Sizing Up The Situation

Can we talk about women’s clothing sizes for a minute? I’m willing to bet that if you asked 100 women, at least 99 of them would admit to being frustrated by clothing sizes while shopping. I don’t know why it’s so hard for the clothing industry to get sizes right for women, when it appears that men’s sizing is so simple. They just have a set of numbers: waist and inseam. Sure there are “big and tall” stores for the larger fellas, but it’s still a very simple system.

Not so for the ladies. We have Juniors Sizing, which is a set of odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13), and we have Misses Sizing, which is a set of even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14). Often time these numbers are combined, so you’ll have a 1/2 or a 3/4, etc. Then you have Petites which are Misses Sizes, but for shorter gals, with shorter inseams, sleeves and hem lengths. Petites are signified with the letter “P” after the number (4P). There is also Plus Sizing, which the name just irks me. Why is it “plus?” It’s just a size – but I’ll get into that later. Plus Sizing starts at 15/16. We also have an entirely different set of jeans sizing that some stores and brands use, while some do not: 25-32, with a 25 being a 0, 26 a 2, 27 a 4, and so on. Then there’s the whole XS, S, M, L, XL game. THEN, on top of that mess, there are some stores that have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own sizing schema. Chicos uses their own unique sizing because, as they state on their website, “size is just a number – the simpler, the better.”

And, remember, these are just American sizes. Sizes vary by country. But I’ll let you figure that out on your own, should you ever go shopping for clothing outside of the U.S.


If you’re a woman, and you’ve shopped for clothes, none of this is surprising and it all makes sense (sort of). If you’re a guy, hopefully you’ve able to follow along and are not too confused, because we haven’t even talked about bra sizing! Fortunately, this (for the most part) is relatively standard using a bust measurement in inches and a cup size denoted in letters (A-G). Some stores use double and triple letters for incremental increases in cup size, while others do not. So a 36DD in one store could very well be a 34E somewhere else, depending on where you shop.  So, guys, you either need to get the details from the lucky lady you are buying this stuff for, or just a gift card and call it a day.

It’s all so confusing!

So let’s address the first question: What is the difference between Juniors Sizing (the odd numbers) and Misses Sizing (the even numbers)? Juniors Sizing is cut for the younger woman with fewer curves. While not a hard and fast rule, I’ve noticed that clothing in Junior’s sizes is typically made of less expensive fabrics and has a “younger” look. This isn’t always true. I’m 46 and I’ve purchased plenty of Junior’s sized clothing, some quality, some not so much. Misses (the even numbers) are tailored to a woman who is a little curvier and maybe (again, a generalization) more mature. Most adult sizes in stores are Misses sizes.

When it comes to the whole small, medium large thing, typically XS = 0-2, S = 4-6, M = 8-10, L = 12-14, XL = 16. Again, nothing about this is exact or scientific, which is why we have to try everything on before we buy it, and why we have to try everything on, and are often frustrated when things don’t fit. But that’s not the only reason we have to try things on. The numbering system varies quite a bit from brand to brand, and also by style. I’m usually a size 2. Sometimes a size 0. In the picture below, the skirt on the left is a size 0P (petite) from Ann Taylor LOFT. The skirt on the right is a size 6 from H&M. Both skirts have a similar cut and weight of fabric, so it’s crazy how widely the sizes vary!  Some stores are known for being outliers, like H&M:  most gals who shop there know that their sizes run very small.  If you shop at certain stores often enough, you learn which stores have sizes that run smaller, which run a little larger, and which are “true to size,” which, honestly, what IS that?  True to what sizing standard?Obviously, style plays a role as well, and this is another reason why we have to try clothes on to see how they fit. Skinny jeans fit quite differently from bootcut jeans, and high-waist bottoms fit differently than low rise, so in some cases the same size from the same store isn’t going to give you the same look and feel.  I’ve also found on occasion that the same size in the same style of pants at one store can vary by color!  I’m not kidding – I once tried on a pair of gray tweed pants and a pair of black pants at the same store, on the same day, of the same style and the black pants were almost a size smaller.  How does this happen?! There really does need to be more consistency in sizing. The fact that the Size 6 skirt from H&M is the same size as the size 0P skirt from LOFT is super frustrating to the consumer, not to mention disheartening when you try something on and it is way too small!  And, while more and more consumers are shopping online, it becomes a problem when you have to return your items because they don’t fit as expected.

