Friday, November 20, 2009

Try This On For Size

You don't need to be a fashion designer or a seamstress to know that modern sizing is based on the whim of winged fairies, aka marketers.

Time was (in the era of standard clothes sizing) all number sizes approximated a specific measurement. That's to say, if you were a standard US size 8, your bust measurement was 35 inches and your waist measurement 26.5 etc. These days, at the Gap, a size 8 will fit a bust size of 40 and a waist of 31. (By the way, that's merely an estimation because every freakin' size 8 thing at the Gap fits differently.)

Catalog, or vanity, sizing - is the way to encourage sales by inflating self-worth based on relatively meaningless numbers.

Now don't get me wrong. The numbers are very meaningful as they relate to what size item one wears to be perfectly attired. They just don't correspond very accurately with your value as a human being or degree of attractiveness. Which in no way undercuts their evil power. Because, I don't know about you, but as those numbers diminish, my perceived gorgeousness goes through the roof.

Let me be the first to say I love the "catalog approach". I mean, it's a psychological gold star - projection par excellence! Recently, as everyone on the planet knows, I started to sew. On purchasing my first pattern, I was mildly horrified (though I knew to expect it, from years of reading and because I buy vintage) that my measurements accord with a size 6 numbers larger than my "regular" one.

Admittedly, I'm not convinced that the pattern in question uses standard measurement either. I mean, I have another pattern for which my measurements accord with a mere 4-number increase. Go figure.

You know I made my first skirt recently. (I promise, I will do a photo post, I've just been feeling so hideous and burned out lately that I can't bear to put on a smile and pretend I'm cute.) At any rate, I made the skirt and it fits really nicely, much as any nicely fitting piece would fit, and I don't really give a shit - after the fact - that it's a modified size 12.

The thing about clothes that fit perfectly is that they fit perfectly. They make you look good because they're doing what they're designed to do - to enhance the human shape that happens to house your consciousness.

Let's do a little quiz: What's the difference between a size 6 and a size 12 (or 18 etc.)?

Answer: Some inches of fabric.

Yeah, that's about it. Crazy, huh?

In the Victorian era, when your tailor made you a dress (you were rich, right?), it didn't have a tag. It wasn't necessary. Your garment was made to size. Your size. You didn't need to pick it up off a hanger in a shop. The seamstress used the adequate amount of fabric to produce the desired shape. That's why we should all know how to sew - to interpret fabric. Or have people who do, at very least.

When the required inches of fabric are there, your clothing glides over you like a butter. When they're not, you look like a sausage pretending to be a spear of asparagus (which goes nicely with the butter, but still). And that's even if you are a spear! Conversely, you may also look like a paper bag. Note to reader: holiday cooking will commence shortly.

I'm not going to sit here and pretend I don't believe that some people aren't infinitely more physically attractive than others. I'm not even going to posit that everyone has an equally nice clothes frame (and I'm not talking about fat vs thin. I'm talking about dimension, skin texture, tone, strength, symmetry - these come at a size 20 as well as a 2). Lord knows, the genes that cursed you with crappy hair might have blessed you with great tits. Some things are not in your control.

I am going to tell you, categorically, that if you don't look as good in your clothes as you want to (and as you can), the reasons are more than likely these:
  1. You are wearing the wrong size - either too big or too small.
  2. You are wearing unlovely fabric (something that doesn't drape well / sit nicely, probably because it is badly constructed or cheap).
  3. You are wearing a shape that is not compatible with your shape. And let's face it, your shape wins.
  4. You are not comfortable in your skin.
At the risk of having put you to sleep with this volume of text, I'll leave it till my next post to share some pragmatic solutions to resolve these ubiquitous challenges.


  1. I cannot agree more that fit is so important. It doesn't matter what size a person is, but if something fits well, people look a lot better.

  2. Mariah Carey should read this post. She always looks like she's squeezing into something two sizes too small.

  3. ^^LOL@qhoththeraven! (quoth, let's give this news to Beyoncé too, shall we?)

    It's easy to get hung up on numbers, rather than letting numbers get hung up on us. I like the idea that whatever fits fits. Who cares what "number" it is?

  4. I took a sewing class in the early 90's. The instructor was a no-nonsense bustling little Irishwoman. When it came time to make a garment for ourselves (after learning basics, etc.), she taught us how to take ALL our measurements. Based on my skeleton, I was a size 8. I was wearing a Nordstrom Classiques size 12 (at the time). The instructor explained that I must buy my pattern in size 8 and then alter the pattern to fit my size 12hips and butt. I asked her why I couldn't just buy the size 12 pattern and she said, "Because it won't fit your bones, my dear." Something to think about anyway.

  5. As a shop girl in the late 80's, I used to specialise in running to the stockroom to pull the full quota of Size 14s and then bring them upstairs (the 2 flights of escalators were part of my schtick) for a woman who was really a size 16 to try on. Cutting on one side of the pattern could yield an extra 1/8th of an inch and me a sale (and commission)

    Those labels may have been tiny and inside the garment, but as the upthemselves aspirational lifestyle clothing company I worked for, only made up to size 14, to be able to wear it was a mark of prestige amongst the ladies who lunch set.

    In later years I discovered through thriftage, the wonder of a perfect cut and fit (thankyou Mr Armani)
    and also through thriftage - it it don't fit you don't buy it, because there is no going down to the stockroom at the Cancer Research Charity shop on The Kings Road.

    And boy is it better!!

    If you are generously sized in some parts, and leaner in others, you cannot beat tailoring. Better than a gym membership or lipo anyday. xx

  6. Gosh K-line, you have all this advice and you are giving it away for free?

    My husband has been buying vintage jeans, the jeans he wears now from the us size 32 and the vintage 32 fits are different. Reminds me of the sizing in Japan, they adapted the sizes from the Jr. misses, so I wonder when is a 30 a 30?

  7. Y: Fit is everything.

    Raven: You are hilarious! (And right.)

    Tessa: I love this information. I have to think about that. Thanks!

    E: I'm stealing "rather than letting the numbers get hung up on us". So smart. And yes, Beyonce needs the news too.

    Hammie: I love your comment. It's so true, buy what fits in the vintage cuz there ain't no stockroom :-) And it is totally much better than lipo. I mean, it's cheaper for starters - and it's a system that lasts forever.

    April: :-) I'm just a humanitarian. And I do wonder if, with inch sizing, they are starting to lie too. A 30 with stretch is going to be very diff than one without...