Let’s Discuss – Women’s Clothing Sizing

Posted in Fashion, Writing.

It’s fair to say I do a lot of shopping. I love browsing for new things, finding bargains and skipping home with a carrier bag (or two) swinging beside me. I don’t, however, love trying clothes on.

High street changing rooms are a sartorial nightmare. The lighting is hideous, creating cellulite in places you didn’t even know it could exist (my ankles? Really?!). The space is tiny, leaving no room for manoeuvring into those slightly-too-small leather trousers. And there’s never a seat, so don’t even THINK about trying to get your tights back on without stumbling into the curtain and spilling out into queuing shoppers. With such horror waiting for you behind that sheet of polyester, it’s no wonder so many of us despise trying clothing on in-store.

I very rarely brave the changing rooms when I’m shopping. Instead I pick out my size in the items I like, buy them and try them on in the comfort of my own bedroom, where the lighting is flattering and there’s no maximum number of items. But although it seems like the ultimate clothing convenience, there’s a huge problem with trying on clothing after you’ve purchased it – when it comes to women’s clothing, size means nothing.

Photo by sporkist

In my wardrobe, I have clothing ranging from size 10 right up to size 18. And all of it fits. The number in the label doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I don’t care what size the industry says I am, I just want to be able to go into a shop and know that an item in that size will fit me. I don’t want to buy a pair of shorts in a size up (because I like them loose), only to find I need at least two sizes bigger because they’re skintight (H&M, I’m looking at you). I don’t want to buy a form-fitting pencil skirt in my normal size, only to find it sags immediately (hello M&S). And I especially don’t want to repurchase my favourite jeans, in the same style, in the same size, only to find they’re far too small (Topshop, you’re guilty).

It’s not just clothing either – shoe sizing varies wildly from shop to shop and even something as fundamental as bra sizing, for which you get professionally measured, is not the same across brands. But why? Is it a vanity thing – are we so body-obsessed that we’d rather see a lower number in the label than have ‘true to size’ clothing in our wardrobe?

Photo by aussiegall

This post on Retro Chick gives a fascinating look at the actual measurements used by high street stores – information that’s not included in the label. Her Campaign for Clearer Clothes Sizing calls for shops to disclose the measurements they use to cut their items – it’s not about standardising sizing so all size 12s are the same, because not all size 12 bodies are the same. It’s about shops being more open about the true size of their clothing, so we know that in Topshop we might be a 10, but in H&M we’re more like a 14.

For me, I’d like to see some consistency within stores. If I already have a pair of 30/32 jeans in my wardrobe, I expect the same style in the same size to fit… well, the same. Is that really too much to ask?

What do you think – do you struggle with clothing sizes across shops? Are you often left frustrated when you discover the number in the label is a barefaced lie and you’ll have to take the offending item back? What do you think could be done to make clothes sizing clearer and less rage-inducing?



Really love this! I have a nightmare trying to find clothes that fit, especially as I am top heavy, with dresses I find that I need to go at least a size up or it won’t fit my chest. I also despise trying on clothes. And this hate is amplified in New Look! The changing rooms are always tiny and the curtain never covers the door. I actually find trying on clothes in charity shops more pleasurable than the high street. x

City Girls Fashion Box

Where i work our sizes are super generous, which i think is a ploy to give a thrill to our customer base – however most of our sizes vary, because each garment is made in all different factories over the world, where measurements seem to differ everywhere! xxx


So glad you wrote this post Jen, it’s something I have a HUGE issue with. When I was younger I was hugely bothered by the number in the label, but now I’m not so bothered, I just want clothes to fit properly. I tend to range from a 14-18, but even in the same shop a 16 will fit in one style and another style I can’t even get a 16 over my thighs. It’s confusing and if I am trying on clothes instore I end up taking two of each piece in different sizes to make sure. In Next for instance, I have size 16 and size 18 trousers, same from M&S. In Topshop, the biggest size of jeans they make fits my waist but won’t fit over my legs! The cuts of clothing can be really confusing along with the size and I would like to measure myself and work on them in every store rather than the arbitrary sizing system we seem to be using right now! 🙂 xx


