CARS HOMES JOBS

Playing fashion’s numbers game

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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I went clothes shopping last week and remembered why I hate doing it.

I was in the market for a pair of dress slacks and, like most female shoppers, had to schlep various sizes of the same item into the dressing room.

The reason for that is part schizophrenia and part vanity — neither of them mine.

Sizing women’s clothing, you see, is more art than science. For men, sizes are denoted in inches corresponding to real things like neck circumference and arm length. For women, sizes are expressed in even “misses” numbers 2, 4, 6, etc. — or, for younger women and teens, in odd “junior” numbers — 1, 3, 5, etc.

The numbers relate to a combination of chest, waist and hip measurements of a woman of average height with an hourglass shape — a body type more theoretical than real.

Attempts to standardize women’s sizes began in the 1940s, when catalog companies asked the government to establish a reliable system of sizing for the then-new ready-to-wear industry, according to the National Institute of Standards & Technology, part of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Those standards finally were set in 1958, according to NIST, but even with revisions over the next couple of decades (as Americans grew heavier), they soon became outdated.

Today, the government charts are only a guideline, says Lynn Boorady, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Fashion and Textile Technology at Buffalo State, who has been researching the sizing of clothing for years.

That has a lot to do with demographics: Because we’re such a melting pot of ethnicities, “in America, we don’t have a typical body shape,” Boorady told me. Anatomy also has a role: “Women, because of where our fat deposits … are hard to fit,” she said.

Despite periodic calls for new standards, Boorady said designers and manufacturers like creating their own sizing niches, where they can develop customer loyalty.

“The size you wear at one store is only an indication of what you might be at another,” she said, pointing out that a Size 6 at Macy’s might not be a Size 6 at Lord & Taylor. “Everyone is completely unique. … The trick is to find what fits you.”

Complicating it all is “vanity sizing,” or what NIST describes as “selling bigger clothes labeled with small size numbers,” which is “appealing to women’s vanity.”

“Vanity sizing works,” Boorady said simply. “It really plays into our ego.” I saw that in my slacks search, when I grabbed what should have been a diminutive Size 2 and took it into the dressing room with sizes 4 and 6. In my mind, a 2 is for stick-slim women who weigh less than 100 pounds; in other words, not me.

But when the 2 fit, I admit to feeling pleased.

Boorady said she, too, has had that experience, even though “I’m in the industry; I know all the tricks.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at marlenejkennedy@gmail.com.

I was in the market for a pair of dress slacks and, like most female shoppers, had to schlep various sizes of the same item into the dressing room.

The reason for that is part schizophrenia and part vanity — neither of them mine.

Sizing women’s clothing, you see, is more art than science. For men, sizes are denoted in inches corresponding to real things like neck circumference and arm length. For women, sizes are expressed in even “misses” numbers 2, 4, 6, etc. — or, for younger women and teens, in odd “junior” numbers — 1, 3, 5, etc.

The numbers relate to a combination of chest, waist and hip measurements of a woman of average height with an hourglass shape — a body type more theoretical than real.

Attempts to standardize women’s sizes began in the 1940s, when catalog companies asked the government to establish a reliable system of sizing for the then-new ready-to-wear industry, according to the National Institute of Standards & Technology, part of the U.S. Commerce Department.

Those standards finally were set in 1958, according to NIST, but even with revisions over the next couple of decades (as Americans grew heavier), they soon became outdated.

Today, the government charts are only a guideline, says Lynn Boorady, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Fashion and Textile Technology at Buffalo State, who has been researching the sizing of clothing for years.

That has a lot to do with demographics: Because we’re such a melting pot of ethnicities, “in America, we don’t have a typical body shape,” Boorady told me. Anatomy also has a role: “Women, because of where our fat deposits … are hard to fit,” she said.

Despite periodic calls for new standards, Boorady said designers and manufacturers like creating their own sizing niches, where they can develop customer loyalty.

“The size you wear at one store is only an indication of what you might be at another,” she said, pointing out that a Size 6 at Macy’s might not be a Size 6 at Lord & Taylor. “Everyone is completely unique. … The trick is to find what fits you.”

Complicating it all is “vanity sizing,” or what NIST describes as “selling bigger clothes labeled with small size numbers,” which is “appealing to women’s vanity.”

“Vanity sizing works,” Boorady said simply. “It really plays into our ego.” I saw that in my slacks search, when I grabbed what should have been a diminutive Size 2 and took it into the dressing room with sizes 4 and 6. In my mind, a 2 is for stick-slim women who weigh less than 100 pounds; in other words, not me.

But when the 2 fit, I admit to feeling pleased.

Boorady said she, too, has had that experience, even though “I’m in the industry; I know all the tricks.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at marlenejkennedy@gmail.com.

 
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