“I no longer buy clothes by size, I choose them by fit”

Choosing fit over size has made shopping a lot easier for women
Choosing fit over size has made shopping a lot easier for women

Shopping for clothing items can take hours and can get exhausting. Although I enjoy shopping, the main reason I spend so much time in stores is because I want to make sure the items I get will be the best fit for me.

The sizes attached on a clothing item can be outrageously different from store to store. Sometimes I fit into a medium next thing a large is too small and I often catch myself thinking, ‘Did I gain weight in the past few hours?’.

READ MORE: The #MakeMySize movement calls out fashion brands for not making cute plus-size clothing

The issue of inconsistent clothing sizes has been a problem as far back as I can remember, but there is an explanation. This article written in 2016, reports how South Africa has not only inherited inconsistent sizing from other countries but because we import from different countries this compounds the sizing confusion. 

I know many women who refuse to buy certain clothing items that are bigger than their ‘designated size’, thinking they are the problem. But we now know: it’s not us, it’s the clothes.

Fashion stylist Simnikiwe Mahlangu said this has been an issue for her clients to the point where some lose confidence and become self-conscious about their bodies. She notes a key aspect of how clothing retailers work.

“A clothing store or a clothing brand has its own ‘target market’ for their products/clothing. If the brand targets small-figured women or men it will cater for that group and not the other body type groups,” says Simnikiwe.

READ MORE: This curvy blogger is recreating celeb looks – to show what A-lister outfits would look like on a plus-size women

“Consistent sizing is important but we must remember that we can’t force a store or the designer to change his/her target market. If they choose to provide for a certain body type we must let them be and keep searching for stores that cater for our body type,” she says.

Darlene Bayley, stylist at The Imagepreneur SA, says: “One thing to remember is that certain stores also cater for certain ‘style personalities’, ‘body shapes’, ‘ages’”, and says there are certain things to consider when going shopping for clothes, namely:

  • Your body shape
  • Skin tone (cool or warm)
  • Style personality 
  • Lifestyle clothing needs

“We are all so unique, our body shapes although starting with a framework of pear, hourglass etc. are so different.  Some ladies have longer arms and necks or a longer torso and shorter legs or vice versa so unless the items are made specifically for you, sometimes sizing up one or two sizes can be beneficial to your body shape,” says Darlene.

READ MORE: "I am no longer ashamed to say that I shop in the children's section" - but shopping trauma is real

Simnikiwe says she doesn’t foresee the issue being resolved but suggests people shouldn’t be disheartened by the existing sizes.

“Do not feel discouraged because a certain store doesn’t cater for your body type, keep on searching for more stores who have clothes for your body type. There are a lot of online stores these days, but find the right and legit ones that will deliver what you want or are interested in buying... Also now, a lot of local designers do cater for all body types,” she says.

Darlene says: “If every woman had the tools… lives would be significantly different and they would have wardrobes that work and sizing would not be the biggest issue.”

READ MORE: ‘Clothing sizes in SA are ridiculous’ say W24 readers – and they’re not just women!

Because of this I have stopped relying on sizes to make my choices but instead I follow my own preferences. The aesthetic I like to go for is often loose fitting items paired with form fitting items - sometimes I go full on retro and choose fitting items from top to bottom. This is my process:

Shopping bottoms: I have a small waist and wider hips and shoulders. Because of this I often choose a size or two bigger for bottoms to achieve the fit I want. This applies to all types of jeans and loose fitting trousers but not tailored pants.

Shopping tops: If a top has a stretch to it, I usually go a size down or two to accommodate my waist area. I usually don’t go for tops that do not have some sort of elasticity apart from shirts, jackets and hoodies – for these I like to go to the men’s section.

Shopping classic/simple cuts: When I am looking for plain hoodies and jackets I shop in the men’s section and often still select one size up – for example if I’m a medium in the women’s section, I choose a large in the men’s section. This gives the perfect oversized look I never seem to find in the women’s section. I also enjoy the studio collection sections to shop for classic/simple classic cuts that are designed specifically for women. And for some reason the kids section also has a lot of these.

Shopping dresses: Dresses are a challenge for me to shop because my silhouette is not proportionate. Here, I often go for either completely loose fitting dresses or dresses with some elasticity. Unfortunately, when it comes to fitted dresses like some prairie style dresses I struggle getting something that does not need alterations.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Share your tips here.

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