I know what you mean. I bought a pair of Topshop Jamie jeans the other week in my usual size (I’ve been buying Baxter jeans for as long as they’ve been made)..only to find they were much tighter than my Baxters, even though they have more Lycra in them? Bizarre. Surely sizing should be standard in the same shop, at least?
When it comes to H&M I have never even attempted to buy trousers from them- I know they won’t fit. Shame for them given the amount I spend on the highstreet- they’re the ones losing out.
And I’m like you- I never, ever try on it the changing rooms. It just does nothing for my self-esteem. In New Zealand, the changing rooms at Glassons (their Topshop equivalent) were amazing. Each had a comfy chair, flattering lighting and room enough to twirl to your hearts’ content. Why should this be amazing though? Surely it should be standard? I’m wondering if it’s precisely *because* we don’t tend to try things on, that the shops are unwilling to fork out for swish changing rooms…

xxx Maddie


Clothes sizes really are a nightmare, I have clothes ranging from 10-16 and shoes ranging from 3 to 5 which is just ridiculous. It’s got to a point where I don’t like shopping online because I don’t want the hassle of waiting for it, trying it on & sending it back if it doesn’t fit – especially when companies try and make you pay for the delivery of sending it back.

I wouldn’t mind so much if one shop sizes are smaller/bigger than another, but things like when I bought a pair of jeans in one colour from a shop, the exact jeans in a different colour & same size were far too small(!) it’s just so infuriating! Gah!


After trying on trousers in Zara the other day and realising that I was classified as an extra large, the madness of mass produced clothing sizes was finally affirmed.

The actual measurements industry uses for manufacture depends a lot as well on their target audience: there is a whole separate set of measurements for teen/young adult sizing. So (I’d imagine) Topshop and H&M work to those measurements, which don’t take into account ‘womanly’ bottom/breast curves but rather a more ‘straight up and down’ shape. On the other hand, M&S will work to a more ‘mature’ shape and therefore waists will be wider, curves will be shallower, etc.

I don’t know if there’s anything in particular that could be done, industry wide, as (as many others have noted) different styles of clothing will equate to a different size in the same shop. Maybe just make trying on clothes a better experience and therefore we wouldn’t mind spending as much time in the changing room?!


Totally agree with the above, as very good discussion topic as totally appreciate and know where your coming from..
I fell out with topshop a year ago as I just couldn’t get in their jeans.. I could normally fit a 8 (26in), but I was upto a 10, but they are loose, as in after a few wears and washes they’d be mire boyfit jeans than slim fit..
I bought an aviator coat from Matalan a while ago and that was a 14, yet topshop new look my coats are 10-12 sized.. Tops range from 8-10..
I do take risks and buy online and 60% of the time. Do have to take back to the actual shop and exchange sizes..

Lady Oracle

I have the exact same problem. I am a size 12 on bottom and a 10 on top but also have clothes ranging from 8-16 in my wardrobe.

Shoes are another problem. I’m a 7 or 8 in Primark but a tight 9 in Topshop.

Another thing which annoys me so much is the length of dresses. I am not exactly mega-tall (5 foot 9) but dresses in Topshop are scandously short. Even when I buy from the Tall range the dresses only just cover my modesty – certainly never going to be appropriate for work!


Hi Jen,
Loving your posts as always. I find it infuriating and the whole trying stuff on palava has totally turned me off shopping, plus being squished and snaled at is not pleasant when you’re trying to find something in the shops.
I remember doing something in A Level textiles about seam tolerances and allowances and how depending on the manufacturer there is a HUGE difference in pattern cutting. I vary everywhere and am also a tall girl so have issues to say the least with sleeve lengths, leg lengths etc.
Having worked in retail in the past for 5 years it was a constant complaint amongst female customers. What disturbs me the most is the proportions of the mannequins…STOP using size 6…we’re not all built that way! Rant over! Thanks for another great post. BB xx

Cupcakes and High Heels

I’ve given up trying to figure out clothing sizes!
I usually say I’m a sz 16 because that’s the size that most often fits (boobs) but in the last 2 weeks I’ve bought from sz12-16.
Even if the shops did standardize, you’d still have to account for the type of material, body shape, personal preference….
It would be nice to see some investment in changing facilities within the shops as that would probably cut down their returns.
I’ve always found it amusing that shops design changing rooms for bendy sz 8’s when they also sell sz18!

Steph0188: StephanieDreams

Since I’ve put on weight, clothes sizes seem to be worse for me. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not noticing it more. I HATE trying things on, it’s such a faff & I usually just buy, try & then probably return.
It’s just so hard knowing what size you need in certain types of clothing, or in different shops. I know I’m a fatty, so wearing a certain size doesn’t bother me, but I like to know what I do need to buy

Lila In Disguise

I put weight on last year, it was literally a nightmare finding clothes that were the correct size and most of the time left me feeling mortified! I cannot express my love enough for this post!

