The bane of many women’s existence appeared in today’s New York Times: irregular clothing sizes. The journalist interviewed one young woman who complained about irregular sizing:
“I can be anywhere from a 0 at Ann Taylor to a 6 at American Eagle,” she said. “It obviously makes it difficult to shop.”
The woman used a body scanner, set up in a Philadelphia mall, to give her a more accurate size for the stores she prefers:
This time, the scanner suggested that at American Eagle, she should try a 4 in one style and a 6 in another. Ms. VanBrackle said she tried the jeans on and was impressed: “That machine, in a 30-second scan, it tells you what to do.”
Why are fashion retailers providing such poor sizing? According to the fashion historian quoted in the article, this is partly historical — sizing has never been fully standardized. But it isn’t just the numbers, it’s also the cut. Clothing is frequently cut for a single body type. If you’ve ever seen a catwalk, you’ll know that designers favour the straight-lined boyish look of models over the “apple” or “pear” or “hourglass” shape of average women.
Retailers are missing a key aspect of the fashion experience if they have inadequate sizing. Mary Alderete, vice president for women’s global marketing at Levi’s, seems to get it:
“When we try on 10 pairs of jeans to buy one, the reason you feel bad is because you think something’s wrong with you.”
Women are cramming themselves into inaccurate sizes, cut to fit only one type of body — and they’re feeling bad about it. It’s amazing that fashion retailers, who go as far as scenting the air in their stores, fail to cater to this most basic aspect of the clothing experience.
What does “size” means to women? It is conversation between her and the garment, one which all too often ends with a judgment of the woman. When a woman takes a piece of clothing to the fitting room, she is asking the garment, “Are you right for me?” The garment “speaks” first in through its listed size. But imagine when that size does not match how the garment fits. It is now telling the woman, “You are too big for me.” This is obviously a touchy subject for most women, as we are expected to maintain a small size. We are trained to take up less space, less food (among other things).
The size is a “normative” expectation, as sociologists would call it. A woman is “supposed to” fit into a certain size, and if she does not, “something’s wrong with you.” Retailers are making women feel there’s something wrong with them, not to mention frustrated, and are also wasting their time.
When the customer is at the centre of what you do, it’s inevitable that you design better products. In this case, fashion retailers are failing to achieve this most basic tenet of design. Levi’s has the right idea by introducing “It’s not size; it’s shape,” campaign. They have several body types and sizes, making it easier for the garment to say, “Yes, you’re exactly right for me.”