The Latest Take On Shopping If You Are Tall, Plus-size, or Have Large Feet

If you are a cross-dresser or a trans woman, then likely you are tall, plus-size (size 14 or over) or have large feet and shopping becomes a challenge for you.  Bustle recently surveyed 448 women to explore shopping, sizing, and the intersection of the two. The goal of the survey was to find out people’s feelings about the experience of trying to find clothes that fit — their tips and tricks, their favorite stores, their frustrations, and what they’d like to see change in the industry. Here are the results of the survey:

The General Shopping Experience

fitting roomBustle’s ‘The Fitting Room’ Aims To Hear From Real People About Sizing, Shopping, And How The Two Intersect. When I think of a fitting room, nothing positive comes to mind. There are memories of me tearing off things in harsh lighting, sweating profusely because, “God, why is there not more air conditioning in these things?” There are flashbacks of sheer panic washing over my body when I tried on too-tight clothes while shopping alone and simply could not get them of my body. There are more than a few scenes of me walking out of a fitting room and choking back tears, because why does finding something that fits and feels good have to be so damn hard? I’ve been 6 feet tall all my life and, having been both straight size and plus size, one main thing has rung true through my entire existence: Fitting rooms kind of suck — for me, and for most people with a body.

The nuances of finding clothing that fits your body in an industry with sizing that is inconsistent and almost always more exclusive than inclusive are virtually endless. And the further your body gets from the “average” size, the more complicated things become. In an effort to hear about real people’s tips, tricks, frustrations, and hopes for sizing, shopping, and the intersection of the two, Bustle surveyed more than 400 people of many body types about everything from how clothing fits them to where they have the best luck when shopping.

70% of survey participants said their size not same in stores when shopping

The results of the survey, though varied, were an important reminder that the frustrations we all sometimes feel in fitting rooms or shopping online are universal in more ways than they are not, and that the problem with finding clothing that fits is never with us or our bodies, but with the system itself.

30% of women buying clothes online say they don't fit when shopping

20% of stores don't carry their size

Yes, the general survey results revealed that shopping is frustrating for everyone — but if you have a body that is doesn’t fit into fashions very narrow mold of what is “easiest” to dress, then things are even more complicated. While the survey allowed people to identify their body type in any way that made the most sense to them, the survey also resulted in a particularly large amount of participants in four specific categories — plus size, petite, tall, and petite plus size.

37% of women find it hard to find clothes when shopping

In addition to the above stories about clothing sizes, the survey also resulted in two stories about people who have a shoe size under a size 5.5 and a size 10 shoe or over.

What all of these stories have in common is an idea that we explored further in a piece about how utterly frustrating online size calculators can be. This idea is the same idea that is at the heart of The Fitting Room: Human bodies are endlessly varied and always attached to an actual human — one with feelings, insecurities, and emotional nuances. Human bodies can never be fully explained by just an algorithm or a set of measurements that are supposed to help you find your size.

50% of women keep clothes they don't like when shopping

The industry, and sizing in particular, is often broken down into averages. Average weights, average heights, average sizes. How often have you heard about the almighty “size of the average American woman“, after all? Phrases like this are thrown around lightly, often as examples to support the idea that if the average size is a 14, there should be more plus sizes available. This is all true, of course. More inclusive sizing is something that’s necessary. But human bodies are not averages or average at all, really. They are wholly unique. Even with the most similar measurements, they are never, ever the same.

45% admitted keeping clothing they don't like when shopping

But these inherent differences shouldn’t mean that we simply give up when it comes to providing clothing that fits for everyone, or creating tools that help people find their size. They mean that we should always be asking more of the industry. We should always be looking at what’s available, seeing the gaps, and asking for more. We should always be asking for clothing that fits not only our bodies, but other marginalized bodies, too.

size ranges when shopping

Because of this, Bustle will now note the available size range from a brand in any article in which a clothing brand is mentioned — whether the story focuses on sizing or not. This initiative will serve as an important note to readers about whether or not a brand offers options for them, but also hopefully as an impetus to brands to strive to offer more. Because, as The Fitting Room survey showed us, as long as bodies are as unique as the human’s attached to them, there is always a need for more. And in a system that is often designed to make us feel like the problem with sizing and shopping is with our bodies, it’s important to remember that the problem is never with us.

