The Swindle Loved by Consumers, the Size Label

by Chikashi

Alaïa leather skirt 1980s

Apparel companies in certain countries use optimistic size labels for their products, particularly for womenswear. The public outrage about the fashion industry’s inclination to employ ‘size zero’ models on the runways and in marketing campaigns was a reaction that was bound to erupt sooner or later, particularly as the sedantary lifestyle in developed economies paved the way towards average national body mass index growing faster than most national economic indices. And yet, I do not recall reading or hearing too many complaints about optimistic size labels even though the practice arises from the same premise that thinner is better. Is that because this particular manifestation of the same principle happen to be more convenient, as it has the potential to make the consumer feel good about herself?

It is no secret that an American garment labelled ‘small’ is nothing like a ‘small’ in most other parts of the world. It has been said that certain non-US apparel brands had different womenswear size labels specifically for the US, such that merchandise distributed in the US were labelled, for example, 40 when those made from the same block were sold as 42 or even 44 elsewhere in the world.

There is a bit of spring cleaning happening at home, so the Brunette has been sorting out some of her old clothes found in the back of the closet, including a bunch of Alaïa pieces from the 80s and 90s, most of which are labelled 38. Being that they are 80s and 90s pieces, they are still quite snug. Her size for current pieces is 36, which is not as snug. It seems that the sizing swindle is creeping into this side of the pond too.

To be sure, this is not a phenomenon exclusive to womenswear. In menswear, some companies, like Rapha, who are based in the fattest member state of the European Union, do the opposite: they describe their pieces as having a ‘European fit’ and recommend that you size up from that of more democratic brands. With casualwear and sportswear from UK/US brands, I normally take a small, but I am a medium in Rapha or continental and Japanese labels. Am I complaining? No, because I see myself as having a medium build.

I wonder whether the ISO is thinking about standardisation and harmonisation. Even if the ISO boffins were able to oversome inherent technical difficulties, I suppose that the result would be inconvenient for some.