The Minefield That Is Women’s Sizing

womens sizing

I touched on this subject in my earlier post about taking measurements and choosing which pattern size to make.  It’s such a bug bear of mine that I thought it deserved a post of its own.

Let’s face it, until you decided to start making your own clothes, when did you last take your measurements?! And why would you? The only way many of us tend to keep a check on our body size (if at all) is not by measuring, but by trying on clothes in shops and looking at what the size label tells us. And in every shop you go in, I’ll bet you’re a different “size”. What’s more, I’ll bet you tend to shop most in the places that tell you you’re the smallest size. Don’t fall for it, those people are playing with your mind, it’s called “vanity sizing”. Most women think they know what size they are, but all you really know is what your favourite shop is telling you that they call someone of your proportions.

Here are some examples:

BODY MEASUREMENTS
Bust 88cm / 34 ½ “ 92cm / 36 ¼ “
Waist 72cm / 28 ½ “ 76cm / 30”
Hips 96cm / 37 ¾ “ 100cm / 39 ½ “
WHAT DIFFERENT RETAILERS CALL THESE MEASUREMENTS *
Reiss 10 12
M&S bust & hips – 10  waist – 12 bust & hips – 12  waist – 14
Boden bust & waist – 10  hips – 12 bust & waist – 12  hips – 14
Zara 10 12
H&M 12 14
All Saints 10 12
Whistles bust – 10/12         waist – 10/12         hips – 10 bust – 12               waist – 12/14         hips – 12

What this means is, if a person was exactly these body measurements she would buy one size in Reiss and Zara, have to buy one size bigger in H&M and need to buy different size tops and bottoms in Whistles, Boden and M&S, meaning dresses and coats might not fit very well in these shops.

Another point of interest from this list is All Saints. Their full size range for women covers 6 sizes which they label:

4 (XS), 6 (S), 8 (S), 10 (M), 12 (M), 14 (L)

So, the biggest women’s size in All Saints is labeled L (rather than XXL) by having 2 small sizes (6 and 8) and 2 mediums (10 and 12). I’m not commenting on whether this is right or wrong, good or bad, simply pointing out an interesting fact and pondering its implications. I wonder who their clothing is aimed at? Most of the All Saints size chart corresponds with the typical measurements of teenage girls, yet prices for a simple t-shirt average around £40, their cheapest jeans are £88 and coats from £228 to over £400. Are they within a teenage girl’s budget?

Interestingly this concentration on small sizes doesn’t carry through into All Saints menswear which covers a fairly typical adult male size range of 34-44” chest  or XS – XXL as the men’s sizing doesn’t have two size S’s and two size M’s like the women’s sizing.

Let’s see if the similar confusion reigns in the sizing of men’s clothing from the same retailers:

BODY MEASUREMENTS
Chest 92cm / 36 ¼ “ 96cm / 37 ¾ “
Waist 80cm / 31 ½ “ 84cm / 33”
Hips 96cm / 37 ¾ “ 100cm / 39 ½ “
WHAT DIFFERENT RETAILERS CALL THESE MEASUREMENTS *
Reiss S / 36 M / 38
M&S S                               tops – 36         bottoms – 32 M                              tops – 38          bottoms – 34
Boden S                          bottoms – 32 S                          bottoms – 34
Zara Not comparable but interesting as all men’s size charts refer to garment measurements not body measurements.
H&M S                                 tops – 36             bottoms – 32 M                               tops – 38             bottoms – 33
All Saints chest & hip – S    waist – S/M chest & hip – M   waist – M/L
Whistles chest – S               waist – S/M chest – M              waist – M/L

Looks to me like fairly consistent sizing with the added bonus that in all but All Saints and Whistles, men can buy clothing with a size label that directly relates to their body measurement ie. a size 36 top in H&M for a chest measurement of 36 ¼ “ this, I would argue is a much easier way to buy clothes and is a much more honest and transparent approach to size labelling (and pattern sizing).

With this and my previous post in mind I will be changing all the sizing of MIY Collection patterns this year to remove any reference to dress sizes.

Sizing has always been a sensitive and contentious subject which manages to draw strong opinions. I’ve been criticised myself for not including bigger sizes in my book “The Beginner’s Guide to Dressmaking” (which covers roughly dress sizes 10-18). Pattern grading (making more sizes of a pattern) is another minefield where each size that a pattern is graded adds cost to the overall development of the pattern.  Add to this the fact that it’s not good practice to grade one base size up and down into lots of different sizes means that to grade well, grading needs to be restricted to grading up and down a few sizes and if you want to go bigger or smaller than that range, a new bigger/smaller pattern should be drafted to grade from, again adding yet more cost. It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time, but I’d like to think that I’m open and transparent about how my patterns are sized and of course in future I’m hoping to be able to include a wider range of sizes.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this subject?

* Info correct on 17/1/15 – info taken from individual retailers’ websites.

One response to “The Minefield That Is Women’s Sizing

  1. Pingback: Some New Directions for MIY Collection Sewing Patterns | MIY Collection

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