Emily {What Emily Did Next}

I find this so infuriating! I don’t mind having to go up a size – or up about four sizes, as the case may be – I just hate not being able to pick up a 14 dress and assume that it will fit me. Sometimes it will be far too big, other times far too small. Even within one shop the sizes can be completely haywire. I own a size 8 dress & a size 20 jacket from H&M, and they both fit the same.
As for shoes, I often want to buy ASOS shoes and I don’t dare because I actually have no idea what size I am.
Finally, as for bras, I got measured at M&S and was told I ‘might be a B… or might be a C’ and to ‘try on some bras and see what fits’. Lol.
Trouser lengths can be incredibly annoying too… but I feel as though I ought to stop writing now :]

Farrah Abigaelle

I know exactly how you feel. At Old Navy in the U.S. I’m around a size 8 which I think is a size 10 UK because size 10 U.s. is too big. Then at like Forever 21 I’m a size 29-30. Then H&M I’m like a 32 because they’re sizing is super small. I don’t have a problem when it comes to shirts I’m usually a medium. Shoes have always been between an 8 1/2 U.S. and 9. But their sizing at all these stores are ridiculous. And I HATE trying on clothes at the store, I look so fat and gross in the mirrors and the lighting is horrible. Some Forever 21 stores that I’ve been too though have very good lighting. Great post!
Farrah’s Muse


So spot on – I totally agree that it matters not what’s on the label, it’s how it fits. I’ve heard of women cutting off the labels on clothes they wear as they’ve had to buy a bigger size than they think they “are”, despite the fact that larger number on the label has meant the garment fits them gloriously. Some styles also happen to look better in a bigger or smaller label. We should be using these as a rough guide and making sure we try things on, and buy whatever feels best and looks best when we wear them! 🙂


One of my favourite dresses is from Zara, and it’s XS, whereas today I bought a cardi in there which is size L – I am a 10 on the top and 12 on the bottom, so consider myself neither, more a medium. I was whining to my boyfriend today about knicker sizes; generally I wear Freya stuff, and need to get a large in the pants. If a 12’s large, then what do ladies who’re a size 18 get? Bonkers.


Great post, I feel your pain when it comes to clothes sizing! I now make myself try everything on before I buy it even when I really don’t want to because sizing seems to be all over the place. Sometimes I end up taking in 3 sizes of the same item into the changing rooms as the sizing can be so off it’s almost like having to start by trying the item on and working your way up or down. I wish there was a universal guide for clothes sizing, it’d make ordering online much easier too! x


I totally agree Jen! I think H&M is the worst! I’m a size 12-14 in there but can easily get away with a size 10/12 in Primark but then need a size 14 always in Topshop. It’s so stupid!
ashllyd X

Samantha Manzella

This is so true! Clothing sizes mean literally nothing to me…I’ve managed to fit from an 8 to a 16 sometimes. It’s absolutely insane. And I agree that companies should be more open about their sizing; it would make shopping for clothes a hell of a lot easier for us, the consumers. Thanks for summing up my thoughts in a more articulate manner than I ever could. 🙂


Measurements in clothes would be brilliant. I am about a 16/18, but I am curvy and tall rather than rounder (some of me is round, don’t get me wrong), so measurements would be great. The most important for me are actually breast and hip measurement, and length.


I couldn’t agree more with the frustration and confusion felt when it comes to High Street sizing – however, I must also admit to feeling a slight form of elation when trying on a size 10 in Topshop and it fits like its supposed to: Or have I just proven my own point in saying I’m happy when a smaller, and perhaps a more ‘desirable’ size, fits like it is ‘supposed’ to??

True-to-measurement sizing would be an amazing revelation for our High Street. Since, as you put it, not all size 12 bodies – or any sized bodies for that matter – are the same.

Rosie x


hi,I love your blog!!!
I live in Italy,and I often buy cloths from online stores,so is more difficult than buy in shops_also because is expensive return it by post_ is a really nightmare!!!


I’m always a bigger size in Topshop than anywhere else. All those skinny fashion girls maybe?! But I would LOVE to see uniform sizing. It especially worries me that sizes are just gradually getting bigger – maybe I am too and just not noticing it!


