History tells us, that the origins of size labels can be found in 19th century, looking all the way back to Napoleon and the Civil War, when the US demanded a sizing system for men’s uniforms for mass production. The sizes were based on the chest measurement, and rest was calculated assuming, that the rest of the body was in proportion.

In 1939 the government funded a project, where the weight and 58 measurements were taken from 50 000 women. The goal was to look for a measurement, similar to men’s chest measurement, that could’ve been used as a reference when predicting the sizes of other body parts. All women were white, poor and probably malnourished, and the group wasn’t too diverse. Since e.g. bust and hip sizes vary a great deal among women, it was difficult to find one general number to each size.

Because of this issue a system was created in 1958, that had the sizes 8 to 42, combined with plusses, minuses, letters, etc. These numbers were completely random, and despite of an update, the system was withdrawn in 1983.


Brands and consumers; a ring fight or an alliance?

Due to that withdrawal sizing was handed over to manufacturers and brands, and not all consumers are always satisfied with the selections.

“Clothing brands have their own “ideal bodies”, that they design clothes for. Different “ideal bodies” are represented as categories to consumers.” Sarmad Ismail from Mistor Oy tells us.

Following a global, or even continent specific sizing standards have been set aside. This, because it simply does not work. In Europe there still is a C-standard, in which the length of a garment grows along with the width. One could determine, that here is the reason why pants bought from plus sized section needs to be taken to a tailor to be shortened and tall, slim people can find it difficult to find enough length in pants and sleeves.

”The issue with the modern small, medium, etc., is that in some point length has been forgotten from the equation. A grown human being doesn’t grow in length if his/her width changes.” Valtteri Lindholm from Varusteleka explains the issues with sizing.

Still to this day brands are trying their very best to look for combining factors for their sizing and labeling. In most cases standards aren’t convergent but are brand specific.

”The variation in sizes is due to each brand having their own sizing and dimensioning. In Stockmann’s own clothing lines sizing is based on N-2001 study produced by UEF’s Physiology institution and Textile and Fashion, where the measurement definitions and methods were based on international standards, Passeli-size charts and visions of experts in clothing business.” Stockmann’s garment technician Katja Sääkslahti says.

Brands, merchants and manufacturers are offering multiple ways in order to help the consumer pick their size. Let the ones already mentioned function as an example: Varusteleka measures each garment they sell and tell the actual measurements in store and online. In Stockmann’s online store one can find information about each brand and their sizing, and in store the consumer gets to be pampered by a dressing consultant.

”The realities of e-commerce most likely will force online stores to pick consistent standards and compare their garments to them.” Lindholm believes.

You could say, that every brand does their best to help you with what they got. If a size, that you think isn’t “yours”, doesn’t fit, it is not because of a weight gain or loss, but the sizing and dimensioning of that one brand.

“It is highly important for us to listen to the customers and answer demands. We follow customer behavior and react to feedback.” Sääkslahti notes. So, it is important to give feedback.


Sizing and men

”It’s sad how often women see their body through sizing.” says pin-up beauty Bebe La Vanille, and no wonder. In commercials we see Mary who fits in size 6 after eating certain cereal for a week, models are size zero, etc. What about men?

”Finnish guys like to buy clothes that are too big, everybody is at least a size L. Big size represents adulthood and muscular body type, and then there are these “the ones weighing under 100 kilos (~200lbs) are to be weight at the child health center”. These tell that there is quite a strong defense towards overweight.” Lindholm clarifies men’s shopping.

Consistency and brand loyalty are also important to men.

“When men find a clothing line or a brand that fits then, they are extremely loyal to it. They are very careful to buy new brands, because they have that little fear in the back of their heads that the new clothes wouldn’t fit as well as the old brand they think to fit well.” Ismail sums up men’s shopping behaviour.

According to Sääkslahti men might evaluate sizes with different bases than women do. E.g. sleeve length might be the primary factor to define the right size. Lindholm agrees, he believes actual measurements and finding out the right size are more appealing to men than prancing in front of a mirror.


Personal investigations

”Size M is a vague concept. Less and less it means anything concrete. When a store goes international, there has to be other bases to choose a size than the concept of letters. For example one can compare how the size M is completely different in America, Europe and Asia.” Ismail says.

I wanted to do a little personal investigation inspired by Ismail. I remembered, that I have a dress in my closet, that is a size M. It’s bought from a Finnish, medium large store. I tried it on and it still fit me perfectly. I went through my other dresses and their labels. The biggest I found was the size US22 (EU52). That dress was bought from a large international shop, and fit just as well as the size M dress. Since I didn’t have any dresses bought from Asia, I downloaded a popular shopping app, and started browsing. After comparing my measurements that I took with TailorGuide, I noticed that with most merchants my size was 5XL.

It wasn’t due to a measurement error or a sudden 10lbs gain, but the simple fact that sizes truly are just numbers. So now I have dresses from M to 5XL in my closet. By the way, I recommend to read the interview of Deena Shoemaker about size variation in our previous post.


So, in the future, do yourself a favor and order your clothes based on your real measurements, not size labels. You can measure yourself easily with TailorGuide, and you don’t even need a measuring tape. You can use the measuring results to get size recommendations when shopping with out partners or compare your measurements with size charts in those online shops that haven’t enabled TailorGuide yet.


We interviewed: The owner of Varusteleka Valtteri Lindholm, Stockmann’s garment technician Katja Sääkslahti, the head of Mistor Oy - online dressing service for men - Sarmad Ismail and pin-up beauty Bebe La Vanille who adventures in several blog posts.

As history source: Why women's clothing sizes don't make any sense (Youtube)


Coming Up!

Next up is talk about plus sizes. Features e.g. Lady Bella Gasell winner Bebe La Vanille, consumer Suvi S. and comments from multiple brand representatives.
Stay fab, stay tuned!