Tall Women (over 5’10”)

 

tall womanWe talked to 69 tall people about shopping for clothes that actually fit. Even though it’s supposed to be fun, for many people, shopping and finding clothes that actually fit is an emotional, difficult, and frustrating process. In a fashion industry where sizing is inconsistent and largely exclusive to people with bodies that don’t fit into a standardized mold, shopping for clothing can be downright depressing. For individuals over 5 feet 9 inches, shopping can be an especially frustrating process. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services, the average height of an American woman is around 5 feet 3.5 inches. While vanity sizing and a generally complicated history of sizing in the U.S. has made standardized sizing more confusing than ever, generally speaking, most women’s clothing caters to those who are close to this average height. Naturally, this leads to sleeve lengths, pant lengths, and dresses which are almost always designed for a person who is 6 or more inches shorter than a tall woman.

Regardless of height, though, shopping can be a difficult process for any woman (or person, for that matter). In an effort to get to the bottom of people’s biggest frustrations with shopping, learn their best tips, and share their favorite places to find something that fits, Bustle surveyed more than 400 people of many different sizes and body types about shopping, sizing, and how they feel about it all. This included getting the perspective of 69 people who self-identified as tall. Of those 69 people, 8.7 percent fell into a size 00-4, 31.9 percent fell into the size of 4-8, 43.5 percent identified as size 10-14, and 15.9 percent identified as 14-18 or above.

What They Think About Shopping & Sizing In General

More than 53% of tall women do shopping in stores

Almost 90 percent of those surveyed noted they had never used a sizing app, which ultimately reflected a larger trend we saw in the survey — that, regardless of their size or body type, the vast majority of individuals don’t know their measurements at all.

Less surprisingly, those surveyed who identified as tall noted that length is a reoccuring problem when it comes to tops, bottoms, and dresses.

Nicky Bates, a Detroit-based marketing and development associate, is 6 feet tall and a size 16/18. Bates tells Bustle that finding plus size clothing that is also the right length is a particular struggle.

“Most of my shirts with longer sleeves are 3/4 sleeve length on me, but were made to be full length. I’m a triathlete so I swim a lot and have chubby/muscular biceps and broad shoulders. In most shirts, I have to go up a size to fit my arms and shoulders even if the size down fit the rest of me,” Bates says.

most tall women wear 3/4 quarter length sleeves

Some people surveyed mentioned other work-arounds for problems like these, with one suggesting “going a size larger to get more length in shirts then tucking/tying them in the sleeves, waist, etc. to fit.”

What They Think About Shopping In Store Versus Online

Of those surveyed, only 2.9 percent said they shop either in-store only or online only. Interestingly, despite online shopping have far more access to niche sizing for tall people, more than 53 percent of those surveyed said they shop mostly in store and sometimes online. Alternatively, almost 41 percent of those surveyed said they shop mostly online and sometimes in stores.

When asked in the survey about their favorite places to shop in store, one person who identified as tall simply wrote, “Makeup stores lol, clothes shopping can be overwhelming and I need to be in the zone and not annoyed with people.”

This quote perfectly highlights the general frustration that many people can feel with shopping in stores that often don’t have sizes that work for their bodies. When clothing that fits you isn’t available, sometimes it’s easier to avoid the IRL trying-on process altogether.

But as Dallas-based Customer Service Agent Madison Hunnicutt, who is 6 feet 2 inches and a size 16, tells Bustle, shopping online also presents it’s own unique set of problems when you’re tall.

“I would say my height is definitely a unique factor when it comes to shopping, especially online shopping. Because you never know when you order something, if it is going to actually fit they way it should,” Hunnicutt says.

Hunnicutt’s description of the problems of shopping online might explain why so many tall people still opt to shop in store and see the items in real life while shopping.

Bates tells Bustle a similar story about shopping online.

“My size makes me really hesitate to shop online. Sometimes I’ll fall in love with a pattern or how it looks on the model and be really disappointed when it doesn’t fit,” Bates says. “If I do it in store, I just won’t buy it, but if I order it online, I’ll think that maybe it’ll fit one day and it’ll sit in my closet forever, unworn. Once I’ve found something I love (a brand, a dress/shirt style, etc.), I tend to just stick to that. It makes me hesitate to branch out in terms of fashion because often I feel like I couldn’t ‘pull off’ a look because I only see people much smaller than me wearing it.”

