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"What's My Size?"

Status Report on U.S. Clothing Size Standards and a Glimpse of the International Scene

New York, Jul 24, 2002

As anyone will attest, selecting the right clothing size can be confusing. Sizes seem to vary among different manufacturers, designers and retailers. For example, a woman might need a size 10 in Brand X or a 6 in Brand Y and perhaps a 4 in Brand Z. Although voluntary consensus standards for apparel sizes exist within the U.S. and abroad, confusion still reigns among consumers, manufacturers and retailers alike as to the 'true' size of clothing.

"We don't want to play a guessing game when we try on clothes; we want the garment size [indicated on the label] to correlate to our bodies," said Sirvart Mellian, chairman of the apparel sizing committee (D13.55, Body measurement for apparel sizes) for ASTM International, an ANSI member and ANSI-accredited standards developer. ASTM standards for the numerical sizes of women's, men's and children's apparel are based on body measurements used by a wide array of apparel manufacturers. The documents contain a table of size ranges intended for use as a guide for clothing manufacture and design in the U.S. In the U.S. many clothing companies interpret these standard measurements accordingly to develop their own sizing systems based on their own perception of what ladies' sizes 2-20, for example, should be.

The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA), the national association representing U.S. apparel manufacturers and an ANSI member, has been researching the 'size issue' for several years amongst its constituency. According to AAFA, clothing sizes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer because "there are no longer any [industry-accepted] standard body dimensions that equate to standard garment sizes." Studies conducted by the federal government in the 1930s and 1970s led to the development of Voluntary Product Standards, which contained apparel sizes that clothing makers adhered to for many years. However, standards are just good ideas unless products conform to them; during the last fifteen years or so company-specific sizing guidelines have replaced voluntary standards. Although AAFA suggests that manufacturers believe their customers would be reluctant to purchase clothing based on actual body measurements, a new system has been proposed both in the U.S. and abroad that would identify the true size of a garment.

In the U.S., ASTM is proposing new labeling standards that include actual body measurements in addition to numerical values. In fact, Mellian, who is program manager for Anthropology and Sizing at the U.S. Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility, has already instituted a "cutting edge" system for U.S. Navy uniform. She indicates that the sailors appreciate the accuracy of the new sizing method that reflects their body measurements, which is based on international standards developed by Technical Committee 133, Sizing systems and designations for clothes, of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Abroad, industry organizations within the European Union are currently developing a standard for clothing sizes that is based on body sizes appropriate to the European population. The draft standard, EN 13402-3, Size designation of clothes-Part 3: Measurements and Intervals, recommends the use of a 'pictogram' to illustrate bust, waist and hip dimensions. This pictogram would appear on the garment label replacing a size 10, for example, with three measurements in centimeters, such as 82-86 cm (bust), 66-70 cm (waist) and 90-94 cm (hip). The document emanates from the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), Technical Committee 248, Textiles and textile products, composed of representatives from retail, manufacturing and consumer industry groups.

One of the organizations closely involved in the document's development is the British Standards Institution (BSI). Steve Tyler, BSI spokesman, indicated that the standard is targeted for completion in 2004 at which time it is possible that it may be submitted to ISO for consideration as an international standard. He noted that the document is a positive step toward a universal sizing system that has received support from European garment manufacturers and designers.

Studies conducted by ASTM in the 1980s indicated overwhelming consumer endorsement for the inclusion of body dimensions on clothing labels. Perhaps, twenty years later, the standards community can help the garment industry to give the people what they want: clothes that are 'true to size'.

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