Tag Archives: Target demographic

Clothes Sizing in the UK – why it is like it is?

“How many sizes are you on the UK High Street?” We recently asked our Facebook fans that very question and there wasn’t a single response that stated just one size.

Society has known for a while that no one person is just one ‘standard’ size, but being several sizes can result in confusion and dissatisfaction when shopping.  So, how did the current sizing system in the UK come about?

Clothes sizing in the UK - timelineBefore mass production, clothes and alterations were made by either the local tailor or a family member handy with a needle and thread.  Therefore, fit was never an issue and the notion of ‘standard sizes’ hadn’t even been conceived.

As the population increased, and industrialisation allowed for clothing production on a mass scale, a way of producing clothes that fitted the maximum number of people whilst delivering economically efficient processes was needed.

And soon enough, some clever soul with an aptitude for anthropometry noted that the deviation of key body measurements of the general population was relatively small, and could be increased and decreased in linear increments.  This, along with the introduction of the paper pattern, led to paper grading.  Each ‘grade’ was then labelled, resulting in the formation of sizes and the standard sizing system.

In 1957, with this process firmly established by clothing manufacturers, the National Joint Clothing Council compiled the first British Standard of Women’s Measurements and Sizes.  The anthropometric data in this publication formed the basis of size guides for manufacturers and retailers alike, and was used until 1982 when it was replaced by the British Standard ISO 3635 Size designation of clothes – Definitions and body measurement procedure.

The new Standard utilised the same data from 1957, but defined a set of sizes from 8 to 32, quoted in centimetres. It was not, however, compulsory to use.  As a result, retailers soon started to customise the “standard sizes” in order to flatter their target market, i.e. two garments from two retailers could be the same size but their dimensions could differ greatly.  This practice is what we now refer to as ‘vanity sizing’.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as shopping became a pastime and demand increased, retailers globalised.  Firstly, in an effort to cut costs and increase profit margins, they sent manufacturing abroad.  And secondly, they were expanding into other countries, taking their products to markets where their reputation preceded them.  Yet, with each new country, a new target demographic was identified and sizing guide produced, again using the same “standard” sizing system of either the retailer or the host country.

By 2001, ‘vanity sizing’ and the differences in fit between clothes of the same size were beginning to get out of hand and prompted the European Union to issue a new Standard (BS EN 13402) which intended to replace all existing Standards in member countries with one in which actual measurements (cm) for bust, waist and hips are used.   Again, the anthropometric data used to define a size was not updated and the Standard was not compulsory, which means to date no country, let alone retailer, has adopted this Standard.

Today, in 2013, the anthropometric data utilised in the production of clothes is still the small census from 1957 and the “standard” sizes are becoming more and more disparate with the progression of vanity sizing.

As you can see, the Retail Industry has changed significantly over the last 250 years.  Our body shapes have changed greatly too; due to changing lifestyles, societal pressures, diets, and merging cultures.  Yet it’s each to its own (size guide) for the retailers, and shoppers are stuck with the age-old notion of being just one size.  Consequently, size-related returns are increasing rapidly, costing both parties.

We think it’s about time something changed.  High Street Fit Finder is tackling vanity sizing on the High Street with its shopping comparison site that uses the retailer’s size guides collectively.  It enables customers to see what size they are in each store and allows retailers to tackle the issue of fit together.  All we need is for you to spread the word and use highstreetfitfinder.com to buy your jeans (more clothing items coming soon) and perhaps bit by bit we can change the shape of clothes sizing in the UK.

Many thanks to Natalie Baines for editing this blog post.