Where They Like To Shop & Where They Tell Other People To Shop

Those surveyed who identified themselves as tall most commonly listed the following as their favorite places to shop: Old Navy (offers sizes XS – 4X, 00-30; tall/petite options), Nordstrom (offers sizes XXS – 3X; 00-29W; petite/tall options), Target (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 00-26W; tall/short options), ASOS (offers sizes XS – 3X; 00 -26, tall/petite options), American Eagle (XXS – XXL; 00 – 20; long/short options), Gap (XS – XXL; 00-20, tall/petite options), LOFT (offers sizes XXS – XXL; 00-26; tall/petite options), H&M (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 0-30, petite options), Madewell (offers sizes XXS – 3X; 00 – 22; petite/tall/taller options), Amazon (offers sizes 00 – 38; XXS – 8X; petite options), J.Crew (offers sizes XXS – 5X; 000 – 24; tall/petite options), and Anthropologie (offers sizes XS – XL; 00 – 16; tall/petite options).

Other stores that made the cut were places like Long Tall Sally (offers sizes 4-20; XS – XLL; extra-long/tall options), which specializes in clothing for tall women, as well as more niche stores like Girlfriend Collective (offers sizes XXS – 3X) and Uniqlo (offers sizes XS – 3X; 0 – 12).

One person surveyed suggested thrift stores, as well, writing “In many ways [they have] more inclusive sizes for larger girls like myself than newer retail.” This tip is particularly interesting given that a common complaint about vintage clothing is that it runs smaller. However, it is an important reminder to keep an open mind when it comes to where you do and don’t shop. What works for one person may not work for you, and vice versa.

And as for the overall shopping experience and how to find clothes that fit them? Those surveyed had a few tips for that, too. One person suggested “ordering ankle length pants in the tall size so they are actually the perfect inseam length for my long legs.” This solves the specific problem of standard length tall pants being too long, but standard length pants being too short. Another said to simply, “Buy the tallest pants you can; the rise will be higher and you can hem them if they are bit too long.”

Another pro tip? Always read the reviews, and don’t be afraid to go up or down a size.

“People are usually forthcoming about their own measurements and body shape and will tell you honestly how it fit them. My second tip is to not be afraid to size up. I’ve found that going up one size or more can make the biggest difference in how I feel in a piece of clothing (for both comfort and confidence),” one person wrote in the survey.

What Could Be Better About Their Shopping Experience

height is a unique factor for tall women

Hunnicutt says that taking Bustle’s sizing survey opened her eyes to how much her own perspective on shopping has changed, and how much the industry has changed as well.

“[When I took the Bustle survey] I remember feeling less embarrassed than I use to feel when taking these kinds of surveys. Even though they are anonymous, I used to feel reminded of how frustrating shopping was when answering these questions. But now, I feel more empowered, as I have seen the fashion industry change so much during my lifetime and really stand up and take notice to our thoughts and suggestions.”

Bates noted something similar, but also mentioned that when it comes to online shopping in particular, diversity in models is something she’d like to see more of — and something that would help not only her shopping experience improve, but others as well.

“To me, the issue with online shopping comes down to a need for more diverse models. Diverse in race, size, height, body shape, physical ability, etc. I’ve seen this slowly happening, but even in the plus size world, I see a lot of models with similar plus sized bodies in terms of proportion, height, and weight. They’ll use a model who’s a size 14/16, but have clothing up to a 26/28. The clothes will look way different on someone who’s a 26 then on someone who’s a 16.” Bates says. “I want to see what it’s going to look like on someone who’s the same size or weight/height as me.”

When talking to tall individuals like Bates and Hunnicutt or petite-plus size people or plus size people, or almost any person at all, one thing is clear — the industry still has a long way to go. And, in the meantime, it only helps for all of us to talk to each other about our own struggles (and victories) when it comes to finding clothing that makes us feel great

Plus-Size Women (Size 10 or larger-67% of female population)

shopping for plus size women

Kristin Mahler/Bustle; Courtesy MIndy Scott

We talked To 88 plus size shoppers about buying clothes & TBH, they hate your damn sizing guide. Clothes shopping is often described as “retail therapy.” It’s allowing your mind to wander among racks and racks of new style possibilities after a particularly long week. But for plus size shoppers, the thrill of spending on style can be more traumatizing than tranquil. These people, however, have had enough of being tossed aside by the fashion industry, and they’re speaking out about how stores and shops can better serve them.

