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What’s Up with These Inconsistent Plus Size Clothing Sizes?

What’s Up with These Inconsistent Plus Size Clothing Sizes?

What's Up with These Inconsistent Plus Size Clothing Sizes?

.My closet has anything between a size Medium and a size 2X. When I shop in store, I usually grab at least two sizes of the same things. In Rue107 I wear a XL, in Target I wear a 2X. In Lane Bryant I wear a 14, in Old Navy I wear an 18. This is an issue that I hear my straight-size friends talk about as much as my plus size friends.

But. Can we talk about inconsistent plus size clothing sizing?

Size inconsistency has existed since at least 1937. When retailers began mass producing clothing in the 1940’s and 50’s, the National Bureau of Standards attempted a standardized sizing chart. Compared to times of haute couture and made to order pieces, the sizes were hit and miss with how they fit, due to the standardized sizing being based on an hourglass figure, which only a small percent of women in the United States have.

PAIRS OF JEANS ARE SEEN WITH TAGS LISTING by Kim Warp
PAIRS OF JEANS ARE SEEN WITH TAGS LISTING by Kim Warp

Breaking down this Inconsistent Plus Size Sizing Situation… 

My partner wants to buy clothes for me, but every time he tries, the fit is totally off. Not because of him thinking I wear a different size than I actually do, but because a Large, XL, 1X, 2X and so on fits totally different depending on where you buy. Inconsistent plus size sizes helps no one! The last time he bought lingerie in an XL, the bust area was barely enough to cover the important parts and had zero support. Yet when I bought myself a bodysuit from a different retailer, in the same size, it was about 2 sizes too big.

According to Dr. Deborah Christel, professor of Apparel Design at Washington State University responsible for the research published last year, stating that the average woman in the United States wears above a size 16, there is as much as 17 inches in variation between the same sizes at different retailers.

Check out the difference between these three size charts from Lane Bryant, Old Navy, and Rue107, respectively.

These sizing variations are due to retailers being able to create their own sizing based on who they believe is their customer. So, Brandy Melville’s “One Size Fits Most” take is based on the petite teenage girls they picture wearing their brand, whereas Lane Bryant’s sizes are based on a taller, full-figured woman who is looking for support and coverage.

If you look at other countries, U.S. sizing is all over the place. When I studied abroad in Italy, I went to my usual process of grabbing multiple sizes from the racks and found that across every retailer, I was a 41. Not a 39 at one place, a 42 at another. So why is it that the United States can’t get these sizes down to a science?

This is an issue that affects all sizes, but is extremely evident in plus size retailers.

As I mentioned in my piece “Why Aren’t Fashion Design Students Learning to Design for Every Body?,” most designers haven’t learned how to design for sizes above a fashion size 8, otherwise known as a size 2 in retail. When retailers expand to include plus-sizes, they usually just size up. They expand their patterns rather than accounting for contour, or the transition between curves. That may be why your jeans fit snug on your hips, but gaps in the waist.

See Also

Beautiful plus size woman in red dress shrugs her shoulders isolated

So what are we to do with this?

Until retailers can get it together with the inconsistent plus sizing, we’ll have to keep trying! But try check out my tips:

  • Know your measurements; this will help reduce fit issues, especially if you’re shopping online.
  • Check the size chart first before placing your order to ensure a good fit. Also check the reviews to see if it runs big or small.
  • Always account for stretch if what you’re buying is made of a knit fabric (stretchy materials like spandex, nylon, etc.).

I’ve ditched the retailers that are all over the place when it comes to their sizes. Then I trysticking to the brands that are loyal to their curvy customers. Lastly, and whenever I can, I shop in store so I can try before I buy.

How do you deal with fit issues? What are some ways retailers can make their sizes better for all customers?

Let me know your thoughts on sizing issues in the comments!

