Why Your Size Really IS Just a Number

I’ve never taken issue with which size I buy.  If it covers my hiney and looks good, I’m in.

There are currently four different sizes hanging from the rack of “the little closet that could.”  Though they range from “missy” sizing to women’s “plus” (with an occasional side trip into specialty “Tall” ), they all fit beautifully.  As such, I knew the multiple sizing issue wasn’t mine.  I simply assumed that the folks making the clothing were either confused or having too many three-martini lunches.

But I know there are women out there who worry about the number.  A friend of mine actually removes her tags to ensure nobody knows what that number is.  A friend of a friend won’t buy anything larger than an “8” because she can’t bear the thought of wearing “double digits” (incidentally, she will be celebrating her 29th birthday for the third time next month).

The other day I came across a book called 101 Things I Learned in Fashion School — a wonderful inside-the-industry guide written by Alfredo Cabrera with Matthew Frederick.  It was eye-opening, that peek into the how’s and why’s of fashion design and production.  I learned a lot about the business of creating garments.  And I now understand the reason for multiple sizes in my closet — and yours.

Most clothing manufacturers work with a standard size 8 production pattern.  As the pattern is tweaked not just for best fit but to accommodate design patterns woven into or printed onto the fabric, bias runs and sometimes just to save money, that number can shift as much as a full size in either direction.

Because designer houses use more expensive fabrics, that number will usually scale to the smaller size, while mass market items generally tend to run larger.  So when you pull an 8 off the rack and head to the dressing room, you may very well be trying to fit for a size 6 or a size 10.  Yep.

It’s not exactly a controlled process.  And while garments off to market are tagged with sizing information, the numbers don’t always add up.

All sizing is up for debate.  So don’t get hung up on it.  Find something you like and grab a range of sizes to test for fit.  Let the mirror be your guide.  If it looks and feels great on, consider it a “Size Fabulous” and buy it, baby, buy it!


  1. Kelli says

    I’ve also read that sizes have changed as time does. For instance, a size eight is literally a different size today than it was even ten years ago, and even if your measurements haven’t changed, the clothes could have.

    I hate when I bring shoes out to people and they obviously don’t fit in one size because it’s too small but refuse to go larger because they’ve “never worn that size before!” like anyone is judging them based on how well a shoe fits. Love your last line. : )

  2. Jennifer says

    Absolutely true, Kelli. I collect old patterns for the artwork. I can see by the listed measurements that it’s true. And, looking at what I have here in front of me, it appears to have changed multiple times. — Anyone else out there know for sure?

    I’ve never understood why the number matters to anyone. It’s merely meant to be a guide, not a definition. 🙂

    Thanks, Kelli!

  3. Irene says

    Amen! If it fits and looks good, I buy.
    Clothing size is just a number, and I’ve never really cared, although I worried once or twice when shopping when my ‘regular’ size didn’t seem to fit and I needed to go up one- so thanks for the explanation from The Book.

  4. wow! what an eye opener!! I’ll keep that in mind next time I head into the dressing room at a new store!!

  5. Tina says

    Excellent points! I try very hard not to let me vanity keep me from trying things on.

  6. Jennifer says

    I was really surprised to get the skinny on that, too, Jessica. Moral of the story: Size is a Guide!

  7. Cat says

    Sizes have definitely changed over time. I am the same physical size now (same weight and shape) that I was in high school. Back then I wore a size 6 or 8. Now I wear a size 2 or 4. Sizes also vary even within the same brand. I just grab my size and go without trying clothes on, usually. I have three identical pairs of jeans — same style, same brand, same size, all bought at the same time. One pair is too tight, one fits perfectly, and one is too big.

a peep out of you