Pants that ride up, sleeves that hang down, waists that pinch, hems that fall short, size 8s that fit differently from label to label.
Did you think it was just your body that was impossible to fit?
According to Stores.org, $28 billion a year of merchandise is returned to stores because of poor fit.
An informal poll on this site shows that 42% never find clothes to fit; 40% only sometimes; 14% said rarely and only 4% said always.
But you really don't care about statistics and projections: you already know that it's almost impossible to find great fit.
The real reason is pretty simple: there's no standardization in women's sizes. A U.S. size 4 could be an 8 or a 2 depending on the maker.
There is a very basic guideline for fit based on a 60-year-old study done by the US Dept. of Commerce.
Unfortunately, the 2,000 women who were measured for that study were mostly young, unmarried, white women according to Ellen Goldsberry, associate professor with The University of Arizona Division of Retailing and Consumer Studies on the university's web site.
That cross-section doesn't begin to touch on the diversity of today's demographics.
Also, this old data is out-of-sync with the way women have increased in size: in 1941 the average woman was 5' 2", 129 pounds. Today she is 5' 4" and weighs 144 lbs (wearing between a 12 and 14).
Another reason clothes never fit is that most sizes are based on the assumption that women's bodies are hourglass in nature. (Ex: A size 8 a the Gap is a 36 bust-28 waist -36 hips.) In reality, the average woman's body is much more a pear shape (smaller on top and heavier through the hips).
To make matters even more confusing, factor in the inane sizing system itself. "Missy" sizes (2-20) originally designated age, not measurements.
And the sizes themselves keep fitting bigger.
Unfortunately, this means that if you have always worn a size 10, you've actually grown by as much as 5" in the bust and waist over the past 30 years.
The good news is that technology, such as 3D body scanners to capture accurate measurements, will improve data gathering about the population's true size.
And mass customized products that allow you to tweak sizes to fit your own measurements are already an online reality.
For the many women who fall outside of what the industry considers standard sizes (approximately sizes 4-14, 5' 4" to 5' 8" in height), there are "special" sizes that cater to petite, plus and tall women.
As many as half of all women may actually make up these special sizes: according to a survey by Kurt Salmon Associates, one-third of the respondents considered themselves plus-size and 19% were petite.
One of the misconceptions about petite sizes is that you have to be a tiny little thing to qualify.
Actually the designation refers to height, not girth: women under 5' 4" are considered petite by the industry whether they wear a size 24 or a 4.
Although many shorter women are concerned about fit (like getting a jacket waist to hit where it's supposed or finding sleeves that don't hang to the knuckles), there are issues of color, scale and proportion that make it difficult to find styles that look flattering.
Don't be discouraged if department store offerings are too old or fussy for your taste. Specialty stores, online resources and catalogs may have just what you need.
Try petite-only resources like Petite Sophisticate or merchants that feature all sizes, like J. Jill. Some smaller sized women even swear by the children's departments in the Gap for casual clothes.
Look for monochromatic or tonal dressing, sleek lines, smaller prints and scaled-for-you accessories (no huge hoop earrings or enormous bags). The same chunky knit sweater or floor-length skirt that looks so great on the runway may be overwhelming for a smaller woman. Try modifying trends to work for you (maybe a lightweight sweater with a chunky knit scarf or cap and a lower calf skirt with boots instead of extremes).
Some estimates put the number of women who wear a size 14 or larger at about half of the female American population.
With so much buying power, it would seem that manufacturers would cater to full-figured women. Instead, the laundry list of complaints from the over-14 consumer keeps growing.
"I have a picture in my head of what I want to buy when I'm shopping. Why is it I can only find something sort of close in a size 4?" laments KARAOKAY in the Fashion Forum on this site.
Add these complaints: A dearth of updated styles, shoddy workmanship, few high-end labels and a general lack of respect from industry leaders like fashion editors and buyers. (Ex: Vogue editor Anna Wintour told Newsweek that she'd "have a problem with" a fashion editor working for her that weighed 250 pounds).
And the strange thing is that real-size women like model Emme (size 14) are labeled plus size, even though they actually represent the average woman according to recent demographics.
Online merchants and catalogs have answered some of the shopping needs for plus sizes. Alight.com is an excellent cyberstore; junior resources like Girlfriends LA, and casual clothes from Gap (up to size 20) are also good stops.
Tips:Go for monochromatic or tonal dressing; use bright colors and textures to show off the best part of your figure (bust, legs, waist, etc. figure flattery (go for skimming, not tight or baggy); keep accessories in scale (not too dainty); stay updated (grab a few junior large sizes for some wardrobe spunk).
For women 5' 9" and over, it would seem that fashion would be a cakewalk. After all, aren't all of those lovely, tall models well-dressed?
But the reality is that a 34" inseam gal in a 30" inseam world can have trouble finding the perfect fit.
Manufacturers, in order to fit the most people, make clothes for women of average height, which is about 5' 4".
That means taller women struggle with pants and sleeves that are entirely too short.
Some tall women combat the problem by shopping in the men's department, some by frequenting tall-only boutiques. Jeans that can be ordered by inseam size are also a good bet.
Tip: If you are tall and thin, you may need to take advantage of custom-made bottoms for the best fit (try IC3D.com online).
The only way to ensure perfect fit when you can't try it on is to know your measurements.
So grab a tape measure and a buddy and take those measurements:
What you'll need - A cloth tape measure and a full length mirror. Take measurements undressed or in lightweight clothes. Pull the tape measure snug, but not too tight. Keep your arms at your side and have a friend take the measurements, for the best results. And don't slouch! Stand up nice and tall.
Measure around the shoulder blades, under the armpits and over the fullest part of the bust.
Find your natural waistline and measure.
Measure the fullest part of the hip (usually about 7-9 inches below the waist)
1. Wear a comfortable bra and measure the rib cage just below the breast. If the number is 33 or less, add 5 inches to that number and that is your bra size. Over 33 inches add 3 inches to get you bra size. Both ways, rounding odd numbers up to even.
2. Then take measure the bust around the fullest part. When you subtract the last number (fullest part) by the among of your bra size, you'll come up with a number used to determine cup size by using the chart below (the A,B,C, etc. cup chart) For example if your bra size was 36 and your cup measurement was 38, the difference is 2" so you would wear a 36B.
Use this chart:
AA = 1/2"
A = 1"
B = 2"
C = 3"
D = 4"
DD or E = 5"
F = 6"
G = 7"
Measure above the ears about 1/2" around the forehead.
With hand partially closed, measure over the knuckles, around the hand, excluding the thumb.
-UK sizes may seem the same as U.S. women's, but are generally about a size smaller (a U.S. 8 is about a UK 10) To find your European size, you can add 30 to your size. A U.S. 6 is a Euro 36. Always refer to size charts for fit!
Use this conversion tool to find your size.
-When buying vintage clothing, be aware that the sizes have changed drastically over the years. Consult Fashion-Era.com for good vintage sizing tips.
-If it's cotton, it's going to shrink. Add anywhere from 1/3" to 3/4" extra to compensate. Some makers count potential shrinkage into the size already. When in doubt -- ask a customer service person.
-Many manufacturers or stores may have their own special fit and size tips. It's a good idea to consult any additional information.
-Get a great tailor, because no matter how closely you order your size, it's still not custom made.