women's clothing sizes
February 11, 2011 2:21 AM   Subscribe

How do women's clothing sizes differ in different stores, especially in comparison to H&M?

I'm curious about women's clothing sizes, specifically at H&M. Do sizes there run much smaller than sizes at American (brand) stores, as I've heard? If so, how much smaller? How do their sizes compare to popular American brands (Gap, Old Navy, etc).

Do European brands in general have smaller sizing than American brands? (I don't mean the difference in number; I know that a UK size 8 really means a US 6, etc. I just mean that, even when the sizes supposedly corrspond, are European sizes still smaller?).

(though I am American I have not gone clothing shopping in America in a long time).
posted by bearette to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't shopped at H&M for a couple of years, but I found I'd have to go up at least one size, if not two, when I got anything there compared to other major brands (e.g, Gap, J. Crew, Banana Republic) that are relatively consistent among each other.
posted by scody at 2:40 AM on February 11, 2011

It may be vanity sizing to some degree between different stores. Also there is a wikipedia chart that compares US and UK sizing as well that should help.
posted by sien at 2:57 AM on February 11, 2011

Women's clothing sizes, overall, are rather arbitrary as far as I understand it. It's based on some weird system that I do NOT understand instead of something logical like waist/leg size like men's clothing. I spent a lot of time working at a used clothing store and women's jeans were arranged by size; I'd see someone try on ten pair and only find one that fit. (To directly answer -- just about every brand is different, but also depends on the 'fit' of the pants (or shirt, I suppose) as well.)

If you manage to find the ultimate reason for this nonsense, I will have to give you a medal or something.
posted by Heretical at 2:58 AM on February 11, 2011

I have found that H&M's sizing runs small, although it varies a lot depending on the style of clothing. I have t-shirts from H&M in the same size but different styles, and some are uncomfortably tight while others are very loose. Their pants sizing, in particular, seems to run quite small.

H&M labels in the Netherlands do usually indicate a size for the US, NL, and (if I remember correctly) Mexico, but for S/M/L/XL sizing, the letters seem to always be the same, even if I (an American) don't consider them to be accurate.
posted by neushoorn at 3:13 AM on February 11, 2011

I am not an expert, but from my experience a UK 8 corresponds more closely to a US 4. Also, french sizes are smaller in "equivilent" sizes.

And it varies hugely in stores. I live in the UK, and am a size 8 in some stores but can fit into size 4 dresses in others. So there's that.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:32 AM on February 11, 2011

What Heretical said - women's sizing is a crapshoot. Plenty of brands aren't even consistent within their own store, let alone compared to others. If you're asking this question for the purpose of ordering something without trying it on, you'd want to have a good return policy (or try measuring something of your own that fits, and asking the store to find a garment with similar measurements).

Also note that there's the size on the label, and also the fit, and they both differ from store to store. So stuff from younger-skewed stores is likely to fit narrower through the hips and bust, and things from "older" labels of the same size might be more generous around the tummy/rear area. (Is this what is meant by "misses" and "W" sizing in the States?) Also, European-made clothing seems to be cut quite narrow generally, especially through the lower half.
posted by jaynewould at 3:32 AM on February 11, 2011

I am not an expert, but from my experience a UK 8 corresponds more closely to a US 4. Also, french sizes are smaller in "equivilent" sizes.

I have found this to be true.
posted by jaynewould at 3:33 AM on February 11, 2011

Sizing varies even within a brand. This is partly because fabric is cut out in big stacks, the cheaper the garment the bigger the stack, and because stacks wibble around, pieces at one end of the stack will be much bigger or smaller than pieces at another end.

In general, vanity sizing means that a UK size 10 has been getting larger and larger as the population gets larger and larger. Women will keep shopping around until they find a store where they're a size 10.

There was an initiative a few years ago to introduce a European standard for clothing sizes based on the size, in centimetres, of the person it would fit. Say you have 95cm hips. You would buy something marked "to fit hips 94-98cm". There was a collective howl of outrage at this, on the grounds that forcing manufacturers to state accurate measurements would therefore force them to cut all their clothes in a uniform shape, and that it's very important to women to be able to go around all the stores and learn that this store has cuts that flatter wide hips and this store has cuts that flatter an hourglass, etc., and this focus on cold-hearted facts was, and I quote "brutal". Spot the logical flaw.
posted by tel3path at 3:42 AM on February 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Women's sizing isn't even consistent within the exact same cut of pants in the same size same store, which is why you often see advice to try on two identical pairs. I've also seen a lot of clothing reviews to the effect of "this shirt fit me really well, but then they came out with the purple color and the new run is a size too big."

In my current experience, my size tends not to vary too wildly across mall stores. I'm not consistently one size, but usually between two with occasional outliers, sizing up or down depending on the cut or stretchiness. With H&M I usually have to go with the larger size in my range, but H&M fits crappily anyway and I haven't bought anything with a numbered size there in years.

