Women’s clothing sizes have always been a mystery. I think we can all agree that most of time, clothing sizes make zero sense. Why can I fit in a size 14 in one brand, but a size 18 in another brand is too small? Why does this small top look huge, but this 3X top looks like it could fit a small child?

Sometimes it feels like clothing is out to get us. It’s so hard to trust clothing brands, especially when shopping online. It’s like a breath of fresh air when we find a brand that actually works and seems consistent in sizing … until they don’t.

How can shopping be one of our favorite past times, but also be one of the most frustrating?

It doesn’t even matter if you’re a size 2 or a size 22, finding clothes that fit is far more difficult than it should be, right?

I decided to do a deep dive into why clothing sizes are so inconsistent, and why I’m such a strong believer that size simply doesn’t matter.

There is No “Standardized Sizing Guide”

Have you ever tried on one size here and a different size there and they both fit? Or the opposite where you try on one size here and it fits but this same size somewhere else doesn’t?

The inconstancies between brands is infuriating. We have all wished that brands could get their sh*t together and have consistent sizing throughout. Wouldn’t that make life so much easier?

Actually, there was an attempt at creating standardized sizing in the 1940s that ended up being a complete bust.

Clothing sizes are actually a relatively new concept. Before the 1940s clothes were tailored to fit the individual wearing them, or simply made at home. It wasn’t until magazines became popular and clothing was being mass produced that the need for standard sizing became apparent. Brands were losing money due to frequent returns and alterations of ill-fitting clothing.

During the 1940s the US Department of Agriculture attempted to set standard sizes by sampling a study of 15,000 women. However, there were issues: 1. This was far too small of a sample size compared to the population of the US. 2. It mostly consisted of white women. 3. It attracted mostly impoverished women who needed the participation fee and 4. it was assumed that all women bore an hourglass figure, although only 8% of women did.

After several attempts at getting it right, the standards for sizing were revoked due to lack of use by clothing brands, leaving brands to make up their own.

This explains the huge inconsistencies between brands when it comes to clothing sizes. Further, women’s bodies are so vastly different from one another, its impossible to come at it with a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Even if we stick to number or letter sizes to show bodies being larger or smaller, one body might have a larger bust and smaller waist, while the next body might have a longer torso and smaller bust. It’s virtually impossible to mass produce clothing to fit a majority of the female population.

Fortunately, the use of size guides and charts have become increasingly popular among brands. While this is definitely helpful when shopping online, it’s still hard to know exactly what an item will look like on your exact body type. Don’t even get me started on the lack of diverse models in marketing!

But the lack of consistency between brands isn’t the only issue. There’s also a huge inconsistency between years.

Vanity Sizing

It’s no question that vintage clothing seems so much smaller. Are we as a society getting bigger or are brands switching up their sizes?

Well, both, actually.

“According to Slate: In 1958, for example, a size 8 corresponded with a bust of 31 inches, a waist of 23.5 inches and a hip girth of 32.5 inches. In ASTM’s 2008 standards, a size 8 had increased by five to six inches in each of those three measurements, becoming the rough equivalent of a size 14 or 16 in 1958. We can see size inflation happening over shorter time spans as well; a size 2 in the 2011 ASTM standard falls between a 1995 standard size 4 and 6.”

I tried on a pair of size 18 vintage jeans the other day and couldn’t even get them over my butt. I wear a size 14 in jeans, size 12 on a good day, so a size 18 being too small was a bit of a shock. Fortunately, i’m well aware of the size differences between today and 40 years ago and quite comfortable in my body, but for someone who’s not, this could be a huge blow to their self-esteem … which is one of the reasons why vanity sizing exists.

As our bodies grow, so do our clothes. The last thing brands want is for their customers to feel disappointed or lose self-esteem when trying on their clothing. Why? Well, because this could lead to lost profits, of course. Clothing brands have been adding inches to their sizes for years to ensure their customers feel “smaller” whenever trying on their products. As a society, we have been lead to believe that size matters and it’s ideal to be small, so why not appeal to our egos and ensure that we continue buying from our favorite brands?


You are more than a body. Your size doesn’t matter.

Size Doesn’t Matter – Fit Matters

Try everything on.

I know, I hate trying clothes on too, but how often have you tried something on after you purchased it and found you hated the way it felt or the way it fit? It then sat in your closet for too long, unworn, with tags, before you finally ended up just donating it and essentially wasting your money?

It’s important you try items on and ask yourself a few questions: How does it feel? Does it hit you in all the right places? Is it comfortable? Is it soft? Is it a material you like? Is it something you can see yourself wearing regularly? Is there anything about it you don’t like? Does it make you happy?

Clothing is made to fit you, you are not made to fit into clothing.

Sometimes we buy clothing in our size and find it doesn’t fit us right. There’s something off about it, or maybe it’s just too small or too big. This is okay. This is normal. Not all clothing will fit us, and that’s why it’s so important to consider how an items feels and fits before you purchase. Don’t worry about the size. If an item is too small, size up. If an item is too big, size down. The letter or number on your clothing tags does not define you.

Shop ALL the Racks

When you’re out shopping, it’s totally fine to head straight for “your rack”. The rack that carries your typical size. Don’t be afraid to check out the other racks, though! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve found incredible, unique pieces in racks I wouldn’t normally check simply because they aren’t “my size”.

My closet contains items from size small all the way to size 3X.

You can absolutely find me sifting through every single rack, regardless of the size displayed.

Every item of clothing is so different. There are so many factors that go into the sizing of an item: the brand, the material, the country of origin, the year, etc. It’s impossible to know how something will fit unless you try it on.

Eventually, you’ll get so good at this you’ll have no problem finding what works for your individual body, and maybe you can get away without trying things on before purchasing, but I’m a firm believer that you should try everything on, just in case.

Clothing should be fun. Getting dressed up should be fun. We shouldn’t be worrying about the size on the tag. Wear whatever makes you feel good and happy! Stop worrying about the size!

And please, check out ALL the racks! You’ll be amazed at what you find.


Amy Kelley – Owner – Sunny + Olive

For more reading and sources used:

January 22, 2023

  1. […] zone. It also allows you to see how things fit. We all know how inconsistent clothing sizes are (have you read my previous post about fashion sizes and how they’re totally arbitrary?), but this will hopefully give you a better sense of your personal size (but really, read my […]

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