Positive Body Image

Why being a Size Two is Arbitrary

Women sizing. Enough said. When I hear women sizing I tend to conjure up the moment when I’m in the dressing room and the dressing room attendant shouts,

“how’s that working out for ya?” 

“Yeah, not good…”

The bottom line for women’s sizing is that there is no bottom line. There is no universal sizing method anymore, not a one-size-fits-all mode, or a system in place where diversified shapes and sizes are recognized. Sizing charts vary from one store to another, and I find it humorous how no one cares to speak up about this. Vanity sizing is a real problem. A problem that is worth mentioning in my opinion. 

This all started last Saturday. I went to the mall with my best friends, Ryan and Ashley. The first store we all agreed to go into was Banana Republic. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of B-Rep. Most of my dresses and skirts come from this store, and I am absolutely happy that I know they sell clothing products that match my needs and comfort. 

Like any seasoned bargain hunter I set my eyes toward the clearance rack. Apparently this time of the year is known as “transition” season. Much of what was discounted were the items left unsold from the summer months.  Not a problem for me at all. I can make anything summer, winter. 

I was scanning the rack when I came across an adorable linen jumpsuit with my favorite color, yellow. 

It was a size 2, exactly the size I needed. So I grabbed it from the rack, stumbled into the fitting room, and tried it on. As it passed my hips, fell on my shoulders, and zipped up the back I knew I was going to walk out of this store with the jumpsuit in my hands. I ended up paying a measly $20.00 for this piece of clothing magic. A true steal. An honor actually. (I really just love anything yellow)

I wore it to work the following day, and I was happy to be in it. I felt confident, pretty, and just plain smiley. And then it dawned on me…

I’m not really a size 2, am I?

So I began to investigate. I was apprehensive as to what I was going to find out. I know numbers don’t mean anything, and I try very hard for them not to influence how I truly feel about myself. However, there’s still a piece of me holding onto the golden size 2.

What I Found Out!

Let’s travel back to the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s. A shift in fashion was on the horizon. It would soon catapult universal sizing and off-the-rack clothing to great heights. 

Back in these decades affluent and poor women both ensured that clothing was made to fit their bodies. Affluent women went to tailors. A garment was custom, with every inch, seam, and stitch dedicated towards one’s personal body. There was no size option. It was either take-in here, or take-out there. Tailors allowed women to show off physical assets such as legs or arms. There was no number on the tag, just a signature for a truly one-of-a-kind creation. 

Poor women played the role as client and as tailor. Making clothes at home was cheaper than going to a tailor. The same idea was in mind; to make a piece of clothing fitted for one body, one person, and for one’s liking. The tag was numberless. 

If women were wealthy, they had their clothes made. If they weren’t, they made their own. Either way, garments adhered to the contours of their bodies better than anything off the rack ever could.

Once the Great Depression began, women couldn’t afford fabric. Accompanied by the improvement of large-scale production methods, cheaper prices, and the surge of mail-in catalogs, the tailor clothing way was dead. Of-the-rack, a killer video star (Dokterman, n.d). 

Off-The-Rack, Sizing from 1960's to Now

While off-the-rack clothing sparked a revolution, universal sizing was just about to be born. Measurements during the 1950’s were based off of average, white women models. The three areas focused on were the bust, waist, and hips (Chronically Vintage, 2013). It was very similar to today’s standards of measurements, but was less focused on the inches. And let me tell you why!

Because the 1950’s size measurements were based off the average, white women, sizes didn’t start at 0, but started at 10. In fact, size 0 was not a thing, let alone 2 through 8. If I was to live in the 1950’s, my size would be a size 14. To compare, I guess you can look at Marilyn Monroe (However she was a rare beauty back in those times, and I try not to use her as a reference for my body). She was a size 14 during that time period. However, in today’s sizing, 14 is equivalent to a size 6 or 8 (a shmedium). Thanks to a wonderful blog guru I found a Sear’s Book measuring guide from a clothing catalog from 1955! See below and find your size. 

Size 10: 32.5 bust, 24.5 waist, 34 hips

Size 12: 34 bust, 25.5 waist, 36 hips

Size 14: 35.5 bust, 27 waist, 38 hips

Size 16: 37 bust, 28.5 waist, 40 hips

Size 18: 39 bust, 30.5 waist, 42 hips

Size 20: 41 bust, 32.5 waist, 44 hips

*Jessica’s Blog is titled Chronically Vintage, check it out!*

So why did sizes start to get smaller and smaller? And when did this phenomena take place?

Well heading into the 60’s, size 8 was created. It was the smallest size offered during that time. 

Then in the 70’s, size 6 was created. It was the smallest size offered during that time. 