Brands sized for teenagers (Delia's, Forever 21, etc), aka "juniors" sizes, run smaller. I don't even bother with pants at those stores, but when I get tops there I usually go one letter size above what I'd get at the Gap. It's a common mistake (or a misleading point in diet ads where people "dropped 5 sizes!") to think a size 9 (juniors) is one size smaller than a 10 (misses), but they're proportioned differently. If you normally wear a size 10 your juniors' size might be more like 11 or 13.

Expensive designery brands often run smaller, too. I don't have as much experience trying them on, because I walk into trendy boutiques and go "eh, none of this is gonna fit."

If I'm shopping online and am not too familiar with the brand, I look at the size chart and go with what matches my biggest measurement. (A pet peeve: I hate browsing for clothes at Gilt Groupe because they have a revolving door of brands and no size charts and their notes are only ever "this brand runs true to size" and I'm like goddammit WHAT size you jerks.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:51 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my experience, European sizes generally run smaller than american, and american sizes are all over the place.
A little tip to make going into the fitting room a bit easier:
Do the sideseam to sideseam trick. If you're wearing pants that you like the fit of, take the pair of pants that you want to try on and pull them across the front of you, until their sideseams match up with the sideseams on the pair that you are wearing. Do this also from inner thigh just below the crotch to outer thigh. If they match, that's your best bet for try-on. It doesn't take a big difference in distance between sideseams to make a big difference in fit; I think a quarter to a half inch difference on either side and you're at the next size already.
I also do this for tops; sideseam to sideseam, over the bustline. Just make sure that the shoulder seams are lined up as well.
After a while, you automatically know where the imaginary sideseam would be on your body (if you're not wearing appropriately sideseamed garments), and how tight/loose the new piece would be without having to try on.
I don't like shopping, and this is a huge time saver.
posted by newpotato at 4:52 AM on February 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Women's sizing is a vast conspiracy to drive us all insane. This is my theory.

I did want to agree with the general consensus that H&M runs a little small in the shirts (except when it runs large -- really), and small in the pants. I've found that their skirts are true-to-size, and their men's pants are actually pretty good. Because it's H&M the men's pants have trendy choices like boot cut, slim fit, low-rise, whatever. But because it's men's, the pants have Real Actual Measurements in Inches Instead of Some B.S. Approximation.

I also agree that a UK 8 is more like a US 4, often with a little less room in the bust.
posted by lillygog at 5:03 AM on February 11, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all!

And what is this "European" size H&M prints on their clothes, i.e., EU 40 = US 10? So, there are UK sizes and then EU sizes?
posted by bearette at 5:17 AM on February 11, 2011

Yes - here's a size comparison chart.

I agree that H&M doesn't do vanity sizing (or not as much as other stores). Here's my size in a few popular stores, if that helps:

NY & CO: 2 (the worst offender!)
Gap, Old Navy - 2 to 4
Banana Republic - 4 to 6
H&M - 6 to 8
posted by beyond_pink at 6:26 AM on February 11, 2011

Women will keep shopping around until they find a store where they're a size 10.

I'm a broke, unemployed post grad so all the stores I shop at are on the cheaper end of the spectrum. That said, I've moved from buying Target jeans to Old Navy jeans. If I catch them on sale they're actually cheaper at ON than Target (I just have to wait instead of shopping spontaneously) in large part because at Target, I'm usually around an 8 to a 10, Old Navy I'm a 4, but could probably fit into a 2.

So yeah, vanity sizing, and it IS an act of vanity... Which of course means that sizes will get skewed further, as that's what the market implicitly encourages, but.... hey, I'm a size four! This makes me happy.

My only concern is that soon we're going to have to move to negative sizes... I'm pretty sure I saw a pair of 000 size pants once o_O
posted by sary at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2011

My only concern is that soon we're going to have to move to negative sizes... I'm pretty sure I saw a pair of 000 size pants once o_O

H&M is one of the last places where there is still a number in my size. Over the past 4 years I've gone from a 4/6 to a 2/4 with them, and 0s normally fall off me in equivalent stores. There is no perfectly functional conversion from uk/us because every designer seems to use their own sizing.
posted by Zophi at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2011

Something I've noticed here in Canada is the fact that a number of clothing stores are all owned by one single parent company, and each are supposed to reach a different part of the market. So a size 12 at one chain is not a size 12 at a sister chain, even though they're labelled the same, and should fit, in theory. To say nothing of different fits within a size, or different colours of one particular item of clothing not fitting the same way. It's irritating.

I'm to the point where if I find a pair of trousers or jeans I like, I buy at least two or three of the same cut at the same time, because who the hell knows when I'll find trousers that fit again?

I should note that I HATE HATE HATE shopping for clothes.
posted by LN at 7:30 AM on February 11, 2011

Also, I find that H&M's shirts are apparently cut for women with a proportionally smaller bust/rib cage than many other stores. The last time I tried on a non-stretchy top at H&M, it gaped ridiculously at the bust while billowing in the waist and hanging off my shoulders. So if H&M clothing fits you well, many other brands of clothing will probably either be too narrow through the waist or too roomy through the bust and/or hips.

