Clothing size irregularities

Size irregularities suit certain sectors of the fashion industry.
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  • Updated:25 May 2009

01.Clothing sizes


In brief

  • There is no Australian industry standard for adult clothing sizes; as a result, designers and manufacturers are free to make up their own size specifications.
  • Sizing inconsistencies pose real difficulties for clothes shopping online.
  • Many key industry players have called for government funding of a national sizing survey to assess the body shapes of Australians to help manufacturers, retailers and consumers make a better fit.

While there is an Australian standard for children’s clothes sizes, there isn’t for adults. So in the absence of any definitive size guide, designers and clothing manufacturers base their versions of sizes on their sales history, marketing hunches and what they believe is their ideal customer.

While this may suit the designers, who can manipulate sizing to give an instant “feel good” factor, as well as deter the “wrong” body shapes from fitting their clothes, consumers are often left having to try on a range of sizes to find the right one.

Last year the federal government conducted a review of the of the Australian textiles, clothing and footwear industry. One of its key recommendations was to allocate, “as a matter of urgency,” $5 million from the 2009 budget to develop a national sizing standard.

While direct funding hasn’t been allocated in this year’s budget, the government will commission further advice on introducing a voluntary national sizing standard and anthropometric database as part of an overall funding package of $55 million for the textiles, clothing and footwear industries.

Fashion industry experts CHOICE spoke to all agree that as part of an Australian industry worth $2.8 billion in manufacturing, and a further $7.5 billion if you add retailing and wholesaling, sizing irregularity is one of the major issues.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2009 but is still a useful guide today.

Video: What size are you

Are designers and manufacturers making clothes sizes up as they go along?

The shape we're in

The most recent Australian clothing standard for adult men and women was withdrawn in 2007 as it was considered no longer relevant. Established in 1959, the standard was based on data from a 1926 study of women conducted by underwear manufacturer Berlei and some US Department of Commerce Standards. After 1970, several revisions were made to the standard for women using data provided by the Australian Women’s Weekly when 11,455 female readers measured themselves and posted in the results, the last revision taking place in 1975.

Thirty-four years later, it’s not surprising to learn those measurements are no longer considered relevant. It’s no secret that Australians today are bigger than they used to be. And research from the US reveals that the sedentary western body may be changing shape; with waists getting thicker in both sexes and, thanks to multiculturalism, there is a wider range of body shapes than back in the 1920s. Despite these studies and abundant anecdotal evidence, there is still no definitive data to show just what kind of shape we are in today.

Overseas, large-scale body shape surveys have been conducted in the UK, Spain, France, China, Japan, the US and Germany, usually funded by government and sectors of the clothing industry. This data has been used to assist clothing manufacturers improve fit as well as identify sectors of the market that may not have been previously catered to at all. The information has also been used to develop better-fitting uniforms and safety wear, as well as assist with improving ergonomics in products ranging from cars to seating on public transport.

Where to now?

While the experts CHOICE spoke to agree a mandatory sizing standard isn’t the answer, better information about sizing is needed. The latest ABS figures show 68% of adult men and 55% of adult women are overweight or obese (using the body mass index), so it makes sense that a national sizing survey would allow manufacturers to better understand the modern body shapes of consumers. It could empower manufacturers to provide better-fitting, flattering and more comfortable clothing – a win-win situation for both the industry and consumer.

For more information on Clothing See, Beauty and personal care.



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