L’Oréal Blackett on why size really does matter

I don’t like changing rooms. I’ve never met a woman who does. Being confronted by a full sized reflection of my big backside at all angles is an unneccesary cruelty. But needs must. I have to try on clothes before I buy them. Across the board of high-street clothing stores, I can fluctuate between small, medium and large without gaining or losing weight. This is normal. I’ve come to expect my size to be inconsistent on the high street. I’ve never met a woman who doesn’t feel the same way.  

H&M has long come under fire for its less than generous sizing. Women have recorded wearing up to four sizes bigger than their usual size, making the changing room experience particularly unpleasant.

One shopper, Lowri Byrne, revealed that at a size 12 she struggled to fit into H&M’s size 16.

‘I'm a size 12 and small busted and today in an H&M store I had to ask if this dress came in a size 18 (it didn't...). The dress I have on in these photos is a size 16, and I could barely breathe…’ she said in the Facebook post now shared more than 5,000 times.

‘Not only was this annoying because I wanted to buy this dress, but so many women take what size dress they buy to heart.’

The complaints kept on coming.

Problem is, this doesn’t make women any clearer on what their size actually is

In response, last month H&M committed to making its womens clothes bigger. In a gradual rollout, the store’s size 10 will now fit its current ‘size 12’ customers and so on.

They said: “The new sizing is in effect already in our stores and shortly will be online, we aim to make this transition as smooth as possible for the customer and we urge customers to try on garments and check the measurements for guidance.”

Problem is, this doesn’t make women any clearer on what their size actually is across the high street.

So let’s take it inch by inch.

On average, a woman who is a UK size 12 should have a 37-inch bust, 30-inch waist and 39 inches on her hips. (See a UK size guide here - measurements can vary by store).

So this isn’t just H&M’s problem.

Yet with a plethora of shapes, builds and heights, one woman’s size 12 won’t look or fit like another - it’s tricky for brands to cater for all. French and American stores will have very different ideas on what are small, large and average sizes, meaning international size conversions can be slightly off-kilter (simply order a McDonald’s ‘large’ in both countries and you’ll understand what I mean).

So this isn’t just H&M’s problem. In fact, Spanish stores such as Zara prove a bigger issue for my own body type which is far removed from the Eurocentric ideal.

I stand at 5”10, with a 24 inch waist and a 38.5 inch hip. I’m a dress size 8-10 but I’m shaped like a Moroccan vase and I'm a tailor’s nightmare. But with my measurements I should fit easily into size 10 or 12 jeans in most major stores.

 ‘Should’ is the operative word…

H&M – my recommended size 10 (28), I fit size 10 (28) 

H&M’s earnest bid to change all their sizes has meant they’ve been extremely generous with their new measurements - just to be safe. In the denim section, they also offer mid-sizes, which is great for women like myself who drift from size to size. The size 10 (28) jeans slipped on without struggle and didn’t flatten my bum like other denim available. The mid-size 29 fit like a glove while the 12 (30) were too big but an option during ‘big dinner’ days. Out of all places I tried this was the more pleasant experience.

H&M size guide

18 07 03 Hm Jeans Trial
Left size 28 and right size 29 - H&M jeans

Zara – recommended a size 10, my actual size is a12

While I know I’m not a fashionably lithe, chain-smoking European woman, I should be able to get size 10 jeans past my hips. But no. After thrashing my body against the changing rooms doors for 20 minutes, I decided to give up – it wasn’t worth it. The 12 fit me but it was on the snug side. This is my favourite high-street store but I have a suspicion the Spanish brand also struggles with converting their sizes to fit UK customers.

Zara size guide

18 07 03 Zara Jeans Trial
Left size 10, right size 12

River Island - recommended size 12, I fit a size 10

I always swear to my big-bottomed friends that River Island is the best fitting of the bunch. The size 10 skinny jeans slipped on with ease and were extremely comfortable – well, as comfortable as skinny jeans can be. I didn’t need to try the 12 on.

River Island size guide

18 07 03 River Island Trial
Size 10 - perfect fit

Topshop - recommended size 10, I fit a size 12

My experience with Topshop skinny jeans is always the same: why isn’t this bigger than my arm? Trying them on is an effort endured. For the spray-painted on effect, the jeans come tight but alas, I made it in a 10 - only just. Like H&M, Topshop should consider offering mid-sizes. 

Topshop size guide

18 07 03 Topshop Jean Trial
Size 10 fits but only just

As I anticipated, my jean size varies from store to store but not drastically. By the third pair of jeans, I did wonder why size mattered so much to women (and to men but that’s a different story entirely). Is our dress size linked to our self-esteem? Does fitting into a lower number work as a form of personal validation? Why don’t we just wear what fits?

 The answers are easy to figure out. Society celebrates losing a dress size, whereas going up a dress size is considered something to mourn. Did I feel better when I fit into a 10 rather than a 12? Hell yes, I did. I’m yet to chip away at the years of conditioning that makes me feel that way.

 “I’d rather buy small or not at all,” a family member said to me once; a statement true for many people.

Fashion stores understand this psychology all too well. Vanity sizing in some shops (brands who purposely apply low numbers to bigger items) can help secure a purchase. Fitting into a small size, could boost a customer's self-esteem; influence a sale and return custom.

Vanity sizing aside, H&M and other mainstream stores have a duty to properly and sensitively size its clothing. If not, they’re at risk of alienating a whole host of people. At the very least it's good business. 

Even during this burgeoning era of body positivity many of us are still preoccupied with size. Because size does matter to an extent. It matters that some brands still consider a size 12 plus size, it matters that more brands include bigger sizes in stores and it matters that increasingly curvier women are now representing bigger sizes on advertising campaigns. 

It also matters that undressing in changing rooms is no longer something to dread. 

Size matters because we matter.

Are you fussed about H&M's new measurements? Share your thoughts on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages