Hoping to lose a few dress
sizes in 2004?
Well, take heart, because it's easier
than it used to be to fit into that coveted Size
It's all because of the garment industry's dirty
little secret, a trick of the trade practiced for decades by
women's wear manufacturers who have progressively cut their
wares larger while labeling them with smaller size
Known as vanity sizing, it supposedly fools an
expanding American woman into thinking she hasn't gained an
ounce or an inch over the years.
Proof seems to come in
the form of shapely silver screen siren Marilyn Monroe, who
everyone remembers wore a Size 12 during her 1950s
"That would be equivalent to a Size 6 today,"
attests Meryle Epstein, 42, acting academic director for
fashion marketing at the Art Institute of
Further proof comes from vintage clothing
sellers like Mariamne Moore of east Phoenix, who must measure
each of her aged garments to ensure a more accurate clue as to
a contemporary size.
"For years we were getting our
sizes changed each decade," said Moore, 61, whose inventory
dates back to the 1920s. "Let's say you were a Size 12 in the
1950s, and if you stayed the same measurement-wise, you'd be a
6 today, or in the 1960s, that 12 would have been a
Ann Siner, founder and owner of the resale
clothing stores My Sister's Closet, said when she opened her
first shop in Town and Country Shopping Center in central
Phoenix 13 years ago, she and her staff went bonkers trying to
arrange garments on racks according to their labeled
Not only did the same sizes vary widely among
different designers and vendors, (typically, the more
expensive the garment, the more generous the cut) but they
even varied within the same brand name.
isn't any standardization in sizes, and even though we do have
a few things grouped in sizes like 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, we
learned to do most things in small, medium and large," Siner,
44, said. "And then we encourage people to try everything
"Ellen Tracy was notorious for it," Siner said of
the longtime designer. "It was a real marketing tool for her
because women don't really want to know the
Men's clothing, however, is a different story.
Standardization has existed since the government, needing to
outfit Civil War soldiers rapidly, found consistencies among
men's measurements and labeled them with sizes that
Those sizes, based on those measurements,
are still in use today.
"I'm really jealous," said
Siner, who also owns two men's resale shops. "If a men's suit
says 42 regular and a guy knows he's that, he can just pick it
up and he's done shopping."
Although many women want to
be lied to and resist knowing their body measurements, others
find that sort of ignorance is not necessarily
"If I knew what actually fit me, the shopping
experience would be a lot easier," said Stephanie Dowling, a
29-year-old marketing and public relations director in
The sizes in her closet range from a 6 or 8 in
dresses to a 12 in outerwear.
"I dread trying on
clothes and it's almost impossible to buy women's clothing as
a gift," she said.
John Ragan of central Phoenix
learned that lesson the hard way.
"That's why I simply
go to Tiffany's to shop for women's clothing," Ragan, a
36-year-old business developer, said of the jewelry store.
"You can't go wrong there, and at some point I'll pass that
advice on to my two sons."
The last time there was any
standardization of women's sizes was in the 1940s when the
U.S. Department of Agriculture did a large-scale study of
women's measurements, urged on by the mail-order clothing
industry. Still, many garment manufacturers developed their
own sizing using the measurements that suited them.
add chaos to the mix, American women have gotten not just
heavier, but taller and more pear-shaped through the years due
to a sedentary lifestyle and fast food. The U.S. Surgeon
General estimated in 1988 that one-fourth of adult Americans
Another attempt was made in the late
1990s to update the ignored standard for women's sizes when
the American Society for Testing and Materials in
Conshohocken, Pa., surveyed measurements used by garment
makers and developed a chart of sizes to
According to the chart, for example, a Size
10 should fit a woman with a 36-inch bust, 28-inch waist and
38 1/2-inch hips.
Again, the garment industry
almost universally ignored the voluntary guidelines. But their
indifference is starting to cost manufacturers big bucks,
particularly in the catalog and online clothing industry, an
increasingly popular way to shop for busy
"They're losing a lot of money on returned
merchandise," Epstein said, "There's over 50 percent poor fit,
and women are getting fed up."
That's why the time
might be ripe for taking another stab at size
The Fitme.com Web site promises
consumers a better fit by guiding them, according to their
measurements, to the correct size in a particular
Still another attempt to standardize the entire
industry is a mammoth project called Size USA, sponsored by
industry group [TC]2, which was launched in July 2002 and
wrapped up in September.
After about 10,800 people (65
percent were women) in 13 cities were screened with an
infrared scanner, the organizers, backed financially by 30
sponsors, including companies like J.C. Penney, have developed
a better idea of today's body shapes and
Karen Davis, of [TC]2 in Cary, N.C.,
believes that the day will come when everyone can step into a
body scanner to collect data on their measurements before
hitting the mall with information that will afford them a
better fit in less time.
"You'll go to a scanning booth
and get a smart card, like a credit card, that has all your
data on it, then use the card to find, say, a pair of khaki
slacks," she said.
The card will search out the best
store that carries a size to fit you and list the
Such a card would expand gift options
for Phoenix executive Bob Guenther.
He tends to buy
electronic gadgets for his bride instead of something off a
"I bought my wife something in a Size 34 once,
and she almost divorced me over it," Guenther, 65, said. "It
was so big we used it as a tarp over the
garage."Reach the reporter at email@example.com
or (602) 444-8243.