As part of our Fitting Room package, Bustle recently put out a survey to explore shopping, sizing, and the intersection of the two. The goal of the survey was to find out people’s feelings about the experience of trying to find clothes that fit — their tips and tricks, their favorite stores, their frustrations, and what they’d like to see change in the industry. Through the survey, plus size shoppers shared their experiences shopping for clothing. The experiences, which range from humorous to heartening, demonstrate how plus size customers can be more fully included in the fashion world — and how much size inequality still looms over society.

Out of the 448 of people who responded to our survey, 88 were shoppers who identify as plus size. These people wore a size 10 or above, and called themselves plus size solely — not plus size petite or tall. Here’s what they had to say about plus size fashion “rules,” awful sizing, and trying to navigate a clothing world that often disregards plus size fashion lovers.

What They Think About Shopping In General

Plus Size OK with body

There are silent fashion “rules” all plus size shoppers know as gospel. Don’t wear patterns. Don’t wear bright colors. Don’t wear anything form-fitting. These rules were created to encourage plus size people to fade into the background, not drawing attention to themselves through playful or sexy fashion.

These rules, as you’ve probably heard, are also completely bogus. And the plus size people we surveyed had a lot of fun challenging — and shattering — the style status quo.

“For my body, I try not to stick to the rules,” one responder said. “Sometimes it’s fun to mix prints or wear two flowy pieces together. Plus size clothing doesn’t have to have some strict guideline all the time.”

But while tossing rules aside can be empowering, there’s still a clothing barrier facing many plus size shoppers — stores that still see these “rules” as bible. Many fashion lovers felt they could only find ill-fitting, bland clothes that seemed haphazardly thrown together as an afterthought rather than carefully designed.

“I’m middle heavy so sometimes some clothes just don’t lay right or don’t fit my stomach, but fit everywhere else,” Chicago-based office manager Kate O’Hagan, who wears anywhere from a 16 to 22 in clothing, says. “I end up buying bigger tops than I really need.”

Navigating this shopping environment that can seem like it purposefully discourages pleasure from clothes shopping can be both mentally and emotionally taxing, plucking at insecurities and bringing up body-negative feelings for plus size people.

“Trying on and shopping for clothes used to be one of the most anxiety-inducing things for me,” Chicago-based writer for Bustle Alani Vargas, who wears a size 16, says. “I would get so discouraged and be in a foul mood for hours…It’s taken 22 years for me to really be okay with my body, to love it for all that it, to realize that ‘healthy’ and ‘beautiful’ come in all shapes and sizes, and in turn be okay with how my shopping experiences go.”

What They Think About Sizing In General

Only 3% of plus size women are shopping in stores

For most responders, issues around sizing rule their experience with shopping. Instead of scrolling through endless pages of clothing options online like their straight-sized counterparts, many plus size fashion lovers struggle to find pieces that suit their style and size.

“I range from 16 to a 22 just solely based on the brand or store,” O’Hagan says. “It’s frustrating. I don’t understand why there isn’t an universal sizing chart. It can be exhausting to remember what size I am for each brand.”

Some people who took Bustle’s sizing survey pointed to the pressure to fit in smaller clothing, even if you are the only person who will ever see the sizing tag. The social pressure to be thin follows plus size shoppers during the shopping process, influencing the way they see the experience even from the comfort of your home.

“Look at the sizing chart and don’t get too caught up in the size you’re ordering,” one responder advised to other plus shoppers.

Another respondent agreed, saying to focus more on fit than a number and cautioning to never let a number define your shopping experience.

“Sometimes it’s better to size up and be comfortable then worrying about fitting and things being tight,” one responder said. “When trying clothes, I usually take two sizes and then decide.”

But the main problem, for many, is simply that brands often don’t offer plus size options to begin with. There’s no need to look at sizing charts when you know you won’t fit into any of the clothes offered by a retailer. And that feeling of sartorial rejection runs deep for many shoppers.

