I Shouldn’t Have To Play Goldilocks While Shopping: Standardize Clothing Sizes Now

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Fia Cooper

Nowadays, the numbers on the tags of clothes are frankly irrelevant. But they shouldn’t be.

By Brooklyn Chillemi, La Salle Catholic Preparatory High School

This summer, I did most of my back-to-school shopping at the Clackamas Town Center, a four-minute drive from La Salle. I was looking for a variety of clothes, but especially jeans, as they are a staple in my wardrobe. 

Searching through the shelves, feet sore from walking down the aisles, I quickly grew tired of trying on piles upon piles of clothes that simply didn’t fit me.

Too tight here, too long there. Not wide enough on the bottom, then not stretchy enough on the top. 

I knew my size, or at least, I thought I did.

Nowadays, the numbers on the tags of clothes are frankly irrelevant. But they shouldn’t be. 

I should not be labeled as three different “sizes” that are completely different for every store I enter. All stores should use the same system, focusing on measurements instead of labels.

A “size 30” in jeans isn’t equivalent to a 30-inch waist anymore, and a “large” or a “medium” is completely arbitrary. What does “size 00” even mean? 

Nonetheless, after a long day of frustration, I eventually left with enough clothes for the beginning of the school year. Yet the question still bugged me: Why aren’t clothing sizes standardized? 

To investigate how and why sizes are so inconsistent, I returned to the mall twice – once, two weeks ago, and another time, the week before that. Over that time, I tried on 15 different pairs of jeans and visited six different stores. Only four of those pairs fit me, despite the fact that every pair was a “size 30.” 

The first store I entered was Maurices. As they disinfected a fitting room for me, I selected six pairs of jeans to try from the shelves. Two of the pairs fit, whereas three were too difficult to get on, and one was too big. 

After that, I ventured into Buckle, which is known for its specialty in jeans. There, I tried on five pairs of jeans, two of which fit, but the three others were too small to hike above my thighs. 

The nice thing about shopping at Buckle was that their staff continuously asked me how things were fitting, and suggested new items based on my feedback. 

However, they shouldn’t have to do this. If clothing brands used actual measurements instead of inconsistent labels, their jobs would be a lot easier and I would be able to find things that fit me a lot faster. 

The staff at Buckle suggested jeans that ranged from “sizes 28-32.” If stores used measurements, I would be able to remember just my personal size, and not have to go through the hassle of trying on different pairs of jeans in each of those sizes.

I also visited two other stores – Macy’s and Forever 21 – who didn’t have their fitting rooms open due to COVID-19. When I asked how I could try on the jeans I was looking to purchase, the staff at each store explained that I had to first purchase them, and then if they didn’t fit, I could come back and return the clothes. 

I opted not to do this. I was quickly realizing that sizes were so inconsistent on jeans that this would be a poor use of my time and money. 

Instead, I trekked on to JCPenney. There, I tried on four different pairs of jeans, all of which were too small. But even then, they were all too small on different levels. Some I couldn’t get over my thighs, while others didn’t even have enough stretch to get to that point. 

The final store I investigated, American Eagle Outfitters, didn’t even have a “size 30.” The jean section of their website only has up to “size 24.”

A similar study to mine was done by Vox, who also looked into why clothing sizes are so inaccurate. A journalist there purchased three pairs of jeans in the same size, each from a different online brand. One pair was from Zara, another from Forever 21, and the last from Topshop, which were all labeled as a “size 4.”

Immediately upon the unboxing of the jeans, she said, “We’re already off to a bad start. These all look different.” 

So how did we get here? Let’s take a step back. 

In 1941, Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton published “Women’s Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction,” where they recorded the weight and 58 measurements of mostly middle-class, young, white women to construct a size chart that could label ready-made clothing. This size chart is the foundation for the size charts we use today. 

However, the data used to create this chart is slanted. Obviously, not everyone is white, not everyone is shaped the same, and not everyone is the same age. 

But this chart becomes even more warped as time goes on. Now, many brands shift their sizes to cater to their target audience with “vanity sizing.” 

“Vanity sizing” is where some stores will translate sizes down — for example, a “size 10” might be a “size 6” in their store. This is an attempt to falsely flatter shoppers, because customers will believe they’ve lost weight when they try on that brand’s clothing, leading them to be happier and more likely to purchase from that store again. 

It’s as if I’m being lied to — I should not be deceived when I enter a store. 

This also creates unrealistic standards for people and their bodies. If you’re a “size 6” in one store and are happy about that, and then a week later you walk into a different store and are a “size 12,” you might think that you’ve somehow gained weight, and that can lead to negative thoughts about your body. 

Clothes should be sold to consumers based on measurements that are consistent and accurate — not some arbitrary number or letter.

My measurements are what they are, and I should be able to choose clothes that fit them. It isn’t my body’s job to fit a standard that changes from store to store.

This story was originally published on The La Salle Falconer on November 18, 2020.