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One-size-fits-all: except wait, it doesn’t

I vividly remember buying my uniform for sixth form college; the dress code was “business-like” (cue the eye roll) and so I found myself in H&M’s suit section, aged 16, hunting for the perfect pieces. I eventually bought three suits, all the same size, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. I’d only tried on one pair of the suit trousers, expecting them all to fit the same. Logically, but mistakenly, I’d assumed that because the style, size and brand were the same, the fit would be the same too. Alas, I was wrong. One pair fit perfectly, the other a bit looser and the third a bit too snug.

Before this incident, I had never paid much attention to the difference between sizes within a brand. I knew that Topshop sized a bit big for me and Zara more on the small size, but I had no idea just how much clothes sizing could vary within the brand itself. Naturally, I did some research and found that within a brand, waist measurements for a specific size can fluctuate two inches either side. That’s to say that if you buy a pair of jeans with a waist size of 28 inches according to the sizing chart, it could actually be anywhere between 26 and 30 inches. How outrageous is that?

And so, it’s no wonder most people struggle to find their ‘size’ nowadays.  This disparity in sizing is even more stark between brands, with a pair of UK size 10 jeans reportedly varying as much as six inches in the waistband across brands. This issue has become all the more problematic in the past decade due to the rise of vanity sizing: the act of revising sizes downwards so that consumers feel smaller – and thus “better” about themselves. Brands realised that they could attract more customers if they merely flattered them into thinking they were a size 6 rather than a size 10 and, sadly, they were right. Because in a society that is fatphobic and lacks diversity in its advertising campaigns and clothing models, being able to call yourself a “smaller size” has become a point of pride for so many people – especially women, who face far more size scrutiny than men. Why? Probably because female bodies have been commodified throughout history and are constantly being used as a vehicle for capitalist commerce. In convincing consumers that there is an “ideal” body type, they can inevitably sell a whole host of products – including clothes – to “fix” what’s broken and allow us to align more closely with this image of fanciful beauty.

Although I’d like to be able to say that I no longer derive my self-worth from the number on my clothes, I’m not quite there. As a result, my favourite brands do tend to be the ones that “flatter me”, so to speak, with their comfy sizing and “bigger” small sizes. The flip side of this flattery is that, when my usual size is too small, my body image plummets and I find myself criticising my body for not fitting into the item of clothing – when in reality, it’s the other way round. Our bodies are never in the wrong. These clothes have not been made to measure for our specific shapes and sizes, instead, they have been made in factories according to a sizing algorithm which assumes that body measurements increase in equal proportions, like in a straight-line graph. 

But, spoiler alert: bodies don’t work like that. Everyone’s weight is distributed differently, and a simplistic sizing chart can’t even begin to encompass all body types. My mum – ever a source of wisdom – would always remind me in the midst of a meltdown about my own sizing troubles, that clothes used to be tailor-made and not mass-produced for one body type. As a result, this widespread size struggle never used to be an issue. It’s only in the past few decades, since the rise of fast-fashion and the absence of a standardised and universal sizing system, that it has become such a problem. 

Can we hope to solve this crisis soon? In short, not really. Brands such as Brandy Melville have become all the rage with a “one size fits most” policy which, quite frankly, makes me fume. How dare a brand with such exclusive sizing make a claim like that one? Personally speaking, I’m quite a petite person, and yet I struggle to fit into the majority of their pieces – so who is this “majority” that they are catering for? It’s no surprise that so many teenagers and young adults struggle with body dysmorphia; they’ve been forced to see their body as “too much” by brands like Brandy Melville and can no longer see the beauty in their unique shape and size.

Having said all that, there are new brands entering the market adopting a tailor-made and hand-picked stance on fashion, such as Body Labs and Le Tote. They seek to revolutionise the way we shop for clothes by making or selecting items based on an individual’s measurements and preferences rather than going off of one single, arbitrary digit. It’s impossible to say whether they’ll succeed or not, but one thing is clear: brands need to be held accountable for inconsistent sizing and they need to diversify the body sizes, shapes and colours that they tailor their clothing towards.

Image: designed by Freepik