General Tips on Sizing


For the many women who fall outside of what the industry considers standard sizes (approximately sizes 4-14, 5′ 4″ to 5′ 8″ in height), there are “special” sizes that cater to petite, plus and tall women.

As many as half of all women may actually make up these special sizes: according to a survey by Kurt Salmon Associates, one-third of the respondents considered themselves plus-size and 19% were petite.

  • PETITE sizes
  • One of the misconceptions about petite sizes is that you have to be a tiny little thing to qualify.
  • Actually the designation refers to height, not girth: women under 5′ 4″ are considered petite by the industry whether they wear a size 24 or a 4.
  • Although many shorter women are concerned about fit (like getting a jacket waist to hit where it’s supposed or finding sleeves that don’t hang to the knuckles), there are issues of color, scale and proportion that make it difficult to find styles that look flattering.
  • Don’t be discouraged if department store offerings are too old or fussy for your taste. Specialty stores, online resources and catalogs may have just what you need.
  • Try petite-only resources or merchants that feature all sizes (check our Stores section for recommendations.
  • Tips:
  • Look for monochromatic or tonal dressing, sleek lines, smaller prints and scaled-for-you accessories (no huge hoop earrings or enormous bags). The same chunky knit sweater or floor-length skirt that looks so great on the runway may be overwhelming for a smaller woman. Try modifying trends to work for you (maybe a lightweight sweater with a chunky knit scarf or cap and a lower calf skirt with boots instead of extremes).
  • PLUS sizes
  • Some estimates put the number of women who wear a size 14 or larger at about half of the female American population.
  • With so much buying power, it would seem that manufacturers would cater to full-figured women. Instead, the laundry list of complaints from the over-14 consumer keeps growing.
  • Add these complaints: A dearth of updated styles, shoddy workmanship, few high-end labels and a general lack of respect from industry leaders like fashion editors and buyers. (Ex: Vogue editor Anna Wintour told Newsweek that she’d “have a problem with” a fashion editor working for her that weighed 250 pounds).
  • And the strange thing is that real-size women like model Emme (size 14) are labeled plus size, even though they actually represent the average woman according to recent demographics.
  • Online merchants and catalogs have answered some of the shopping needs for plus sizes. See our Stores section for recommendations
  • Tips:Go for monochromatic or tonal dressing; use bright colors and textures to show off the best part of your figure (bust, legs, waist, etc. figure flattery (go for skimming, not tight or baggy); keep accessories in scale (not too dainty); stay updated (grab a few junior large sizes for some wardrobe spunk).
  • TALL sizes
    For women 5′ 9″ and over, it would seem that fashion would be a cakewalk. After all, aren’t all of those lovely, tall models well-dressed?
  • But the reality is that a 34″ inseam gal in a 30″ inseam world can have trouble finding the perfect fit.
  • Manufacturers, in order to fit the most people, make clothes for women of average height, which is about 5′ 4″.
  • That means taller women struggle with pants and sleeves that are entirely too short.
  • Some tall women combat the problem by shopping in the men’s department, some by frequenting tall-only boutiques. Jeans that can be ordered by inseam size are also a good bet.
  • Tip: If you are tall and thin, you may need to take advantage of custom-made bottoms for the best fit.

-UK sizes may seem the same as U.S. women’s, but are generally about a size smaller (a U.S. 8 is about a UK 10) To find your European size, you can add 30 to your size. A U.S. 6 is a Euro 36. Always refer to size charts for fit!

Use this conversion tool to find your size.

-When buying vintage clothing, be aware that the sizes have changed drastically over the years. Consult for good vintage sizing tips.

-If it’s cotton, it’s going to shrink. Add anywhere from 1/3″ to 3/4″ extra to compensate. Some makers count potential shrinkage into the size already. When in doubt — ask a customer service person.

-Many manufacturers or stores may have their own special fit and size tips. It’s a good idea to consult any additional information.

-Get a great tailor, because no matter how closely you order your size, it’s still not custom made.

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