How clothing and shoe sizing really works


Have you ever tried on a pair of jeans in your size at one store and it fit, but tried the same size elsewhere and it was way too tight? Yup, welcome to the wonderful world of inconsistent sizing.

People have been complaining about it for the better part of the century.

South Africa’s clothing and textile industry imports clothing, so we often run into a sizing confusion when local stores stock clothing items from UK, Europe and even Australia.

For example, Shoe City shows us exactly how this should work when it comes to shoes: 

Table: Shoe City

And according to, clothing sizes should work like this:


According to Lynn Boorady, fashion and textile technology chair and associate professor at Buffalo State University, true sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940s when a rather pointless study was conducted sizing a small group of women who didn’t cover the average demographic of women.

And according to a TIME article, the measurements were dependent on bust size alone and assumed that all women had an hourglass figure.

If only, right?

What’s more bizarre is that before this study was considered, the American clothing industry also assumed that all 16-year-old girls or those with a 36-inch bust were created equal.

A second study was conducted years later, from which 27 different sizes were devised. The measurements of up to 11 000 people, between the ages of 18 and 80 were scanned.

Yet this study was also flawed, as it was concluded that it would be nearly impossible to come up with a single sizing system. Boorady found that people were getting bigger and bigger and the prevalence of plastic surgery and implants - particularly bust implants – are increasingly changing the way industry sizes clothing.

The conclusion? Brand fit is a kind of identity. So the Laura Ashley (a Welsh brand) women is different from the Calvin Klein (American) women. You may be a Spree 10, but if you order the same garment on Superbalist, you could just be an 8. So remember to consider this next time you do a clothing shop.

And to avoid the mishap of receiving an ill-fit when ordering online, computer programmer Anna Powell-Smith created a programme, What size am I?, that calculates your dress size for a range of stores, like Zara, Oasis and even Marks & Spencer. It's truly very helpful.

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