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September 2018

Struggling with size 12

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Struggling with size 12
by Douglas Bailey, Managing Director at Stuncroft

In 2001, The UK National Sizing Survey revealedour true body shapes – but does this mean the clothing industry can standardise its sizes?

Thankfully not!

After the publication of the survey, I wrote an article recounting a shopping trip with my wife. I have since revisited the shopping trip, but this time with my niece and her mother to find out how ‘predictable’ fit is on the high street. Here’s what happened..

Nadia, Nadia’s mother and I set out – full of hope and excitement – to find suits for a special occasion.

Hope lasted slightly longer than their excitement!

Nadia slipped into a beautiful size 12 suit in Ted Baker, but Mom struggled into a size 12 and, full of indigestion, complained about the skimpy fit!

We moved on, then Mom slipped into a beautiful size 10 dress in Wallis. However, it was here that Nadia found the size 6 far too big for herself.

Having been on this jaunt before, we chose to avoid Missguided and other younger fashion stores. We decided that Moms struggling to fit into a size 16 with lumps of flesh poking over the top of the trousers was far too traumatic for any of us to endure!

Four ours into our trip we stopped for a coffee and it’s here that Mom and daughter looked at me pleadingly and asked, “Why can’t you lot in the clothing industry get your act together?!”

Do they make a fair point! Why can’t the clothing industry make standardised sizing?

The 2001 clothing survey found that women are taller, bigger and heavier than they were in 1951.  More importantly, the hourglass shape has all but disappeared.

The modern women is 2’’ taller and her hips and bust are 1.5” bigger. The big change, however, is in the waist measurement  =  this has increased by 6” (however, this partly attributed to the 1950’s measurement being taken over the-fashionable at the time-corsets).

So we now know that miss average is in actual fact a 37-40, 5-39, stands 5’4” tall and weighs 10st 3.5lbs. Miss average is no longer a size 12 – but a size 16!

Does this mean we can know standardise sizing?

Can changing rooms be done away with?  Does it mean we can sell Corporate Clothing via mail order and never get returns for wrong fit?

However, the answer is no.

These are average measurements; the key to fit is shape and measurements.

Nadia is a 19-year-old lady who is an average size 12 and her Mom is a 46-year-old lady who is also a size 12.


Same height and same shape to a casual observer the same size but – I hold my breath in case Mom is reading – just like how different generations like to wear their clothes, there is also the issue of arms, legs, stomach, bust and bottom shape.


Additionally, not to put too fine a point on it, but the survey also revealed two types of bottom shapes: those that sag and are longer and those that don’t!


Ditto other body areas.  The same is true for men; the survey reveals some men have a belly and a disproportionately small bottom.  Another group have a flat stomach ‘six pack’ and pert buttocks (steady ladies!).


The UK sizing survey will help manufacturers produce clothing to fit their specific segment of the market better.  In fact this is largely what they do know.


Unfortunately, a large part of the ‘these clothes are made wrong’ complaints are down to customer ignorance and so called ‘vanity’ sizing.


It is no secret that a size 14 today used to be a size 12 a few years ago.  It is also obvious that shops targeting the more mature wearer make their clothing differently.


The misconception – largely espoused by mothers to their daughters – is that cheaper makers tend to skimp on material.


The reality that is mom needs to shop in a different store than daughter because her shape has changed.  Some sell clothes for the Kate Moss figure, some for a standard figure and others are generous ‘vanity’ sized.


I think this variety helps, and, if all clothing is standardised along the averages found in the UK sizing survey, far fewer customers would find clothes that really fit them well.


What about Corporate tailoring?


Often a group of wearers have only one trouser, skirt or jacket to choose from.


The sagging bottomed lady is expected to wear the same trouser as the pert lady! The man with a fat belly is asked to wear the same as the taught man!


It doesn’t matter how standardised the sizing – people don’t come in standardised sizes (except at some airlines who have chosen non-sagging size 8-10)


The answer:

Firstly: Choice.


Choose a supplier who understands clothing and has the experience to design and grade patterns according to size.  Many suppliers just grade up and down in standard increments.  This is outdated and shows a lack of understanding. Smaller sizes should be more closely graded whilst big sizes should be more generously graded.  It is also ignorant to offer generously cut clothing on the assumption that you will get away with fitting more wearers!


Secondly: Measurements must be accurate.


Make sure the wearer chooses the correct size (the correct size is the one that fits!).  The gold standard is; try on the garments you are buying and take a little time to establish the correct size and fit.


Thirdly: wearers must be offered a choice of styles and the styles offered should reflect the different type of wearers.


It is not satisfactory to give one style of jacket, or a low waist trouser to fit all wearers! You will have lots of disgruntled wearers:  they will cause trouble, and I couldn’t argue with them when they do!  Choice is vital if you are going to have satisfied wearers.


The UK Survey has helped the clothing industry to supply clothing that more accurately fits the target audience.  Corporate Clothing Suppliers produce styles that fit the same target audiences within a group of wearers. Corporate suppliers will be in a position to advise wearers on styles and cut to give a more satisfactory Corporate Clothing experience.


Then, hopefully, Mom should be able to clearly identify those shops that sell her type of fit. – and the fit guys among us should be able to identify those shops that sell ‘athletic’ fit!



If you’re struggling to understand your correct fit, computer programmer Anna Powell-Smith created the What Size Am I? website after reading an article which criticised shops for their misleading labelling.


The program asks women to enter their bust, waist and hip measurements, then calculates what dress size they should go for at a range of high street retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Next and Zara.


It also suggests which shops are most likely to have something suitable, so shoppers can avoid hunting for a dress in Whistles if Warehouse is going to offer a better fit.

Miss Powell-Smith has adapted the website for smart phones, so women can use the calculator while on the move.

For more information, visit www.sizes.darkgreener.com.