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Jules' Journal | Commercial Clothing Sizing? It Might As Well Be Apples And Oranges!

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Jules' Journal | Commercial Clothing Sizing? It Might As Well Be Apples And Oranges!

Some of the conversations I manage to overhear in our workshops are intriguing and get me thinking. 

One such conversation revolved around sizing and several ladies were lamenting the state of high street sizing and how confusing it can be. This is something that I frequently get asked about in our workshops and when we speak to people at the shows. 

Commercial sizing as we know it on the high street hasn’t been around that long at all really.

Before the Second World War clothes were mainly tailor made, made at home or were bought from a department store or catalogues and then altered to fit individual shapes and figures. 

In the 1950’s the UK Board of Trade did an enormous survey of women’s measurements in an attempt to try and standardise it all to encourage women to shop for their clothing and aid the flagging economy after the war. However, due to the huge number of sizes needed to cater for the majority of the population, that was just unworkable. 

This is one of the main reasons the fashion industry has to work with averages. If the bust size of the smallest customer is X and the Largest Y then the measurements in between need to be divided pretty evenly to create a ‘range’ of sizes to cover most people and are usually labelled 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc.  But to be honest it might as well be apples, oranges, pears, bananas, as the name of the size has absolutely no bearing on the actual measurements. 

So, if we can deal with the names of the sizes not really meaning anything relevant, it all sounds pretty alright. Except when you bring into consideration the more modern concept of the ‘target customer’. 

Designers and manufacturers all have their own specific target markets. Top Shop’s range is about age 16-25 young slim and athletic frames. While White Stuff is more 25-55 with a slightly more mature figure. Evans and other brands may cater for even more specific demographics, but each has their ideal customer. 



That said, an increasing number of high street brands are being more body inclusive and developing plus size ranges to run alongside their more traditional ‘standard’ size ranges. 

Going by exact body measurements the population would comprise of the 126 different sizes mentioned in the original 1950’s study, but do you really want to be described as size 114 or size 0? I don’t think I would to be honest. Each group of customers, rather than being differentiated by individual size, has appropriated the ‘normal size’ banding of 8 -26  so a size 12 from Top Shop will of course be different from a size 12 in White Stuff, yet they are still all called ‘size 12’.  And so ‘vanity sizing’ has appeared to become the norm.

Although I don’t necessarily think this is all bad. I am careering headlong into middle age with breakneck speed and have the grey hairs and extra inches to prove it, but even if I still had the figure I used to in my twenties I don't think I would want to shop where my daughter does. 

My attitude, lifestyle and general outlook on life have guided me to find my own ‘Style Tribe’. I know the brands of clothing that suit me and I know roughly what size I am. I’m not that bothered if the size 16 I wear should really be a size 24 or anything else. If it fits and I feel good - that’s alright with me.

Perhaps this is where the Independent Pattern Designers have the edge on the more traditional pattern companies; Vogue, Butterick etc.  While they are still trying to be all things to all people we can be more specific. Our branding and size charts also reflect who we design for - usually people like us. 

I love the aesthetic of Sew Over It patterns, they have a wonderfully distinct vintage look to them. And the same applies to Tilly, her pretty colours and 60’s inspired silhouettes again feed another group of dressmakers. A lot of the time we dip in and out of different ‘Tribes’ too, depending on our moods or occasion. I buy from White Stuff, Boden and The White Company as well as M&S.  

So does it really matter that sizing is different from one company to another? Granted it’s hard to navigate the choppy waters of sizing on the High Street, but should it make that much difference to us if we are going to be making our own clothes? 

The information supplied with each pattern includes the body measurements for the different sizes of its target customer.  After all, as we’re making we measure, fit and alter the patterns to make the clothes to suit our own shapes and bodies. 

Or do we just expect a pattern to fit if we make up a specific size straight out of the packet? Like we do when we walk into a shop on the high street and expect to be a certain size and have it fit? 

I know I don't conform to any average sizes found in my favourite shops so I expect to have a bit of trouble fitting into some of the clothes I find off the peg. Which is why I know I will have similar issues with any dressmaking patterns. So I really don’t mind if I’m a 16 in one shop / pattern brand or a size 22 in another.

I’m a bit more apple than banana these days but that’s why I love making my own clothes to fit the body I have. 

Jules x




Did you know that we offer sewing patterns in sizes 6-34?

To take a look at what patterns we have, just click here. Don't forget to share your pics of your finished makes with us by tagging us on Instagram @sewmesomething and using the hashtag #smspatterns


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  • Jan Howard

    Love the journal. Sometimes one thinks that one is the only person to have fit issues!!

    I do find the cloning of an item of clothing that does fit and adjusting to get the ‘perfect fit’ is also a great way to get a good fitting pattern.

    Using the finished sizes of garments is my preferred option but sometimes struggle to calculate the ease built in.

    Great journal topic. Thanks.

  • Lynda Madani

    Such an interesting article thanks Jules.

    I’ve just finished a dress today after deliberating for some time on the size I should make.

    Despite choosing to go with sizing on the back of the pack and my own measurements the dress still came up large!!

    Could I have made the “finished garment” sizing, as, with a few tweaks, this would have been more my size. Fortunately I was able to tweak to get my size but it’s a frustration!!

    With all your sewing and pattern making experience would you say this could be an option?

    PS it wasn’t one of your patterns 🤪

    Many thanks

  • Maggie Cotterill

    Thankyou Jules for this……..we can be brought low thinking we’ve “gone up a size…or two” when buying commercial garments but actually getting past the size labels and being comfortable is important. So thanks again for your observations and hurrah for SMS patterns and all the info and help SMS gives us.

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