A few years ago, this was how I shopped for clothes: I’d go into a store, get the size I usually wore, feel bad that I don’t fit, then either go one size higher (which was often loose in weird places) or just leave the store.
I am a big-chested woman with wide shoulders and a curvy waist accentuated by a puson. It can be quite challenging for me to buy clothes that don’t suffocate my boobs and don’t look like lose kumot over my tummy. For the longest time, I felt that I didn’t have the “right” body shape, especially since I’ve added a few inches around my waistline when I got into my 30s.
My mindset changed one time I was trying to buy a pair of pants. In stores that don’t carry numeric sizing I’m an L, but in the boutique I visited I was an XXL: their “large” was actually smaller than it should be. While there’s nothing wrong with being plus size, there is something wrong when brands don’t put the real deal on their tags. That was when I realized that I should stop looking at letters and numbers and just wear what looked good on me.
Apparently, this is an issue across the ready-to-wear clothing industry. In a video, Vox art director Dion Lee explained that the current sizing system was actually based on a 1930’s statistical survey that only collected data from a sample of white women, and as the survey offered money to volunteers, those who showed up were from poor communities and were often thin and malnourished.
This means that from the get-go, the sizing system was neither inclusive nor realistic.
There is also the issue of body standards. Asian clothing seems to be made smaller than Western clothing, and one reason could be the distorted standard of what’s considered the “perfect body.” An article on Racked noted that in South Korea, “the starting point for ‘plus-size,’ or extra-large, is a Korean size 66, the rough equivalent of a U.S. women’s 8.” In fact, some Korean women think that a U.S. size 6 (which is 35 ½ around the chest and 27 ½ inches around the waist) is “chubby.” This is also one reason why the clothes made in China that you buy online are smaller than you thought they would be: you’ll have to be really petite to fit into any of their clothing.
It doesn’t end there. While Asian manufacturers make smaller sizes, Western brands offer larger sizes but tag them smaller. It’s called “vanity sizing,” which Christopher Ingraham described in The Washington Post as a tactic to “flatter consumers by revising sizes downward.” This means that if the real size of a pair of pants were 30, some retailers move it down to 28 or even as far as 26 to make customers think that they are slimmer than they really are and entice them to buy.
Confusing? It definitely is, and it’s actually absurd when you think about all the unnecessary hoopla that some manufacturers, marketers, and even customers do to reinforce unachievable body standards. If you find yourself feeling bad about your body because you can’t fit into your usual range, here’s an FN tip: forget about sizing.
Remember that every body is unique. We are all shaped differently, and that’s normal. Sizing systems are templates, but that doesn’t mean you have to fit the mold.
Start wearing what fits you right, no matter what it says on the tag. “It’s not you, it’s the industry,” says associate professor and chair of fashion and textile technology Lynn Boorady, Ph.D. in an interview with Vox. “It’s not women’s bodies. We’re fine the way we are. They’re just random numbers, they don’t mean anything.”
When I started ignoring sizes, I realized that I can really wear anything I want. What’s important was to look for clothes that would enhance my best assets. I quit looking at the tag—except to check for the price, of course—and I found that there were more styles available to me, making me freely exercise my taste and build my personal look.
Try it. Head to your favorite clothing store, move out of your comfort zone, and try sizes that you initially think won’t work for you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far you can go fashion-wise because you ignored general sizing templates and made yourself your shopping priority. Remember: you don’t fit in the clothes, the clothes should fit you.