The origin of the current sizes we see on shops today varies depending on the source, but most agree that it dates back to the 1800’s. Before then, people would just have custom clothes made.
This is hard to imagine in our fast-fashion world, but we have to remember that people owned a lot less garments back then. When looking at the history of fashion as a whole, we realise that the concept of cheap, ready-to-wear garments is very new. Sewing was a skill that was widely taught and, almost like typing nowadays, it was expected for women to know. Rich folk would hire seamstresses and tailors to do their clothes for them. While in the lower classes it was the matriarch of the household who took care of the job.
Enter the industrial revolution. For the first time in history we are not only able to mass produce, but also do it in record time. The old way of doing things, like bespoke measuring, couldn’t keep up with the machines so changes had to be made. This is when measures based on average numbers were introduced.
Why do T-shirt sizes vary so much?
There are several reasons as to why sizes change so much, but we found the following four the most telling:
1 – Standard clothing sizes
Organisations such as the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) have designed standards regarding what the measures or certain clothes should be based on the user’s age, gender and the final purpose of the garment. These, while strongly encouraged, are not required by law and even in member countries, the standards change among themselves due to a variety of reasons.
2 – Vanity Size
The so-called “vanity size” is a term that’s given to the practice of mislabeling garments on purpose with one or two sizes less. The theory being that when a customer thinks they fit into a smaller size than their real one, it will make them feel good and more likely to make a purchase.
3 – Target audience
Brands have a desired target audience which they cater to, most of these revolve around income, age and tastes, but some of these also include body types. Mike Jeffries, the former CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, became infamous a few years ago due to his comments about targeting only the ‘Cool and beautiful people’ (AKA no fatties).
So how do I know which is the right T-shirt for me?
Even though some websites convert sizes from territory to territory and sometimes even from brand to brand, it seems like the good old ‘trial and error’ method is still the best one.
On the other hand, if you prefer a more ‘digital’ approach, Threadbase provides a comprehensible chart that features how T-shirt sizes vary across different brands. In order to make the most of it, I’d suggest measuring your body to know which is the brand that’s making the best T-shirts for you.
It is far from being the ideal solution, but it seems like until someone enforces some universal sizing processes then it will be the only way of knowing which are the brands that fit us best.