One of the most asked questions I hear throughout the apparel industry is: “Why are garment sizes different from brand to brand?”
I’m sure you’ve been there before. You’re out shopping for clothes and in the first store you’re one size and sure enough, at the next store your size is a little bit different. It can be extremely frustrating for consumers to be a Large in some of their clothes, a Medium in others and an XX-Large in a third brand. I experience this myself when shopping and have fit into clothes anywhere from an X-Small to an X-Large depending on the brand and the part of the world I’m in.
So why and how does this happen? There are a couple of key reasons.
First, each apparel brand defines their own “ideal customer” and will then go find a fit model that fits into that mold. An elite running apparel brand might see a size Medium differently than a CrossFit brand or a ready-to-wear brand. Marathon runners have a totally different body type and physique than most of us, so that elite running apparel brand is looking to cater to its ideal customer, not to everyone. The fit models and methods of fitting they then use all go back to that ideal customer, and even though we may want to be on that list of theirs, it might not be true.
Across the ready-to-wear spectrum, you then also have brands that insist on everything fitting super tight, while you have other brands that go for a more casual or relaxed look. They’re all trying to create their own version of “ideal fit” that defines their brand, which doesn’t always match up with how we want to wear our clothes. And this part speaks to our own internal perceptions of how our clothes should fit our unique body shapes. For example, I am not a person who likes to wear my clothes too tight or too baggy. I'm somewhere in the middle. So if I'm shopping and I try on a boyfriend sweater that's meant to be worn like a super over-sized, slouchy garment in the name of comfort, then I might personally choose to size down to make the garment fit me in a way that I prefer. On the flip side, if I try on a garment that is meant to be skin tight on my body, I'll choose to buy a size or two bigger to help it fit into my wardrobe in the way that I want.
A few months back, I saw a post from Sarah Blakely on Instagram. She had bought her dad a few pieces of Castelli cycling gear for Father’s Day and they looked ridiculous on him. He was a very tall, muscular man and Castelli makes cycling gear for small, skinny European cyclists. To say that they didn’t fit him was almost not fair, because he is not what Castelli had in mind when they thought of their ideal customer. So when you go shopping, you’re battling with brand identities, their ability to find a good fit model, their ability to fit garments properly and your own perception of how clothes should fit you.
On top of that, vanity sizing is real. And it is rampant in our industry right now. This is something that I picked up on as a teenager when I was buying Simplicity and McCalls patterns from Jo-Ann’s to make my own clothes. Something that I would buy from the store as a size 4 would be listed on the patterns as an 8 or a 10, and it’s gotten worse year after year.
I have somehow stayed the same size in my apparel since high school, but my body is definitely not still that small! It’s a sales psychology method that a lot of brands use to make women in particular feel good about themselves. I might love that I can still fit into a size X-Small or Small when I go shopping, but I can’t imagine what someone smaller than me is able to find on the shelves these days.
So what’s the solution? I’m not honestly sure that there is one. Unless the fashion industry chooses to standardize and regulate size charts and fit methods (which would be extremely difficult and stifling to creativity), then this will continue to be an issue. The best thing you can do as a consumer is to understand that it is a process to find clothes that fit well, and to have some patience when trying out new brands. As you find brands that fit your body well, be an ambassador for them and thank them with your brand loyalty! As an apparel developer, there is no greater reward than that.