Size is a matter of opinion?

As I mentioned before, I’m in the process of gathering information to explain and quantify grading in the context of what I’d said before:

…consumers have the expectation that if they gain weight, they should be able to grab the next largest size in the sequence and obtain a good fit.

…the average size 2 woman is shorter than the average size 8. Manufacturers design grade rules that encompass those height changes… Manufacturers don’t take a woman of a given size and grade up or down to fit that particular woman as she’d go through the various sizing changes. That would mean they’d only be making clothes to fit someone of a specific height but it wouldn’t make sense to do that as people also get taller in the larger size ranges. It’s an issue of proportion. Most people who are heavier, are also taller.

…a general pattern emerges that the average size 10 is taller than the average size 2; that’s just the reality. Accordingly, when manufacturers apply sizing standards, they incorporate height changes into each size too, not just width. Unfortunately, grabbing the next largest size will not only be greater in girth but in height as well. For this reason, it’s an unreasonable expectation to expect identical proportionates across sizing. This is a problem in mass manufacturing which is why I feel product lines should be much smaller (as should companies) to fit a more specialized target demography.


Necessarily, this requires having reliable data from which to extrapolate. The problem is, I can’t even get to first base. Sorting through competing information, it seems the experts can’t agree what the average woman weighs much less anything else. For example, NHANES 2002 (really nice, you might want to print it out) lists the data for white, non-hispanic females by age as:

20-39 158 lbs
40-59 167 lbs
60-79 158 lbs

Height is listed by age as:
20-39 64.6″
40-59 64.6″
60-79 62.8″

But the Sizing USA study says the average woman is 149 lbs with a height of 63.75″ (you can see the average measures here) so who is right? Considering that the NHANES sampling is much smaller than the Sizing USA sampling, I’d weigh the latter as being more accurate. Still, the methodology of respondent selection is a biggie and I don’t know how TC2 did that.

My first thought is that if you’re one of those people who think we should adopt mandated sizing for apparel, I’d think you’d be dissuaded of that opinion if you spend any time looking at these charts and data sets. These charts for women, men and children are particularly user friendly. My point being that I could see the apparel industry adopting standards if consumers and experts could agree what the standards were. As it is, the stats are all over the map. If we did adopt standards, there’d be a whole lot more people missing out in apparel choices than there are now. When women -between themselves- can agree what constitutes a size 10, then that’s the day the apparel industry will fall in line behind them. I feel safe saying that because it isn’t possible that women will agree that a size 10 constitutes X bust, waist, hip, height and weight measures. In other words, apparel sizing is all over the map because people are, in both physical dimensions and perspectives. It would seem that size is a matter of opinion.

Speaking of weight as being a matter of opinion, in a study regarding self reporting of weight, people tended to under report their weight by only 3.5 lbs. Although certain groups tend to over report their weight (the elderly mostly), somehow I thought the incidence of under reporting would be higher than that.

Regarding the related debate of obesity and discretionary income, little is likely to change regarding BBW apparel selection if the ratio to earnings and body weight remains as described in this study. Apparently, obese white women earned 17% less than women of normal weight. It’s also interesting that black women had no such penalty.

Economists Susan Averett and Sanders Korenman studied the effects of obesity on wages, using a sample consisting of individuals aged 16-24 in 1981 who were 23-31 in 1988. They showed that women who were obese according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) in both 1981 and 1988 earned 17 percent lower wages on average than women within their recommended BMI range. However, women who became obese between those two survey years earned only slightly less than women of recommended BMI. When comparing by race, the authors found a wage penalty for obesity among white women but no significant penalty for black women. Among white men, they found a much lower wage penalty for obesity than for their white female counterparts. A small positive relationship was actually found between obese black men and wages.

You can find height and weight statistics for children here.

