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Are your pants lying to you? An investigation (esquire.com)
139 points by mcantor on Sept 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments

I've wondered about this. I've worn a 34"-34" pant for the last 20 years, and I know my waist has expanded over that time. It just didn't add up.

On fixing the meaning of the sizing, I'm reminded of someone I knew who took a sewing class in highschool. They started with patterns from the 1950s, and despite the teacher warning the students how different the sizings would be, virtually nobody managed to make clothing that they could squeeze into.

Personally I think the best solution is to make it a matter of law that the sizing be accurate. Everyone would hear that the sizing changed dramatically, there would be a brief transition, and we'd soon get used to accurate sizes. Drawing it out gradually would force people to keep on relearning their size, and overall would be more disruptive.

A major problem with this is that the "size" generally refers to the size of the person it goes on, not the actual measurements of the clothing. For instance, a size small "boyfriend" sweater probably has similar dimensions to an XL form fitting sweater, because it's intended to be worn large.

And what if you're buying something with elastic, like leggings? Anyone can get a ruler and see they the waistband is 15 inches, but that information is completely useless if you're trying to decide which one to buy.

Sure, size inflation happens, but legislating that the dimensions of clothing be declared actually defeats the purpose of sizing, which is to tell you generally who should be wearing it.

This is not like the nutrition labels on food. You can't tell how many calories are in a food by looking at it. You CAN tell how large a waistband is with a ruler. Legislating on this would make things very difficult on both clothing manufacturers and clothing purchasers. And it's only misleading to people who don't own a ruler, which I think is a fair burden to place on the consumer.

You are obscuring the difference between not declaring exact sizes and declaring false sizes.

A 36" pair of pants are meant for guys with a 36" waist. Some of these pants are meant to hang around your butt. Some are meant to hug tightly to your waist. If you measure the waists of those pants, they will differ. That does not mean the size is false.

>>Personally I think the best solution is to make it a matter of law that the sizing be accurate.

>legislating that the dimensions of clothing be declared actually defeats the purpose of sizing

He said what you said he didn't but should have AFAICS.

He didn't say that you had to measure the circumference of the waistband in a pair of trousers just the size of a persons waist that the trousers were made for.

>And it's only misleading to people who don't own a ruler, which I think is a fair burden to place on the consumer.

You seem to be suggesting that when purchasing clothing online one should buy all the clothes, measure them yourself and then try on the ones that are the right size. Or that in a store one should measure the clothes on the rack to find the right size and then try that on. As the manufacturer produces the clothing to a specific size and has already designed the article to fit a particularly body size would it not be easier if they honestly labelled the size the clothing had been made for instead.

Do you really think that fraudulent retail should be allowed because people are able to test things for themselves.

Tins of tuna with dolphin meat in that was labelled "dolphin friendly" - are they OK? People can simply do a DNA test and determine the species of animal the flesh comes from, no?

Tins of tuna with dolphin meat in that was labelled "dolphin friendly" - are they OK? People can simply do a DNA test and determine the species of animal the flesh comes from, no?

As far as I'm aware, "dolphin un-friendly" fisheries never actually chop up dolphins and can them. It's just a matter of whether dolphins are accidentally killed during the fishery.

And you'd have a hard time selling mammal meat as oily fish.

I really hope something this trivial doesn't merit the time of Congress. Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised if it did.

Trivial? It might seem so, but it does actually fall well within the area the founders gave congress (surely this is both weights and measurements and interstate commerce).

"Fixing" the standard size would be fraud, as they don't sell the actual product that they claim to sell.

Would you mandate your system or sizing? What if they just changed their form of measurement? Or they said recommended size? Is this a problem you are constantly facing? I don't have any difficulty buying pants - why do we need a law?

All I would mandate would be that pants labeled 10 inches would be ten inches.

You want to sell Venti pants - go ahead.

Why don't we revoke all other laws which do not affect you while we're at it?

How about this: there's no legal requirement you label your products in any given unit, but if you choose 'inches', they have to be real 'inches'. You can use your own made-up unit, say 'oldnavies', instead -- just don't call them 'inches'.

(Even minarchists usually find laws -- common-law or legislative -- against commercial fraud acceptable.)

I thought there were bodies of government[1] out there that specialize is certifying companies who use 'inches' and want to mean inches. If you are not certified, I don't think there is a guarantee that what they say is 100% accurate.

[1] http://www.iso.org

Seems to me that "fixing" sizes would put pressure on people to lose weight, in the similar way that publishing calories on menus does.

State legislatures would also be an option.

the more state-specific/state-varying laws that exist the more of a pain-in-the-ass it becomes for businesses to operate across multiple states and especially across the entire nation

Good thing someone invented the Uniform Commercial Code to solve this problem, then.


