Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Size matters

The Australian clothing sizes debate has been raging for several years. And it's about to kick off again with the release of a new story in the June 2009 edition of CHOICE magazine, out Monday. It includes the above ‘secret shopper’ video shot by CHOICE journalist Kate Browne, which demonstrates the dramatic sizing variations between some Australian brands. In the interim, CHOICE has gone down an interesting route for word of mouth promotion. The magazine invited some fashion bloggers and writers to attend a fashion roundtable discussion of the subject, which was staged earlier today in Surry Hills. Frockwriter was both interviewed for the story and invited to the round-table but unfortunately was unable to attend due to work commitments – and an accelerating flu. But here is the thrust of CHOICE's findings, which touch on vanity sizing and the perennial dearth of larger sizes in the designer end of the market. CHOICE concludes that clothing size irregularities highlight the need for a national sizing strategy. Update 28/05: and here is the complete report, now live on CHOICE's website.

Bloggers/journalists in attendance this morning were Helen Lee, Natalie Smith (The Vine), Jenna Dunne (The Grand Social), Ragtrader editor Tracey Porter and Melissa Hoyer.

Key points from the CHOICE story (as per a press release):

• There have been no uniform sizes for women or men’s clothing since the previous standard was dropped two years ago. Despite a heavier population the most recent data collected for the women’s sizing standard was in 1975.

• The fashion industry currently bases its sizing on previous sales history and marketing hunches about the size and shape of customer they feel best reflects their brand.

• Sizing irregularity is also affecting the online shopping market with retailers saying Australia lags behind the United States, United Kingdom and Europe in this area.

• “Vanity sizing” is also a well-known practice in the $2.8 billion dollar industry, with generous sizes designed to entice the consumer into buying the garment because they feel flattered to fit into a size smaller than their usual one.

• Some fashion designers admit they are reluctant in some cases to make their labels available in larger sizes. The industry body, Council of the Textile and Fashion Industries Australia (TFIA), says this policy can send negative body image messages to younger consumers.

• Men generally have it better than women when it comes to clothes shopping because their clothing is generally measured using specific waist and neck measurements in inches. There is a standard for children’s clothing sizes currently used in Australia.

Coupla points.

First up, as I outlined on Twitter earlier today, the figure of A$2.8billion seems out of whack.

CHOICE is citing manufacturing – as opposed to retail – figures. In frockwriter's opinion, given that we’re taking about a bunch of retailers who are selling clothes to consumers – a high percentage of whom either didn’t make the clothes they are selling, or did not make them in Australia – it seems a little pointless to be quoting the manufacturing output figure.

CHOICE’s source for this figure is the Building Innovative Capability report, which was released by the TCF Review Committee in September 2008.

The report was commissioned by the federal government and the analyst was Professor Roy Green from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

According to the report, Australian TCF (textile, clothing, footwear) output is worth A$2.8billion, with exports of A$1.6billion. The value increases by A$7.5billion once you add in retailing and wholesaling. The two figures together provide a much more realistic picture of the Australian retail clothing market – as reflected by an independent analyst such as IBISWorld, which predicts the market will reach A$11.39billion this year.

CHOICE also mentions that the recent federal budget embraced plans to seek advice from the National Measurement Institute on the costs and benefits of forming a voluntary industry sizing standard. This was in fact one of the recommendations of the TCF Review Committee.

The clothes size debate has the potential to be quite controversial, especially when you factor in the ongoing brouhaha over the “average” Australian size, not to mention broach the subject of larger sizes and the reluctance of (most) designers to cater to this market. Why are designers reluctant to cater to larger sizes? Because the so-called “plus size” clothing market has traditionally been very separate to the high end fashion market and up until now, never the twains have met.

I looked at this subject on two specific occasions last year on my Fully Chic blog on

The first was on March 14th, a post which included an interview with US designer Zac Posen, who had just delivered a capsule collab collection to Australian Target.

I noted the fact that Posen's Target range did not extend to a size 16, citing Target’s experience with the previous Stella McCartney range. Target found that the larger sizes just didn’t sell well. Much was made at the time of the leftover McCartney stock. Anecdotally, most of that leftover stock did indeed appear to be the larger sizes.

“So much for the continual complaints by larger women that there is no fashionable clothing in their sizes” I noted – a comment which prompted a minor backlash, with several women claiming that my tone had been “snarky”.

Yet others admitted that they are so fed up with stores not stocking fashionable clothing in larger sizes, that they just didn’t bother checking out Posen’s Target range.

One week later, I wrote a post about Australian designer Leona Edmiston doubling her dress size range to a 24 - for her online boutique only.

The post included an interview with Edmiston’s husband and business partner Jeremy Ducker, who revealed that the chief reason why they were only making the larger sizes available online was because their research indicated larger women felt uncomfortable going into fashion boutiques (a sentiment which was certainly borne out in several reader comments – because, some women claimed, they feel as if shop assistants are looking down on and belittling them).