“When I think about how brands don’t offer things that fit me, the message is loud and clear — ‘Your body is wrong,'” Abell says.

What They Think About Shopping In Store Versus Online

The majority of plus size shoppers who answered Bustle’s Fitting Room survey — a sizable 68 percent — shop mostly online and sometimes in stores. Ten percent report shopping online only, while only three percent shop in-store only.

One reason so many people favored shopping online is the instant availability of plus size items. While shopping IRL can sometimes be unreliable when it comes to finding plus sizes, online shopping makes the search a little more bearable by cutting shopping time significantly.

“There are very few brands that carry my sizes in store,” Oakland-based nonprofit director Megan Abell, who wears a size 16 or 18, says. “Even if they claim to carry my size in store, the items are usually sold out or hard to find. I’ve pretty much given up shopping in-store, it’s just not worth my time. I buy 90 percent of my items online.”

Many online shoppers recommended sorting by size to avoid the scavenger hunt, and comparing measurements to ensure a perfect fit.

Where They Like To Shop

The people who answered the survey had a lot in common, including their favorite places to shop. Major retail stores like Target (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 00 – 26W; tall/short options), Old Navy (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 00 – 26W; tall/short options), Nordstrom (offers sizes XXS – 3X; 00 – 30, petite/tall options), Forever 21 (offers sizes XS – XXL; 0 – 26), LOFT (offers sizes XXS – XXL; 00 – 26, petite/tall options), and Madewell (offers sizes XXS – 3X; 00 – 24, petite/tall options) were popular among plus size shoppers. Stores known for catering to plus size consumers, like Torrid (M – 6X; 10 – 30, petite/tall options) and Eloquii (12 – 28, petite/tall options), were also popular brands in responder’s closets. Online-focused brand ASOS (offers sizes XXS – XXL; 00 – 26; tall/short options) was a favorites among those surveyed, further proving brick-and-mortar isn’t the ideal shopping situation for plus size people.

Stores like H&M (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 00 – 30 online) and American Eagle (offers sizes XXS – XXL; 00 – 20; tall/short options) also made the cut as popular shopping destinations, though both brands don’t turn a sharp focus toward plus size shoppers — especially in-store, where both stores stock limited plus sizes.

Retailers known for having wide plus size selections — like Addition Elle (offers sizes X – 5X; 12 – 26; tall/short options) and ModCloth (offers sizes XXS – 4X; 00 – 30) — also received a lot of love from shoppers, too. But, according to respondents, finding places to shop was less about personal style and more about which stores offered their size.

“It’s difficult to say what my favorite places are to shop,” Abell says. “It’s so piecemeal. The offerings for plus size women are still minuscule, and the styles offered from those brands so varied. I can’t really identify a shop that encapsulates my style or that I know will reliably have lots of stuff I like.”

While almost all of the 88 respondents had places they shop in common, this could be attributed more to the sizes offered and wide-reaching availability of brands rather than a common personal style between respondents.

“I can’t just walk into Urban Outfitters (offers sizes XS – XL; 0 – 14) or Zara (offers sizes XS – XXL; 0 – 14) and know that their standard sizes in most things will fit me,” Vargas says. “I’m super happy with my main places to shop at (American Eagle, Forever 21, and Target), but it’d be nice to have more options.”

What Could Be Better About Their Shopping Experience

67% of plus size women are shopping online

When it comes to what more could be desired from respondents’ shopping experiences, the answer is a lot. From more quality clothing to more availability to standard sizing for all brands, plus size shoppers have a lot of wishes to make shopping more enjoyable and accessible.

Some shoppers also called to abolish “vanity sizing,” or the common practice of assigning smaller numbers to larger sizes to encourage sales. With vanity sizing, the goal is for retailers to show you a smaller size to feed into size insecurities, making you feel more apt to buy if you feel “thinner” in their clothing.

“[My shopping hack is] comparing measurements between stores where I know I fit into their clothes to make sure sizes at another store are comparable,” one respondent said. “As a plus size woman, vanity sizing is constantly part of the shopping minefield.”

Most respondents, however, had the same simple desire — to simply be thought of by brands during the clothing creation process.

