Nag Nag Nag (EN 13402)

Before I start, remember that I’m going out of town today so my responses to queries and comments will be limited. Miracle says she’ll be posting. Also, I’ve heard a complaint that comments aren’t going through. Considering that comments have been lagging, I’m inclined to believe it. I don’t know what the problem is. You can email your comments to me directly and I’ll post them manually until I get back and have the time to figure it out.

This post comes in response to Jennifer Ennis who’s been nagging me (nicely) since January to write about EN 13402. This refers to a method of labeling sizes and used in the European Union but should and could be used elsewhere. I remember several years ago, it was hard to find out anything about it. Now, paradoxically, it’s hard to write about it because there is so much information available. The Wiki entry is staggering in its depth and complexity. As the wiki explains, there have been three basics ways of labeling clothing sizes. First is listing the body dimensions -presumably of the body the item is designed to fit. Second is product dimensions and last is an (often) arbitrary number (size 2, 4 etc). Neither has been particularly effective in reducing consumer fatigue and frustration.

The standard EN 13402 proposes to reduce ambiguity by designating sizes according to anthropometric surveys within ranges (some vary as much as 4 cm). While it is not possible to use the specified measures, thinking these will fit everyone, I think the value of the system lies in the labeling device. It is proposed that a sizing hang tag should be affixed to every item of apparel, upon which, the dimensions of a body the garment is designed to fit, will be reflected. Below is such a device -a schematic or pictograph- of what I think everyone should be using. This is similar to the EN tag but you don’t need to pay a licensing fee to use mine :). If you insist on paying for it -which admittedly includes the sizing data- be prepared to fork out $105. Much of this information is listed in charts on the wiki. My pictograph is shown below:

s I was saying, I think the value is in using this tag on all your garments showing the dimensions of a body the product is designed to fit. Below is an example (from the wiki entry) and note the numbers reflect metric sizing:

You’ll notice that there is a range for the bust, waist and hip measures, spanning a four centimeter difference. Not listed on this chart is height. I’d think height would be equally important so I’d encourage you to include that as well.

For more loosely fitting styles, the EN 13402 standard proposes letter codes such as XXS, XS etc but it’s not clear if only the letters are used on the tag or if the measures are as well. As an example, see this chart listing the measures of the lettered sizes.

There is one last bit to the EN standard I’m not liking very much. The fourth portion of the standard (to be published late 2007) proposes to “define a compact coding system for clothes sizes”.

This was originally intended primarily for industry use in databases and as a part of stock-keeping identifiers and catalogue ordering numbers, but later users have also expressed a desire to use compact codes for customer communication. Writing out all the centimetre figures of all the primary and secondary measures from EN 13402-2 can – in some cases – require up to 12 digits. The full list of centimetre figures on the pictogram contains a lot of redundancy and the same information can be squeezed into fewer graphemes with lookup tables. EN 13402-4 will define such tables.

In theory, it sounds neat and tidy but only if one were using the precise measures as dictated by the standard -and who will want to do that? There is a tremendous variation in women’s body sizes. For example, clothing for busty women would not have a code to reflect their sizing. Sure, a code is great to reflect sizing for the middle of the size range and “average” people but it leaves over 50% of the market out. For this reason, I have been long opposed to mandating specific sizing measures. I mean, if only 30% of consumers can buy a pair of shoes -of which feet are more “uniform” and of which there is far less sizing variety than apparel- to fit them and those sizes are standardized, how can we have higher expectations for apparel which has greater variation and styling options? Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to feel this way:

An earlier draft of this part of the standard attempted to list all in-use combinations of EN 13402-3 measures and assigned a short 2- or 3-digit code to each [1]. Some of the industry representatives involved in the standardization process considered this approach too restrictive. Others argued that the primary dimension in centimetres should be a prominent part of the code. Therefore this proposal, originally expected to be adopted in 2005, was rejected.

The new proposals suggested adding a letter code for outsize variations but then, it just begins to get very complicated. Because of all this complexity, I think labeling the dimensions using a pictograph hang tag is the best option for consumers. Regarding filling retail orders, I don’t know how it should work. I think one will still have to designate either a numbered (albeit arbitrary) size number or include a lettered size designation such as XS, S, M etc while making clear to retailers, the designations of what these sizes constitute.

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  1. Jennifer says:

    nagging? I prefer the term “requesting” and truth be told – you asked me to remind you :p
    I agree with your comment that the value is in using the pictograph on a garment tag on your garments showing the dimensions of a body the product is designed to fit. Customers and retail service reps need this info to help them make better decisions.
    Thanks for the post – (she says nicely???)

  2. Eli says:

    I cant imagine how difficult it could be for everyone to come to a concensus. I’m tired of buying things in different sizes. This is why I always try everything on before I buy it. But even then the sizes are deceiving. At the store where I work, the mannequins used to wear size 27 pants, and even those are too small for them now. And you cant argue that the mannequins have gained weight can you?

  3. Heather says:

    Some years ago, while attending pattern drafting classes, we were ‘slipped’ a copy of the new European sizings, which were supposed to bring sizes uniform across the EU. It was a big secret because our lecturer had copied a ‘secret’ document and passed it on to us for future reference (most of those people who attended the course were preparing for their Master in Dressmaking exams, the highest trade level). I don’t know where my copy is, but if I can find it I’ll send you a copy. It should be ok to do so as it shouldn’t be a secret anymore.

  4. Mina W says:

    The other thing that would be useful to the consumer is a pictorial representation of the built-in ease of the garment style, like some of the online/catalog retailers use with their sizing charts. I mean an outline on the diagram of the fit of the garment, with a name: close-fitting, shaped, loose-fitting.

    Also, at the waist, below the waist, way below (?), for pants & skirts. Also length of tops: crop, waist-length, high hip, low hip, below hip – or even better, length measurements. Of course, on hang tags, the length is less important, since you can see that, and hold it up. But the fit style, and where the waistband is supposed to sit, since that is a variable now, would be really useful.

  5. Kate Kennedy says:

    I have been researching EN 13402 as a possible system for Australia as (you may find this hard to believe) we have the same debate going on over “size”, and have no reliable public data to work with. In a recent trip to Europe I spent some time looking for brands using this standard or at least aspects of it. A prominent French sporting/leisure chain have established a measurement identification system based on measuring your body with tape measures provided. You then select your size from the color coded diagrams posted in the store and change rooms. It was easy to follow. There are diagrams that relate to product for men, women and children. Size selection for lower body garments is based on waist. Disappointingly I ended up needing two different size pants for two different styles. Both styles were not the size the tape measure identified from my waist measurement. Alas shopping fatigue. So the conclusions that I draw from this are that; product QA policy and practice must adhere to a measurement discipline that complies to the label size if this is going to work, and that hip is probably a better way to select female lower body garments than the variables of waist. I am doing more research in this area. Does anyone have more info on this? I will forward a copy of the hang tag from the French company. H&M also reference CN body dimensions on their size tags. I couldn’t find any retail assistants who could explain what it meant though.

    [amended by kf]
    Kate sent me the files. If anyone wants to see the photos of tags, they’ve been uploaded here and here.

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