View Comments (60)
  • It’s not just the inconsistencies in sizes. It’s the fact that we’re all built differently. It’s impossible for me to find pants that fit me. I carry my weight in my butt and legs. Forget all these skinny fit pants…no way do they fit me. If I find lose fit pants that semi fit me in those areas, there are huge amounts of excess material in the waist and stomach areas. I also have large arms. Tops that fit me everywhere else are often too tight in the arms and sometimes through the shoulders. I can’t afford tailormade clothes. In short, WE’RE NOT ALL BUILT ALIKE!!!

  • Yeah. Why am I a size 24 at this store, but a size 2 at this plus size store? I shouldn’t have to know your store’s specific sizing system to understand what clothes to try on. “I think a 00 is a 16 🤔. Just try it on, here.”

  • Agreed Janet!!! I also don’t understand the re-doing sizing, i.e., when a store (looking with my side eye at you Lane Bryant) goes from the standard 14-22 in pants and then changes it to 0-4!!! WTH is up with that??? What does that mean??? What are you trying to accomplish by changing the sizing to mimic straight sizes??? JUST LEAVE IT ALONE!!

    • Omg do you remember a few years ago when they tried to completely eliminate numerical sizes and replace them with colors and shapes? They were like, blue squares, red circles and yellow triangles? THAT was some nonsense. My fat ass knows wtf size I wear, just put it on the tags so I can find it! Jeebus.

    • Sara Gehring YAAASS!!!! And I told the women working in the store that it was RIDICULOUS!!! Ever since that debacle, I’ve consistently gone to their website and shared feedback with them AND expressed to them that after being a loyal customer of theirs exclusively for over 10 years, I now shop at Macy’s , Ashley Stewart, etc. Lane Bryant has gotten WAAAY too expensive (even with coupons).

  • I have absolutely no idea what size I wear. Not only do the stores have different sizing but my body does. I’m short with a short torso, wide hips with a big butt and thighs. I also have found that as I get older I have bigger arms and with all of this I have a very small waist for my size. I can’t afford tailoring so I usually end up in shapeless tents that make me look bigger than I am. I have clothes in my closet from a 1X-28.

  • I have size 12 to 24 in my closet. That’s why I don’t bat an eye about size. I make sure that my measurements are consistent. I don’t even have a scale. I use measuring tape to determine where I need to make dietary and exercise adjustments.

  • CurvyCo made a Curvy Girl sizing guide – curvyco.com/sizing – to show how inconsistent sizing is in different plus-size brands and recommends your size visually!

  • Make it cheaper, make it faster! Remember this when you go shopping!
    Manufacturers use fit models, usually size 12! They then grade up to size 28! Can we see the problem? Yes!
    Also the more expensive garments are cut with care to fit!
    Slim fit garments in plus sizes do not allow for larger busted women! So you must purchase to fit the either your bust or hips and alter accordingly!
    Will it ever stop? No

  • Not only do I have anything from 14-20 in my closet (that currently fit) I also have trouble with the measurements. I find across the board that if I go by my measurements alone I always wind up with things that are way too big. It’s frustrating. So, I buy multiple sizes of everything and I’m constantly sending stuff back!

  • The XL clothing I have in my closet aren’t from plus size brands. I can wear an XL at Gap and NY & Co but I’m a 2 or 3 X in plus brands. Then again, plus and straight size brands are developed separately with no communication.

  • As a custom clothing designer, I’m constantly reminding people to shop by their measurements and not by “size”. Most companies, especially plus size, have shifted to “vanity sizing” and don’t adhere to any form of standardized sizing. And the point about designers just “sizing up” to plus, with no accounting for the difference in a body’s shape as it’s carrying more weight, is so dead on! It’s literally impossible to design for EVERY body when doing plus. I’m a huge advocate for the idea of designing plus size based on shape (apple, triangle, pear, hourglass) but it’s just not cost efficient for most designers to create 4 different fits of the same garment 🙁 It feels like there’s no winning solution here.

  • I have an amazing color blocking dress, size extra small, I would have bought that one even if it was ugly, cause hey, extra small? But it’s gorgeous and it was on sale few years ago, but again, extra small, what size is their extra large? So the range goes from xs, to 3xl or 4xl!

