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sizing matters

Sizing, as anyone in the clothing business will tell you, is complicated. It's also expensive, emotional and time consuming. The worst of it though? It's impossible to get right.

Two women can be the 'same size' in a t-shirt but have completely different measurements. A broad backed, relatively small-breasted woman might be able to wear the same size jumper, t-shirt or shirt as the lady with a narrower back and fuller breasts. One might have shorter arms, the other longer. Equally, two women wearing the same drawstring waisted size 12 trousers might find that one boasts broader hips, the other a rounder bottom. Do the garments wear properly and fit comfortably – perhaps, but then they are neither fitted nor tailored and they have stretch.

Much of what we wear today falls into the above level of 'approximate fit'. But we also sometimes want to wear other clothes - jackets, coats, dresses and more – all of which follow that same 6-8-10-12-14-16-18-20 logic. Do they all fit, or are all we so used to 'OK but actually imperfect fits' that we just live with them? Chances are it is the latter.

If it is fit that is more important to get right than size, why are these garments sold on size? Sizes that vary not just from country to country, but from maker to maker (or brand to brand, if you must). Standardisation is the apparently very sensible reason behind that – except for the fact that there is no 'standard' human sizing.

Over a decade ago The Economist paraphrased Tolstoy, when it wrote: "whereas thin people are all (roughly) alike, fat people are all fat after their own fashion. Body weight is distributed in many different ways, and clothing sizes are unreliable guides."

We would agree with the Economist's latter two points, but not the former play on Tolstoyan logic. Two slimmer women might be as different proportionally as two rounder ones. A coat might fit one 'size 8' but not another – not because one is 'larger' than the other, but because the combination of her measurements make that particular garment fit her too tightly. The combination of measurements that might tip one up to a 10 or the other down to a 6 include her bicep, her back, her diaphragm, her waist, her hips and the length of her arms.

So let's not take size personally, let's take fit seriously. Our size numbers are names attached to measurements – no more no less. They are not judgments, the fit is what matters.

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