Ironically, for me the problem is the opposite. I've worn the same size since college, and in the past few years noticed that I have a hard time keeping pants on.

Not to mention it might be a bit of motivation to lose some weight.

There is absolutely no reason for a law like this to ever come into effect.

This could present a significant barrier to reliable online shopping for clothes. It'll be interesting to see in the coming years, as more of these retailers offer online ordering (GAP is finally offering their catalog to us Canadians, for example), whether fitting will be normalized somehow, or whether each retailer will instead stick to a specific size translation table as I've seen some places.

Either that or someone will have to build a website or tool that aggregates the investigative work for us. I know I'd pay a small premium to eliminate the guesswork.

(EDIT: I wish there was a way to OpenID-ify personal body measurements for this purpose so every clothing site I visited could automatically select the best-fitting clothes for me. GAP small/medium t-shirts are wildly different from Threadless' small/medium American Apparel Ts)

> build a website or tool that aggregates the investigative work for us

My bane has always been t-shirts. I can take anywhere from a medium to x-large depending on the brand. After the first wash, the shirt will change size drastically or hardly at all. Buying t-shirts is a complete $20 gamble, I have no idea if ultimately the shirt will fit me or not. At least pants, dress shirts and shoes you can be reasonably confident they will fit you when you try them on at the store.

I've always yearned for some kind of solution to this, but admittedly have never really came up with a good one.

Same situation for me. I purchased some XL tshirts at Old Navy a year back, and I can't wear them. It's one thing if an XL fits more like a L, but these are like a M.

It's hard enough to find well-fitting clothing when you can try it on. I'm not going to be ordering over the net anytime soon.

My friends' startup is tackling this issue for shoes, using lasers: http://shoefitr.com/

The interface is really, really well done, check out their sample page: http://shoefitr.com/mock_checkout.php and click 'let Shoefitr help you choose the right size.'

Interesting... this would be really helpful if it also took into account pronation (see http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319-327-77...).

I will send that to them, thanks.

The only problem is, that shoes that try to target different pronation types actually cause more injuries.

(http://www.sportsci.org/jour/0103/mw.htm#_Toc535425250 cites some studies beginning with "Wearers of expensive running shoes that were promoted as correcting pronation or providing more cushioning experienced a greater prevalence of these running-related injuries than wearers of less expensive shoes [...]")

I've been waiting for something like this for shoes. Looks excellent, though I'd recommend against the shrinking between operations when finding a size (primarily in the first step). Just takes longer and looks clunky.

I'll pass the feedback along.

Oh, and if you actually want to try it on a real site with real shoes, RunningWarehouse.com has them up, like this, for example:


That's an amazing interface but it needs more brands and models in there, everything I tried came up 'sorry, we don't have that model scanned' or something to that effect.

But it's one of the nicer 'live' (ajax) interfaces that I've seen.

Out of curiosity, were you inputting running shoes? I think they've decided to focus on just running shoes first, and while they've been hard at it, it physically takes time and effort to get the raw data.


> it physically takes time and effort to get the raw data.

I can see that... btw, the Reebok brand is one of the more popular ones and completely missing.

Again, kudos on the interface to your friend, I love it when people use new tech in non-fluffy ways (as in useful rather than eye candy). (and it looks great too!)

Many online clothing stores offer a liberal return policy to allow you to try them on.

If I have to mail it back, I've already wasted more time than I would have just going to a specialty store within 45 minutes of me.

Soon I'll be more like 4 hours from the nearest retailer of any sort, so that may change. But I'm somewhat unique in that regard.

Wow. I had a long, detailed conversation last night with my roommate/potential co-founder about doing EXACTLY this. The way sizing is handled in the clothing industry is ridiculous for women especially, but for men as well according to this article.

The basic technology product is software that, given information about your body shape, can produce a listing of clothing that will fit you. As far as we can tell this does not yet exist. When the customer can trust that the clothes will fit, then they can shop based on style, fashion, price, or any other number of more interesting criteria rather than worrying about getting the right size or cut.

If you pair this technology with a customer-centered online retail environment then I think you can create a lot of value. Zappos has shown that you can make buying articles of clothing online work, with their famous customer support and return policies.

The concept of requiring a customer to consult a sizing translation table per label or even per garment just to find clothes that fit well flabbergasts me. But we haven't found any better solutions on offer.

This all fits in with Request For Startup 2: New Paths Through Product Space. http://ycombinator.com/rfs2.html Nobody is selling clothing based on what fits the individual shopper. We want to make an online storefront that only offers clothing that will fit you.

