Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Size Struggles Across the Pond

Hello, dear readers!  I hope you all had a wonderful day yesterday - however, you may be happy to hear, the Valentine's Day smooshfest that we've enjoyed (or not) on this blog is now over.  I had a lovely evening with Jon, but I'm now a bit drained of cute.  I'm sure you understand.

Today's post is still topical, though, in that it's about a very relevant subject during a month a month in which we lose sight of our New Year's resolutions while shopping for barely-there lingerie: we're going to talk about clothing sizes.  More specifically, we're going to talk about the absurdity of clothing sizes across the pond.

As you know, I've struggled with my weight for the last decade, and one of the things that made my first move to London really difficult was wrapping my mind around the shift in clothing sizes.  In general, the rule is that the English equivalent to an American size is two larger; in other words, an American 10 is a British 14.  I was more or less comfortable with the number on my tags in America, but when I started shopping on Oxford Street I was horrified.  Of course, that British 14 has the same measurements as the American 10 in theory, but I had been conditioned to believe that being a 10 was preferable to being a 14, and it took me a long time to be comfortable with buying clothes in what seemed to be a larger size.

A computer coder and fashion fanatic, Anna, recently created a scintillating graph to represent clothing sizes at different stores in the US and in the UK called What Size Am I?  Inspired by this NYTimes article, she explains that the measurements of a 10 (in either country) vary widely - as most women know, if you're a 10 at one store, you're probably an 8 at the one next door and a 12 at the one across the street - and she wanted to combine her two passions to help women shop smart.

I have to say, the most interesting thing about Anna's project is the trends that she notices in terms of which stores cater to which markets.  In Britain, for instance, Reiss (in green) runs smaller and stops at a UK 14, while Whistles (in red) runs larger and stops at a UK 16:

The same phenomenon appears amongst American clothing stores, which also feature on Anna's graph.  This variety makes it incredibly difficult to easily find clothes that fit regardless of what country you're in, and it makes it especially tricky to cross the pond and find sizes that will translate to the proportions of measurements that you're used to.

If you're moving to or visiting the UK in the near future - or if you already live here and are hopelessly confused - do make sure to check out the project before shopping!  It'll save you hours of frustration and tears, I promise.  (Not that I have ever been frustrated to tears while shopping, natch...)


  1. I saw this today on Refinery29!!! What a novel idea. I typically wear a 6 or 8 US but have clothes that are size 4 and clothes that are size 10. Hell, my prom dress was a size 12! It makes me sad that people get so tied to a number on a tag or a number on a scale. Whatever works for your body is what works!

  2. Just entered my measurements and it was pretty spot-on! I did some shopping this weekend for the first time at Whistles and totally dropped a dress size. Hmph, I was hoping it was the running.
    In all seriousness though, I know vanity sizing helps us feel better, but in the end when sizing isn't uniform (or close enough), it just leads to frustration.

  3. Sizes have shifted over the decades in the US, too. One of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy centers around Lucy's need to take drastic action to fit into a size 10. Lucy was very skinny: 5'7 and about 115lbs! This was before size 0 and, incredibly, size 00.

  4. US sizes have definitely changed. When I came here as a fairly thin bride (5'7" and UK size 12) I was a US size 8. I am still a US size eight 22 years later and three kids tougher. And yet, the clothes I have from 10+ years don't exactly fit!
    Last year I bought a pair of trousers at Banana Republic and fitted into a size 6. When I told the assistant that I had never been a 6 she admitted that they had changed their sizing. (Not sure she was supposed to say this.)

  5. I had the same shock when I studied abroad in Scotland years ago! But it is only a number, and a very unreliable one at that :) BTW, I love the new look of the blog!

  6. It gets worse when you travel - France and Italy both have their own size systems and neither of them are at all like the UK or US. But rather than focus on the negative aspects, why not just celebrate the fact that all clothing sizes are just numbers and don't really reflect anyone's shape? A lot of people predict that in the future there will be a move back to having clothes custom made for you which will be more exciting than just off the rack nonsense. Besides - you wouldn't have moved abroad if you weren't up for the sartorial challenge of buying clothes in a new system ;)

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