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standardisation of measurement in fashion.

American Apparel

this morning at 8am i woke up to a text message:

"lauren, are you an American Apparel M?"

with my fuzzy brain, i was able to realise that my dear friend seb, in germany, was asking me what size clothing i wore, if i had bought it from American Apparel. I've not ever bought anything from American Apparel, so i don't know. I know that i'm a size 10. Ish. Whether that's a UK or US, I've no idea.

which later got me thinking about the standard unit of measurement in fashion. I'm currently measuring up and making patterns for spaces and, as such, very grateful for the invention of the inch (and then of the centimetre) as a standard unit of measurement, and the design of a tape measure.

I know, small things, amuse small minds.

I'm not exactly sure when these came to pass, but in a recent-ish conversation, ex-colleagues of mine and I were surmising that it was probably as the result of the textile trade. not the craft of making clothes, but the concept of trading, customising, selling and economy, using garments/cloth as the primary currency. Presumably, this required people on both sides of the trading table, to understand how long a piece of cloth was going to be. How do you measure that? Well, you have to devise a unit and a tool to measure with.

OK, so as the textile trade booms, , the concept of the prefabricated garment develops, to which you have to develop a sizing system. This seems to work well for a large amount of time. We still haven't worked out exactly what the difference is between a UK 4 and a US 8, but then again, neither have the supermodels, or the haute couture designers, so it ain't all bad.

but nowadays, clothes aren't 'from' the UK or the US. In fact, they're mostly made in china. designed elsewhere, but the industry sizing standard is not strict, rarely adhered to and a little, well, loose. it seems that countries, or whomever runs the fashion industry nowdays, don't care so much. unlike other areas of industry where a unit, is a unit, is a unit. for instance, a megabyte of RAM is 1024KB worldwide. you don't get a 1000KB in india, 958KB in italy on a good day and 1055KB in new zealand because they value a little extra room. this would undermine the concept of having a global standard. and well, big global brands like Dell and Apple couldn't control their market if the unit was a little fuzzy. but no, not for the fashion industry..


American Apparel is...

[Enter globalisation. ]

what better way to 'take over the world' [insert doom and gloom organ dirge], than to create ones own unit of measurement. like American Apparel M (Medium) is now a standard unit of measurement. It doesn't fit into UK, US, EU fashion standards but transcends (or ignores) it. Other 'sizes' I've heard of recently: the GAP 10, the H&M Small and the Converse 5. This supposes that one has worn clothes from all of the above brands. which of course we all have, right?. and belies a level of arrogance and or smarts that i can't quite work out if i despise or admire.

what i find most scary about this whole messy sizing business is that if there is no level playing field within the fashion industry, why are we (mostly women) still playing against the numbers. despite years of feminist mutterings, there is still an aspiration to an 8, 12 or, even worse, small. when small becomes a unit of measurement that we pit ourselves against, things are going to get ugly. more dangerously for some than others.

Felt and Tape measureWeb

and, to add to the sickness of us having to 'measure up' to an ever-shifting standard of measurement, is that there doesn't seem to be the impetus to change that. we may boo and hiss at the big designer labels, looking for them to change their sizing, we may whinge at the mega street labels, bitching at how shit we feel that we're wearing large, when we used to be a 10, but the reality is, that the unit of measurement comes from both sides of the trading table. which means that as consumers of cloth, there has to be the will to know exactly what we're buying. and perhaps, sadly. we don't really want that to change yet.



At 17 August, 2008 14:28, Blogger Charles Frith said...

I love the AA brand. Loaded up big time when I was in California.

At 17 August, 2008 16:12, Anonymous Seb said...

I'm still not sure with AA (hey one generation ago this was the abbreviation for American Airlines, today it's foremost American Apparel). The quality isn't that good. Though no other manufacturer makes tees that feel so soft. Only they lose shape after some washing. But you're right with the fashion industry. Nearly every brand has a different interpretation of sizes and they even make it more complicated with different cuts that have influence on the size. That's why I have M, L and XL tees by NIKE that nearly fit the same. Or take shoes I'm a adidas US 11, NIKE US 11.5, Converse US 11. BUT when measured for the UK these sizes are adidas UK 10.5, NIKE UK 10.5 and Converse UK 11. In European sizes it's adidas 45 1/3, NIKE 45.5 and Converse 45. That doesn't make any sense at all, does it? There should be one global size meaurement. And I would take the Japanese one because it's simply the length of your foot in centimetres.

Anyway, I organised the tablets of gouache for you. The parcel will be on its way, hon.

At 18 August, 2008 01:55, Blogger Age said...

I read and read and continue to read about AA... yet I have no desire to own any thing from there. What am I missing? Seriously im not taking the piss i actually don't know what is so good about them...

(ps. I don't really wear plain tees though either, is that it?)

The sizing issue is important and i agree we should have a global system but i doubt it'll happen. I buy most of my clothes and sneaks online and i'm constantly hitting the "confirm purchase" button in hope the M will be "my" M. USA sizes do my head in through with the whole L - XXXXL stuff... :(

At 18 August, 2008 09:29, Anonymous Miles Davis said...


At 18 August, 2008 09:29, Anonymous Miles Davis said...


At 18 August, 2008 12:17, Blogger lauren said...


At 18 August, 2008 12:24, Blogger lauren said...

charlie - i can see why you'd like 'em, but at the same time, i thought you were more about the quirky one-off kinda thang. but then i guess, when in china...

seb - you see what i mean with the sizes? plus shoes and guys' shirts are pretty straight forward, really. you start adding boobs, curves, waists and legs and it gets nasty. (i think that statement applies to lots of things, really). and that whole: 3 washes-and-it's-fucked-thing is what i don't like about AA (which here has always been the acronym for Alcoholics Anonymous, ha!). i love the colours and i wish that i wanted to get stuff there, but i'm not a leotard, leggings, oversized-tee-as-dress kinda gal, so i miss out a bit here. although their undies look cool. and their striped socks too.

oh, and thank you sweetie for my tablets. i look forward to getting them :)

age - oh, you're so on with the online thing. in fact, i didn't even mention that, but given that a lot of clothes are being bought online now (both new and secondhand), it's quite nuts that sizes aren't being more standardised. which medium is medium?

miles - i hear ya buddy.

At 04 March, 2009 20:35, Blogger Natalie said...

Hey Lauren,

I know you posted this blog last year! But I stumbled across it today when google-ing 'fashion sizing standardisation' for research for my lit. review, and your blog was one of the hits :) I just had to leave a comment because you made some sound points.
I'm currently writing my dissertation on the anarchy of sizing standardisation in the retail fashion market in the UK (had to narrow it down a bit as I'm based in the UK!) and the more research I do, the more enraged I become with the issue! Ironically the UK conducted a massive national sizing survey a few years ago, with huge promises of standardising the system, promises of working towards an international standardisation, however as you can imagine so far it seems to have little real impact, despite the fact that a vast amount of money was spent conducting the research.
Ok, rant over :) I've been reading a few of your other blogs since stumbling across the first one initially, love your writing style! :)

At 05 March, 2009 07:55, Blogger lauren said...

hey natalie,
well i'm glad you dig it! i'd be interested to see your review too - sounds like you and i are on the same wave length when it comes to hip width :)

i always find the UK fashion industry amazing, but scary at the same time. it's so vicious out there and when it comes to pop-culture/high street fashion, wow. in fact, i prefer topman and h&m boys to anything else 'cos there's a consistency in sizing that is refreshing.

glad you liked the blog!

At 23 June, 2010 04:17, Anonymous Furniture Manufacturer Melbourne said...

Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life.


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