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The measure of a woman

Traditional women’s clothes sizes, such as 12 or 14, are to be dumped because they vary too much from retailer to retailer. Instead, items will be labelled with exact measurements for key areas such as bust, waist and hips.The new standard system is being drawn up by the EU, which is concerned about the ad-hoc way stores are tinkering with the current descriptions.To appeal to the ego of shoppers, retailers have been adding extra inches of material without changing the labels.A size 12 frock, for example, could vary by more than one inch in the bust depending on the designer.While it has proved to be a huge money-spinner for the stores, this “vanity sizing” will soon come to an end.


I have had to endure an oft-repeated lament from my wife about the unreliability of clothes sizing and as the table below demonstrates the numbers are in no way consistent. (Even though this piece is from the UK there is no doubt that the same applies here in OZ)

Psychologist and expert in consumer behaviour, Dr Joan Harvey, of the University of Newcastle, said vanity sizing is a very powerful ploy. (source)

I have usually suggested that this should be an issue for the government department that deals with weights and measures, perhaps such “truth in clothes sizing” would be a good idea downunder as well.


  1. Rudi says:


    Is there an Australian government department that deals with weights and measures? If there is it should be disbanded immediately and be replaced by a set of scales and a ruler.

    More seriously, why is the answer another government department or more intervention from government?

    Business put sizes on clothes and people buy clothes. Vanity sizing has arisen because businesses perceived a need to soothe the anxieties of customers about weight. There is a need in the market and it is being met. It may annoy some people that they have to try on a piece of clothing to see if it fits but who buys clothing by looking just at the label to see if it fits?

    If you believe government should have a role then I reckon they should have fashion police in each change room telling you whether your bum really does look big in a certain pair of pants or that someone is too old for stovepipe jeans.


  2. Iain says:

    I believe it comes under the office of fair-trading; things like scales and metering devices like fuel pumps have to be certified.
    I’m not necessarily advocating more intervention by government but I am expressing frustration at what is an ongoing problem.
    I often have to buy clothes for my children and already I have found that closes sizing is a bloody nightmare.

  3. Rudi says:


    You are right the ACCC and the state based fair trading offices prosecute people who misrepresent weights, lengths and volumes. I suppose they could start with sizes but then gets back to your point that sizes are not defined.

    I don’t understand why people don’t just wear tracksuits with elastic waistbands.


  4. E says:

    Defined sizes would be a help, but not a panacea. As an aside, defining and enforcing fair weights, measures and some basic standards is one of the most useful roles government can perform.

    Men are easy to fit for clothes: shoe size, waist and chest. (Mind you, I once overheard a man in a store ring his wife/partner to ask what his own size was!).

    Women have more complicated body shapes, which might defeat size standardisation. Just the passage of time of action of hormones can ruin a wardrobe, which reminds me: the new season’s stock should be arriving in stores soon 🙂

  5. Iain says:

    Welcome back E 🙂
    I think the difference is that many men are content to buy more basic clothing items, are less concerned with a perfect fit. and happy to carry them over from one year to the next. Women are more fussy.

  6. […] Hall has a post about proposed new sizing for women’s clothes (of interest to all who have put on a size 12 shirt only to be unable to breathe because it’s […]

  7. Legal Eagle says:

    There’s a few things which make women’s clothing shopping more difficult than men’s clothing shopping:

    1. Women’s clothing is not as well made made as men’s clothing but twice as expensive.
    2. Women’s clothing goes out of fashion twice as quickly as men’s clothing.
    3. I think cut is more important with women’s clothing. A badly cut outfit can make a woman look terrible. My sister is a size 8 or something crazy, and gorgeous with it. But even she can’t wear everything and look good.

    Yeah, that size thing really sucks. There isn’t even conformity in baby’s clothing, for goodness sakes.

    I hate that fact that it’s difficult to get women’s clothing that’s flattering for someone over 25, but not really “old ladyish”. I don’t want to bear my belly to the world, or feel like my trousers are about to fall off. Whatever happened to elegance?

  8. Anthony_ says:

    1. Women’s clothing is not as well made made as men’s clothing but twice as expensive

    Interesting, it all comes pretty much from China. Why would clothes differ in quality?

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