The comments on that second post exploded and the debate became quite vitriolic.

Edmiston went to ground, declining all other interview requests. I learned at the time that she was nervous about being labelled a “plus size” designer.

There have been several small initiatives since this time including Sydney fashion label Billion Dollar Babes designing two collaboration collections for City Chic, a chain which specializes in larger sizes.


Kat George said...

I've got to say I'm so completely torn on this debate, but when I try and rationalise it, the whole thing boils down to one point in my mind, and that is, quite simply, lump it.

The fashion industry is unforgiving. I've felt more than uncomfortable on several occasions when moving in fashion circles because of my unsually small stature and curvy body (large hips and boobs, small waist). I find it so hard to find designer clothes that fit me properly, and I've found myself in distress on numerous occasions as I've been faced with a change room full of clothes that simply don't fit.

The first fact of the matter is, the women that high fashion labels are aimed at are generally thin. The second fact is that 'on trend' clothing, such as mini, body con dresses, tight jeans and revealing cut outs, generally do not interest bigger women. (Don't bite my head off for saying this, I realise it's a generalisation, that's why i said 'generally' twice. There are exceptions to the rule). The third and most important fact is that women who want to be fashionable will find a way around it. Just like I find a way around being a gross little midget, so too will bigger women who crave fashion find a way to satisfy that craving and look divine while doing it.

For-Tomorrow Online Store / Blog said...

Its interesting that the round table consisted entirely of women and that there was only one note regarding mens sizing by waist/neck.

I think this affects men as much as women and that there should be more consideration towards the opposite sex.

Perhaps if there is another round table a wider input could be put together.

Some designers make their clothes a certain size on purpose, while other designers don't actually design and rather collate images from other designers (and possibly some ideas they consider original), give them to manufacturers in Bali/China, where the sizing is irrevokably designated without their input.

I'm also in agreement with Kat.

dnee said...

Forgive my ignorance, but how will national standardised sizing help?

Currently, shoppers can learn which brands work for them, and can find any number of different sizes and cuts from different brands that will fit them.
It might take a bit longer, but it works.

What benefit would there be if there was only ONE standard fit model for a 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 18 and 20.
Considering women's bodies come in all shapes and sizes, it seems to me a standardised fit system would result in FEWER women being able to find clothes that fit, not more.

A Time To Be Selfish said...

I can completely understand why a designer like Leona Edminston would be apprehensive of the 'plus size' label. Given how expensive some of her fabric is, you'd have to wonder, unless plus sized garments cost more, would the price of producing these pieces be borne by all of her customers, regardless of size?
In the same vein as Kat, what works on a size 8 often doesn't on a size 18, so for many designers, it wouldn't just be about offering their clothing in larger sizes, but completely rearranging their vision to accommodate bigger girls. Plenty of designers already make clothes for a specific body type (the example that comes instantly to mind is how well Ellery clothes fit shorter girls). Size isn't the only thing that matters when it comes to fit, distribution of body fat is also really key. It should be about seeking out clothes by a person who works with a shape that is similar to yours, and if you don't have the initiative to go and find such designers, then maybe you really just don't care that much.

Patty Huntington said...

for-tomorrow -

two men in fact attended the round-table. i didn't mention them (or several other women in attendance) because i simply listed the bloggers/journos who had been invited. true, those invited were all women.

but FYI also present were laurence grayson from CHOICE and sean o’byrne from Mark Communications

For-Tomorrow Online Store / Blog said...

Thanks Patty, i had received an email from Choice today just clarifying this and also open to input as well.

I'll be following it up.

All good.


It will never happen. I can see why many people would love standard sizing. Imagine shopping online, seeing a skirt and confidently selecting the size, knowing it's a guaranteed fit.
From a designing point of view it would be an absolute nightmare.

Julie Parker said...

I may be being optimistic or even naive, but I hope the path to national sizing does continue & eventuate. I work with boys, girls, men & women with negative body image & many consistently report that they find the sizing of clothes confusing, frustrating & damaging to their relationship with their body. I think that some consistency would go a long way to helping people feel more confident & sure of themselves when shopping. Everyone wants to feel handsome/beautiful & what they/we wear plays a large role in this. Having some confidence in the size you are when out & about choosing nice clothes for yourself must surely support this.

Courtney Awesome said...

Yo Patti it's Jenna Dunne not Gemma Dunne from The grand Social
Kat, you are not a gross midget!
Meh i'm pretty sure everyone is wearing clothes so it's not such a huge deal to find shit that fits and yeah, size 18 and size 8 are two very different worlds. i've been a size 16 and i sure as shit wouldnt wear the same clothes i wore as a 16 that i do in an 8/10 size.

Patty Huntington said...

fixed. sorry!