  • Yesss!! And it’s not even just different brands, it can be different sizes in one brand! For example, just clothes that I have from Torrid I have 3 different sizes depending on the item. To me that seems crazy!

  • You know what really, really, really, irks me about plus sizing? Sports fan clothes. Hey man, I’m cool being off a size here and there, but I got a 3XL NASCAR tank one time, no joke, the fit was a ladies SMALL. It was for about a 28″ waist to have a natural fit.

    Same thing with NFL clothes. There is an adorable Bucs shirt I really, really, really, want. It’s not even meant to be tight, their model has it on loose.
    Checked Fanatics “plus size” sizing chart… 3XL was 32″ for a “loose fit” top.

    I’m really, really, really sick and tired of being a HUGE sports fan (pun intended 😀 ) and having essentially nothing larger than a size 6/8 at the biggest. We are a market that is hungry for sports clothes.

    Hand-to-god, I ordered one tank in 2XL for loose fit, sent it back, got a 3XL, the fit was the same, it was just longer.

    LONGER. Great, snake skin tight, go up a size because clearly, the size up means “I want to cover my knees”.

    • And let me tell you, as a fan of NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR and MMA – my shopping for my sports needs alone would float a market for it. 😀

      (Edit: And I don’t even get the option to shop around, most often, if I want the “good stuff” or say on the right side of the law. Fanatics pretty much has the market cornered as a monopoly for online sports clothing sales… and before you say “go to your local store” – I would, but they don’t carry plus sizes on their end caps…)

  • I just stopped buying clothes. I am so sick of not finding clothes that I like; I stick with black and only purchase basic pieces. I have one pair of jeans, two tshirts (I hate tshirts) and lots of work dresses, skirts, sweaters, and blouses. I have nothing to wear on the weekend. I wear business attire on vacation.

  • I work in fashion and it’s not just plus size it all sizing. There is not standard or organization that comes up with the sizing. It’s all up to the company and if they want to do vanity sizing or not. I am not saying it right I think it’s very silly not have standard but that’s what it is. Time to fight for change.

  • It’s the worst, right? When shopping online I always have to be prepared to send items back. So I end up buying clothes a season in advance just to make sure that I will get to wear it when I want to wear it. When I don’t want to play roulette I like to buy local. I know that sounds so old fashion but local the local designers that I buy from just get it.

  • I also hate online shopping and I check and double check size charts constantly. Nothing worse than ordering a 2X thinking it’s an 18/20 and having it actually be like a size 12/14 (cough Unique Vintage cough)

  • Was also looking for jeggings the other day. Went into about 4 stores and they didn’t stock anything above 16. I was like to one of the shop attendants, ah it’s alright, I see your store just doesn’t accommodate for the booty. Shame really.

  • I have tops and dresses ranging L through XXXL and pants/shorts in XL, XXL, and 18-22. It’s so unbelievably frustrating to have to try on every single item in several sizes every single time. A total emotional rollercoaster.

  • What is worse is being short and plus size. If I go up in size to fit my chest and waist the it is usually 10 miles long and looks like a nightgown on me…and that is just for shirts. Don’t get me started on pants or dresses. Ughh, the struggle is extra real!

  • The issue is the fit model. Each company has a fit model whom they use as a base to grade their sizes up and down. After working in the industry for a wholesale company I can tell you that I don’t believe the fit models a lot of these companies are using are truly plus size. They are also grading up from their smaller sizes as if that will make the clothes fit women who need a bigger size. Another thing is the size charts for a lot of these companies are just guidelines. You can tell which companies actually use plus size fit models. The clothes always seem to fit better.

  • Went in House of Fraser today on Centrale Shopping Centre in South London. I asked four different store assistance to point me to the section I would be able to find plus size clothing. Two replied they don’t know, the third seeked information from the fourth, who responded with uncertainty and a scornful facial expression, with a final suggestion of a line called Linea, because they are big she said. At that point my stomach was sick I walked out.

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