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Style SOS: Why does the same size fit differently?

Style SOS: Why does the same size fit differently?

I wear medium shirts and 32-inch jeans. But in my wardrobe I've got some larges that fit me as well as my mediums, and a pair of size 30 jeans that I have to wear with a belt. It's so annoying to buy something in my size, then try it on and find it doesn't fit. Shouldn't a medium be the same size for every brand?

James, Sheffield


In a perfect world, James, they would. Few things are quite as frustrating as buying something in your size, only to discover that the brand has a different take on what your size means. A medium in one can fit like a small in another. You can be swimming in 34-inch jeans from one company, but struggle to get a pair from another over your thighs. Research has found that there can be up to a five-inch swing in the actual waistbands of jeans with supposedly the same measurements. No wonder getting perfect fit can seem near impossible.

Fifty years ago, sizing was fairly consistent. But over time, brands adapted their measurements to suit the shapes of their customers. A label with an older demographic will generally have a roomier ‘M’ than one catering for teenagers, because of the general effect of time on the human body. In the west, society has also grown larger, which has led to ‘vanity sizing’ – what was an ‘XL’ becoming an ‘L’, so that customers feel more confident wearing their clothes.

How something’s made also impacts how it fits. Cutting something to the same size every time is difficult, and clothes that are made cheaply tend to accept bigger margins of error before a product is rejected. In other words, under time and cost pressures, the waistband could be cut an inch too big, then stitched in the wrong place, which adds up to a few inches difference in actual size. That’s how identical items, from the same brands, sometimes don’t fit the same. As a rule, the better something’s been made, the more consistently it should fit.

There’s no easy fix, although there are some ways to get a better fit. First, invest in clothes that are made well, by brands that care about craft. Second, take a look at their advertising to get a sense of what they think their customer looks like. If they use rail-thin models, it might be worth sizing up. Third, and most effectively, message your Thread stylist if you’re unsure. They know the quirks of different brands and can help you find the fit that’s best for you. Lastly, when you’re trying a new brand, buy a couple of sizes and then keep the one that fits. Because the best way to tell is still to try it on at home.

Words: Tom Banham
Illustration: Paul Layzell