The Big Squeeze: “Right-sizing” the modern woman involves tagging a garment Extra Small when it’s . . . not.

I just got my spiffy new “Bad Girls” T-shirt in the mail. It’s a Large, and it fits me perfectly.  The funny thing is that when I shop at my local Eileen Fisher store, I’m an Extra-Small. Not just Small, mind you. Extra-Small.  

When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an extra-small woman. I’m actually a little taller than most of my friends. I do have pretty good muscle tone, from all the walking and swimming I do. But I’m also blessed with that extra tushie padding that so often comes with being a middle-aged Jewish woman. There’s really nothing extra-small about me. Except maybe my math skills.  

Growing up, I always knew exactly what size I was. I was a teen girl in the Detroit suburbs, before girls participated in team sports and decades before the Internet. There was nothing to do on Saturday but hang out at the mall. Like all my friends, I was a mall rat. Our moms dropped us off with a charge card or two at noon and picked us up again at five, after the mall closed. In the interim, we socialized and shopped. In those days, I could visit the Hudson’s Junior Department, go to the Size 7 rack, and know that everything on it would fit me. I’m not saying that it would all look good on me.  But at least it fit. If nothing I tried on looked fabulous, I could visit one of the mall’s many boutique shops and try on the Junior Sevens. I couldn’t be sure that I’d fall in love with an outfit, or that if I did, Mom would let me buy it. But at least it would fit.

In every clothing store in that mall, a Junior Seven was a Junior Seven. And not just in that mall—in every clothing store in Detroit. Maybe in all of America! 

Nowadays, sizes are all over the place. In one store, I’m a Size 6.  Down the block, I’m an 8. In the course of a single shopping trip, I can go from Small to Medium to Large. (I’ve yet to be deemed Extra Large, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.) In each new store, when a saleswoman asks, “What size are you?”  I respond, “I have no idea. You tell me.”  

Or “If this is Eileen Fisher, I must be an Extra-Small.” 

I’ve read that the reason for this variable sizing is that store revenue goes up when sizes go down. A woman is more likely to purchase a Size 6 (“I’m petite!”) than a Size 16 (“I’m obese!”). Can this really be true? After all, when you try on a dress, you’re usually looking in a mirror. You can see how big or small you actually are. Even if the salesperson insists that you’re a perfect Size 4—can’t you see with your very own eyes that your butt is as big as Cincinnati?

Apparently not. Ladies, when we shop for clothing we’re in Fantasy Land, where even the most substantial of us are just lithe feminine wisps, where what used to be a Size 10 has magically morphed into a Size 4, and where one of those beautiful big-boned babes could step right out of a Renoir painting and fit perfectly into an Extra-Small. 

Needless to say, this playing fast and loose with numbers has done nothing to help my math skills.

Thanks to recent legislation that mandates disclosure, you can now stop at Starbucks and find out exactly how many calories are in that whopping slice of cake you’re enjoying with your latte. But don’t worry—no matter how much pastry you gobble, when you head over to Eileen Fisher after your Starbucks snack, you’ll always be Extra-Small.   

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  • California Girl September 5, 2012 at 10:07 am

    I know what you mean. My understanding of “sizes” in the U.S. is that, thanks to increasing obesity, sizes are now inflated to look better than they are, i.e. a 6 is really an 8 from back in the day, etc.

    Sigh.

    Reply
  • Susanna Gaertner September 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    …so that’s why I am now a size 1 when I was always a 4 …..the explanation makes perfect emotional, if not logical, sense, sigh, go through more racks…..

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    @hillsmom Roz sent the article. Now just have to find the time to read it. Thanks for offering to snail mail it to me. We do forget that’s still an option. Have a great day!

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

    @Diane Dettmann: I haven’t heard anything from our Roz as yet, but if you live on Afton Hills Ct.S , I’ll be delighted to print out the article and snail it to you. Duh! how easily it is to forget about regular mail these days.

    Maybe Roz sent you the article directly. Anyway, I have to go by the library today, so I’ll look for your book.

    I lived in MN years ago while I carried a tray for NWA which is sadly gone now. No, it wasn’t on a biplane ;^)

    Reply
  • LIza Donnelly August 31, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Sadly, this is so true!

    Reply
  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne) August 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

    And then there’s Chicos, frequented by women of a certain age (like moi). They only have sizes 0 to 3. Right.

    Reply
  • diane dettmann August 30, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Hey, Hillsmom, I totally understand. I only joined the social network world for book promotion purposes–a publicist at a writer’s conference said it was a “must.” It’s been a steep learning curve for me, I’m slowly climbing up. Thanks Roz for being the messenger. I just e-mailed you. Looking forward to the article.

    Reply
  • Roz Warren August 30, 2012 at 8:30 am

    Diane, if you email me (my email address is on my website) I will forward it to Hillsmom.

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    @Diane Dettmann: Sorry, I’m not on any sociopathic sites, but I did P.M. it to our Roz along with the proper credits to the author and the paper. Perhaps, if she sees this, she’ll forward it to you. How about it Roz…?

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    @hillsmom, I would like to read the article. Are you on facebook or Linked In? If so you could friend me and then I could send you my e-mail through the message center.

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    @ Diane Dettman: I have an article which might be of interest to you regarding women’s clothing. I did send it to Roz, but can’t figure out how to send it to you…? Would you like to read it? Let me know.

    Reply
  • ROZ WARREN August 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    great comments everyone! thanks.

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    My same question hillsmom. What IS a size”0″! Wondering if pretty soon they’ll have a size “minus 1”. I think the fact that we have to try everything on, pushes us into stores instead of shopping online where you pray the size you’re ordering fits. I’ve kept items that didn’t fit just to avoid a trip to the post office to return it.

    Then there’s the issue of states collecting sales tax on clothing which I feel is discriminatory. I would guess women probably spend more money on clothes than men. This whole clothes shopping is a dilemma! Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels: A Widow’s Story of Love, Loss and Renewal.

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    You are spot on with this article. For example, I’ve worn the same size “Jockey for Her” hipsters for years. Eventually they wear out so when I see a sale, it’s a good time to replenish. Ok, I got the 3 pack and took it home where I held a pair up to an old often-washed and dried pair. Surprise! It was almost 1.5 inches smaller on each side. You can do the math. Had to go back for a size larger.

    We sell size 0 where I work. I’ve not been able to figure out what that really means…

    Reply
  • hillsmom August 29, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    You are spot on with this article. For example, I’ve worn the same size “Jockey for Her” hipsters” for years. Eventually they wear out so when I see a sale, it’s a good time to replenish. Ok, I got the 3 pack and took it home where I held a pair up to an old often-washed and dried pair. Surprise! It was almost 1.5 inches smaller on each side. You can do the math. Had to go back for a size larger.

    We sell size 0 where I work. I’ve not been able to figure out what that really means…

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    Roz, You are totally welcome! Shopping for clothes is so frustrating. I’m with Jody, wonder if men’s clothes sizes vary as much as women’s. The time consumed trying on item after item makes me think twice about going shopping. 🙁

    Reply
  • ib August 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    This is very true, Roz! What it means is that you have to try everything on – and that means you have to spend more time in the store – and that means that people like me are more likely to buy because I’ve already “invested” time in trying things on…

    Reply
  • Jody Gillen-Worden August 28, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Well, I don’t really pay attention to sizes because I always buy things that are too big. My mother used to hate that. But you are right…The size thing is out of control! I wonder if guy’s have this issue?

    Reply
  • Amy Smith August 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    This is why I love shopping at the Loft…I can fit into a 0 or 2 in the petite section!

    Reply
  • roz warren August 28, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Diane thanks for backing me up on this.

    Reply
  • Mark Lowe August 28, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  • Diane Dettmann August 28, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Roz, love it! I hear exactly what you’re saying. I have to try EVERYTHING on to see if it fits. I dropped a few pounds due to a cholesterol issue I had to deal with by changing my diet. One day I went to a store and fit into a size “2”. No way! But I bought the pants anyway. 🙂 One day while cleaning out my closet, I found a straight skirt from the 1980s. The tag said MADE IN USA and the size was an “8”. Guess what? it fit like a 2012 size “4”. Hmmm, what’s with that? Diane Dettmann Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003FHMAUS

    Reply