Petite No More: As Americans Get Bigger, Clothing Sizes Get Smaller

Lately, I’ve received tons of questions from petite shoppers who find that the current American clothing size system is skewed larger. And, as much as it hurts to admit it, they’re right.

The Boston Globe recently featured an article on this very topic and found that as Americans have increased in size (along with our crazy obsession with being thin)  clothing sizes have decreased. So what was once a size 14 now is a size 8, a size 8 is a size, etc.

While Americans have statistically gotten larger, women’s clothing has gotten smaller—that is, if the numbers on the size labels are to be believed. It’s no secret that retailers have been playing to women’s vanity for years by downsizing the sizes on garment labels, but the practice has reached an extreme in recent months with the introduction of the sizes ‘‘double zero” and ‘‘extra, extra small.”

If vanity sizing continues on this path, analysts say, it is only a matter of time before clothing sizes are available in negative integers.

In this age of internet shopping, I say they should bring back the standardized sizing system they chucked in 1983. If that means we’re all a size bigger — so be it.

One of the reasons why we tend to look like a hot mess is because we focus way too much on size and not on what fits our body (low rise jeans anyone?)

I have celebrity stylist friends who cut out the size tags of garments (especially ones from French and Japanese designers) before giving them to clients because their clients would freak out if they knew they really wore a size 44 (US 8/10).

We’ve got to let this size thing go.

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    Catherine Brock

    As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine,, Refinery29, and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

    Blog Comments

    I absolutely agree. I have to laugh at the e-mails that circulate about how Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14 dress. That’s right—and a 14 was much, much smaller then—probably equivalent to today’s 10. When I first started sewing clothes back in the late ‘60s, I used some of my (then-tiny) mother’s patterns. She had some blouse patterns in a size 10—which these days probably would be a 4. Numbers don’t matter; fit does. Which is why I buy trousers ranging from a 4 to an 8 and don’t worry about what the tag says.

    It was never in my cards to be a tall (or even average heighted) woman.  I’m 4’10” and am now completely sized out of most clothing lines.  I struggle with finding adult clothing that fits.  Fixing the sizing standards isn’t going to help people like me, but they’d make this sizing mess easier to manage.

    One of my first posts is about the effort and futility of having sizing standards put in place – The average shopping woman just doesn’t want to hear about it.  She’d rather be blissfully unaware that even though the number’s been staying the same over the years, her body hasn’t.  And while I may know my actual measurements from constantly having things altered, the reality is, most women haven’t a clue about their waist size and hip measurements.  Change her mind and you’ve got a done deal.

    I am totally frustrated by today’s sizes for women! I am 5’8” and 135lbs and used to wear a perfect size 8- -no questions asked! And I thought that was pretty good. There is no way I am a size 4, but today that is what some of my clothes say!!  When I was in high school eons ago and weighed 110 lbs I wore a junior size 5. That also made sense because I was pretty skinny back then. Paradoxically I always wore a medium in my tops, but now I find myself having to buy large or even X-large tops- -even a XXlarge in one style!  I wear a 36C bra and have not changed since college! So I feel like a moose when I have to buy a top and I know the bottom sizes are ridiculously small!!  When are we going to get back to some normalcy in women’s clothing sizes!!!???

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    I couldn’t agree more. As a teen, I worked for the Gap. I was their size 1. In the 10 years since then, my build hasn’t changed much. But today,  I’m (as Amy put it) “sized out” of most of their clothes. Being on the tall end of the height scale (6’0”) and built more like Popeye’s wife than Beyonce, it’s hard to walk into a normal store and buy clothes because low and mid-range retailers are no longer even trying to cater to true 1s and 0s. Now, the Gap (as well as stores like J Crew, Express, etc.) start their clothes at what was a 2 or a 4 10 years ago. And of course, complaints about such things usually fall on deaf ears because, for whatever reason, if you’re skinny in this country, you have nothing to complain about.

    This! I have been 5’3″, 113 lbs since high school. I used to wear a 2/4 (S or sometimes even M in shirt size), and my size was available in ever style.

    Now, I am a ooP or XXS or some other ridiculous combination of micro-sounding characters. Stores like Ann Taylor Loft (I am essentially sized out of the regular Ann Taylor) and Banana Republic make about 10% of their styles in this “micro-“sizes, so I am left with slim pickings (if I’m lucky enough to find anything in the store!). This is ridiculous. Many women are much smaller than me.

    At this point, I will have to go to the kids’ section OR upgrade to expensive brands like Theory in order to find clothes that actually fit me.

    It’s no better in the UK where I live. I am 5’3 with 34FF-31-38 measurements and in tops I often need a UK size 8/10 which are the two smallest sizes they do over here (US size 4/6). If I were any slimmer up top I would be ‘sized out’ in many shops as you put it.

    I also actually think that waist sizes have gotten smaller in the past 10 years. When I was a teenager in the early noughties and had a 31/32 inch waist I wore a UK size 14 (US 8) in trousers and skirts. I was never a 16 and now sometimes I am. I have that typical ‘apple shaped’ body and clothes seem even less cut for me now than they did in 2005. The waist sizes in Select are tiny and when I try their leggings or trousers on I need a size 16. Mind you I am thrilled about leggings and jeggings and don’t know how I ever survived without them. I used to hate wearing jeans because they never fitted me properly and the button would sometimes give me an awful rash.

    Let me jump on this same “band wagon”. The sizing of women’s clothes gets more ridiculous every year!! I am 5’2″ and weigh 100 lbs. I have been “sized out ” of just about everything and has become even worse over the last five years. In college (late 70’s). I wore a 5/6 sometimes a 7/8. A size 3/4 was virtually unheard of and in most cases unavailable. I have a pair of Calvin Klein jeans that I bought in 1979, they are a size 6. I still have them and they fit perfect! By today’s standards I am a size 0. how ever I am finding that even a 0 is getting larger all the time. I have yet to see anything available in a 00, however I know this fantastical size is out there…thankfully I am retired now and can live in t shirts and jeans. I am now forced to do most of my shopping in the kids department. At least when I had to wear suits, I could purchase them in a “normal” size and they fit. I also become very embarrassed when I have to tell anyone my size. While the kids department (size 12) is often cheaper, I am so limited with selection and style. This whole mess is disheartening and ridiculous.

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