It’s really refreshing to find a fashion blog that doesn’t focus just on the runway fashions and highlights the real problems that society has with clothing and body size. You write well and highlight the reality and intersection of life and fashion.
You are right that it is important to focus on how the clothing fits and not the size. Even if you compared sizes through different brands, you would find a difference there as well. It just goes to show that you can’t trust a number to tell you anything useful. Just think of how happy people used to be in the days when numbers didn’t dictate our worth? I have found “free size” clothing that is quite nice and try alltogether just not to care about the size. I use it as a guide because obviously if I buy it too big/small it won’t fit me, but I try to let go of what the number might “mean” about me.
Recovering from anorexia, it is important to break my linkage to numbers. I am learning to ignore what they say in my clothes, focusing instead on how they fit and having clothes across a number of brands, sizes and shapes. We all need to realize that maybe it’s not us, it’s the clothing industry.
I’ll be back to your blog for sure and will be voting for you on the cosmo blog awards- well done!


Well said Jen, it is so fustrating! I know my measurements and online shopping is a bit better because you can look at the sizing chart and it tells you the measurements they use, but even then not all items are the same. I thought when I lost weight and became a “perfect 10” (err not perfect in anyway :). I would be able to nip into any shop and pick up a 10 and it would fit! Sadly not! Though I find Peacocks are quite good and fairly standard, expect Pearl Lowe’s dresses!

Sorry rant over. Fab post.

Ps I voted for you at Cosmo!



I have to agree with this. I mean, I can range from a size 6 to a size 12 which seems ridiculous!
I know what you mean about changing rooms too, I find H&M particularly soul destroying for the hidden cellulite problem…
L x


This blog totally nails what is happening!! Ive had the EXACT experiences with H&M and topshop!! It is possibly the worst feeling in the world, when you go in to these shops and really have to adapt your size to their sizing!! Its a nightmare trying to keep up!


I don’t even look at sizes any more, I just go by eye as to what I think will fit and try it on. I knew sizes had gone totally crazy, when with a body mass index of 12, I had to buy size 12 jeans.

I'm Char

I was having a similar conversation with my boyfriend earlier today when we were shopping. I range from an 8 in dresses, 10 in most clothes to a 12 in shorts. It makes no sense how clothing sizes range depending on the store, type and fabric. a 10 should be a 10 across all stores! don’t even get me started on bras! Xx


Thanks for all your thoughts ladies – some really interesting points here. I agree with everything everyone says! I don’t think it’s realistic to expect standardised sizing across all brands, but maybe an open policy on measurements would help.

Thanks for taking part in the discussion!


My god Jen, this is fantastic! I too have a mixture of sizes in my wardrobe, although I’ve always blamed this on my height – some stores are more generous than others when it comes to length! The one thing that reeeally bothers me though, is shoe sizes! I have rather big feet – size 8UK or 42EU. But my problems just get worse when a lot of stores disagree on whether an 8 is a 41 or 42. 41s are too tight, despite being able to fit into other 8s! Nightmare. But nevertheless loved this article 🙂 x


I completely and utterly agree, and as a larger lady, I’d thought it was only the upper end of the sizing scale that has got so many issues with sizing….to realise it is so universal is oh so comforting!

I’ve literally just encountered this issue the other day when I was shopping, so alongside rather hilarious pictures of me looking awful, I’m now off to wax lyrical on this very subject!


You’re so right, loved your post!
I think ZARA is a nightmare (their sizing must be for children, and no two items are the same), but the worst, and I really mean the WORST is forever21. I’m a size 10 normally, and I’ve bought jeans in 26 (didn’t now that even existed!) and a sweater in L on the same day in f21…however that works.


I wouldn’t mind so much if shops made an effort to keep their changing rooms nice. But when they’re grotty, and the curtain doesn’t close all the way, and there isn’t anywhere to hang my on clothes off the filthy floor…it puts me right off trying stuff on.
I have everything in my wardrobe from a size 6 to a size 12. It all fits. Like you, I don’t mind what the number on the label is, I’d just like some consistency. I don’t want to have to take 3 sizes of the same item into the changing room, especially when there’s a limit on how much I can take in!

David Hudson

Hi It’s great to read such interesting stuff on the Web as I have been able to find here. I agree with much of what is written here and I’ll be returning to this website again. Thanks again for publishing such great reading material!!
clothing suppliers


Leave a comment