A look at the most common sizes across ten popular mall stores, from The Gap to Ann Taylor LOFT to Forever 21.
You all know the struggle — of walking into a dressing room with three different pairs of each style of jeans you want to try on because you’re just not sure, of owning things in a range of about four to five different sizes, of pulling on a skirt that normally fits and discovering you couldn’t even zip it over one of your legs. Shouldn’t we just be able to walk into a store and buy a pair of pants in the same godforsaken size?
I believe yes, but apparently, my dreams of standardized sizing are foolish in the face of the stores’ propensity to do whatever they damn well, please. That’s because many stores have realized that we as idiot consumers are more likely to buy something when we discover we’re a smaller size than we thought (it’s called “vanity sizing”). Since I know I have not lost or gained weight since junior year of high school, I am acutely aware that no, I am not smaller, this is just a mind game. HA, I’m onto you! But still, we all know it works.
So to investigate the extent of their psychological manipulation, I went to 10 popular stores and tried on jeans, a shirt (usually a button-down), a dress, a pair of pants, and a skirt. Just so you know, I am 5’4, 135 pounds, and I was going to measure my waist and hips for you but I can’t find a measuring tape anywhere so…sorry about that. My waist is quite small compared to the bum/thigh region. I know people are weird about those details but I don’t mind, and I feel like this sizing stuff is useless unless you know. So buckle up for some selfies and here we go…
1. American Eagle
I think AE has been the basis of much of my sizing confusion, especially when it comes to jeans. I am solidly a 6 in American Eagle skinny stretch jeans—which I love—but in recent years I’ve realized that does not at all translate to other stores. Honestly, before I wrote this, I thought I was a 6/28 in jeans across the board (not so).
- Jeans: 6 (and they are tight)
- Shirts: The shirt pictured is a medium purchased when I was feeling that whole “look like you’re wearing your boyfriend’s shirt” thing but in button-downs definitely small. Casual tees and flannels I prefer medium.
- Dresses: Small
- Skirts: 6, 4 if it’s high-waisted
During this experiment, I realized that J.Crew is one of the biggest “vanity sizing” offenders. Obviously, I’m just going to keep shopping there like nothing happened, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. You know those Minnie capri pants everyone owns at least one pair of? Yeah, I first purchased a 6 because it seemed fine in the store, wore them for a day and realized they were way too big, bought a different color in a 4, wore those for a day and realized they were still too big, and finally, bought a different color in a 2 and that was the correct size. J.Crew pants don’t just run big, they run huge.
- Jeans: 26 (Which equates to a 2. Which is absurd.)
- Pants: 2 / 4 if they’re less stretchy
- Skirts: Just bought this neoprene skirt in a 2
- Dresses: 2 / Small
- Shirts: Small
3. Urban Outfitters
Oh, Urban. As the only store clothing close to Notre Dame’s campus, I bought a disproportionate amount of clothes here over the past four years. I know my sizes without even checking. These are the standby BDG high-waisted jeans that I think I wore every day for a year…
- Jeans: 28
- Skirts / Pants: Medium usually
- Shirts: Small
4. Free People
Free People is actually tough to size anything because half of it is so massive and unfitted that you could wear any size and be just fine. But for jeans, I thought they would definitely run small. I tried a 27 boyfriend style and the leg was fine but the waist was way too big.
So when I switched over to skinnies, I tried a 26, barely got them on and when I did, completely cut off my oxygen flow.
- Jeans: Boyfriends 26 / Skinnies 27
- Dresses: 4-6
- Everything else: Doesn’t really matter, but small or medium depending on how far you’re going with the “homeless chic” look
I just purchased jeans from Madewell, and they are amazing! Again, not the size I thought I was, but I can usually count on Madewell to be consistent with their sizing.
- Jeans: 27
- Pants / Skirts / Dresses: 4
- Shirts: Small in fitted/button-downs, but I usually get medium in the cotton tees and tanks (the neon tank is a medium)
Gap was actually home to one of my favorite pairs of jeans that I tried on all day, not to mention the ultimate find: the perfect not-too-sheer white T.
- Jeans: 27
- Pants: 4
- Skirts: 2, but 4 if it’s fitted
- Shirts: Small (pictured below), but Extra Small if you’re wearing under a sweater
7. Ann Taylor LOFT
Vanity sizing for everyone!