There are a lot of negative knock-on effects from the current way clothes shopping is done. People agonize over sizing and equate their waistband with their self-worth. That's ridiculous. Every person will look best and be most comfortable in clothing that matches their actual shape, regardless of what number is on the label. Especially if that number is a lie!

Clothes shopping changed drastically starting in about the mid 1800s through the 1920s with the advent of mass-produced garments. Before that each item was made individually. After that, confusing labels, garments designed to fit the "average" person to minimize the need for alterations, changing demographics, and vanity sizing turned the whole system into an incredible morass. It wasn't always this way, and it shouldn't have to be.

The article suggests that government regulation of sizing labels is the solution to the problem of ill-fitting clothing. What the author does not mention is that this was tried in the past! That system fell apart and you can read about its failure from the NIST: http://museum.nist.gov/exhibits/apparel/index.htm

I posit that smarter technology which can match the clothing to the person is a superior solution.

There's a lot of pain involved in clothes shopping today. We want to fix that.

If any hackers here, especially women, have some thoughts to share on this topic I dearly want to hear them, whether in a post here or in a private email. My address is in my profile.

We are seriously considering applying to YCombinator with this proposal.

I have a few observations that might be worth considering.

1. For most women clothes shopping is a recreational activity, not a chore. While most men would be happy to minimize their shopping time, most women would be happy to extend it. Likewise, on the seller side, stores maximize women's departments for impulse buying, not efficiency. It's not rational or productive, but that's the way it is. I'd be wary of a software solution that solves a problem that both sellers and buyers should have but don't.

2. If you've ever made clothing patterns or have been custom fitted by a professionally-trained tailor, you would know that it takes about 3 fittings to get a piece right. This is after your personal measurements have been taken on the initial visit. To me, that signals "human problem" (a fuzzy intelligence task) rather than "computer problem" (a highly repetitive task with clearly defined parameters).

3. There are hundreds of fit variations, which combined with size variations and body types, produce a million different results. Natural-waist pants have a different waist size than low-waist pants. A jacket with a shrunken fit has higher armholes so the arm circumference and arm length would have to be adjusted. A woman with a long torso would probably pick natural-waist jeans and a shrunken-fit jacket if she wanted the low-waist jeans with a bolero jacket look. And so on, ad infinitum.

4. Manufacturers do not make different clothes to sell online vs. in-store, but rather they make clothes to sell in-store and then sell those online. The reality of in-store clothes is, it is made to look good on a hanger, not on a woman. Which is why models are as humanly close to a hanger as possible. The math is, a woman will grab 10 items that only look good on a hanger/model, and maybe buy 2 items after trying them on; conversely, a woman will grab 0 items that only look good on a real body, and buy 0 items as a result.

On a separate note, my husband works in the fashion industry, and a big part of his job is collaborating on the design and manufacturing process as far as fit etc. I'd be happy to pass on any questions you might have.

in re: 1

My wife is a doctor who needs to buy a fair amount of clothes and, I assure you, does not find shopping to be a recreational activity.

Also, may not online shopping be recreational activity?

I add these points merely to suggest that there may be enough market in 1) women who don't like shopping and 2) women who recreationally shop online.

I get your point about how busy your wife is, but do you not see the irony? Your doctor wife "needs" to buy a lot of clothes? What, to put under her white lab coat where no one will see them?

Nobody "needs" a lot of clothes. The fact that both you and she think she does is just an artifact of internalizing the recreational drug that is acquisition of shiny things. So your wife's movie is that she that she needs to live up to the public image of a well-respected doctor, and my movie used to be that as a female techie, I need conservative, well-made things to tone down the sex appeal in order to be taken seriously at work. Name any profession, it's not hard to come up with plausible reasons to shop whereas in reality, apart from jobs in fashion, there is little correlation between career and clothes... and even there, you have your models' uniform of jeans with a white tanktop and everyone else in black.

As far as online shopping, yes, it's a recreational activity well-known in the e-commerce world. Shopping sites like Saks and Neiman Marcus get huge traffic spikes on weekend nights, i.e. the time of recreation (just google "drunk online shopping"). However they are in the same boat as the physical stores. If they start optimizing for efficiency, they will lose the impulse buyer, a huge chunk of their sales.

All in all, my point was not that 100% of women are recreational shoppers, even though we overwhelmingly are. It was to bring to the OP's attention the reality of their market. I've wasted my time on a startup that was a time sink similar in the sense that it optimized a big ugly inefficiency that our market just didn't want optimized and my post was motivated by empathy rather than negativity. I still don't want to say categorically that there isn't an opportunity here but I think it's important to go in with a clear head so I wanted to put in my 2 cents, especailly since the OP asked for some female perspective.

I don't think it's fair of you to accuse us of being shiny thing gatherers; I think we're far from that.

