or even XXL to get the same fit. I’ve put on weight, yes, but that doesn’t explain how my old clothes still fit at the smaller tagged sizes. I’m wearing a t-shirt from my college French department today in a size M; the last time I bought a t-shirt online from a comic artist I love, I had to order an XL to get the same fit.
    As a short person, I can’t quite feel your pain, tall ladies, but I do agree we need lengths and hemming – I’m all torso, so even petite sizes are too long on me (26-inch inseam). In high school I bought a petite-sized prom dress and wore 4-inch heels, and my mom still had to cut 5 inches off the bottom…
    I guess the long and short (lol) of it is that sizes and such are wacked.

  26. August 30, 2014 / 2:12 am

    I’ve been working out like a maniac. I’ve lost inches and kilos and still have to buy things in my “old” size 42 or 44 /XL or even XXL here in Europe. In the US I can buy anything from a size 10 to a size 14. Thanks for this article. It saved me from a dressingroom meltdown.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

powered by chloédigital