Ask The Expert
Q: Why are men’s pants and women’s pants sized differently? Wouldn’t it be simpler to measure everything in inches, the way men’s pants are?
A: We posed the question to Professor Phyllis Fein, curriculum chairperson of Business-Fashion Merchandising at Westchester Community College. “Historically, men’s sizing followed the measurement system because of the nature of men’s tailored clothing, which originated with Savile Row in London. Men were more likely to buy suits and coats made by tailors, and these tailors kept all measurements in formal customer record books. Women were more likely to either make their own clothes or use less established enterprises like seamstresses to make their clothes; hence the current sizing of women’s clothing is the messy two, four, six, etc., system, which covers a range of waist/hip sizing.
“The National Bureau of Standards in the 1950s developed a sizing standard for women’s ready-to-wear clothes,” she continues. However, as of January 1983, the U.S. Department of Commerce dropped it on the grounds that it no longer reflected the size and shape of the average consumer. Many brands like Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne have established their own sizing standards. Hence, a size ten for Ralph Lauren may be different than a size ten in Liz Claiborne.
“The results are a wider range of sizing in women’s clothing and the evolution of ‘vanity sizing,’ a phenomenon that reflects the fact that manufacturers are simply making women’s clothing larger and labeling them with smaller sizes. As a result, what was a size eight in the 1950s had become a four by the 1970s and a double-zero today.”