That said, working in the hospital means often getting blood/spit/worse on your clothes and needing to buy more. It also means having to dress nicely due to being a professional. She'd rather always wear scrubs, but she can't, and the white coat doesn't always protect her from everything.

My point was that there may be more market than you're suggesting there is.

I didn't argue with you about the recreational thing, but don't you think it's possible to make a site like the OP suggested without making shopping unfun or not recreational? It seems to me you could actually enhance the appeal of recreational shopping if you really thought you could trust the fit of items you were purchasing.

That's so strange! I've never seen a doctor without scrubs, either in an office or a hospital. Isn't blood etc. the reason doctors wear them in the first place? Are you in the US?

My intent was not to accuse you of being shiny things gatherers, sorry if it was unclear. I was speaking in the context of the discussion which was, is fit software a good idea, and you countered with, my doctor wife buys lots of clothes so she'd be a customer (if I did understand your point). If she just needs throw-away clothes to be soiled on a daily basis, she for sure doesn't need software to make them fit perfectly, am I wrong?

> I've never seen a doctor without scrubs, either in an office or a hospital.

Weird... your primary care physician wears scrubs? Pretty much only ER and Trauma docs wear scrubs here in Baltimore. (It was the same in New Haven).

Right now, she basically solves the clothing size problem with retailer loyalty: she knows what size Ann Taylor clothes fit her correctly. Perhaps if she was confident that she could figure out the correct size of items on the internet she'd feel comfortable shopping there.

(sorry to duplicate my comment here, but it's relevant)

It's not just a matter of vanity, it's a matter of extremely loose tolerances in manufacturing.

I've found that even within a single store, looking at the same model of Levi's jeans, I need to try each individual pair. I always wear the same thing: Levi's 505 34W 30L. But I find that individual specimens with this exact tag can be as much as an inch different in every dimension: waist diameter, inseam length, and even leg diameter at the hem.

This being the case, it's not possible to say that a given item is the right fit, without actually trying it.

It's not loose tolerances in manufacturing--it's just shitty quality control.

Sorry to be so vulgar, but it's true. Tons of boutiques and higher-end clothing labels have almost ZERO variance in sizing. Some of them hand-make their clothing, sure, but most don't.

Regardless, though, you're right--there's too much variance in sizing for mainstream brands. This problem really hinders any type of "OpenID-for-clothing" startup.

But if you have a clothing portal that knows your every dimension, part of the service you can sell is that you measure every single item, ensuring a good fit (regardless of the size tag). Whether you match them up to the customer on shipping or to the database on receiving is up to you.

I have no idea if that would be scalable, but it would certainly help with customer retention and goodwill.

You could always pitch it to a wealthier crowd to limit the amount of customers...

It can’t be that expensive (relative to making the clothing) to measure each article precisely and then bin them by actual size.

I've also found that Levi's have become so bad in this regard that I had to change to Lee's which seem much better. I think Levi's quality control went away about when they started selling to Walmart.

This is valuable information. Do you have any insight into the manufacturing process for garments? I don't yet know enough about the clothing industry and manufacturing so any data points are very welcome. I firmly believe that problems like these must be surmountable. We have the technology to build devices with tolerances measured in microns. Surely we can find a way to get clothes to fit.

It simply isn't practical. We have technology to build devices with micron tolerances, but they cost millions of dollars. Sure, you could build a device to sew a pair of jeans with millimeter tolerances, but you'd have to be so precise that you'd have to charge thousands for a single pair. That's not even looking at the material itself. Different fabrics can have different tolerances for stretching in all directions.

It is a big tradeoff between accuracy and cost. If you want to have the measurements be hyper-accurate, be prepared to spend a ton.

Large brands like Levi's generally use several contractors, and the quality (and therefore fit tolerance) inevitably varies from contractor to contractor. Chances are that was a bad batch and/or you were shopping in an outlet mall (where they send a lot of the odds and sods).

Perhaps, they should find a way to (re)measure the final product, and re-label as necessary.

Here's all I want:

Allow me to input something I know, e.g. I wear size 12 Adidas. Then tell me what size I need to buy of the shoes you're selling me, be they Nike, Reebok, or something new.

Shoes is one example, applies for many other types of clothing.

Euro sizing has been pretty reliable in my experience (except with gloves, but my hands are very slender and my knuckles rather broad). You could try translating the US size to Euro sizing based on Adidas' chart, and then converting Euro sizing to Nike using Nike's chart.

I think it's overall a great idea. Especially if the retailer can go beyond the basics and supply reliable information about the fit/cut of garments, since that is such an important element of style.

Some retailers already do this as a matter of course on their labeling in-store: Tags on H&M pants, for instance, are much better than average at providing detailed fit/cut info.

