In the vast and completely arbitrary world of women’s clothing sizes, it’s pretty clear that there is no real industry standard.
I don’t know about you, but personally, I can wear a size-small T-shirt from the Gap, then walk across the street and not even be able to wriggle an arm into an XL top at Free People. And don’t even get me started on pants—in my closet, I have everything from size 27 to size 31 jeans from two or three different mainstream brands, and shorts in sizes from 6 to 12.
Want to get really confusing? I do a lot of shopping from British e-commerce sites—where the numbers are bigger, so I’ve bought everything up to size 18 from retailers like Topshop and Marks and Spencer. Italian and French clothes? Anywhere from a 36 to 46 (big numbers!).
And if you’ve ever been in a wedding party and had to buy a bridesmaid dress? Whoa. I think the last time I did, I was size 100,000,000. What’s up with that?
I’ve been bigger and smaller and worn sizes all over the map, so the numbers on my clothes don’t bother me as much as they used to. But I want to know what you think.
A story in The Guardian today suggests that one way to overhaul clothing sizes would be to eradicate this sort-of-arbitrary numerical system and, instead, label clothing with euphemistic words and phrases—a sort of implicit linguistic acceptance of the fact that all our bodies are different.
Like, would you prefer for a size 14, for example, to be relabeled “Marilyn”? Do you think it would change the way you feel when you shop and when you pull something out of your wardrobe and put it on?
One solution may be to develop new sizing systems that are not based on relative sizes, rather on positive connotations that already exist elsewhere. Women who might normally feel ashamed at having to pull a size 16 or 18 off the rack might feel far more comfortable if those clothes were labelled in a way that explored the positive connotations of feminine curves. That size “16” could be replaced with a label that reads “burlesque.”
Similar systems could be developed for men. A broad-chested 42 could be renamed “athletic.” A sturdy 46 could be rebranded as “warrior.”
Perhaps retailers could name their size labels after role models or celebrities. According to anthropologists, evolution has programmed us to want to imitate prestigious individuals in whatever way we can. I would certainly rather buy a “Marilyn” than a size 14.
In a way, vanity sizing—and this idea that renaming sizes—is all a marketing ploy. Isn’t it true that at the end of the day, as a consumer, all we want are clothes that fit well, that are flattering, and that are comfortable and suitable for whatever occasion we’re wearing them to?
I heard a story once upon a time about a famous talk-show host whose staff was tasked with changing all the size labels in her clothes to size 8—even though she wasn’t anywhere near an industry size 8. If a size tag bothers someone so much, why not just cut it out altogether?