- Pants: 2 / 4P
- Shirts: 2 or small
- Dresses: 2 / 4P
- Skirts: 4P
8. Forever 21
Things can get tricky when you’re four different sizes within a single store, but I would put up with almost anything for Forever 21′s prices, so I let it slide. The jeans were just ill-fitting all-around, I tried a 27 which was too big in the waist, but way too tight around the ankle. Pants and skirts were a whole new debacle, as the first skirt I tried on was a small and I literally couldn’t even start the zipper, but then these pants in a medium were…
…somewhat large. Conclusions:
- Jeans: Don’t buy them here unless you are truly stick straight and then by all means!
- Pants / Skirts / Dresses: Medium in any non-stretch or thicker material or more fitted styles, Small in the silky flowy stuff
- Shirts: Usually small, but honestly who the hell knows. Case-by-case testing is required.
I feel like H&M is trying to be a very high fashion of late, and their sizing definitely reflects that. Those clothes are teeny. But it can also be confusing because this shirt is a 4….
And this one is an 8:
Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense.
- Pants: Medium / 6
- Skirts: Small/4 for A-line or stretch waists, Medium/6 for pencils
- Dresses: 4 usually, but sometimes they’re real tiny
- Shirts: Anywhere from 4-8 apparently
10. Banana Republic
Maybe it’s just that my upper body is relatively smaller than my lower, but some weird things happened at the Banana Republic. I guess I was expecting it, as my mom is always saying how inconsistent their sizing is. On the one hand, I have skirts from there in 2, but then I tried on this very cool faux leather skirt that fits well in a 4.
I also have several size small shirts from Banana, but this small button-down was way too big. (I know it’s buttoned incorrectly, this is how I pulled it on.)
Pants / Skirts / Dresses: 2 or 4 / Small
Shirts: Extra small, what? / Small
As you can tell, by this point I was ready to never see a mall again.
How Much Does Your Size Range Between Stores?
On Wednesday, our writer Kelsey investigated which sizes she fits into at various popular retailers. She found that at 5’4″ and 135 pounds, her sizes differed considerably between the stores she tried on clothes at. It illustrated just how much sizing in women’s stores can vary–a super-frustrating problem that many of our commenters related to on her post, but many talked about wishing this could be a guide for lots of different body types and sizes. As a result, I propose some crowdsourcing-based research.
Basically, I would love it if we could all talk about how heights, weights, approximate proportions/body types, and sizes in different stores. Here’s the format I’m thinking:
- Measurements/body type: Either your exact measurements or your “body type.” Examples of body type: pear-shaped, hourglass, straight, wide-hipped, large-busted, and lots of other descriptions you guys will probably come up with better than myself.
- General Size: The size you typically grab first at a store to check if it fits, then go from there.
- Size in various popular stores:
Of course, it’ll be difficult to match up things perfectly, but hopefully, we can get an idea of whether things run generally large or small when it comes to retailers like H&M, Forever21, Zara, J. Crew, The Gap, American Apparel, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Victoria’s Secret (clothing, not bras), Free People, Express, Uniqlo, and other similarly popular ones. I’ll go first!
- Height: 5’7″
- Weight: 157
- Measurements: Approximately 38-31-36, I think. I wear a 34DD, my hips and thighs are wide, and I am more soft than muscular. “Hourglass” describes it best of all the conventional body types.
- General Size: 10/12
- Sizes: H&M – 12 in bottoms, 10 in shirts; American Apparel – Large; Forever21 – Large; Uniqlo – Large; Victoria’s Secret – Medium or Large; J. Crew – 10; The Gap – 8 or Medium; Express – 8; Urban Outfitters – Large or 10; Banana Republic – 10.
If you’re not comfortable revealing your weight (lots of people aren’t), just talking about your height and body type could still give people a good amount of info.
We would love it if you took part in our little experiment, so if you are willing to, please share your info with us in the comments!
Iskra Banović is our seasoned Editor-in-Chief at BlueFashion. She has been steering the website’s content and editorial direction since 2013. With a rich background in fashion design, Iskra’s expertise spans across fashion, interior design, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and culture.