Personal Blog

Fun with Numbers - Women's Clothing Sizes

Posted by K Krasnow Waterman on Sun, May 20, 2007 @ 22:05 PM
The last few years, there's been a lot of discussion about women's body image, how destructive it is to many young women's psyches to think they have to look like supermodels.  To counter that perception, in 2002 Jamie Lee Curtis famously allowed near-naked photos of her over-40 body to appear in More Magazine. A year or so ago, Dove soap began an ad series called Campaign for Real Beauty, featuring an array of beautiful but mixed size women.  This year, retired model and TV talk personality Tyra Banks admitted to a 30 pound weight gain and talked repeatedly about the need for acceptance of more realistic body images.

Yesterday, while web-surfing for something else, I came across some interesting and related information.  Who knew that the Department of Commerce's National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the guys who test things like the accuracy of fingerprint matching technology, are also interested in women's clothing?  They explain that standardized sizes are a relatively recent phenomenon, since people used to make their own clothes.  When the issue of standardizing ready-to-wear clothes arose in the late 1940's, NIST (then NBS) actually appointed an Acting-Secretary of the Sub-Committee on Body Measurements for Wearing Apparel Sizes and Measurements. The resulting standard remains in place today.  Since people have changed over the last 60 years, a new measurement study was begun in the 1990's.

In 2004, a company called TCSquared, published preliminary data after measuring more than 6,000 women in the US.  Although they subdivided the women into groups, I've averaged the results below:

                                         Bust        Waist        Hips

Women 18-35                        40.2        33.5        42.5
Women 36-65                        42.7        36.3        44.6

Women's clothing used to come in sizes 6-16 and, now, come in sizes 0-22.  Either way, the sizes in the middle, the ones you'd expect to fit the average person are 10-12.  But, here's a comparison to the size 12's of some of today's most successful manufacturer's of women's clothes:

                                          Bust         Waist       Hips

Women 18-35                        40.2         33.5         42.5
Women 36-65                        42.7         36.3         44.6
Talbots                                   38            30            40
Gap                                        38.5         31.5         40.75
Ann Taylor Loft                      38.5         31.0         41.0
Lauren (Ralph Lauren)            39.5         31.5         42.5

The dimensions are similar for JCrew, Brooks Brothers, Liz Claiborne, etc.  And, what size would you have to buy if you were the average-sized 18 to 35 year-old?  For these brands, either a 14 (L) or 16 (XL).  And, if you're an average-sized 36 to 65 year-old?  For these brands, either an 18 (XL) or a 20 (XXL). 

No wonder women have body issues.  The major manufacturers just keep telling average sized women that they're Large or Extra Large.

Topics: womens measurements, womens clothing sizes, b2c customer service