A Sizeable Debate
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17th November 2018
A Sizeable Debate!
Girls and women's sizing makes me mad. Fire hopping mad. Let me start with the little girls ...
My daughter is 9. She's small. Not small enough to turn heads, but small enough to regularly compete for the title of smallest in her class - even though she's the second oldest. She's always been petite, which for those of you who know me, will understand is not exactly what I was expecting in my children! When we lived in Vietnam, even in a class entirely full of generally petite Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese children, she was still the smallest, and by small I mean both short and skinny! Here she is as Maisy the mouse:
Well, if she's amongst the smallest, why can't I buy her clothes for a 9 year old? Before she was even 9 we started buying clothes for 10+, only this week I bought some crop tops from Tesco labelled age 12-13. Theoretically they should fit an average 13 year old. They fit her perfectly. If my tiny 9 year old fits them, where are the 12 and 13 year olds that fit them? Can anyone find me a 13 year old girl that fits 12-13 girls' clothes? Anyone?
So what? Well, two things:
Firstly, there is a cost, children's clothes increase in price with size, but more than that, at age 14 clothes (in the UK) stop being VAT free. If she's wearing age 13 now, then will she be wearing age 14 next year - will I be paying VAT for my 10 year old? If I will be paying VAT in a year, what about the parents whose 9 year old are average size, or heaven forbid - tall! Are they already wearing age 14, already paying VAT?
Secondly, in a society obsessed by size and weight, we are teaching our girls that they are too big, when they don't fit something labelled with their age, it makes them feel fat, it makes them feel the wrong shape. I think it's damaging.
What about the boys?
It's just not the same for boys clothes. My son is both TALLER and much BROADER than his older sister. He's 8. He's very much amongst the tallest in his class, there are a couple of kids his size and bigger, out of a class of 30. He wears age 10-11 clothes, which I would expect - he's above average size. Let's be clear, boys aren't bigger than girls. That's a myth. And when they get to about 10, 11, 12, the girls are bigger, a lot bigger. To show that boys clothes are accurately sized: his friend's parent bought him a t-shirt for his 8th birthday party, the parent bought him age 8 - because they absolutely expected an 8 year old boy to fit age 8. A parent of a girl simply wouldn't make that assumption.
Whenever boys and girls clothes are unisex, the sizes are bigger - no, scratch that - they are the boys' sizes. So, let's be clear, unisex means boys: boys' shapes, boys' designs, boys' sizes. For example, in school jumpers (unisex), my son wears age 11-12, he likes baggy, my daughter wears age 7-8, because they are unisex, and she is the size of an average 7 or 8 year old. When I print her a Scarf Monkey t-shirt, I print age 9-11, which is borderline, we are moving into age 12-13. The t-shirts are girls - it says so on the label. When I print her a Scarf Monkey jumper, I print age 7-8. The jumpers are sold as unisex.
Here's my 9 year old in a unisex age 7-8 Scarf Monkey jumper:
The photo below shows the difference between girls' and unisex sizes. Both t-shirts are Fruit of the Loom, children's Sofspun. The one behind is unisex, the one in front is girls. Both are age 9-11:
If you want evidence that girls are not smaller than boys at this age, just look at your old Primary School class photo, or your child's now.
Here's another comparison for you. The t-shirt behind is unisex age 12-13, the t-shirt in front is girls 14-15! Remember how much bigger 15 year old girls are than 13 year old boys:
I know, one could argue that it's in the 'fit', that girls' and women's clothes are more fitted. True. To understand how much the difference in size is, you need to understand that children's clothes typically increase in width by 2 cm only per size, that's 1cm per arm pit! Look at the Scarf Monkey size guide:
The image above (the unisex age 12-13 underneath the girls 14-15) shows a size difference of about 5cm between the two t-shirts. So the girls age 14-15, is two and a half size smaller than the unisex age 12-13. See in this close up:
On to the ladies
I sell quite a lot of ladies' t-shirts, mostly to teenage girls. Because my customers are mostly teenagers, I use very 'young' style t-shirts. They are pretty fitted, and have a high neck with small capped sleeves. They are more fitted than the girls' version, even though ostensibly they are the same make - Fruit of the Loom Sofspun.
These ladies' t-shirts, make the girls' t-shirts look as if they were made for giants' children. And they come labelled with my least favourite type of label: small, medium and large. Only, the 'large' comes up as a UK size 12-14, (US 8-10), even then I've had people who are a UK 12 say this is too tight if you want a looser fit, or if you have breasts.
Girls don't need to buy anything that says 'large' ever. I print t-shirts for my daughter's theatre group, their latest order was for 'student helpers' and three girls chose XL from the sample sizes. These girls all dance, they all wear a leotard on stage and look great. Not one of them is extra large. I hated handing them over knowing how they would have tried to hide from one another their size choices. If you've ever wondered why teenage girls squeeze themselves into clothes that are too tight - I reckon there's a good chance someone else was with them seeing which size they picked up, or asking them 'what size do you need?' in the middle of a shop floor.
The problem with small, medium and large, is there aren't enough sizes, so you start with XS, then go up S, M (there's only one medium and IT'S NOT THE MIDDLE SIZE), then L, XL, XXL. XXL is UK 16-18 (US 12-14)! I mean, 16-18 is definitely not skinny, but is it EXTRA EXTRA large?
Large is a judgement. For teenage girls, it's a mean word. Large compared to what? Compared to normal, that's what. When you give a girl a 'large' you tell her she is larger than normal, imagine the misery of the 'extra large' girls!
What can I do at Scarf Monkey?
Right now, not much. I can't very well advertise an age 9-11 t-shirt and then send one labelled age 12-13 years in its place.
In the future, when Scarf Monkey is bigger and stronger, I will use all my own labels and replace the ones they come with (this is what the big brands do). Perhaps I'll create my own sizing system - use the alphabet and start with a size M for whichever size is in the middle, then go up and down the alphabet. Then there would be no judgement, a K would be two sizes smaller than an M, an O two sizes bigger.
Would this put you off? Are we too used to the system we all know to change it?
I think I'll try anyway.
My business is in the business of empowering girls, making them confident that they can walk with their heads held high, swagger their way through any job interview and fight to break whichever glass ceiling they encounter. I have big ambitions for Scarf Monkey. I plan to change the way girls see themselves. It's why I think the problem with girls' sizing matters, I think our system makes them feel they aren't good enough from a very young age, makes them feel they are too big and take up too much room. I want to tell them they are good enough, they are strong enough, they are smart enough.
Tiny steps. Tiny steps. Every one towards the goal!
By the way, how is your Christmas shopping going? I'm an early shopper, so I'm nearly done - yay! We have some empowering Christmas jumpers for Christmas Jumper Day 2018 on 14 December. This one is flying off the shelves, it's definitely the one the girls are loving the most ... are you Christmas jumper ready?
... though to be honest, I like this one the best, it comes with added sass!
Hey ... Rudolph! Only female reindeer keep their antler's in winter!
This one is a favourite of the littleuns; they love looking through the reindeer and working out which ones are girls and which are boys (the girls all have antlers!):
Happy shopping, and thanks for listening.