Though designed as a mere convenience, clothing sizes establish an unintended norm, an ideal from which deviations seem like flaws. There’s nothing like a trip to the dressing room to convince a woman—fat, thin, or in between—that she’s a freak. Her torso is too long for the jacket or too short for the dress. Her arms are too short for the blouse that fits her bust. Her seat is too flat for the pants that hug her waist. Her hips nearly split the skirt that fits her waist. The more tailored the garment, the greater the problem. (Men’s clothes are easier, because they tend to be looser and because, as one industry expert puts it, men “have fewer bumps.”) Jeans are particularly troublesome. With its body-hugging fit, America’s egalitarian uniform provides little room to hide deviations from the norm.
And nobody’s normal. Sizes are standardized. Bodies aren’t.
Not so. The real problem is that there are no standard sizes. Ask any woman trying on clothes: In one brand you wear a 6, in another a 4 and in a third a 12. Not to mention S, M, L. One brand's S often turns out to be another brand's L.
Once upon a time, I'm told, one could reliably be a size XYZ. And there were variations in fit, too. There used to be a distinction between junior and missy sizing; I believe juniors were for shorter-waisted women. Now the distinction seems to be that junior sizes are tighter, less well made and way too young for anyone over 18.
This doesn't solve the problem of having a different size top and bottom--a problem for many women--but it at least helps eliminate uncertainty. And the freakish feeling Virginia describes.
And men don't have it easier because they have fewer bumps; they have it easier because their clothing actually still comes in standard sizes. A man wants a dress shirt, he measures his neck and his sleeve and--presto, chango--he knows what size to buy. A man wants an off-the-rack suit, he goes in the store, the salesperson measures him and he's got a suit. A suit with free alterations to eliminate the differences between a man's nonstandard body and his standard-sized suit.