A potential sticking point that I can imagine is that some people will be reluctant to know their true measurements, and others might be wary of that information being stored online with their ID. (Imagine a famous actress struggling with her weight, only to have her hacked measurements exposed on some gossip blog.) Consider also, that many women are not going to want others to know their true measurements just from a glance at their laundry, so labels inside the garment should probably avoid using inches or centimeters, just as they do now for women's sizing in the US.

If any of that is hard for you to imagine, check to see if you are male. These are real issues. Females contend with a vast number of societal pressures concerning body image and beauty that men rarely need to consider for themselves.

This product does exist. See: myshape.com

If anyone wants to discuss this product in depth, drop me a line. This is a product space I have been eying for some time and have done considerable research and experimentation on the topic.

The basic technology product is software that, given information about your body shape, can produce a listing of clothing that will fit you. As far as we can tell this does not yet exist. When the customer can trust that the clothes will fit, then they can shop based on style, fashion, price, or any other number of more interesting criteria rather than worrying about getting the right size or cut.

I am too tall for an average clothes shop, so is my dad, and we were discussing something similar recently: our experience of clothes shopping is very similar to what you describe - walk into a shop, ask or search primarily "what do they have which might fit".

If you could do "only show me things which fit" from multiple shops in one place, that would be great, but fit is more than just leg length, waist size and brand, and a) I don't know what else matters so I couldn't give you said information about me, and b) even recently when I went to a shop and found trousers to fit, they did technically fit but they weren't comfortable and I wouldn't wear them.

Are you going to be able to do "things which will fit" instead of "things which might fit"? I find the latter is often barely different from "things which wont fit".

Incidentally, http://www.leftfootcompany.com/ has shops around where you get your feet scanned, then you leave and order on the internet, and they mechanically manufacture shoes to fit. Although they couldn't make shoes to fit me at the time I tried, which was unhelpful.

Most clothing sites have a sizing table, that lists the hip, waist, inseam, neck, etc for each of their sizes. The hips for women's large seems to vary from 30-42, but if the sizing chart matches my measurements, the clothes usually fit.

For women it's also confusing because it's often not clear if something is in juniors, misses, or women's sizes. But the size chart usually makes it clear.

If you build it, I'll use it.

One thing I found interesting in this vein was that there are only a handful of measurements that specify a pair of glasses (like pupil distance) and once you know yours, you can just buy glasses for $8, but very very few people know they can just ask for them so they buy $200 glasses from their optometrist.

In my experience, it's already a problem. When I'm shopping online with a brand whose fit I don't know, I order everything in medium and large and then return the size that fits less well. I'd imagine most online clothing stores have sky-high return rates.

I don't think many brands would want to do this, but it would help if they had a chart showing how their fit compares to other brands. E.g. "much looser than Dolce & Gabbana, looser than Calvin Klein, tighter than Gap".

I've basically given up buying clothing from the US (living in Europe). T-shirts in particularly are enormous by European standards.

I have neither a tiny nor a particularly big frame, but I feel tiny when I get the shirt I ordered online.

I've never had a problem with it. I wear 31x34. Then again, I only ever buy Levi's, so obviously I don't experience any brand variance. I'd be interested to see where they stack up on the chart.

mec.ca online store has something like this.

You rate the fit on several sliding scales (too long/too short etc) then buyers can estimate = I should buy brand X a size larger/smaller.

This is why it keeps getting harder for me to find a pair of pants that fits me. I have a 28-1/2" waist (and I'm a guy), and most stores' listed sizes only go down to 30.

The good news is, since few people wear their pants at their waists anymore (even "conservative" non-saggy styles usually put the waistband halfway between true waist and hip), the size of a waistband really should be a couple inches larger than your actual waist measurement. Just not six inches. (At least, not on most men. Women on average have much more differential between their waist and hip measurement, but the popular fit is also all different, so I'm going to sidestep that for now.)

I have the same problem - unusually skinny, baggy clothes make it look worse. Levis fortunately fit me, and European brands like H&M are fairly reliable.

Protip #1: try clothes in store, buy online via Gilt or one of those discount shopping websites. When they have something you want, the discounts are often amazing, though you have to make quick decisions because small sizes often sell out fast. Most of these sites are very good on reporting the sizes correctly or helping you convert US-EU.

Protip #2: you can't wear jeans and a nice-fitting black top your whole life unless you're Steve Jobs. And designer menswear can get very pricey...but a good tailor can make an something with an average fit look absolutely perfect. Buy sizes that fit comfortably where you're largest (eg my neck wants a 38 shirt even though my shoulders and chest aren't) and then pay a few $ extra to have the garment altered. This might add $30 or $40 to the price of a shirt, but suddenly you'll have access to a world of things that don't exist in your size, and it will actually be worth looking at what's on sale.

the discounts will easily pay for the alterations, and after a while you have a bunch of stuff in your closet that fits well, whether casual or business. Dressing actually becomes enjoyable instead of a chore.

try clothes in store, buy online

I'm sure you must mean buy online from an internet cafe with free WiFi without buying anything from the cafe.