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16 comments

  1. christy fisher says:

    Why do we even have to have sizes that MEAN NOTHING (like 8-10-12 etc)???
    Why can’t we go to a completely numeric system where a 38 blouse means a 38″ bust and a size 32 jean means a 32″hip? At least it would be closer to the truth (even though there would be variations in waists, armlengths, etc.)
    I think menswear sizing is way more consistent between manufacturers because they seem to not use vanity numbers. At least when a man buys a size 42/long jacket, he knows what he is getting to some degree.
    To me, a standardization of sizing would not mean that all manufacturers are producing the same sizes..but it would mean that what the manufacturer called their size would be a true measurement.
    Some companies would do blouses in a 32-34-or36, etc.
    Some may do them in 33-35-etc.
    At least that way the consumer would be able to know what they are getting instead of just having a tag that reads “size 4” hanging in the seam.

  2. Lol B says:

    I think that would be a great idea Christy. Size 10 in one store can be a size 14 in another, sizing is so frickin random!

    I was recently in a design studio shared by 3 different clothing designers, they all had their measurement/sizing charts up on the wall, I couldn’t believe that they all had completely different measurements for sizes 8-16 ! They were aiming at a similar target market too, what is with that!!!

  3. Alison Cummins says:

    Christy, I’m with you on this one. Not that there should be a universal set of blocks that all designers use – no no no no no no no – but that there should be a reference point. If I have a 38-inch bust, then I can try on blouses that are size 38. Some of them will fit the way I like, some will fit but not be what I’m looking for, and others will just be completely wrong for me. But they’ll all button or zip up the front. If I’m looking for a tighter fit that doesn’t necessarily do up the front, or if I think that straining-button look is sexy, I can try on size 36.

    So I guess what I’m looking for is not standardised sizing so much as a standard for determining how sizes are labelled. Better yet would be what the pattern companies do and indicate the amount of design ease: tight, fitted, semi-fitted, loose-fitting and very loose-fitting. So I might know that I ‘m looking for a 38-semi-fitted, but if I see a loose-fitting blouse in a really terrific fabric I might be tempted to try it on in a 36.

    Don’t know if the general public can figure this out – most concepts require more literacy, numeracy and education than we realise – but maybe it’s intuitive. Be worth a shot.

    (Unfortunately this system would still be subject to abuse. The pattern companies disguise vanity sizing by increasing the amount of indicated design ease. So I’m supposed to be a size 22 according to their charts, but in practice if I want a fitted blouse I buy a pattern that illustrates a fitted blouse in size 16, but the back will say “loose-fitting” in the fine print. Even though it has princess seams, narrow sleeves, a defined waist, the whole thing.)

  4. Alison Cummins says:

    Also: the increase in height factored into grading is not indicative simply of the average increase in height with girth in the population, but also of the proportions the designer is committed to.

    For instance, your basic short straight skirt is a vertical line in size 6 and a horizontal line in size 22 if the size 6 and size 22 customer are assumed to be the same height. The grading relative to height will depend partly on how much the designer needs the skirt to be a vertical line. If the answer is very much, then the size 22 skirt will be graded assuming the customer is 6’10” in order to maintain proportion. At which point the designer may decide that this target market is too small to be worth reaching and drop the size. Much to the chagrin of svelte giantesses everywhere.

  5. Esther says:

    I have always wanted pants/jean manufacturers to put the waist and length measurements on their women’s pants. (I think Ralph Lauren does). It would save so much time in the dressing room. But no, you have to grab at least 3 sizes of each style/brand to try on. No wonder women hate shopping for pants.

  6. Sherry says:

    This is where DE’s and small independent retailers can really thrive. DE’s need to design for their REAL customers and market effectively to their REAL customers. However, they need to be honest about who those customers really are.

    Too many designers/manufacturers and retailers are fighting to stick their forks into the same sliver of stale pie. Many (but by no means, all) DE’s need to overcome some of their own snobbery. If you only want to design and market to the fabulously young, hip, wealthy and value-indiscriminate, that IS your choice. Once you’ve sold all your cute pieces to your friends, the real marketplace will shake you out.

    But, as many businesses are starting to recognize, a wealth of opportunities exist elsewhere and all over the place in greater numbers.

    (A (not small now) company such as Chico’s is doing so well because its target customer has been so ignored, and the company is doing a great job of NOT ignoring this customer. Chico’s is also smart because it has chosen a customer that potentially can be a customer for over a decade and still look fresh and contemporary.)