Size 0 Petite on the left, Size 6 on the right


Now let me rant about Plus Sizing for a moment. I happen to think it is absurd that a woman who is a size 18 has to go to an entirely different section in a department store (or even an entirely separate store) to get the same dress that is in the Misses section. Sure, I get it – Plus Sizes sometimes are cut differently and may use more fabric, or have buttons in different places, but that doesn’t mean they should be segregated into their own section. IT’S JUST A SIZE. Recently, K-Mart was in the headlines with a new name for their plus sized clothing: Fabulously Sized. There are several models who have spoken out against the term “Plus Size” however I fail to see how just renaming it from Plus to Fabulous accomplishes anything but pandering to the consumer. I know, I’m not “plus size” so I probably shouldn’t have an opinion on this, but I do. Let’s just ditch the description and let a size be a size!

What About Petites?

There is an exception to the idea of “a size is a size”, and that is when it comes to length. Let’s face it, a 5’0” woman cannot wear the same size pants as a 5’7” woman, even if they both wear a size 6. I cannot even begin to explain to you how disappointing it is to spend $75 on a cute “regular” sized dress knowing I’ll have to drop another $25 to have it tailored to fit me. “Petite” or “Short” sizes are definitely needed, and I honestly don’t mind if they are in a separate section (especially if in that section the racks aren’t quite as high and easier to reach!). Usually, though, the selection is much more limited than the regular sizes. And not all stores and brands carry petite sizes. *For the record, “short” and “petite” are different. While “short” refers mainly to length in pants, “petite” means that the item is cut smaller not only in the inseam length, but also in the rise, the sleeves are shorter, hemlines on skirts and dresses are shorter, and often the blouses and shirts are smaller all around.

As a 5’0” woman, I’ve learned where I can shop, and where I can’t. Ann Taylor, LOFT, Banana Republic, and New York & Company all have an excellent selection of petite clothing, however not always in the store. Often times, I will see and try on a regular sized item in the store, then order the petite version online. Some stores will go ahead and order the item for you and have it shipped to you free if you pay for it in the store.  Department stores generally have crappy petite sections because it’s all the brands lumped together in a small section in the back of the store and the clothing usually isn’t even displayed as nicely as the other departments.  I hate to say it, but it seems like the petite section in many of the department stores is geared towards women 50+ which I don’t understand because short women who are 65 were once 25, so why not have a range of styles?

Occasionally I am surprised by a store. Last winter I was in an American Eagle store, lamenting about the fact that the pajama pants were all so cute, but entirely too long on me (and since I’m clumsy and tend to trip, pajama pants that are 6 inches too long are kind of deadly). The sales associate informed me that they do indeed sell shorter length pajama pants, and they could be ordered at the cash register. I could pay for the item in store, and they will SHIP TO ME FOR NO ADDITIONAL COST. It was a very happy day when I found this out. They also carry jeans in shorter lengths in store, so AEO is on my list of go-to stores for the short gals..

The Average American Woman

I realize that stores must carry items and cater to what most people want and need. The average American woman is around 5’4”-5’5” and a size 14-16, and therefore, most of the items in a clothing store should fall in that range.  I know I’m shorter than average – heck, I’m even too short for petite length pants sometimes, as they are made to fit women 5’3” and under. This is why I run around in 3” heels most of the time! I’m not asking for all stores to have a complete selection of everything in all sizes for all women. That’s not realistic. BUT it would be nice if

  1. Sizes were more standard so a size 10 at one store is not a size 14 at another.
  2. Quit segregating the “plus size” clothing because, let’s face it, if the average woman is a 14-16, then that is regular sized. And quit calling it plus – a size is a size!
  3. Don’t forget the short gals (or the tall gals!). We need clothes, too.

So, guys, now you know why it takes us so long when we’re out shopping.  And why it seems that the women’s clothing sections are usually messier than the men’s!


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