Size Yourself Up

Whether their reasons are sustainability, affordability, or just the thrill of the hunt, clothing shoppers around the world are adding more gently used and vintage items to their closets. If you’re thinking about taking the leap, it’s important to keep some things in mind.

Recently I read a novel set in 1950’s Sydney, The Women in Black. Descriptions of the titular women included dress sizes that had me stymied and looking for answers online. Knowing that sizing systems vary around the world, I was also reminded that standards have evolved within my lifetime, and maybe within yours.

In Australia, an “extra slim, small woman” would wear a size XSSW in the 1950’s, then a 10 when sizes were converted to numbers more than a decade later, and likely an 8 or a 6 today. Designers and manufacturers realized that appealing to women’s vanity with smaller sizes was good for sales. They made changes accordingly, adjusting numbers downward.

These days, people are repurposing and reselling clothes, with the help of local shops and online platforms like Depop, Poshmark, The RealReal, and thredUP. Vintage looks are popular, as is the eco-friendly choice of buying something used.

Anyone relocating or just traveling abroad might keep their eyes open for unique finds. Knowing your size by various international standards can help you decipher labels.

While European sizing is based on actual measurements, in many other places women’s clothing labels bear numbers ranging from 0 or 2 or 3, increasing in even or odd increments. While numerical systems are used overwhelmingly around the world, you will also encounter Small/Medium/Large/XL sizing, typically for garments that are less fitted.

Men’s clothing is much more likely to be measurement-specific, but children’s clothing can be labeled by age, metric measurement, or some other method. Shoes sizes present their own challenge, with numbers that only occasionally correspond to an actual foot measurement.

The bottom line is that, while conversion charts are useful, taking measurements will always give you the best chance at a good fit. If the item you’re shopping for is online rather than in person, often there are ways to contact the seller to clarify any missing information.

In the interest of sustainability, people are more willing to reuse, repurpose, and recycle, even for clothing. Buying something locally in your host country, and then selling it on or making it into something else, reduces your shipping load. Knowing you’re minimizing waste can make your find even more attractive.

Written by Ellen Harris, GMS, Product Manager, Content Group