Women’s Clothes — Purposely Designed to Make Us All Feel Bad?

“At Country Road, I’m a size 6.  At Target, I’m a 10. At Speedo, I’m a 14 or 16. At Forever New, I’m a 12. Not to mention the collection of shops and sizes in between all that. IT’S MESSING WITH MY HEAD.”     — Alissa Warren, Australian author

I hate shopping.  I especially hate shopping for clothes.  I’m pretty sure the 7th circle of hell consists entirely of women trying to find pants that fit them correctly.

I’ve lost some weight over the past few months and I’m noticing my dressier work pants are starting to look a little too baggy.  Today I was thinking I wanted to order new pants online but then I realized that if I don’t want to buy and return multiple items I will need to go try them on at stores.  It’s not only because I don’t know what size I am at this new weight, it’s also because of how incredibly inconsistent women’s sizes are.

Here’s the first problem I have with pants:  if the hips/butt fits, the waist is too loose. And either the calves or the thighs will be too tight but there’s no apparent rhyme or reason as to which part of my legs will be tight.

Here’s the second problem I have with pants: at any given time I might be any of three sizes, even in the same brand.  I once bought the exact same brand, size and cut of jeans in two colors but only tried on one — when I got home the color I hadn’t tried on was too tight in the calves.  Seriously.

I can never really say what my size is with confidence. This is not unique to me.  I recently saw a video from a British blogger where she bought the same size jeans — size 4 — with the same cut from three different stores, and they were not even close to all being the same measurements.  In the waist alone there was an inch of difference between the smallest and largest version of size 4.

Part of the problem is so-called vanity sizing.  Brands have gradually dropped the sizes people wear to make them feel smaller.  In 1958, a woman who had a 34-inch bust and a 25-inch waist was a size 12 but today a size 12 would fit a woman with a 39-inch bust and a 32-inch waist.  This is why you it’s erroneous that when people hear that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 they imply she was similar to today’s average size woman.  In fact, in today’s sizes estimates say that Marilyn would be between size 0 and size 8 — depending on the brand.

Designers say that consistent sizing is difficult because of the difference in proportions.  At one point my sister and I, who are the same height, were also the same weight, yet we wore totally different sizes because our weight is distributed differently.  She’s got very thin arms and legs and holds most of her weight in her stomach, while I’ve got a more narrow waist and larger legs, butt and bust.  But the problem really isn’t that we were different sizes, the problem is that clothing that is allegedly the same size is actually different sizes.

I don’t mean to be all conspiracy theory person, but I also believe that another crucial part of the story is that women’s clothing designers are trying to make things difficult — and trying to make us feel bad.

If you don’t think the system is set up to make women feel bad, you’ve clearly never been in a wedding.  I once went shopping with a friend who was getting married.  The salesperson asked her size and when my friend said she was a size 10, the salesperson said, “OK so that’ll be a size 14 in a wedding dress sizes so we might have to special order.”  Even though a number is just a number, my friend was devastated.  Here she was, smaller than the “average” woman, and she has to special order a plus size dress?  And what about the people who actually are plus size?  Tell me that’s not about making people feel bad.

Sure, if this was “What Not to Wear” Stacy and Clinton would be saying you shouldn’t focus on the number.  But we do!  How many times have you seen an article where someone brags about going from a size 16 to a size 6, or some similar transformation?  It’s because we assign value to those sizes.

If you’re a 16 or higher and in plus sizes, there’s a value judgement there.  If you’re in a 10 or 12 it’s a different judgement than someone who’s a size 4.  Sizes are associated with a woman’s worthiness.  It’s assumed that a woman in a smaller size is more disciplined, “good” about food, a person who exercises, while a larger size implies you’ve given up.

Nothing can make a woman have a “fat day” faster than having to buy clothes that are larger than they think they should be.  Like it or not, we assign value to that number, and when a certain brand or style or store makes us buy a higher number, it upsets a lot of us. It makes us feel like a failure. It makes us feel unattractive.  Even when we know it’s ridiculous, it still bothers us.

And there’s no reason for us to have this experience.  It’s completely sexist.  In men’s clothing, if they know their waist and inseam they’re basically good.  It’s easy for them to find things that fit, regardless of the brand.  They don’t have to try on three different sizes to find the one that works for them.  If they order 32 inch waist pants, they get 32-inch waist pants.

So I ask, why can’t women’s clothing be sized like this?  And, on a related note, can we get some damn pockets too?

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