“I feel like some brands consider plus size clothes as like an afterthought, and the quality of clothing just goes out the window,” O’Hagan says. “I hate going into a store and seeing the ‘regular’ size clothing and then assuming the same clothes will be available in plus size, but it’s not.”

plus size women want more options when shopping

To make their shopping experience better, plus size people want to feel heard and considered. These shoppers aren’t just ready for the fashion world to change. They are ready and willing to help — or, rather, force — it to change.

“I don’t think [brands] collaborate enough with plus-size people to really understand what we want,” O’Hagan says. “Just a simple asking of, ‘On a scale of 1-10, do you think this simple shirt needs a flower maze graphic with some inspirational quote?’ My answer would be -500.”

Shoes for Larger Feet (size 10 and above)

shopping for women with large feet

The Absolute Best Places To Find Shoes A Size 10 Or Over, According To 115 People With Bigger Feet. There’s no version of shopping that isn’t at least a little bit frustrating for those involved. If your particular size is less available in stores, this can make the process even more infuriating. Whether you’re petite, tall, plus size, somewhere in between it all, or a combination of categories, finding clothes that fit can seem impossible sometimes. Bustle’s The Fitting Room took the results of a a survey that asked more than 400 people what they thought about shopping, sizing, and the intersection of the two and turned the results into stories that highlighted people’s thoughts about shopping. But it wasn’t just limited to clothing.

The average women’s shoe size is an 8.5, which might seem that far off from an 11 or 12. But, surprisingly, when you have a shoe size that stretches beyond that average size (usually a size 10 or bigger for women), it can make finding a variety of cute shoes pretty darn difficult. Of those surveyed for The Fitting Room, though, more than 26 percent of participants at a size 10 or bigger foot. Of that percentage, almost 70 percent had a size 10 to 10.5 size foot, while almost 27 percent had a size 11 – 11.5 size foot. A little more than 4 percent reported have a size 12 or bigger foot.

What They Think About Finding Their Shoe Size

26% had size 10 or larger feet

Of those with a size 10 shoe or bigger, more than 31 percent said they always had trouble finding shoes in their size in stores. Almost 14 percent said they never have trouble finding shoes in their size, and 56 percent said they sometimes have trouble finding shoes in their size.

Their Favorite Places to Find Shoes That Fit

 

31% had trouble finding shoes when shoppingIn terms of in-store shopping, a whopping 51 percent of individuals listed DSW (offers sizes 3 – 16; extra narrow/narrow/wide/extra wide options) as a favorite place to find shoes in their size. This makes sense given if you search the DSW site by size, there are more than 8,000 options for size 10 and bigger — and the sizes go up to a 16. There are also more than 1,2000 options for size 12 and bigger.

Other favorite in-store brands listed included Payless (offers sizes 5 -13; extra wide options), Marshall’s, TJ Maxx, and Target (offers sizes 5 – 12; wide options). For both in-store and online suggestions, department stores (Macy’s, Nordstrom, etc.) seemed to be a popular choice. More than 45 percent of those surveyed said that Amazon was one of their favorite places to shop as well.

Other stores that made the cut were ASOS (offers sizes 5 – 12; wide options), Walmart (offers sizes 3 – 16; wide options), and brand-specific stores like Frye (offers sizes 5.5 – 11), Clarks (offers sizes 5 – 12), Nike (offers sizes 4.5 – 15.5), and Aldo (offers sizes 5 – 11).

Zappos was the favorite store for shoe shopping

Almost 29 percent of those surveyed listed Zappos (offers sizes 3.5 – 20; narrow/wide options) as a good place to find their size. Interestingly, for people with a size 12 shoe or larger, every participant except one listed Zappos as a favorite place to shop. People like choices when it comes to footwear and when you search the Zappos site quickly, it’s no wonder people with a size 12 shoe and larger like the site — right now, there are over 7,500 options for size 12 and bigger.

Takeaways

Averages for averages for a reason. And while it’s true that the majority of people wearing American shoes sizes might be closer to a size 8.5 than not, that doesn’t mean that sizes for people with larger feet shouldn’t be accessible everywhere. While The Fitting Room survey proved that there are indeed places that people are going to find shoes that fit them (and it’s not like DSW, Zappos, Amazon, and Target are going away any time soon, either), it also proved that the vast majority of women with larger feet always or sometimes have trouble finding their size in stores. And as long as this is the case, brands have more work to do.

