What's in a Size?

One of the most exasperating pastimes is in the confines of a dressing room, don’t you think? Tugging at a garment, flitting between sizes. The least looked-forward-to bit about shopping, for me personally.

But with a plethora of brands that are eradicating the concept of sizes today, I find myself wondering why we ever had to try to fit into a standard size in the first place. How did these arbitrary sizes come to be a standard for us diverse beings, each shaped uniquely by our experiences, culture and genetics? Size is just a number after all, but it has evolved into a delusional label which has led to many an obsession and restriction today.

"People are so different from one another that it is an unreasonable expectation that our clothes should be sized uniformly."


Clothes were made-to-measure before industrialisation and mass-production took over in the 19th century. Following the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s, the military began mass producing uniforms which was later adopted to efficiently build ready-to-wear suits for men.

The standard sizing system for men, however, did not translate as simply for women.

After World War I (1900’s), women wanted access to affordable and trendy fashion. As manufacturers adapted to this changing market, sizing was a problem and they were losing millions of dollars (estimated 10mn) in alterations. And hence the first attempt at a universal standard sizing system was made by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 1939, to aid efficiency within the fashion industry. Finally, the standard was developed on the basis of analysing measurements of approximately 15000 women.

At the onset of industrialisation, it may have seemed like an efficient solution, but it didn’t exactly solve the problem. Standardization of women’s sizing did not take an important factor into consideration - shape.

To think of it, for every brand to cater to every shape, they would have had to make thousands of different sizes, which would be inefficient, unprofitable, and quite likely impossible. Not only was it a skewed system to begin with, but an unsustainable one in the long run. Each brand, each category, and each country evolved its sizing to cater to its core consumer. Can you imagine how much production (and confusion) that has led to today?

Multiple brands and sizes + fast fashion trends + mass production = Alarming Wastage!

(Fact: 30% of all clothes globally are never sold - WGSN).

It is evident now, that having so many sizes is not only misleading but one of the major causes of mass production, driving customers towards purchasing disposable, lower-quality goods that are more likely to end up in a landfill.

The more obvious, yet equally jarring repercussions of the concept of sizing has led us to believe that we have to 'fit in' - physically, socially and culturally. Brands have been ‘vanity sizing’, assigning smaller sizes to clothing than is really the case, as a tactic, presuming that women are more likely to buy something that makes them feel thinner, and thus, good about themselves (been there, done that), further proliferating the need to feel small in a culture that celebrates ‘thinness’.

While there are platforms like TrueFit that aim to help shoppers to narrow down the sizes true to them - a commendable effort - it still remains a guessing game at times. Hence, the multiple returns.

Not all hope is lost though.

With the new age of the 21st century embracing more diversity, inclusivity, and longevity by the second, size per se is quickly ceasing in relevance.

"Buy well, choose less, make it last."

-Vivienne Westwood

Starting to see real shapes on the ramp, online stores, lookbooks and magazines, feels like breaking out of an uncomfortable and suffocating box doesn’t it? To be able to breathe and take up the space we deserve, and have always been entitled to. It has taken many iterations and evolutions to get here. To lean into our bodies and feel good in the way we choose to express ourselves through this beautiful spectrum of fashion.

By showing authenticity and creating products that have built-in value and longevity, brands are creating a new focus for new age luxury. With new technologies of 3D body scanning and digital changing rooms, we are at the advent of a new era of customised clothing banishing the stigma around ‘plus’ size. One that doesn't cause an existential crisis due to a mere number. Your clothes should fit you, no matter your gender, colour, size or age, and not the other way round. Period.

New fabrics that are natural, long-lasting and recyclable, hence sustainable, are being adopted by brands like Gucci, Fendi, Patagonia, Tentree, Everlane, Pangaia, and Adidas. No surprises. Then there are brands like Mettamade, Sleeper, Summersalt, Universal Standard (to name a few) that cater to different shapes and sizes, either with a wider range or with a sizeless range.

Sizeless fashion is the evolution that we (and the planet!) have longed for.

Imagine a world where we didn't have to shuffle from one size to another, feel the need to shrink down or bulk up, where we didn’t have to plan size-level inventory day in and day out, and pile up on clothes that only eventually add to the industry's growing contribution to landfills.

What a wonderful world that would be.

Slowly but surely, we are building that world.

Some thought provoking facts and apps that you may want to read about.

With 85% of post-consumer textile waste ending up in landfill, extending a product's lifespan by just nine months can reduce its environmental impact by 30%, according to the WRAP Design for Longevity report.

Personal styling app Cladwell, which has raised $3m in seed funding, helps users discover their ideal wardrobe.Similar to the Clean Out Bag by clothing brand Brass, the app encourages users to re-evaluate excess clothing.

Pixibo is a solution for retailers, finding your fit when you shop online.

Curious about the connection between size labels and self esteem and eating disorders? Size-less Clothing in Eating Disorder Recovery: Erasing the Stigma of Numbers on Garment Tags

Go a step further, pique your sci-fi digital fashion interest, check out Auroboros.

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