Written by Elana Pa’apa’a.
The fashion industry is renowned for the unrealistic expectations it seemingly puts on the women of our society. The reason I say ‘seemingly’ is that there is always two sides to the story. Always. And in this post I wanted to explore that.
Being on both sides of the industry now, as a consumer and as a retailer, I can clearly see so many arguments for both. A lot of people say that the ‘standard sizing’ Australia has adapted is now unrealistic, and that would be correct…
The Australian Standard Size Coding Scheme for Women’s Clothing was completely scrapped in 2008, which has been devastating for the Australian woman’s self-esteem. It basically means that no clothing label has the exact same sizing. You know those sizing tables you see on online stores that are meant to give you an idea of how an item will fit? Yeah, no. Unless they are tailored specifically to that clothing line and the store only stocks the one label, it is impossible to have one table give you an accurate idea of how all items fit.
Being a retailer, that makes our lives hard too. The last thing we want to do is give our customers the wrong impression of how an item will fit them. That would be bad for them, bad for us and bad for business. In light of that, we have actually opted out of having that ‘standard sizing’ table on our website, because, personally, I believe that it is more misleading to have it on there than to not. Instead, I try to write an as accurate as possible description of the sizing. Yes, I do use the word ‘average’, which kind of leaves room for misinterpretation. But I believe the idea of ‘average’ we, as women, have in our minds without being subjected to an unrealistic sizing table is far more accurate.
The fact that designers and clothing labels are now able to create their own scale to determine their ‘standard size’ based on what they believe will sell the best is actually quite ridiculous. They are no longer obliged to comply with what is a realistic sizing guide. They are free to state they believe that an ‘average’ size 10 is now going to be a size 12 or 14 in their range. In our experience, majority of popular Australian clothing labels actually limit their size range to sizes 6 – 12. While I can’t quote exactly where the information is from (and please, correct me if I’m wrong), I have often heard that the ‘average’ size of Australian women is a size 14. What makes that 6 – 12 size range even worse is the fact that we are often made to purchase 2 x 6, 2 x 8, 2 x 10 and 1 x 12 in a pack break up, and need to pay more to change that. Only one size 12. So when we have women come in here and enquire about a size larger than size 12, it breaks our heart to tell them that we can’t stock higher than a size 12 in certain labels. No matter how we word it, we are telling them that these popular Australian labels don’t cater to women any larger than a 12.
I am lucky enough to have grown up with a designer mother who explained these things to me and looked after my mental health when it came to body image, so I have always understood that I am not ‘average’, and I’m completely okay with that. My boobs aren’t the same size as my waist, and my hips aren’t the same size as my boobs. I often have to change sizes to be able to fit one body part or another into a garment depending on the style, and that’s completely normal to me. I don’t let that little number on the tag of that dress determine how I feel about myself. But for the girls who haven’t had that explained to them and made clear, or for the girls who are little more susceptible to societal expectations than I am, you can imagine the effect suddenly going from a size 10 to a size 14 just because she went to a different store can have.
In saying all of that, as a retailer and as the Co-Founder of a fashion business in the midst of designing and planning the release of our own clothing label, I do somewhat understand where these ‘standard’ sizes come from and why. I never used to, but now it is clear. And, although I wasn’t all that bothered beforehand, I do believe the deeper knowledge of where the ‘average’ sizes come from or why they use certain models and body shapes has helped my mind relax even just a little bit more.
There has been many times during our business venture so far that we have found ourselves looking for models or talking about sizing for our designs that I have had to stop and think “am I being ridiculously shallow right now?”. I absolutely hate having to base my opinion on someone around their size. It just seems so shallow and cold to me. But, in the fashion industry, we really do need to sometimes. Personally, we don’t base our opinions on models around their size for aesthetic reasons as much as monetary and convenience reasons. If we have a model doing a shoot for us who is around a small ‘average’ size who can wear just about anything and who is tall enough that we don’t have to hem the maxi dresses for her to wear them, then we’ve saved a lot of time and money. And business is business, ya know?
So while it can seem like a brand is being shallow by using smaller models or by sticking with a certain size guide on the surface, it is important to remember that. A lot of the time those decisions have been made for a very specific, very logical business reason. Every clothing label does need to have a standard sizing guide for their collections to be consistent. The issue is that the one standard sizing guide isn’t across the board of all labels.
My advice to you babes would be to find a label you love, really figure out their sizing and stick with them. When you find new labels, do the same. Take the time to try on their pieces (if they are offered in a retail space instead of just online, of course), get to know their kind of ‘average’ and remember and accept it.
And always remember – the little number on that tag at the back of those jeans that no one else will ever even see besides you does not have the power to knock your self-esteem unless you let it. And who wants to be average, anyway?