Sunday, November 20, 2011

If Everyone's a Size 4 ...

Even as world currencies fluctuate like Katy Perry's moods, another currency of sorts is in crisis: women's sizing. A few loyal Adventurers recently brought to my attention what they call "size inflation." Size inflation refers to a growing trend (real or perceived) in women's apparel to make roomier garments with smaller numbers: in other words, you don't have to be a supermodel to wear a size 2.

This brilliant sales technique invades the feminine psyche, saying "go ahead - have another piece of pie, and then come shop here. You'll always be a 4 to us!" In a world of conditional love, this incentivizes purchases - and since this world is also one of continuing economic difficulty, that's important. Alluringly, this allows women (most of whom care a great deal about that little number next to the washing instructions) to feel smaller than they may be in reality.

This trend, say my very concerned, rather petite, fellow lovers of business casual, is alarming and makes it impossible to buy properly-fitting clothes. I'd like to point out that no one above a size 8 is complaining. See, as with any inflationary measure, the currency is devalued. For petite women, their value proposition is their tininess. If everyone can be tiny, they're forced into "made up" sizes like 00 (if I wore it, I wouldn't complain), and they get fewer points for foregoing the aforementioned second piece of pie. There are more women at the envied "small number" end of the spectrum, so the petite ladies' sizes are "worth" less. To paraphrase The Incredibles: If everyone's a size 4, no one is.

What's probably more difficult, though, is that a 4 is never just a 4. See, women's sizes are a lot more psychological than men's sizes. Men literally buy their pants based on how wide and tall they are. Two measurements, bam! Fits every time. Women, however, need a lot more veiling and subtlety. It's not entirely accurate to call this size inflation - it's more like an unregulated currency. There is no objective standard.

First, there's the cut: because women are not all shaped the same. Let's establish that there are two very different sized pairs of hips that fit into a size 6 boot-cut, and a size 6 curvy. This isn't bad, it's just complicated. Second, different sizes are trying to accommodate a number of different features. Even something as simple as pants contain waist measurements, hip measurements, inseams, thigh width, and degrees of bootyliciousness. So, going from a 6 to an 8 could mean they're a half inch longer and a half inch wider at the waist, or they could be the same length with an extra half inch in the rear. You just don't know. 

If you want to get really complicated, try a dress. This has to fit every part of a woman's body, minus her ankles. No wonder a 4 is never just a 4! Finally, different stores have different sizes. All you really ever know about a size 6 is that some part of it is smaller than the size 8, and bigger than the size 4. Probably. You also know it may or may not be any more exact than buying a Small, Medium, or Large, or which one of those would include a size 6.

This means that many stores* have decided to ease the psychological burden and cut things a bit wider. They don't want to drive a hard line on your bottom, they want to drive their bottom line hard. They win, we win, and our petite friends end up with closets full of 0s, 2s, and 4s. EVERYONE IS A WINNER.

That's the point of inflation - it spreads the wealth around by devaluing it. Instead of having $1 that can buy four cheeseburgers, you have $4 that can buy one cheeseburger. (For reals - $0.25 burgers vs. a $6 burger at Chili's, anyone?)

The analogy is a bit flawed, though, because it only recognizes the value of the small end of the spectrum, and women's sizes are more varied than inflated. Additionally, as Aristotle says, "No very small animal** can be beautiful ... nor can any very large one."
Size 6, anyone?

I experienced size inflation while wearing:
Black below-the-knee, high-waisted pencil skirt, black cami, gray jacket with lace overlay and bow waist, black pearl earrings, sheer black hose, large silver ring, and black and gray wingtip-inspired stilettos ... all in a variety of sizes.

*H&M is working hard to deflate sizes. I wear gigantic sizes there. It makes me hate the Swedes. 

** This is not to imply that women are animals. Merely that they are human, and as such, qualify as rational animals. I know this may shock some of you. 


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  2. I'm not complaining because I have to sometimes wear "made up" sizes, but rather because too often, the "made up sizes" are not even available. Which means there simply is no khaki pencil skirt, or business suit available for me - I don't honestly care how many zeroes are on my size tag (from most stores still I'm not even a zero), but the problem is that often stores are "inflating" sizes, but then not making or stocking small sizes at all. That is what my complaint is about, so I hope you haven't interpreted me as complaining about how difficult life is because I'm thin - that's not it. I don't think it's right for our society and culture to value thinness over "the average woman," but I would like to be able to find clothes that fit and look professional, not like I'm playing dress up in Mom's closet.

  3. Also, nice job. Cleverly written and enjoyable to read as always :)

    Miss you tons!

  4. That makes sense - and it would definitely be a problem! I think that's part of the difficulty of sizing things this way. Sometimes it makes you feel great, because all of a sudden you're three dress sizes smaller than you used to be. The flip side of that is when you can't find anything that fits because there's no objective standard.
    Thanks for the inspiration!