RTW Fit… or does it?

Best Ready-to-wear sizing, clothes hanging on a rail

I think we can all agree high-street clothes sizing has gone a bit crazy.  I mean, how many different ways can clothing brands be so odd, inconsistent or downright rude to people who just want to not be naked?  These are just some of the issues I’ve come across when I (increasingly rarely) shop for clothes:

No.1 –  Vanity sizing:  Typically found at supermarkets/less fashion-conscious brands.  A couple of years ago I (ill-advisedly in a pre-holiday panic) tried on some clothes from the TU range at Sainsbury’s, to find I was a UK 10.  This is someone who went straight from wearing age 14-15 clothes into UK 12-14.  Buying a 10 doesn’t make me happy, it makes me wonder what other corners they’ve cut in addition to bothering with realistic sizing.  And it’s really, really patronising…

No.2 – Inconsistent sizing:  You know when you have to take 3 sizes into the changing room because you’ll be a 12 in one style of top but a 16 in another?  That.

No.3 – ‘We don’t want your custom’ sizing:  H&M are particularly poor for this, although I’ve also heard it said about fashionable sports- and teen-wear brands.  Basically, the sizes run small in the first place, and then they don’t ever stock anything over a 14.  Which is actually a 12, because of the sizing.  Some brands are really blatant about this, others try to hush it up, but it’s an active policy.

For instance, I bought a Tommy Hilfiger shirt when I was 15, that I still wear today.  It’s great quality, and I think 17-years-and-counting of wear makes it a good buy.  No complaints about the shirt.  I only recently thought about the fact that it’s XXL, and if you look at their size guide today, this confirms that it wasn’t ‘teen’ sizing – their XXL is a women’s UK 14-16.  ie the average size of an adult female in the UK.  This is the largest size they make.


It seems that, in order to sell us clothes, many clothing retailers feel they have to somehow play on the pressure many women feel to fit in to a certain physical ideal.  We are encouraged to think that we should be a certain size, and feel validated if we are (at Sainsbury’s), and shop elsewhere if we’re not (at H&M).  Hmm.  Do I still want to give these people my money…?

It doesn’t actually bother me at all what the size label says, if something fits me.  But the idea of making sizing into a sales tactic is pretty off-putting, not to mention making it an absolute pain to shop for clothes.  I definitely feel that sewing my own clothes has contributed to my objectivity about my dress size – there’s a lot to be said for going off your individual measurements, rather than picking a pre-determined ‘average size’ from someone else’s options.

Now let’s have some good news, shall we?  I love the following brands, and chances are if I didn’t sew it myself, I bought it from here:

  • New Look.  While I can’t speak for the ethics or sustainability of their clothes (they do so here, although the emphasis seems to be on what they ‘expect’ from their suppliers, and ‘continuous improvement’), I can say that in my experience they have reliable, consistent and honest sizing.  The clothes I’ve bought have lasted well, and they have a good mix from very up-to-date to good basics.
  • People Tree.  At the other end of the scale, People Tree couldn’t be more ethical if it tried.  Their clothing is very well-made, with fantastic quality fabrics.  Sizing (in my experience) is all over the shop…  It seems that my top and bottom halves do not fit together the same way their block does.  Wouldn’t put me off buying separates though (or a caftan), as this is one of the few genuinely fair-trade brands where a dress won’t cost you £250.  And they’re always having sales.

The other good news is that, although the problems lie with clothing brands (usually either ‘exclusivity’, or corner-cutting to make a quick profit), we have the solution!  Sewing your own clothes gives you access to a fully customisable wardrobe, perfectly tailored to fit.  Want a better-quality, better-fitting version of something you’ve seen in store?  Chances are, there’s a pattern pretty similar.  Want something no-one’s ever been seen in before?  You got it!

So what do you think?  Do you think (or care) about how brands size their clothes?  If you sew, has sewing changed your perception of sizing conventions at all?

Take care, and happy shopping/sewing!




  1. July 5, 2017 / 7:39 am

    I stopped buying clothes due the poor quality and because I can’t find suitable clothes in my size. I’m tall, slim-build and have an athletic body. In my experience when I buy a sewing patterns I also find the same problems size wise like you describe with RTW. All pattern designers, whether Big 4 or Indie designers, have their own size chart, added ease and body length. The only advantage is that I can make alterations.

    • Lucy Turner
      July 5, 2017 / 11:04 am

      It’s so true! I’m lucky in that I have fairly ‘standard’ proportions height-wise, but sometimes that doesn’t even help! I suppose every designer has to choose a ‘standard’ base for their designs, which will vary between pattern companies. But at least we can alter it if it just needs a bit of tweaking! I’m quite lazy, though, and tend to avoid pattern companies if I’ve had a bad fitting experience…

  2. July 5, 2017 / 12:32 am

    You’ve reminded me of all the reasons I gave up buying ready-to-wear! If I buy RTW these days, it’s from op shops/thrift shops and you really get to see how ridiculous the sizing is when you’re buying clothes in six different sizes that all fit you perfectly. Making our own is definitely the way to go – it’s the only way I was able to work out that no RTW dress is ever going to fit my long torso properly, and that was something that bewildered me until I started making my own dresses.

    Part of the problem is that we’re inundated with message that the size of your clothes matters; that it’s some sort of reflection on us personally. Really, it should just be a guide as to what’s going to fit us!

    • Lucy
      July 5, 2017 / 6:46 am

      I completely agree – I think that’s what annoys me most, the insinuation that dress size is a measure of worth… like we’re all supposed to want to be a 10!

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