The Truth About Clothing Sizes
Real talk from Mallorie Dunn, owner of SmartGlamour: a body positive, customizable clothing line for women sizes XXS-6X and beyond.
Mallorie Dunn is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 of these outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
When I was studying fashion design in college, my best friend and I were always amazed that we could share clothing and wear the same size despite our obvious differences in body shape. With 4.5 inches between our heights, and very clear visual disparities in our proportions – it was crazy to us that we could share pairs of jeans (although the lengths would vary greatly) but share we could and did.
And now, as a working fashion designer with my own brand and pop-up shops, I watch and facilitate conversations with women about their size and the confusion surrounding it.
On social media, I read complaints from women about size charts always being different from brand to brand, and reviews from bloggers discussing which companies run “true to size.” The fact of the matter is: there is little to no education on why we are the size we are, how size charts are created, how clothes are made, and what this all means in relationship to our bodies and our self worth. I am never surprised when a woman attaches too much importance to the number on her tag -– but I am here to change that.
I remember discussing this concept with a friend who said “I wouldn’t mind if I went from a medium to a large – but yeah, it’d probably bother me if I went from a large to extra large.” And when I asked why, she had no logical reason to give. It’s subconscious; it has been ingrained in us our whole lives through the celebrities we are taught to worship, the advertising we are fed, and media we consume. As women, it is always “preferable” to take up less space, or at least attach ourselves to a size that supposedly means we do.
I’m going to address all of these points separately, and hopefully help all consumers navigate lives, closets, and stores.
1. Why are size charts always different? Why can’t brands be consistent and have every size 6 (for example) be the same?
Women’s clothing was still custom made per person well into the 1920s. To buy a new dress, you went to the dressmaker and it was made specifically for you. Once clothing began to be mass manufactured, sizes needed to be created. Clothing was starting to be made in factories, where each worker made one part of the shirt, not the shirt in its entirety. In the present day, each brand and/or designer creates their size chart to work from. Some carry S to L – some XS to XL – some 1X-3X – some XS-3X and then there’s my company SmartGlamour – XXS-6X. No matter the chart they use and sizes they decide to carry, they create their “fit” based on who they think their customer is. Companies that cater to the “Missy” demographic, i.e. middle aged women – have a middle aged woman as their fit model. Juniors brands use a young model. But no matter which fit model they use for which customer – there is only one. She’s usually a “medium” on their size range, and she has a very specific body type. Technical designers then grade up and down (making the patterns larger and smaller) based off that one model’s specific proportions. Therefore, it is literally impossible for every brand to have the same, or even similar fits; there are way too many factors going into it.
And get this: If you are shopping at a boutique or a very large retailer, most of those garments are not even designed in the same place. Small boutiques carry all kinds of different brands, and each brand has their own size grade. And when it comes to giant brands like Wet Seal, etc.? They are buying their clothing at mass from low end, cheap design houses, so they actually have NO idea what goes into their clothing sizes. But when you are selling clothes for $5.99, why would you care? Remember: you get what you pay for.
I've actually made an entire video dedicated to size inconsistency with even more detail and information. you can check it out here!
2. What does a size ___ actually look like? How can my friend and I be the same size yet look completely different?
As I briefly proved by the three photos above, there is not one set body type or appearance per each size. We are all built differently! We are all different heights, have different muscle mass, have different bra cup sizes, and different proportions from our shoulder to waist, waist to crotch, and inseams. We have different arm lengths, bicep widths, and shoulder widths. And that’s okay! Bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. That’s what makes the human body so wonderful and unique. We are all different. Don’t look to others and wish for their frame. Instead, focus on learning your frame, your measurements, your proportions, and use that information as neutral facts. The more scared you are of your body, the less you know about it. And the less you know, the more you will struggle to dress it.
3. Why don't all brands make clothing for all people?
I get asked this question all the time – and honestly, I never have a very good answer – other than, "they don't want to." I am one person and I manage to do it. Do plus sizes take up more fabric than straight sizes? Yes, but when the average American size is a 1X, that is unsurprisingly the most commonly ordered size as well (it also happens to be the midway point on my chart). I base my prices off of a 1X's fabric consumption – XXS's and 6X's even themselves out.
4. How can we change this? How can we make shopping easier and less painful?
Try to remember that the number on your size tag does not equate your worth, beauty, intelligence, or drive. It’s just a number. And as I proved in answer #1 – it will vary from brand to brand, so how could it actually mean anything beyond the amount of fabric involved in it’s construction? If a size does not fit, try another. Look at your clothes critically. Is it pulling? Bunching? Riding up? Falling down? Can it be altered? Can it be taken in, shortened, pinched, or pulled? It is not your body. It is the clothes. Shop wisely and don’t take clothing personally. Be a consumer. Ask for what you want. Demand it. Support brands that give it to you.