All Walks is delighted to introduce the first post by an academic on our blog.

Dr Simeon Gill, Senior Lecturer in Fashion Technology
Department of CDT Manchester Metropolitan University.

The current abstract sizing system of 10, 12, 14 is well established in Western culture and is the means through which people choose which clothes to try on in the shops. It is central therefore to both how people negotiate the complexities of ‘what fits’ and also has become a core aspect of many women’s self-definition and characterisation – seen when women comment that they ‘are a size 10’. With the use of sizing labeling as a means to define, categorise and communicate size and acceptance of the body (Grogan, 2008), it is important to understand this system, how it is created and the effect on those who have to use it.

Graphic of UK Sizing Spread BUST

Of immediate concern to many may be the lack of standardisation of sizing between retailers, which arises because sizing standards only suggest how sizing is communicated, not the dimensions which each size (such as 10-12-14) should fit.

There is a good argument that lack of standards allows for variation in sizing more suitable to the varied dimensions of the UK population. This may not make shopping easier, but better reflects variations in proportions as seen in population data when it is examined. Of most concern regarding sizing systems is the way they create opportunities for fit which cater better for smaller sizes than they do for larger ones. Fit may be determined in sizing systems as ‘your dimensions most closely matching those the garment was made to fit’, giving you what may be titled ‘best proximity of fit’.

Looking at the above graph it can be seen that the smallest sizes have a smaller size footprint or spread, while the larger sizes have a larger footprint or spread. This is often due to the adoption of disproportionate grading, where different increments (numerical differences between sizes) are used throughout the sizing range. So for a larger sized woman it would be harder to find clothes with a good fit, as there is more potential for their dimensions to be further from those the garment was designed to fit.

This creates difficulties as research has shown that clothing and body image are linked and often women use clothing sizing to determine satisfaction with their bodies. So not only do consumers have to contend with the difficulties of changing size between retailers, but they also must consider the opportunity for proximity of fit if they require larger sizes.

The dynamic of clothing sizing systems offers some great opportunities for future research. Within the current system there is little to suggest sizing practices are not guided by a cost model, where retailers look to cover the population with the fewest possible sizes, while perpetuating the myth that there is an ideal size. A greater range of sizes and proportional offerings in terms of relationships between bust waist and hip would require more variation in sizing, but would better represent the requirements of our non-standard population.



Gill, S. (2011) UK Clothing Sizing. Word Press. [Online] [Accessed on 14/12/2011]

Grogan, S. (2008) Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children. 2nd ed., London: Routledge