    Those who ignore real opportunities will perish. Those DE’s who first DESIGN WELL for their real customers (whoever they realistically and honestly decide that to be) and, second, market ADEQUATELY to them will thrive.

    Those DE’s with the vision, creativity, and true love of humanity in its many forms are going to be profitable. That’s a huge opportunity!

    It’s also a huge responsibility. To paraphrase what Kathleen has written, DE’s have the responsibility to run their businesses in ways that lead to success.

  7. Stacy says:

    And many opinions you have received!
    Thanks for the excellent links to anthroprometric studies. I have used the SIZE USA average size for base size development on a few projects. You notice that they did not put a label or size name on the average set of measurements! But the Average size in the US can be identified as an aproxiamate ASTM size 16!

    All opinions and discussions up to this point have been focused on the NA Market. As a Prod Developer you may also need consider other market sizing systems and body proportions as well (Japan, Europe, Middle East, Asia). There are other organizations that have excellent pattern drafting and sizing systems – M.Muller & Sohn in Germany is highly regarded and used in Europe, Canada and ?
    Keep the comments flowing.

  8. The British Standards Institute has come up with a solution called BodyDim, drafted to BS-EN-13402, which calls for actual measurements and a pictogram. The measurements are in centimeters (sorry, Americans!). The new labels are intended to be intelligible worldwide. With the multitude of languages, a pictogram was chosen to designate body parts to be measured. With 95% of the world’s population using metric, this would be the natural choice. Unfortunately, this labelling system is rarely used at this time, but should become more common when clothing manufacturers decide to use a more realistic size label, and when clothing size numbers above 60 or so lose their stigma of appearing HUGE.

  9. Talbot’s sizing study

    Joanna sends word of a newly released sizing study commissioned by Talbots. Somehow, 85% of women know if something fits them by looking at the size tag but 62% of them don’t know their body measurements! Moreover, only 16% of…

  10. Amy says:

    I’m actually writing a paper on this write now. I think that women’s jean sizes should be recorded like men’s jean sizes- length and width measurements. That way, the manufacturers don’t have to standardize based on stats. They can make the different varrying sizes based on those measurements. It would also be easier then for a girl to find the right size for her- length and width. This would also decrease the stigma of body size associated with jean sizes as there would be a smaller gap between the measurement numbers than there is now with the current numbering system.

  11. MBV says:

    Amy, if sizing jeans by waist it would also be desirable to have an picture with an indication of where on the body the waistband measurement was taken — seeing that the dropped waistlines on so many jeans are considerably closer to the fullest part of the hips than to the narrowest part of the waist.

    Perhaps hip measurement would be more practical for jeans sizing?

  12. Cassandra says:

    All of this is very interesting. I’ve never seen so many people enthused about this situation as myself. I’m all for sizing women’s jeans like men’s in the aspect of, everyone could find their sizes much easier. Just like in men’s jeans, they give the waist and length measurements, this allows men of shorter stature and larger waists get the pants that will fit them. Where women have to sit and sift through many different brands and sizes just to find jeans that fit their waist but then having to hem the leg because it may be too long or in some cases add more fabric because they’re too skinny and the pants are too short on them. Either way women are boned. Bigger women especailly, no manufacturers actually make say a size 24 or so the way its realistically seen. People with that big of a waist aren’t going to be 7’5″, thats just ridiculous! Once they hit a certain size, they should start adjusting the height measurements. Also, depending on the style of jeans, whether it be hip huggers or low rise or high waisted, they should include pictures on one side of the label to show where exactly the pants should sit. These things would be way much more helpful.

  13. Natasha Navin says:

    Hi, I’m Natasha from Malaysia. I am new on this forum and also in this business. I am just about to start working on my first collection for children’s clothing. I need some advice on sizing. Since I have decided to start only with kids clothes starting from size 1 to 10 or 12 (baby’s range will hopefully come later), I am wondering what would be the size of my prototype? Is size 4 reasonable? Also, in order to reduce the amount of grading needed and the minimum order both from fabric manufacturer and sewing contractor, does it make sense for me to categorize the size as follows: Ages 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12. This way I will only have 6 different sizes in stead of 12 different sizes (which I think is more ideal for the buyer). Any advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you.

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