I am what the fashion industry would refer to as sample size. Actually, I’m smaller, which frightens my mother; but my petite size is where my development tapered off after puberty.
In layman’s terms, sample size refers to the size the designers create to fit models. For the runway, the standard is a size 0 and for catalogue this is typically a 2 or 4. This means that if I ever grace the red carpet, I may be able to fit into a designer gown created for a model (after about eight inches of hemming). It does not mean that finding clothes in the average market is such a glamorous idea.
When defining a body type as “normal”, the only objective way to do so is by checking the statistics. In America, webMD says that the average woman is 5-foot-4, 140-150 pounds and has about a 34 inch waist. This translates to a dress size of 12 or 14. In the 1950s, although the average dress size for American women was a size 8, she had a 24-25 inch waist and weighed 120 pounds while still being about 5-foot-4. The size 8 from the 1950s would be roughly equivalent to today’s size 4 or smaller.
The important point to take here is in regards to the sizing. In the 1950s, a size zero did not exist. Today, consumers can find a size triple 0 at stores such as J. Crew and Aeropostale. While there have been many cries that this promotes an unhealthy body image and obsession with fitting into a smaller size, the issue at hand is a direct result of a practice known as “vanity sizing.”
To put it simply, vanity sizing is a tactic retailers use to make shoppers feel better about themselves. This is especially present in women’s sizes as men’s apparel typically uses measurements rather than an arbitrary size. A size 0 in a pair of jeans could mean a 23 inch waist at one store and a 27 at another.
Other than finding clothes the fit, this is an issue worth looking into because it raises some important questions about body image and the consumer culture. When women are conditioned to feel better based on a number that essentially means nothing, who actually wins out? The premise here is that if consumers fit into a smaller size, they will feel better about actually purchasing the item. That hardly tackles the ever present body issues faced by women the world over.
With more brands offering both petite and plus ranges each day, this doesn’t seem like it should be an issue. However, on the other side of the fence, cult teenage and twenty something brand Brandi Melville offers basics like tee shirts, dresses and even jeans in what reads on the label as simply “One Size”. It’s true that the size of these items would likely fit anyone from an extra small to a large, leaving room for the average American body type. But is this a solution to the fact that body image is linked so size, or a further contribution to the issue?
As with many other facets of personal style, I find the answer to be highly personal. No, the jeans at Brandi Melville don’t fit me and wouldn’t fit anyone above a size 8. That leaves a pretty narrow demographic, but in the end I’m happy to give my money to retailers who offer a range of sizes.
While my expertise happens to be in petite fits, most of the brands I’m loyal to offer sizes ranging from an extra small to a 3X. Although this range isn’t available everywhere, there are several contemporary brands that cater specifically to one size range or the other. For example, one of my favorite places to buy jeans is Topshop, the high street brand based out of the UK. They offer jeans with a 23 inch waist and 28 inch inseam, so it’s nice to be able to find adult sizes that don’t swallow petite frames whole. For those consumers that are blessed with more curves, Forever 21 has an entire plus sized range for their trendiest styles. The real champion in my mind, though, is internet retail giant ModCloth, who boasts an in house line with sizes ranging from extra small to 4X, making sure that no one has to sacrifice fit for style.
Fashion is a world that can seem elitist and discouraging enough without the added burden of the wrong fit. One size definitely doesn’t fit all, but the industry shows signs of moving in the right direction.