Weekends with Womack

Fit to be tied: clothes shopping and sizing madnes

Finding clothes that fit is not the most unpleasant task women face, but it is constant, often frustrating and sometimes downright demoralizing. Sam has blogged here and here about clothing troubles athletic women have, and both Sam and Tracy have blogged (here and here, among other places) on the elusive search-for-the-right-sports-bra.

As a size 14/16 woman, I’m used to (if not happy about) the fact that many clothing manufacturers don’t seem to care about my demographic, even though 14 is the most common size for women in the US.  But this treatment extends to other sizes as well, as I found out in person this weekend.

My 30-year-old cousin Xina and I met in New York City this weekend to hang out with some friends and their kids, go to museums and engage in a bit of shopping and other girly activities. Xina is tall (5’ 11”) and slender. She wears a clothing size 10—12. On Saturday (after getting pedicures, which are a relative bargain in New York) we headed to Urban Outfitters. She saw this really cute jumpsuit that she wanted to try on.

jumpsuitBut we couldn’t find a size 10 or 12. So we went to ask a salesperson if they had one, or if they could find it at another store. The salesperson returned shortly and told us, in discreetly hushed tones, “That item doesn’t come in a 12. 10 is the biggest size we carry, but we don’t have one in the store.” There seemed to be at most only one size 10 left in the entire tri-state area. Huh.

I was astounded. So used to being size and body-shamed in retail outlets myself, I was nonetheless surprised to see it in action with my lovely young svelte cousin as the target. Seriously, people?

Xina used to work in retail clothing stores, and wasn’t surprised at all by this treatment. She informed me that lots of clothing retailers relegate their size 12 and up customers to online sales, not stocking those sizes in stores. There seems to be a fear on the part of these brands that if non-tiny people a) populate their dressing rooms and stores, and b) actually appear in public wearing their clothing, the brand will lose its cachet, its mystique, its je ne sais quoi. Witness Abecrombie and Fitch’s refusal to stock women’s size XL and Lululemon CEO’s claim that “some women’s bodies just don’t work” for their yoga pants. By the way, he resigned a month after making said comments.

One (super-lame-o) claim that clothing manufacturers make about their failure to make decent clothing in sizes 14 and above is that there is a lot of variation in body shape in those sizes, so it’s not possible to systematize tailored garment patterns enough for production.


What holds for sizes 14 and above also holds for sizes 12 and under, namely that body shapes vary in systematic and predictable ways. Of course the variation isn’t unlimited—for instance, people aren’t usually shaped like this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 6.22.32 PMBut I digress.

Here’s a diagram of a UK size 12 on different height women (for a clothing tailoring website):

size 12

We also see this in action when we put the same dress on different shaped women:


And just in case you didn’t see this already, the “one size fits most” myth got definitively busted here with women of different sizes, heights and body shapes.

And hey, this clothing maker managed to produce cute tops and pants for these different-shaped women without violating the laws of physics:


So.  What do we want?

Reasonably well-fitting attractive clothing in a variety of sizes.

When do we want it?


Okay, I gotta work on the phrasing, but you get the idea.


11 thoughts on “Fit to be tied: clothes shopping and sizing madnes

  1. I was shopping with my mother once, and she picked up a jacket to try on. It looked lovely on her – but then she saw that it said size 14 on the tag and she almost started crying. “I can’t be a 14! I’m just not that big!” and refused to buy the jacket. I showed her than in that particular mall I could find clothing items labeled size 2 to size 12 that *all* fit me, but she could not get past the shame and stigma that she associated with that size 14.

    I’m 5’8″, and at the time I weighed about 130lb. My measurements were 34-26-38. That should have put me in a “nearly ideal” figure category (though I’d have to flip the bum and the boobs), and I STILL couldn’t find either consistent sizing, or things that fit well through the thighs (muscular from cycling), or were long enough, or didn’t pull across the shoulders and gape in the bust. And that’s *without* the shaming and body stigma some of my friends have to deal with.

    These days I am sewing a lot more, and I’ve been ordering clothing from online clothing companies like eShakti, which offer wide size ranges, take height into consideration in their sizing, and offer customized fit on a wide range of measurements – including arm and leg circumference; length of torso; high bust, under-bust, and cup size (rather than just the bust measurement as such). (They also have pockets in EVERYTHING)

    1. Thanks for the comment; It’s awful that so many of us (me included) can get shamed and excluded from buying clothes that we like because of crazy and inconsistent sizing. The sizing chart I posted was from a UK company that does customized fit based on measurements like the ones you mentioned; much more sensible!

  2. The UK chart and accompanying photo poster are great and should be posted in women’s clothing stores. It’s wonderful reality check for everyone …including the guys buying for women /accompanying women.

    It would be motivating to show real women interpretations of size 12 (or ie. 10) : hey I’m normal @ xxxx size too. But you wouldn’t know it!

    I bought a stock of bras…um about a decade ago. Now, I’m dreading the hunt soon at stores. Keep in mind the opposite is true for small women at the other end of the scale, are horrified to deal with overly padded bras, underwire (my god, how ridiculously medieval uncomfortable) or worse, bras which they cannot fill at all. Teen bras don’t solve problems: they’re not shaped for the upper body breadth of a full woman adult. It’s like buying teen pants: they’re NOT cut-shaped/tailored for curves of an adult woman, even if she is small like myself.

    There is a reason why I cycle in cycling clothing, not in streetwear..it’s a pain in the butt to find street/business clothing that fits me without significant alterations / forking out a lot of money. Cycling clothing in its fabrics and construction, is actually more durable. I continue to wear same cycling jerseys annually from 15 years ago. It works, they’re timeless.

    In the 21st century, I’m actually disgusted at the far cheaper fabrics and lack of durability for women’s non-cycling clothing at the same price compared to for men: it seems as if manufacturers are relying on (misplaced?) assumptions that women will only wear a garment for 1-3 yrs., then throw it out. Hence they will only manufacture quality to last for that time period. So in a way, our fashion fickle taste has made some of us a victim of greedy manufacturers (who are also using probably underpaid workers in Third World countries).

  3. I have also had the opposite experience–being drawn to buy a piece of clothing because it was sized smaller than I usually wear.

  4. Hi all– I inadvertently used the term “super-lame-o” in my post, which reflects badly on those who have disabilities. I’ve been working on ridding my speech and writing of this term, but it slipped through this time. Sorry about that, and thanks to a friend for pointing it out.

  5. Clothing shopping is frustrating at the best of times but the excuses give for not stocking/making a range of sizes are ridiculous. I have a similar battle finding shoes that fit. Some manufacturers don’t even make my size because my feet are too small!! What do we want….?

  6. I am lucky I seem to be in the 14 to 16 I bought 18 thinking I wanted a looser fit and they are to big I like to give them away I said I am lucky because the stores I go to have all sizes but I am frustrated when I am in between sizes

  7. I’m in the black hole between sizes – I can wear some (Size X) “plus size” clothing but am too big for other clothing store (Size 16) which technically should be relatively similar as that is where “plus size” stores start their sizing. I feel the need to invest in some muumuus! So much easier and free-flowing 😉

  8. I hate clothes shopping I have quite a big bust so I buy a top big enough to go over my assets then it’s hanging around my waist. When buying trousers my legs are skinny but after having 3 children I have a baby belly so the trousers look like masts around my legs I can’t win ha ha

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