When a size 12 isn’t REALLY a size 12

Universal regulations out the window – vanity sizing has become a huge problem. Roseanne Bradley investigates chaos on the British high street

Finding clothes that fit can be a real hassle. Especially when sizes differ from store to store it can be hard to pinpoint what will fit your body. Wouldn’t it be easier if you were a size 12 everywhere, rather than a 12 in New Look, a 14 in Topshop and a 16 in H&M?

The British fashion industry is worth £66billion and it heavily relies on vanity sizing: where retailers size their clothes smaller on larger patterns than the acknowledged size to compliment buyers (e.g. When a size 12 can suddenly fit into an 8/10.)

We’ve all been there jumping for joy in one store because we fit in a size down than normal. “I must have lost weight,” we beam, until we try the same size in the next shop and it’s too tight. It’s exhausting.

The British Standards institution (BSI) puts it down to vanity sizing – people prefer to fit into a 12 rather than a 14 so retailers like to please.

Each brand seems to be targeting their sizing at a particular audience but shouldn’t ‘universal sizing’ be universal across all brands worldwide?

The BSI has offered an explanation towards the sizing discrepancies on the British high street: “It is worth noting that it is difficult to standardize as there are many factors to consider – people are different sizes on their tops and bottoms, sizes change according to health factors, time of day etc. – therefore shops sell different versions of a particular size and consumers can choose which shops clothes suit their figures.”

In response to sizing issues, DressLily, the online fashion store, is to release sizing stats for all its models online to appeal to their shoppers, who are a broad range of sizes.

Michael Xiang, PR correspondent from DressLily said: “Universal sizing is necessary and is a crucial problem clothing companies need to figure out in the near future.”

He continued: “As the world is connecting tighter; a universal sizing system has to be made up in order to help the customers make the right choice online. It’s not only helping the retailer but also better protecting our customers.”

DressLily is one of the first brands to release such detailed statistics on their models’ measurements.

Mr Xiang said: “The stats will include height, weight, b-w-h (bust, waist & hip measurements) and their picture. These stats will vary from model to model as we have a professional model team coming from different countries, colours, height and weights. Even for plus size we have models to dress them up showcasing the garments.”

Here is a chart comparing sizes provided by British high street brands. Across the board H&M’s sizes appear to be sized smaller, with up to 3.15” difference between their sizes and those from other high street stores.

On the other end of the sizing spectrum M&S and Zara found themselves with the largest measurements per dress size compared to their high street rivals.

high street sizing chart 2016 (all info c/o shop websites)
British High Street Size Guide 2016 (all info c/o shop websites)

To look into the sizing on the high street more in-depth I decided to try them on myself to investigate how the sizing varies across the board. As a confident size 10 on top and 12 on bottom, I tried on eight size 10 white shirts, and eight size 12 blue skinny jeans in eight different shops. They were: Topshop, H&M, M&S, Zara, Next, New Look, River Island and Miss Selfridge.


NEW LOOK 7/10
(Jeans £24.99, Shirt £17.99)
ZARA 7/10
(Jeans £25.99, Shirt £17.99)
TOPSHOP 8/10
(Jeans £40, Shirt £29)
M&S 7/10
(Jeans £39.50, Shirt £27.50)
RIVER ISLAND 8/10
(Jeans £40)
MISS SELFRIDGE 6/10
(Jeans £36, Shirt £39)
H&M 5/10
Jeans £39.99, Shirt £24.99)
NEXT 7/10
(Jeans £24)

My verdicts & scores out of ten:

  1. New Look: True to size: 7/10. Both garments fit but the jeans became very very tight around the knees
  2. Zara:True to size: 7/10. The shirt was short. The jeans were also short, though Zara doesn’t offer a ‘long’ option in their jeans, which I would normally opt for.But despite the lengths both garments were true to their size and fit comfortably.
  3. Topshop:True to size: 8/10. Jeans fit perfectly. The shirt was nice although quite tight on the elbows.
  4. Marks and Spencer:  True to size: 7/10. Both garments fit well but I thought both were quite short, but I am 5ft 8. However M&S’ online models are also 5ft8 and wear regular length jeans, which I would have ordered online if I had wanted them relying on their model’s sizing, which is a bad representation of the product as these are clearly too short.
  5. River Island:True to size 8/10. Both items fit comfortably and were a good length, but compared to the rest of the shirts I tried this was slightly larger.
  6. Miss Selfridge:True to size 6/10. The jeans were a better length but very skin-tight, which made it hard to move around. The shirt was tiny. It was so small that the sleeves actually began to cut off all circulation from the elbow up and it pulled across the chest, which I’ve never had an issue with before as I have a small bust.
  7. H&M: True to size: 5/10. I’ve given H&M a five because the shirt fit well, if anything it might’ve been a little too big. On the other hand the jeans were tiny. It was as if I’d tried on my 15-year-old sister’s jeans – I couldn’t even button them up.
  8. Next:True to size 7/10. Next’s sizes were pretty standard. The jeans fit me well and were a decent standard length. The shirt fit well in the body but was tight on the arms that might have persuaded me to go a size up if I were to buy it.

The results are just as varied in person as their online size guides suggested which brings to question, is there really a standard high street size?

As a curvy model and an ambassador for Models of Diversity, Katie Knowles said: “It’s so hard as a curvy girl as I can’t just go into a shop and pick something off the rack knowing that it will fit me.”

Katie continued, addressing DressLily’s move to share model information with customers: “I think it’s good that they are going to release the stats, but from a models point of view I don’t know if I’d like the judgment as much as I’m sure they’re will be speculation over whether the stats are true. But I do think it’s a good way to publicize the need to start being more diverse and especially with plus size fashion.”

Could DressLily be onto something here and could these accessible stats be the key to successful e-marketing?

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