Then in the 90’s, size 2 was created. It was the smallest size offered during that time. 

THEN IN 2012, size 00 became the smallest size offered. 

Graphic sources: Lynn Boorady, SUNY Buffalo State; ASTM International; Getty Images; People magazine; NPR
Photos: Twiggy, Kaling: Getty Images; Collins: AP; Winfrey: Dave Allocca—DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


I hypothesize the ideal of beauty changed. The smaller you were, the more power and social capital you had. It created a divide between the single-digit sizing, and the double-digit sizing that was normalized back in the day. Single-digit sizing meant you were wanted and worth. Double-digit sizing meant you needed to lose weight. It was yet another way to divide women from other women. The haves, and the have-nots. Now the normal is thin. Women’s clothing is made for thinner people in mind, the outlier of the average woman size of today.

If sizing was to be true to how it was in the early 1950’s, sizing might start at 14 and span out to 28. The International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology, and Education discovered the average size of women today is between a size 16 and a size18 (Nunes, 2019). Perhaps this could abolish “plus size” standards and “plus size” clothing? I mean, weren’t we all at some point “plus sizes” back then? And weren’t all models some sort of “plus size” models?


The Hype with Smaller Sizing

As decades have past, smaller and smaller sizes have been created. Smaller and smaller sizes have been needed and warranted. But why is it just as difficult to find larger sizing? The fashion industry tends to offer more sizing options for smaller, thinner bodies, than it does for larger and curvier bodies. But isn’t that hypocritical. What’s with all this thin-privilege? 

One argument suggests that it is cheaper to make smaller clothing. Another suggests smaller clothing is easier to make. I suggest its just pure laziness and unworthiness. I’m sorry, but in a world where the social norm is to wear clothes, why is it that larger people (the average now) can’t find items that fit them? Are we supposed to look down on them? Despise them? Make them feel inferior? The answer is HELL NO. The fashion/beauty/health industry needs to get off their high horse and start focusing on including everyone to their target market. The thin way is archaic. And quite frankly, it didn’t even exist when clothes were first made for off-the-rack. Some businesses have expanded their marketing by including a variety of different body sizes and types. Some businesses have tried, and ultimately failed at this concept. 

Unfortunately, the thin ideal is going to be around for as long as we let it. Until some big key players stand up for equality and begin the movement, progress is not going to move the ticker any further. But just because we as consumers are aware of this, doesn’t mean the companies who clothe us don’t also know this. Welcome to vanity sizing. 

Vanity Sizing and your Psychology

To make a profit selling clothes, the hope is to have repeat customers who are happy with the products they supply. This is like me loving to shop at Banana Republic, because it feels like their clothes were made for me. I recommend B-Reps to many who are in need of a good pencil skirt, slacks, or even a cocktail dress. This helps the company in some way shape and form. 

Psychologically it also makes me feel better about myself. Going back to my size 2 dilemma, my original question was whether I was a size 2 or not? And the answer is a straight up, WHY DOES IT EVEN MATTER? 

If I am a size 2 in Banana Republic, a size 4 at Target, and a size 6 at Tommy Hilfiger, I really have no set size in retrospect. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

What’s wrong is that stores will use larger measurements for smaller sizes to make you feel better about your body. And while brainwashing you with this excitement over your body, you forget that you don’t need a number to make you happy at all. It’s all in your head. 

So I am going to take my size 2 jumpsuit, wear it with my size 9 shoes, my size 24 heart, and my XXL smile and just move on with my day. Perhaps one day we will revert back to tailor made clothing and forget this whole arbitrary numbering system bullshit. 


In order by reference:

Picture1: Ohi, 2008. http://debbieohi.com/blather2008/2008/5/14/vanity-sizing.html

Picture 2: Banana Republic, 2019. https://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?pid=472382002&cid=1014731&pcid=1014739&vid=1&grid=pds_100_144_1#pdp-page-content

Quote 1: Dokterman. N.d. https://time.com/how-to-fix-vanity-sizing/

Chronically Vintage, 2013. https://www.chronicallyvintage.com/2013/01/vintage-clothing-sizing-101.html

Gallery 1: Dokterman, N.d. https://www.chronicallyvintage.com/2013/01/vintage-clothing-sizing-101.html

Quote 2: Nunes, 2019. https://www.byrdie.com/average-body-weight

Picture 3: http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/10/31/striking-back-against-victorias-secret-perfect-body-campaign/

Picture 4: https://www.bizjournals.com/bizwomen/news/latest-news/2017/10/the-lesson-for-ad-makers-from-doves-latest-misstep.html?page=all

Picture 5: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1316389/New-Look-Topshop-change-clothes-sizes-flatter-customers.html


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