Q: My girlfriends and I have no idea what our clothing size is these days. Our body types and weights haven't really changed, but the clothing sizes we wear varies depending on the store or the designer. What gives?
A. There are two key factors. First, there are no universal sizing standards in the United States. And, while American women are bigger than they used to be, many merchandisers have failed to adjust sizes according.
Some companies are cutting their sizes bigger out of fear of losing size-sensitive shoppers when their bodies move up a size or two. Other companies work off their own sizing scale in order to cater to their own client niche.
Basically, it's entirely possible for one store's size 8 to be another store's size 6 or size 4. Likewise, it's up to designers and companies to determine what constitutes small, medium, large, and extra large sizes.
For years, the apparel industry followed what's called Voluntary Product Standards, which are sizing guidelines that date back to 1970 and are based on women's body measurements that the Agriculture Department collected in 1939.
But "the industry has moved away from the practice," according to literature published by the American Apparel & Footwear Association in Arlington, Va.
Instead, clothing manufacturers, such as AnnTaylor, The Gap and The Limited are sizing clothes according to who they see as their primary consumer, said Myrna Garner, professor of apparel merchandise and design at Illinois State University. One company might target women who are 5-foot-7-inches, while others focus on women who have more petite frames.
Even within one particular store, figuring out what size you are might send you to the dressing room a few times as sizes sometimes vary by style. Capri pants might be sized different from khakis; straight skirts can be sized different from A-lines.