Size Calculators

Size Calculator

Here’s why most online clothing size calculators don’t work for you. For me, online shopping is less something I do when I need clothes and more something I do when I feel bored. Or sad. Or excited. Or, let’s be honest, anything at all really. Finding my correct size while online shopping, however, is a bit more complicated. I usually rely on size charts and guides and model height/size descriptions to get me through, but at 6 feet tall and a size 14/16, for the most part shopping online feels like choosing a number at random and hoping for the best. So the sight of an interactive size calculator is always welcome in my mind — when it works, that is.

Recently, I found myself on fast fashion website browsing around when I spotted a handy size calculator option in the notes of one of the items I was looking at. I was excited to have some sort of point of reference for sizing in a brand that I was unfamiliar with (and especially so when it came to their plus sizes). I entered my height and weight, and was promptly met with a, “Sorry, we don’t have your size” type of message. OK, I thought, a little bummed, but not shocked. Out of sheer curiosity, I started subtracting 10 pounds from my weight to see how long it would take until the calculator spit out, “Congrats! We have your size!” Eventually I ended up at 90 pounds and 6 feet tall, and still, the calculator was telling me the brand didn’t have my size. I had to laugh. Sure, I may have initially gone on the website looking for a trendy dress that would inevitably shrink to the size of baby clothing the first time I dry cleaned it, but what I left with was a big fat metaphor for the entire problem with sizing and the fashion industry.

Eventually I ended up at 90 pounds and 6 feet tall, and still, the calculator was telling me the brand didn’t have my size.

My own size calculator snafu reminded me of something I already knew — that sizing is inconsistent and often misleading across the industry and that bodies were unique, never-one-size-fits-all things. Still, though, I was curious if in a world where we’re sending cars into space for fun just because we can, there was an online size calculator that was sophisticated enough to take into account that behind every measurement is an actual human being. There had to be something, I thought. In hopes to learn about what goes into a sophisticated size calculator, I talked to Ra’el Cohen, the head of design at ThirdLove, an online-only bra brand. ThirdLove offers 70 sizes (28A to 48H, plus half cups) and uses something called Fit Finder quiz to help customers find their ThirdLove bra size.

The Fit Finder is essentially 10-12 questions (the number varies, depending on how you answer certain questions) that all work together to replicate the effect of a bra fitting — but not just any fitting, Cohen tells me, a truly good bra fitting, something that many women either don’t have access to, or don’t feel comfortable experiencing to begin with.

use bra fitting calculator when shopping“What a lot of women don’t know is that [a good bra fitter] is doing a lot more than just measuring you. She’s looking at the brands your wearing, she’s looking at the size you are wearing currently when you came in. She’s looking at the fit issues that you are having. Is your cup digging? Is your strap slipping? And she’s looking at the shape of your breasts, right?” Cohen says when describing the specific Fit Finder questions used to replicate a real life experience without the real life stress or anxiety.

“No one loves an in-store shopping experience for bras. No one wants to get measured. No one wants to be in a cold bright dressing room. You’re half naked, you’re in there with a stranger. She’s poking and prodding you. And even if she means totally well and she is trying to help you, it’s kind of a humiliating experience,” Cohen says.

Third Love Fit Finder

Use Fit Finder when shopping

The Fit Finder works to make the process of finding a bra more comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that you input three measurement statistics and you’re done. Instead, the data-driven Fit Finder, which took over six months to create, is updated constantly (the brand says the exact amount it’s updated varies month to month) and includes specific descriptions (and optional videos) describing exactly why certain questions are being asked, and how to find the right answer to the question at home if you aren’t sure.

“You go through each question and there are little tips that…explain what’s happening [and] why you’re seeing something. Say that you’re saying you wearing it on the tightest hook, we tell you that that typically means it’s time to get to a smaller band because the band is stretched out,” Cohen says.

The balance between an in-depth, accurate quiz and a digestible, accessible one is tough to strike but one that Cohen says ThirdLove understands is necessary.

“No one wants to go to a page and read paragraphs of text on why something does or doesn’t fit a certain way,” Cohen says.

