I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine about sizing in high street stores and how depressing it can be when you can’t find clothes to fit you. Our talk reminded me of when I was 17 and I wore a UK 14 to 16. For my 18th birthday my mum had kindly offered to buy me a new outfit to wear at my party. This was before internet shopping and we went trawling around a number of High Street shops trying to find something appropriate. Nothing fit me, not a single thing, Most brands only went up to a size 14. We did eventually stumble on something that fit and made me feel confident, however it was a demoralising experience that battered my fragile, adolescent ego.
These days I usually wear a size 8 to 10 and I don’t struggle to find clothes, but I remember vividly how crestfallen I felt when it was clear that these shops were excluding me, on the basis of my size. Since the 90s, retailers have upped their game and now cater to a much wider range of sizes, with many UK shops carrying sizes 4 to 18, some go up to a size 22. Marks and Spencer stock size 24. The British High Street has realised that ostracising massive swathes of the population is bad for business. However, there is often a vast discrepancy between sizes in one shop to another. Most brands will figure out the measurements of their average customer, and base their size system around that. The median customer who shops in Topshop is not the same as the median customer in M&S. In addition, vanity sizing has become a marketing tool. As British women become bigger, shops increase the sizes to flatter their customers into parting with their hard earned cash. The truth is that the number in the label is arbitrary; I have clothes in my wardrobe that vary between a 6 to a 12, depending on what it is and where it’s from.
Although everyone knows that sizing is ridiculous, it can be hard not to value one’s self by the label in a pair of jeans. I bought this Alice and Olivia dress from The Outnet last summer, shortly after I’d had a baby. There was only one size 8 left and it was heavily discounted, which made the dress a bit of a bargain. I bought it, knowing that I was still too big for it, but with the hope that it would fit me eventually. When I lost most of the baby weight, I tried it on to find that the zip did up. I thought I’d be elated, but I wasn’t. I was pleased that I’d be able to wear the dress, but I realised that fitting into some random category, decided by a company with their own commercial imperatives, is meaningless. I try not to let myself be defined by the number on the bathroom scales or in the label of a dress. I don’t always succeed, but it’s something I strive towards every day. I admire the women leading the body positivity movement who embrace their natural shape and inspire others to do the same. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.
The next time you go shopping and feel confused or dispirited by the sizing, try to remember that the number on the label says nothing about your value as a person, it is only a remark on how that particular corporation is trying to make money.