I've got the same 28.5" waist size, but I've got it even worse as my ideal inseam is 35"!

You're absolutely right about not actually wearing them at your waist — most of my good pants measure 2" bigger than the nominal size and are worn 2" lower.

I'm usually lucky if I can get a 28x34, and that's generally only from high-end fashion places that sell only one length and expect almost all of their customers to to hem them (sometimes they come unhemmed and 35-37" long). The recent trend for rolled cuffs has been kind to me.

There is another option though: wear lower-rise women's pants as capris or hemmed way back into shorts. The sizing goes all over the place though, I have some from Size 1 to Size 5 that all fit nearly the same, even from the same brand.

Gotta move to Europe. It's shopping paradise for tall skinny dudes.

Living in Spain, I could walk into a store and buy a suit off the rack. That's physically impossible for a tall man in America, where Large means Fat. There are no fat people in Spain, so Large means "long arms".

I have a shirt labeled XL that doesn't look like you draped a sheet over my head. I defy you to find an XL shirt in the states that puts the buttons within 12 inches of your torso.

It's all good here. Book a flight!

Yeah, nobody here makes suits in 36L or 38L, and most of them bundle the pants with waists that are way huge, though at least they usually come unhemmed. Sleeves are always a problem, especially with the ridiculous way they often measure from the neck or mid-back instead of where the goddamn sleeve starts at the shoulder seam. Then the trend for shrunken suits goes and kicks my ass!

Dress shirts are even worse, sized from the neck of all things, and even the smallest ones are maternity-sized tents. "Slim fit" is generally only enough to make it possible to tuck in to my pants without giving me a diaper made of shirttails.

I've had some success importing stuff from South Korea from fashion sellers I found via eBay. Since they're aping the high end (often in unfortunate polyester), even the tiniest pants usually come with 34" or 35" inseams. Sleeves are still a problem though.

Ah the woes of being thin. I'm in the same boat (must be a rowing shell?) and while there are certainly worse problems to have, usually the only places I can find pants are H&M and Banana Republic. I've never been able to find 30" pants at a US department store. Sadly, now even H&M seems to be moving away from "European" cut clothes, and I don't have the means to go up market.

It's so exasperating trying to find a properly fitted shirt that I taught myself how to do some basic machine sewing. Highly recommended if you're tired of feeling like you're wearing a tent.

I've had a lot of luck at American Eagle, which is the only store I've ever found adult-sized clothing that was too small for me (their shirts sometimes go down to XXS, their pants and shorts to 26", though not every item comes that small).

Consider yourself lucky. My waist size is 26. There are only a couple of pants that are wearable without a belt (I hate belts). I have found the stores sizes to be pretty consistent and accurate. Here's a tip: try on the kids pants. They are often a bit too short, but the waist size is much better. The worse thing is t-shirts. They often fit like dresses as opposed to t-shirts.

I'm in a similar situation to you. I'm skinny and also short. This might explain why I noticed that shirts I found at The Gap seemed to fit better (were smaller) than ones I found at Old Navy.

Serious question, have you tried looking in the teen/young adult section? I think the biggest size there is around a 28".

I also have this problem, but I'm too tall for that. I'd end up with 6-8 inches of ankle showing if I did that.

It's a headrush to think that vanity sizing may be leading men to underestimate their waist size, potentially to the detriment of their health - taken to a logical conclusion, vanity sizing may be killing people.

We live in a very strange world.

I'm not sure I see the connection between vanity sizing and health. I don't think men think to themselves "34 inches is healthy" -- they pretty much only care how they measure in comparison to other men. You can call it 34 or 40, it doesn't impact the question of "am I fatter than my competition?"

Put another way, I don't think men would be likely to go on diets if you immediately renumbered pants sizes, as long as they were still in the same place relative to other men.

Replace 'men' with 'women' and it's already true. It's not really that strange, we just like to think that certain things are innocuous, when really almost nothing is.

As somebody who has recently shed a large amount of weight - and has thus been forced to undergo a wallet-shattering number of wardrobe-replacements - this does not surprise me a bit. A drop of eight inches in waist over about 9 months means that, at any one point, you just never really know what size you actually are, which leads to the useful habit of trying everything on before you buy it - and boy, did I notice a difference in the sizing between various brands and outlets!