More comparison data: I'm an hourglass-shaped woman. When I order online from the UK clothing-purveyors that I like, I typically match up best to a UK 10. According to the Wikipedia page, my measurements correspond to a US standard size 12 bust and size 6 waist/hips. However, I regularly wear clothing with US sizing labels 2-8. (I find Ann Taylor and NY & Co to be the worst offenders in terms of vanity sizing: it's ridiculous to decide that a 26" waist is a size 2.)

I don't like trying on clothes either, so I now usually buy clothes from just a few stores where I'm familiar with the bizarre sizing, or I order online and use the size chart. Measuring tapes are a girl's best friend in a world of vanity sizing.
posted by kataclysm at 8:07 AM on February 11, 2011

H&M is definitely smaller-sized than US chains such as Gap and Old Navy. Zara is as well. Even in the same size equivalent, I find H&M and Zara tend to be cut for a straighter, firmer figure with less allowance for bust and backside, and less allowance for a softer (post-children) stomach/waistline. European brands in general in my experience are require me to buy a larger size than I am in USian/Canadian brands. There's anomalies though, so it is frustrating. I can't trust that I am a certain size in jeans anywhere I go, even within the same brand or cut that I have bought before; I always have to try them on. And Old Navy's sizing is wildly erratic now compared to even a few years ago, I find. I think the ever-cheaper clothing is causing less quality control for this sort of thing than in the past.
posted by flex at 8:27 AM on February 11, 2011

Personally, I've found that Old Navy is the worst offender when it comes to vanity sizing.

I'm wearing size 6 jeans from ON, size 7 in junior Levis, size 8 at NY&CO, size 8 at Gap, size 8 at Target, size 29 in Citizens of Humanity, and size 10 at H&M.

According to the Wiki chart I'm a size 10. And I consider myself to be a size 10, even though I'm wearing 8s pretty much everywhere. Womens clothing sizes are absurd.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:32 AM on February 11, 2011

Yeah H&M is one of the only stores where I can find stuff that fits me well with my tiny body... Old Navy used to fit me but they vanity sized more so the 0's are now too big. I'm a 0 at Express and Ann Taylor Loft (where a lot of my pants come from), but generally a 4 and occasionally a 6 at H&M. It's great to actually fit into clothes :).
posted by brainmouse at 8:50 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes to beyond pink. I'm a 0 nearly everywhere. H&M I'm a 4,6 or a medium. It was sort of shocking the first time I went in. Forever 21 is similar.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 8:51 AM on February 11, 2011

And what is this "European" size H&M prints on their clothes, i.e., EU 40 = US 10? So, there are UK sizes and then EU sizes?

The number - 40, 38 etc - is supposed to correlate roughly to the size of your hips in inches. In the UK, as you've noticed, we tend to go by our incredibly arbitrary system of 8, 10, 12 and so on that has no basis in actual inches and no standardisation.

H&M is built smaller than most High Street shops. My size, 12, is listed as an EU 40 in H&M, but a size 12 in Topshop is listed as EU 42. The upshot is that all women have to try on at least two sizes to find the best fit.

Also, shoe sizes aren't standardised either. In the shoe shop I used to work for a UK size 5 is an EU size 38, but in Marks & Spencers an EU size 38 is a UK 4 1/2. I spent many hours persuading customers to try on shoes even if we didn't stock half sizes. But a lot of customers were so certain that they were a half size they refused point blank to try our shoes on!
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:18 AM on February 11, 2011

Women's clothing sizes are completely arbitrary. Don't even try to figure it out.

I would describe myself as size 14 US, but right now I am wearing a size 2x top (admittedly bought large for the bagginess), size 10 jeans, and a EU size 38 jacket.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:34 AM on February 11, 2011

I find that pretty much all women's sizes in all stores are almost completely random. I literally have jeans in every size from 4-10, in different brands. The largest pair is actually a size 8 from Levi's. The smallest pair is a size 6 from Anthropologie. There is no rhyme or reason to anything regarding women's clothing, as far as I can tell. I wear a Medium top at Urban Outfitters and an Extra-Small at the Gap. At Uniqlo, which is rumored to run smaller because it's a Japanese brand with only a few outlets in the US, I universally wear a Small. Even in their "J+" brand which is imported directly from Japan and admittedly is sized "smaller" than the rest of their clothes. Even though I take a 10 in their jeans. Go figure.

Basically you have to just go into a store and try on everything. Every time. No matter how long you've been doing it. I've been basically the same size, shopping for clothes at the same stores in the same city, for a decade. And yet every time I shop I start from scratch.

Regarding H&M specifically, I find their clothes are all over the map. They're better than they used to be (I can at least narrow it down to a 6 or an 8 most of the time), but yeah. Just try on everything.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on February 11, 2011

At H&M specifically, I go up one or two sizes, though haven't bought anything there in a year or two. They are one of the only places I don't automatically grab the smallest size available.

Fashion Incubator has a ton of information on sizing, written from the prospective of a commercial patternmaker. From what I've read there, it sounds like most women's sizing is determined by taking the range of customers you expect and dividing. They are more of a place on a scale than derived in any way from measurements.
posted by sepviva at 10:12 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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