September 05, 2020
Working with fashion, we are very familiar with the fact that there are as many different bodies as there are people. When all the differences are counted together, an average is created for making sizing charts. Based on quantitative research and named with seemingly arbitrary clothing numbers, the charts are full of expectations, wishes and demands. Why is size not just a letter or a number?
Creating standards for sizing
Our first sizing chart, used still in 2020, was based on our own customers. The sizing was rooted in the brand history: we started out with made to measure tailored pieces and gathered data from our clients. Based on the data we created our own size chart and clothes in size XS to XL that would fit the different body types.
Now we are in a transmission phase to start fully using a size chart that is based on a research carried out in 2001 in Finland. 1185 Finns between ages 18 and 88 were measured by taking 88 measures from each of them. From this complex data, a chart called N2001was created. Letter and number sizes indicate which body measurements each size has. This is a guideline for Finnish clothing manufacturers for size labelling.
Why do we need standards?
N2001 is one of the many initiatives to simplify and create standards for clothing. The ultimate goal is to help people to get the right size clothes regardless of the brand, country or even the continent.
Very few people fit to the average shown in the size charts, but they gives guidelines and something to refer to.
Several EU-standards are published during the last ten years in order to find a common language for the sizing. They are all based on quantitative research and finding averages. The history of size charts is almost 100 years old*.
However it is quite rare that brands follow these official standards based on similar research as N2001. Not having the brands following the standards makes ultimately the whole system vague. At the moment there is no common understanding of sizes, each brand is having their own take on the issue of which measurements are related to S, M and L or 32-52.
“Vanity sizing, or size inflation, is the phenomenon of ready-to-wear clothing of the same nominal size becoming bigger in physical size over time.”*
The current beauty image in western culture prefers small size to big size. This is said to be one of the reasons why clothes sizes are getting smaller.
It can be argued that the cultural expectations regarding sizing are used by the brands as a tool for increasing sales. As a way of complimenting people by offering them smaller sizes than what they are used to, brands can make one feel good about themselves**. Which is nice, but also problematic on a bigger scale. There is the risk of sizing turning into a marketing tool rather than an informative tool for people to understand their clothing size.
Driving body positivity with sizing
Size is just a number, and not. In our culture clothing sizes are filled with social and personal meanings. The sizing can be used or misused in many ways. Small, size 36 to 38, is the fashion model size. Many initiatives are pushing more allowing, open, diverse, image of a body, but the changes are slow.
And our own experiences from our work support the story: It is difficult to change the connotations of the letters standing for Small, Medium or Large. Also the number, seemingly arbitrary, have become part of our beauty image.
In our Helsinki stores, we have experienced many times how people refuse to try on a bigger size, because the letter or the number does not feel right for them. But it is just a number, right? All that matters is how the actual clothes feel? Yes, and no.
We are now in the process of resizing our products to fit better to the N2001 standards. For slim fit trousers we created a sizing chart with numbers to be able to offer more variety in sizes. As we are not able to stock all sizes, we are hoping people will also find our alternation and tailoring services which enable us to offer something for all.
Hoping that attitudes towards clothing sizes will gradually change, small and big would be equally valued, we are working for the change. Following the standards we are able to create transparency for sizing to drive body positivity and celebration of diversity in people.
*Reference to Wikipedia
**Reference to Newsweek
Text: Mila Moisio
Photos: Laura oja