A couple of months ago, for instance, I bought two pairs of trousers on one day - one pair from a department store where I could use the changing rooms provided to ascertain that I needed a 34", and one from a more "discount warehouse" type place that was having a rather cracking sale. Having tried the first pair on in the department store, I was chuffed - "Great, I'm in a 34!" - and so automatically bought the same size in a pair of jeans from the second place (with no changing rooms), because the price was right. They were at least two inches too big. I'd just bought two pairs of bottoms, in identical sizes, that had clearly been designed with two totally different ideas of how tape-measures actually work.

I learned my lesson and swore never to pay for anything I haven't tried.

I also bought a tape measure of my own - and learned how to bloody well use it!

I bought two pairs of trousers on one day - one pair from a department store ..., and one from a more "discount warehouse" type place

I've found that even within a single store, looking at the same model of Levi's jeans, I need to try each individual pair. I always wear the same thing: Levi's 505 34W 30L. But I find that individual specimens with this exact tag can be as much as an inch different in every dimension: waist diameter, inseam length, and even leg diameter at the hem.

So this isn't just vanity. It's also a question of horribly loose tolerances in manufacturing.

My mother, who has worked as a seamstress, says that when they cut the fabric for the patterns, the pattern cut can vary as much as 2 inches depending on whether the fabric was on the top or bottom of the stack being cut. (Though I'm sure the error margin might be lower these days than they were before.)

Some of this is also due to poor QC at the manufacturers. I went out pants shopping just this past weekend and tried three of the same pants of exactly the same size and all three fit drastically differently, from absurdly small-couldn't-get-it-over-my-thighs to so ginormous they looked like clown pants and had a hugely saggy crotch.

And it wasn't a cheapo store either. But I had to mindful that there was a reason I was able to find decent work slacks for $20.

Pant sizes should really just be "guidelines" unless you are getting something custom tailored.

Quick side note since I am at work: In 2007 the Spanish Government ruled by law the clothing sizes for women aged 12+, as an attempt to stop anorexia and other eating disorders. They detected a trend among some high profile clothing companies to artificially 'shrink' the sizes of dresses and jeans, imposing an artificially skinny 'average body shape'

The Ministry sampled several thousand of women ( http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article12... ) as an effort to find some average body shape and standardize clothing sizes.

I don't know is that affected the spread of eating disorders in the country somehow. I don't live in Spain any longer and this is nothing I usually talk about with my friends from the other side of the Atlantic. I know that Americans are usually opposed to government intervention, but I consider that a central 'authority' has some value in setting standards in measuring units. (A mile is a mile, in California, Colorado, Liberia or Burma)

> (A mile is a mile, in California, Colorado, Liberia or Burma)

I see what you did there.

(nicely done)

Conversely, when we visited the US in January I bought three pairs of jeans whose inside leg measurements were understated by an average of 4 inches. My 30"-leg trews turned out to be no less than 34" long from the inner seam.

I can't for the life of me figure out why a US customer would want to pretend they're shorter than they really are.

(Mostly I'm annoyed because getting them fixed at home adds 50% to the price, negating the entire reason for purchasing them in the first place. And yes, two of the three were bought at Old Navy.)

Given the general quality at Old Navy, I wonder if the vast over-sizing of the waist and your observed under-sizing of the inseam are really just artifacts of sloppy work. I've personally gotten pants from the them that were much skinnier than the same size at other stores. I'm not sure how big a sample size Esquire used, but maybe Old Navy just suck at QA.

It's artifacts of sloppy work. I regularly hit the inseam problem, I have to push for a 28" inseam, when in tailored pants I'm a 32". However I noticed waist size can frequently vary by as much as 4" as well, but sometimes I get a pair that fit perfect again. I did notice that costco's Kirkland pants are regularly 2" narrower in the waist than Old Navy (for anyone who cares).

I think the problem is that pants are being labelled as a 36x36 when they're actually more a 40" waste, causing the inseam to be made closer to a 40" too.

There was a trend recently for rolled cuffs on jeans, started because people wanted to show off the inside seam of their $200 'selvedge' denim. It helps me out a lot because my inseam really is that long.

I was/am in the preliminary stages of researching and testing a product for dealing clothing fit issues. In the course of this, I learned far more about clothing sizing than any sane person should know. I can tell you that vanity sizing is something of a myth - it's really size inflation.

What's happening is this:

Consumers have an expectation of being able to buy the same size forever, and buy clothes accordingly. Size 34 waist 10 years ago? Just grab size 34 from the rack. Of course, people gain weight and should go for a larger size. But they don't - they still see themselves as a size 34 and keep buying it. And complaining or moving on to the competitor when it doesn't fit. The problem is even worse for women's clothing for reasons too lengthy to go into here.

