Ever had trouble with clothing sizes? Tara Kergon experiments the size variations in different retailers.

Written by Tara Kergon

We all know the struggle: you think you know your size, only to find yourself at home either squeezing into those jeans or drowning in excess fabric. And it’s even worse when you order online, especsize-guide-newially for those of us at either end of the height spectrum, because now you face the hassle of sending it back, having got so excited about that perfect dress. Even accounting for material, cut, and style, it seems ridiculous that a size ten in one shop fits perfectly, while it drowns you or cuts off circulation in another… This has happened to me one too many times now, so I set out to see whether clothing sizes are ever accurate.

It’s well known that different shops have slightly different sizing, so I looked at the size guides for a few of my favourite retailers, taking a size 8 as an example. Urban Outfitters and Topshop are both renowned for their sizes being on the small side, so it didn’t surprise me that they expected a size 8 woman to have a bust of 32.3ins, hips of 34.6 and 34.1ins respectively, and a waist of 25.3 or 25.6ins. What did surprise me however, was looking at Missguided’s size guide – their size 8 woman was expected to be 32, 24.75, 34.75, which, while it doesn’t vary much on the hips, was small enough around the waist to be the same as a size 6 in Urban Outfitters, New Look or ASOS. New Look and ASOS gave measurements for a size 8 that were around an inch bigger than Topshop, Missguided or Urban Outfitters, while Zara even allowed for hips of 37ins.

Looking at such a discrepancy in measurements – almost a 3-inch difference in hips, and 2 inches difference in waist and bust – has me wondering why exactly an item of clothing can vary so much from shop to shop and still be called a size 8? Is this difference due to the target market? Urban Outfitters and Topshop have become staple shops for teenagers, who are probably shopping before fully developing, so are they trying to cater to those with smaller, undeveloped frames? Zara, as the largest, is also more popular with those in their twenties and thirties who are likely to have fuller figures. 

an item of clothing can vary so much from shop to shop

Even having looked into the size guides and the items I own from these stores, which range from size 4 to size 10, I still find myself confused as to why the so-called standard sizing can vary so much. If it was invented to make buying off the rack easier, then it’s not doing a very good job! Most of us have to learn different sizing for different shops and even for different items, because the size guides take an hourglass figure as the norm, which is inaccurate for most of the population. I personally place myself at a size 6 in most items, but find myself sizing down in skirts, up in jeans because they are so tight, and up again when I shop at Missguided.

Obviously, the best advice I can give is to try before you buy, or be completely sure of your measurements and never buy online without checking the store’s specific size guide. Considering, however, that sizing is supposed to be standardised this minefield explains why clothes shopping can become an incredibly stressful experience…