For some women across the U.S., clothes shopping is a cathartic, fun experience.
For others, it’s a nightmare.
Every day, women across the country find themselves facing off against an invisible assailant; one that slowly eats away at their body image and self-confidence. The U.S. apparel market is a $341.6 billion enterprise, which is constantly changing and shaping culture, and fashion has been a pivotal aspect of self-expression since its conception. Yet for many women, teenagers and pre-adolescent girls, the exploration of fashion requires Rosetta Stone to decipher its seemingly ambiguous assortment of sizes.
Many people might not experience sizing confusion with their curated H&M wardrobe, but an issue arises with the lack of sizing standards among women’s fashion brands. There is a definitive understanding between small and large or between a size 0 and a size 26, however, in reality these distinctions are ambiguous. Aside from understanding that large is a synonym for big, there is no standard measurements for this distinction.
A size 8 dress from Michael Kors measures at 26.5 inches at the waist, while a size 8 dress from Chico’s measures at a 31-inch waist, according to a 2011 New York Times data collection. While four inches may not seem substantial, that amount of extra fabric would warrant a completely different dress size between these two U.S. brands.
This may not seem like an actual problem on the surface. It might seem like a matter of trial and error, and ignoring the difficulties behind online shopping, I might have even agreed with that argument. But I’ve witnessed firsthand how these ambiguous numbers have torn down girls’ confidence.
I recently took on a part-time job as a special occasion stylist at a well-known boutique. This shop, just like thousands of others across Buffalo, sells a variety of brands with a variety of sizing variants.
And every week I see a girl cry.
I see teenage girls coming in, so excited for their prom, sobbing in our fitting rooms because “they’re usually a size 10.”
I see the happiness drain from the eyes of mothers-of-the-bride after the dress she was so excited about won’t zip up.
I see bridesmaids put strains on their friendships because they don’t feel confident.
And there’s nothing I could say to these women that would change the number they read on the tag. A number that doesn’t mean anything.
I will be the first to acknowledge that different fabrics, silhouettes and body shapes all play a factor in how an article of clothing fits. But introducing a sizing standard across retailers, based on a modern standard of the bust, waist and hip measurement, would eliminate this unrelenting authority on self-confidence.
Of course I’m not implying that a standardized size would fit every person or every body type. But understanding a standard measurement would allow a standard alteration for women with diverse bodies, rather than have them guess what article of clothing would fit the best.
And the idea of a sizing standard is not a new concept for women’s fashion. The National Bureau of Standards originally published sizing standards for women’s fashion in 1958, which was later abandoned in 1983. The original conception for sizing standards was based solely on white women and female soldiers following WWII, but by implementing a more diverse pooling option, the concept of a standard should not be deemed implausible.
What we now face is the era of vanity sizing; a time where thinness has equated itself with value. And while you may think times have changed with a cultural obsession with “thickness,” it’s important to remember that it still must be accompanied by a small waist to be deemed worthy.
Eating disorders and self-harm still plague young men and women with the hopes that they’ll be able to reach a size 0, and the inconsistencies of sizing are not helping these cultural mindsets around body image.
I am 21 years old and I have no idea what size I am.
I own clothes between a size 0, 5 and 10 that all fit.
I believe that standardizing clothing sizes would de-stigmatize the negative connotations around size and would only contribute to the body positivity movement. It’s time for people to understand there is nothing wrong with not being a size 0 and to strive for being happy with who they are.
Samantha Vargas is the opinion editor and can be reached at Samantha.Vargas@UBspectrum.com and on Twitter @SamMarieVargas
Samantha Vargas is the senior features editor, an English/film studies double major with a minor in media study. She spends her free time finding shows around Buffalo and hanging out with her cat.