by Alexis Frey
The size of your clothing does not determine your beauty or your worth.
Many women of all shapes and sizes have love-hate relationships with shopping. Personally, I love shopping! But it’s taken a four-year apparel design degree and endless hours studying the history of fashion and sizing to get me there.
Looking back to my middle school days, I can remember seeing the scale tick up and up because I was growing into an adult human being, but 150 pounds seemed like a big number that I shouldn’t go over. For literally no reason. (I’ve passed that number, my body is happy, and numbers don’t matter.) It was an internal limit that I set, and I’m not even sure why I was on a scale at that age anyway. Probably because scales are a bathroom staple and it was fun to stand on growing up--until it wasn’t anymore.
I’d stroll through the mall and shop for size “small”, which fit at the time. As I grew up, there would be times that the small tops wouldn’t quite fit and that would make me question myself rather than the clothing. Instead of sizing up in the outfit that I liked, I would usually just put it back and find other options where “small” would fit me. Gradually, I noticed that the clothes in my closet moved from majority “small” to majority “medium” --and that bothered me.
It’s a known fact that humans like to mimic other people to fit in when possible. This is never more true than during teen years. Being a part of a sports team in high school provided a great community and after-school activity. However, I clearly remember dreading the team apparel sign-up sheet and choosing my team shirt size depending on what others wrote down. I probably would have been most comfortable in a “medium” tee, but seeing name after name with “small, small, small” written down... I always ordered small no matter what. Even if it meant that the shoulders were slightly tight and the cut was closer to my body than I would have liked.
Moving forward, the growth in confidence that I developed during college was astronomical. Suddenly, I was in a new place filled with unfamiliar faces and had the opportunity to become whoever I wanted to be. My Apparel Design courses introduced me to the history of fashion sizing, which changed how I thought about clothing FOREVER.
The History of Sizing Standards
Fast fashion is a relatively new concept. Apparel used to be highly valued, expensive, and hand-made by the household or a seamstress. The idea of standardized sizing became widespread in the 1800s when governments began to prioritize military uniforms. Menswear sizing focused mostly on chest, height, and inseam, allowing pattern makers to deduce the remaining measurements, create a base model suit, and let tailors alter to fit the wearer.
Enter the 1900s: “Wow! That was easy! Let’s make standard women’s sizing based on chest measurements.”
HA! I hope you’re all laughing with me.
If you’re a woman reading this blog, you know that almost no female body looks identical to another. These “geniuses”–probably men due to the time period–quickly figured out this problem and focused on a sizing system with bust, waist, and hip measurements.
Even with these checkpoints, women’s sizing was still causing problems. So, in 1939 the U.S. government collected 58 measurements of 15,000 women across the country to look for similarities. However, given the time and the compensation for participation, these women were all white, mostly poor and malnourished, and didn’t represent the population as a whole (A Brief History of Sizing Systems).
In 1958, the results were published anyway with sizes ranging from 8 to 42. Just as it finally seemed to be working, companies in the 1970s and 80s began to lower sizes and add 2, 0, and even 00. This brought about vanity sizing. Vanity sizing occurs when “the size on the label is reduced in number to encourage customers to buy the garment, taking advantage of consumer body image aspirations” (A Brief History of Sizing Systems). This is an ongoing issue that, in my opinion, will never be resolved as long as companies have their own sizing policies.
In 1995, ASTM (American Standards for Testing and Materials) developed a non-mandatory sizing standard that brought about rapid size deflation. For example, “Marilyn Monroe was a size 12 in the 1960s, but today she would be a size 6” (A Brief History of Sizing Systems).
That is unbelievable! Who can we trust?!
There was an image going around social media a while back of a girl stacking her American Eagle jeans that were all labeled as the same size, but each waistband differed significantly. Some of this has to do with material stretch, but mostly it’s vanity sizing. Women pay attention to how brands fit. If you’re walking through the mall and know “insert store here” “runs small” and avoid it for that purpose, the company is losing your business. They know that and adjust sizing accordingly to make your size appear smaller and boost your ego. Sad but true.
Through college, apparel research, personal growth, confidence building, and lots of shopping, I am DONE letting sizes dictate how I go about my day. I’ve started to build my style around my preferred fit rather than the company’s intended fit. This means that if I should be purchasing a size “small” band tee, but I want to wear it with biker shorts, you best believe I’m buying the XL. If there’s an oversized crop top that’s supposed to be styled loose and flowy, but I want to show off my body that day I’m buying the XS.
Get whatever the hell you want!
When people around you complement your style, I won’t say never, but RARELY do they say, “I love your top! Where’d you get it and WHAT SIZE ARE YOU WEARING?” It’s just not a thing.
Pay attention to how your body feels, what styles speak to you, and cut out the damn tag if looking at the size brings you negativity when decorating yourself. Yes, I say “decorating” because you are a work of art and you get the opportunity to recreate yourself every single day. Get creative, make the most of it, and don’t let companies suck away your happiness.
My name is Alexis, I am 5’7” with an athletic build and absolutely no waistline definition. I enjoy straight-leg thrifted jeans in whatever size fits, XL men’s graphic tees, pink dresses when I’m feeling girly, and Doc Martens that make me feel like a badass. My fashion choices are all over the place and my most favorite compliment is, “that outfit is interesting”.
Now, go out there and own your style!
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