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Shopping 101: Size is Just a Number

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While clothes shopping can be a fun way to spend your day (for some people), it can also be frustrating!  Standing in the dressing room with 6 pairs of pants, 4 skirts, and 3 dresses all in 3 different sizes can be overwhelming. “Why don’t these clothes fit? I’m a size __!”, you say. Well, says who? 

woman trying on clothing

While there are in fact “real” standardized clothing sizes that designers use, most stores don’t subscribe. And to be honest, it really doesn’t matter. Think about it. If I’m standing next to someone who is the same height and weight as me does that mean our bodies are exactly the same? Of course not! Someone’s waist may be smaller, someone’s chest is bigger, someone has longer legs. And chances are, the size 8 (or whatever size) you “think” you are looks entirely different than the size 8 the designer used as a fit model. Do you really think a size 8 will fit you exactly the same in every store you walk into? You know from experience this is not how it works! And unless all your clothing is custom made, you know that not everything you try on is going to fit!

The design of a garment indicates the placement of the waist, the length of the sleeve, etc. Depending on the designer, items may be more slim-fitting or cut more fully. And this is interesting to note, another factor in clothing size is price. Sizing in mid-lower end priced garments has changed over the years while higher-end priced clothing sizes have remained the same over the last 40 years. This means a designer dress in a size 8 will fit differently than a dress from that same designer’s lower-priced line in the same size! A bit confusing right?

Check out this graphic from an article the NY Times did on sizing a few years ago. Look how much these sizes differ!

woman trying on clothing

The bottom line here is: Clothing size is just a number!  Seriously. It comes down to simply trying things on and finding the item that best fits your body! If a size 8 fits, but doesn’t flatter, and a size 10 flatters while giving you the look you desire, which is really the best size? Find the the correct item for your body. For me, I know when I shop that certain stores/brands and fabrics work better for me when I buy pants, than when I buy tops, or dresses. A few examples: Zara – a European brand, typically runs a bit smaller than some other places I frequent. And based on the fabrics they favor, most knit skirts and dresses are usually way too short and clingy for my curvy frame, regardless of going up in sizes. So, I tend to stick to their tops and jackets! And I usually go up a size from what I would buy, at say, Target, or Kohls. At Ann Taylor I would typically buy a size or two down (Vanity sizing, anyone?) Banana Republic – I once bought a size 0 skirt and a size 8 pair of pants in the same trip. See my point?  Nothing good would have come from squeezing myself into the pants in a size 4 or 6. Just like buying the skirt in a 4 or 6 would have been way less flattering. The way these specific items were designed and cut fit me best in these sizes. 

Next time you hit the dressing room, remember that you’re looking for FIT and FLATTER, so quit looking at the number in the tag and just try things on until you get it just right! (Or get as close as possible and then find a good tailor!)  Happy Shopping!

What are your biggest issues with fit while shopping?

Originally published December 16, 2014

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