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All About Fit

Why Don't Clothes Ever Fit?

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Woman wearing fitting shirt, mid section
Leonard Mc Lane/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Pants that ride up, sleeves that hang down, waists that pinch, hems that fall short, size 8s that fit differently from label to label.

Did you think it was just your body that was impossible to fit?

According to Stores.org, $28 billion a year of merchandise is returned to stores because of poor fit.

An informal poll on this site shows that 42% never find clothes to fit; 40% only sometimes; 14% said rarely and only 4% said always.

But you really don't care about statistics and projections: you already know that it's almost impossible to find great fit.

The real reason is pretty simple: there's no standardization in women's sizes. A U.S. size 4 could be an 8 or a 2 depending on the maker.

There is a very basic guideline for fit based on a 60-year-old study done by the US Dept. of Commerce.

Unfortunately, the 2,000 women who were measured for that study were mostly young, unmarried, white women according to Ellen Goldsberry, associate professor with The University of Arizona Division of Retailing and Consumer Studies on the university's web site.

That cross-section doesn't begin to touch on the diversity of today's demographics.

Also, this old data is out-of-sync with the way women have increased in size: in 1941 the average woman was 5' 2", 129 pounds. Today she is 5' 4" and weighs 144 lbs (wearing between a 12 and 14).

Another reason clothes never fit is that most sizes are based on the assumption that women's bodies are hourglass in nature. (Ex: A size 8 a the Gap is a 36 bust-28 waist -36 hips.) In reality, the average woman's body is much more a pear shape (smaller on top and heavier through the hips).

To make matters even more confusing, factor in the inane sizing system itself. "Missy" sizes (2-20) originally designated age, not measurements.

And the sizes themselves keep fitting bigger.

Unfortunately, this means that if you have always worn a size 10, you've actually grown by as much as 5" in the bust and waist over the past 30 years.

The good news is that technology, such as 3D body scanners to capture accurate measurements, will improve data gathering about the population's true size.

And mass customized products that allow you to tweak sizes to fit your own measurements are already an online reality.

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