The only reliable solution is a system similar to the European standard, EN 13402. With this system, the fit tolerance (range of body dimensions it is designed for) for the item is listed on its hang tag. This gets away from issues like styles that are designed to have very large amounts of ease, or elastic fabrics.

For those that are thinking of building a product in this space, another thing to keep in mind is that most customers just don't care that much about good fit. Sad, but true.

Pro pants wearer tip: hold a buttoned pair of pants by the waist and wrap the waist around your neck. If the two ends meet (and you can still breathe), the pants will fit your waist. PS: doing this will get you some weird looks.

That just blew my mind.

Apparently the men's measurement in US standard clothing size corresponds to chest size in inches, so the waist measurement was intended to be smaller than the listed size.


My wife is a fashion designer and she's told me that although every woman wants to be a size six the average American woman is now a size 14. For all the stick fashion houses get about skinny models you'd be hard pressed to find clothes that even fit them at your local mall. Thanks to my high metabolism (I'm the most unfit fit looking person ever) I have a 32" waist yet if I buy 32" pants I'm absolutely swimming in them. Shirts are even worse it's impossible to get a 16" collar to someone my height (6'2"). I've thought many time of starting-up a clothing company for 'skinny & tall' guys. As others have mentioned the best bests are the European brands like H&M or Zara. The only real American choices are Calvin Klein or teen focused brands like Hollister.

I'm already too tall for ordinary height clothes, too thin and often too short for ordinary big&tall shops. If you start 'skinny and tall' shops please don't make me too fat for those by catering for only 32" waists!

I've thought many a time of starting a clothing company for 'me'. 6 billion people in the world, there must be a market of me-shaped people somewhere?

That was enlightening. I guess it's something I should've known, but never thought of.

I think what the author dismisses as an impossible solution, however, is exactly the right solution: a government mandate.

Commercial standards are an excellent use of government. Ever since Sumerian law standardized the size of weights, standardization has been a very important government function.

Heck, we have truth in labeling for monitor and TV sizes, so why not pants?

The elasticity of the waistband could present problems in some cases, but I can't think of any reason why it wouldn't still be do-able.

So abandon actual inches and just do small/medium/large.

But then just like Pizza went from SML -> L/XL/XXL without physically changing then clothes will do the opposite.

S/M/L will become "Normal/Small/Thin" -> "Thin/looking good/petite" -> "Petite/elfin/starving" .....

Actually, I do see a correlation between pizza size and pant-waist size.

Our bodies are too varied for three gradations to work with any clothing that does not have elastic. And even the most casual of pants - jeans - have measurements in two dimensions.

          RED LEADER
          Keep up your visual scanning.  
          With all this jamming, they'll 
          be on top of you before your 
          scope can pick them up. [0]
As purchasers the sellers don't want you to know what size you are. It's in their interests not to tell you. Forget what the labels are telling you. Wear the same belt. If you're a belt-watcher like myself you'll see any changes in weight like rings on a tree over time.

[0] Star Wars IV script "leader telling squad to ignore the scopes & use your eyes instead" ~ http://corky.net/scripts/StarWars.html

They should have used a makeup system like size A-F. Then they can re-calibrate the actual size every couple years without people noticing. Indirect pointers have given programmers grief; think the general public is any wiser? Ha!

I've just measured all my pairs of 34" jeans and they are consistently 36". I only buy Paul Smith these days because I've come to know that they will fit me well without having to shop around.

Last time I was measured for a suit I came out at almost exactly 34", but then the fitting for suit trousers is much more snug than those for jeans. I wear a belt with my jeans whereas I'd expect trousers to hold themselves up.

So on that basis, I'm not too surprised that jeans made to fit a 34" waist are an inch or two larger, but more than that seems a little crazy.

That graph is seriously misleading! At first glance I was tempted to conclude that Old Navy was selling pants twice as big as advertised (instead of merely 14%).

I'll forgive the gaudiness, but it's important to note the human tendency to compare ratios of sizes and so to always include 0 in bar graphs.

Furthermore they're trying to use the "measuring tape" metaphor, but it doesn't apply (the tape is not actually measuring the belt pictured, making the graph hard to understand). The belt pictures are not useful in this case (since it's not a ratio graph) and they're just distracting.

Heh, heh. "FatMax"

Ahhh, inches.

How quaint!

Now there's a hacker's challenge. Finally get the US (and whoever) to get with the 21st century. Yes I know this comment is sort of off-topic, well ... kinda - the article is about measurement. But honestly this thought wanders through my mind like a lonely guy at a single's bar whenever I spy "old-style" units. I'm going to be provocative here, but I think all the excuses all bull (they're more natural, yada yada yada) - basically the US (and whoever) think they are Numero Uno and the rest of the world be damned.

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