Why don't clothes ever fit right?

style tips Jan 16, 2024

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re in some kind of a transition and looking for some quick fixes that will have you feeling better about yourself in the world! There’s nothing like a new outfit, great haircut or simply new shoes to get you started in the right direction. Even if you’re not feeling so great on the inside, when you look great on the outside and start hearing compliments, you might actually have a chance to start feeling better on the inside!


So…before you run to the store, let’s talk about making sure things will fit correctly!


Pants that ride up, sleeves that hang down too long, waists that pinch or hit you in the wrong place, hems that fall short, buttons that gap, size 8’s that fit differently from label to label….It’s so frustrating!

Did you think it was just your body that was impossible to fit? No matter if you’re fat, thin, tall or short, sizes are all over the place making shopping a challenge.

According to Stores.org, $28 billion a year of merchandise is returned to stores because of poor fit. An informal poll on this site shows that 42% never find clothes to fit; 40% only sometimes; 14% said rarely and only 4% said always.

But the heck with statistics and projections: you already know that it's almost impossible to find a great fit!

The real reason is pretty simple: there's no standardization in women's sizes! A U.S. size 4 could be more like an 8 or a 2 depending on the manufacturer. Over the years I’ve noticed that the more expensive the clothing (think designer/couture), the larger the sizes tend to run. I’ve surmised that this is a marketing ploy to get women of means and a certain age (over 45) to feel better about their bodies, (if they have gained weight yet they still fit into size 8’s which are actually the same size as what used to be a 10 or a 12), they may have the illusion of feeling thinner resulting in a willingness to spend more money on clothing.

There was a basic guideline for fit done 60 years ago by the US Department of Commerce. Let’s just say that their data is way out of date! The 2,000 women who were measured for that study were mostly young, unmarried, white women according to Ellen Goldsberry, associate professor with The University of Arizona Division of Retailing and Consumer Studies on the university's web site. Obviously that cross-section doesn't begin to represent the diversity of today's demographics.

This data is out-of-sync with the way women have increased in size: in 1941 the average woman was 5' 2", 129 pounds. Today she is 5' 4" and weighs 144 lbs (wearing between a size 12 and 14).

Another reason clothes never fit is that most sizes are based on the assumption that women's bodies are hourglass in nature. (Ex: A size 8 at the Gap is a 36 bust-28 waist -36 hips.) In reality, the average woman's body is much more a pear shape (smaller on top and heavier through the hips).

To make matters even more confusing, we have to factor in the ridiculous sizing system itself. "Missy" sizes (2-20) originally designated age, not measurements!

And the sizes themselves keep fitting bigger…..again, this can serve to enhance sales when women identify themselves as a smaller size than their bodies actually have become as they age.

For the many women who fall outside of what the industry considers standard sizes (approximately sizes 4-14, 5' 4" to 5' 8" in height), there are "special" sizes that cater to petite, plus and tall women.

As many as half of all women may actually make up these special sizes: according to a survey by Kurt Salmon Associates, one-third of the respondents considered themselves plus-size and 19% were petite.

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