Frockaholic said...

As I have said before, it is neither practical or reasonable for designers to be made to comply with a 'standard'. I believe that designers should be able to self-determine how their creative vision evolves into the garments they make, and how that is reflected in the sizing that they choose. If for not other reasons than 1. How do you enforce it, and 2. How do you standardise all the product imported into this country.

However, as an e-tailer, I think it is woeful that there hasn't been a wide-spread study of Australia for years and that sizing is most definitely the biggest issue that we deal with on a day to day basis. 95% of our returns, despite our best efforts, are because of sizing issues. I think that a sizing study to establish benchmark sizes that can be used for comparison is the way to go - that is, designer X produces garments that are a little bigger than the benchmark size 10, or whatever. A benchmark that can be used as a voluntary standard would be an excellent tool for the entire industry and I imagine would particularly suit high-street, fast fashion style labels.

I also agree with some of the previous comments about knowing how to choose your labels for your body shape, and that no sizing study producing an 'average Australian size x' is going to accommodate the infinite range of shapes of men and women, and that it is up to the retailer to ensure that they inform their customer about the sizing discrepancies between brands. Still, a benchmark would go a long way to ensuring that buyers (wholesale) and consumers are able to compare 'apples with apples'.

Fashion Hayley said...

As a larger female with a passion for fashion I must admit I do find it hard to buy designer items. It's much easier for me to simply buy from chain stores which do cater to me with size 14's and 16's. Having standardised sizes though won't really help the situation, as designers will always design for the "ideal" fashion size 0 figure. As Kat said, there are things you can or can't wear if your short, fat or what not, I actually think its up to the individual to work out what works best for them and what stores/designers carry sizes/shapes that suit them. There is nothing you can standardise as there are just so many shapes and sizes it just won't work, someone will always be left out.

Meg said...

I myself have been frustrated many a time by inconsistent sizing across brands. To be fair though, it isn't an Australia only problem, it seems to be an issue all over the world. But it really is nice to have it highlighted, especially since so many women put so much weight on their "size". I know so many women who won't buy particular brands because they run small. Personally I've always preferred the approach of menswear, where everything is based on waist measurement. Surely that would simplify things a lot :)

Jodes said...

The data is out of date, there's no doubt about that..just look at the height and size of your average grandmother and compare it with the (usually) much taller grandchildren generation. I've got my grandmother's plus size figure, but five inches more of height. I can see that the children of friends are going to be at least my height (5ft8in) if not taller.

Having a better idea of size issues will allow for better choices and more appropriate sizing....if the designers will use it. I have my doubts given the reluctance to pursue the opportunities afforded to them in the incredibly underresourced plus size fashion market.

(re: Stella range...the clothing was okay, but there wasn't much publicity around it being available in larger sizes and I think many presumed that it wouldn't be. Much of the Target store is devoted to straight sizes, with the usual OH GHODS NO NOT THEM small section for plus sizes at the back. Trying to get an affordable basic knitted item from Target this year was impossible...and very frustrating, given they'd popped that section next to ours in the store.) Here, fat chicks, you have uhhh, two styles of knitwear. Oh you lovely thin girls, have fifty, mwah.

Mirage said...

Plenty of designers already make clothes for a specific body type.Size isn't the only thing that matters when it comes to fit, distribution of body fat is also really key.

The Librarian said...

Also: labels on internationally shipped designer clothing don't accurately reflect local equivalents. The best/most accurate multi-size label I've seen is from H&M, because they stock in so many countries they have to be accurate across the continents. But put say, a Lisa Ho multi-size label next to the H&M one and be prepared for a laugh. Lisa baby, an Aussie size 6 is NOT a US size 10. There is a one size leap between us, not 2. This nonsense further hurts the efforts of shoppers and in the end, the designer's bottom line.

Me, I'm so used to the labels being out of whack that I just look at the cut and try stuff on anyway, no matter what the numbers say. I am a 16 but have Missoni, See by Chloe, Alberta Ferretti, Viktor and Rolf and many other designers in my closet because I don't let the label dictate what will fit me.

As for the Stella 4 Target range, the line's proportions were massive and the size 16s had far too much material volume to be flattering. We iz already big, plz don't make uz biggr. Yes, the big girls knew there were over size 12s available (because you had to walk past the Stella to get to the fatty mcfat section) but the clothes were utterly shapeless on. We have standards too, you know.

But come now, let's talk about the new travesty in sizing: I wear a size 11 shoe and it used to be that retailers understood that it was equivalent to a 42 European. Now when I ask for an 11, I get given 41s. Can someone explain this new conspiracy to me before I bitchslap the next shopgirl who tries to convince me that I am wrong about what shoe size I have taken for the last 20 years? Ta.

p.s. Anyone who wants an antidote to poorly photographed plus-size fashions is welcome to check out my blog, citing the best of the best internationally.

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