Does Label Size Really Matter?

Once upon a time, you could not buy clothes at a store.  You could buy the fabric and go home and sew the clothes yourself, or you could pay someone to sew them for you.  There were no other options.

Then, in 1818, the Brooks Brothers opened up a shop near the financial district in New York that sold well-made, ready-made clothing for men. Their clients really enjoyed being able to stop in at any time and buy clothes that were already made up, and at a fraction of the cost of custom clothes.  The Brooks Brothers prospered.

When similar shops sprung up offering ready-made clothing for women, however, they soon found themselves closing their doors.  For while the majority of men tended to wear just a handful of sizes, women did not, particularly when they used a corset to cinch their waists.  Everything had to be altered to fit correctly, which drove the costs up and the popularity down.  For the next hundred years, only a few items were produced en mass for women, including gloves, coats, capes, and aprons.

Then in the 1920’s, something happened:  the straight chemise style became popular.  The loose, boyish silhouette could be made quickly and cheaply, and for the first time ever, inexpensive ready-made clothing became available for women.

As more form-fitting styles became popular in the 1930’s and 40’s, manufacturers struggled with how to fit the wide range of sizes required to dress their customers, yet still remain profitable. They adapted a sizing system that seemed to work well for the majority of people.  But those who fell outside of the normal sizing range, including women who were shorter, taller, lighter, or heavier than normal, had to have their clothes altered or custom-made.  Specialty manufacturing for these sizes was cost prohibitive.

Flapper style

Posh Girl Vintage

By the 1970’s, domestic manufacturing costs were skyrocketing in most of the West.  At the same time, customers were demanding lower-priced goods.  This clash resulting in a lot of jobs being outsourced to Asia and South America where production costs were much, much lower.  These new manufacturers, not really understanding the sizing systems, began tinkering with them.  In very little time, one manufacturers size 8 was another’s size 10 was another’s size 6.  What little uniformity in sizing that had existed among domestic manufacturers prior to this was all but gone.

Today, the sizing games continue.  While manufacturers catering to the discount market tend to follow historical sizing guidelines, mid-priced, better, and bridge lines have learned that they can play on feminine vanity by running large.  So what might be a size 8 in the discount market is a size 6 in the costlier lines.  Which means that if you have the cash (or credit), you can drop a dress size without exercise, dieting, or strain.

So why am I offering this little history lesson?

To get to you to stop allowing a label size to impact your self esteem in any way.  Women and ready-made clothing have always had a tenuous history at best, so if you can buy off the rack with perfect fit every time, you’re one of the lucky few.

Label Size

If you have trouble finding clothes that fit well, here are some suggestions to help lessen your frustration:

1.    Never try on just one size of anything.  Take at least two, preferably three sizes of the same garment to the dressing room to find the best fit.

2.    Nobody can wear every style and brand out there.  Find the brands that fit your body the best and stick with them.

3.    If you can’t find a perfect fit but you’re close, have the garment altered to fit.  This is particularly true if you’ll be wearing the piece when you’re under scrutiny for something important like a job interview, a special presentation, a television appearance, etc.

4.    If you typically spend a lot of money on alterations, consider having your clothing custom-made instead.  Not only will you get to pick out the pattern and fabric, you may actually spend LESS on custom than buying and altering.

5.    Never underestimate the importance of good fit, particularly in your business attire. Sloppy, ill-fitting clothes imply that you’re as sloppy in your work habits as you are in your appearance.  Well-fitting clothes imply just the opposite.


Ready-made clothes are convenient and have become so mainstream that we forget there are other ways to buy clothes.  If you’re having trouble finding garments that fit, as women all throughout history have, then get thee to a tailor for alterations or custom made clothing.  You may spend a bit more, that’s true, but probably less than you would spend chasing all over to find the perfect fit (especially with the
cost of gasoline these days).

Here are some online resources to get you pointed in the right direction:

If you prefer to work with a local tailor, visit the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers website to find a craftsman near you.

Well-fitting clothes make you look taller, thinner, and younger than sloppy, oversized pieces.  If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, stop being a slave to size labels.  Become a master of fit instead.

Want some other suggestions for dressing the plus size body in particular?  Download a copy of  Plus Size Style to see how easy looking great can be – whatever your size!

Plus Size Style


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3 Comments

  • Bryan

    Reply Reply March 3, 2007

    I realize now that your look means everything in a career. I used to wear a lot of pant suits but realized I could wear skirts and a proper blouse. Not only does it make difference how I’m looked at it has helped improve my career. I love wearing skirts now and feel great in them.

  • Bryan

    Reply Reply March 3, 2007

    A ways back you referred to white under clothes with white tops or white clothing. I did this and didnt realize I was ‘showing off’. I never owned a bra other than white or black and never wore skirts. Now I see other colours available (i.e. beige)and it works.

  • Ryan

    Reply Reply March 3, 2010

    It will help point you in the right direction. But when you shop online, you’re still kind of left in the dark.

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