Even with all of the technology and evolving technology that go into ThirdLove’s fit quiz, though, Cohen says she recognizes that there has to be human element that goes along with the tech side of the quiz.

“There has to be a second component to any of these online fit quizzes. You have to be a really excellent customer experience and customer service team,” Cohen says, noting the importance of ThirdLove’s own.So in those cases when we don’t get it right, even though they are fewer and far between, we have to have that feedback loop and follow up so we can get someone to get it right.”

“No one wants to go to a page and read paragraphs of text on why something does or doesn’t fit a certain way,” Cohen says.

This human element of sizing and sizing quizzes is what can break or make a size calculator. For Mallorie Dunn; the designer and owner of Smart Glamour, a size inclusive brand that offers customizable sizing for all bodies (offering sizes XXS – 15x and beyond, according to the site); there is an even simpler solution than online quizzes: knowing your measurements. For many people, though, there is a hesitancy to measuring yourself — a fact reflected in a survey about sizes Bustle did, which received received responses from over 400 women. Of those who took the survey, the majority said they didn’t know how to measure themselves. Dunn tells Bustle that while there is always some level of inaccuracy to any kind of online calculator, something equally as simple knowing your measurements can be life-changing. But the reluctance to do so is real.

“I’ve been trying to take away the stigma away from measuring yourself. Back when I first started at Smart Glamour … I did my very first campaign with the hashtag #measuremebeautiful. What I did was to encourage people to measure themselves and send their measurements to me, and it was cool because I would re-share them and people would see that there are other people who have similar measurements to them who look nothing like them,” Dunn says, going on to explain that she also did a pop up in a park where she asked people if she could measure them in exchange for a tank top. The reactions, Dunn says, were telling. “There were some people who were like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been meaning to get my measurements taken, this is perfect.’ But then there were also people who would say absolutely not and run away from me.”

Measurements work because they focus on the human being and the endless nuances of the human body. Universal Standard’s cofounder Alex Waldman echoes Dunn’s thoughts about people’s hesitancy to be measured, telling Bustle that this could stem from something as simple as unfamiliarity or just not owning a measuring tape. In any case, the mere existence of sizing calculators is proof of people’s desire for the comfort and ease of answering a few questions in a quiz and having your size pop out at the end of it. At Universal Standard, which offers sizes 6 to 32, the brand recognizes this and is using slightly different tools to help people find their size.

In May 2018, the brand implemented the “See It In Your Size” feature, showing their clothing on a model of every size available on the site. This is costly, but important, Waldman tells me.

“We photographed every item in every size on a fit-model so our customers could better understand and visualize how items will fit their unique bodies to make an informed decision,” Waldman says.

Waldman says that See It In Your Size is important to Universal Standard because fit, though tricky, is so incredibly important to the brand. It’s also the reason that the brand allows customers to exchange pieces from its core collection up to a year after purchase for new ones in a different size, if the customer should gain or lose weight. Waldman tells Bustle she always suggests women get measured so they should know their dimensions, but when it comes to your basic online size calculator, she acknowledges that “there’s just something about trying to quantify the diversity of the body through three numbers that never actually works.”

Tools like ThirdLove’s Fit Finder, Universal Standard’s “See It In Your Size,” and campaigns like SmartGlamour’s #measuremebeautiful are all very different solutions to one major problem: sizing is complicated as hell and irreversibly intertwined with the fact that every single human body is different. This is the exact reason why size calculators exist and the exact reason why they’ll never really work — not without a human element, anyway.

shopping for different size dresses

Courtesy Universal Standard

It’s easy to think of clothing in terms of numbers and to boil it all down to numerical sizes, hip and chest measurements, statistics and standards. But when you focus on this human element of sizing — that behind every size is a body and behind every body is a person who just wants to feel good in clothing and always deserves to, the easier it becomes to focus on truly helpful tools in sizing.

When I took that first size calculator quiz that said there was nothing available on the site for the fake 90-pound version of me, my first instinct was to blame myself. I sat there thinking that the problem was me and my body, my weight. In reality, the whole damn system was broken. That tool might have been malfunctioning to begin with, but even if it wasn’t, it is still impossible to boil down sizing from height and weight. Sizing is so much more than that, and so are people. The only way sizing works — and the only way it becomes more inclusive, for that matter — is if the industry realizes that.

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