Our Survey Reveals the Complicated Relationship Between Women and Clothing Size

Photo: Getty Images / Yahoo Style
Photo: Getty Images/Yahoo Style

If you were Facebook friends with your clothing, your relationship status would read, “It’s complicated.” Walking into a dressing room with a stack of clothing, you have no idea if you’ll walk out feeling confident or crappy. So often it’s because you’ve got no clue what your actual clothing size is. You may be a size 12 in one brand, a size 10 in another, and a size 8 in a third. But knowing your correct clothing size is essential to finding your #PowerLook — that one outfit that can make you feel invincible.

Here at Yahoo Style, we have so many feelings about clothing size. So we sent associate editor Jihan Forbes to the streets of Manhattan to ask women how they felt — and, it turns out, every woman knows the struggle of inconsistent sizing and the pressure to tell white lies about her size.

Next, we reached out to more than 1,000 American women of different ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities to see what they thought — and, not surprisingly, they had complex feelings too.

We asked women to describe their bodies — in one word

The top word used for all women, except for African-American women, is CURVY. The top word used for African-American women is REGULAR.

1 in 3 women call themselves “plus-size”

We also found significant differences in the way women classify their clothing size. In our survey, 1 in 3 women told us that they consider themselves plus-size — a designation usually defined as wearing a clothing size of 14 or larger. That differs significantly from national data, which states that 67 percent, or two-thirds, of the population is plus-size.

We found an interesting twist: In our survey, 37 percent of white women identified themselves as plus-size. Black and Hispanic women, on the other hand, were less likely to see themselves as plus-size, with only 24 percent of both groups identifying with the term. This may suggest that African-American and Hispanic women embrace a wider range of body types as the norm, or it may be that white women are more likely to embrace the term plus-size as a statement of body acceptance.

Most of us have no idea what our actual clothing size is.

Nearly 3 out of 4 women (71 percent) say there is at least some difference in the clothing size they buy across designers, styles, brands, and retailers, with 28 percent noting a lot of variability in their size. These claims of size variability are high among all women, but those in the Baby Boomer generation and white women saw it the most. White women also tend to notice the most variation in their sizes across retailers, while African-American women see the least.

We also asked women for their top complaints about clothing sizes. “Inconsistent sizing” and “Styles that don’t come in my size” topped the list, with the latter being the top concern for Hispanic, African-American, and Gen Xers. Overall, women like shopping for shoes and shirts best and — not surprisingly — bathing suits and bras least.

50 percent of women feel the sting when they don’t fit into their expected size.

Despite the known variance in sizing, 50 percent of women still feel the sting when they don’t fit into their expected size — and this was true for women of all ages.

However, African-American women were significantly more immune to the sting: Only 34 percent said they felt upset when they didn’t fit into their expected size, versus 53 percent of white women and 52 percent of Hispanic women. Overall, African-American women also reported that they were less likely not to fit into their expected size.

When it comes to our actual clothing size, sometimes we lie. Other times, we feel shame.

Overall, nearly 1 in 4 women admitted to having lied about her size. The lie most often told, among 1 in 6 women (17 percent), is about being a smaller size than they really are. Fewer than 1 in 10 women lied about being a larger size. And who are we lying to? Our friends. The majority of women (63 percent) who lie about their size told us they lie to their friends.

Interestingly, while African-American women are as likely to lie about their size as white women, they are about half as likely as white women to lie about being a smaller size and twice as likely to lie about being a larger size. Overall, Hispanic women are the group most likely to lie about their size: One in 4 Hispanic women has lied about being a smaller size than she really is, and Hispanic women are also the most likely to have lied about being a larger size than they really are (nearly 1 in 7).

One in 5 women feel shame buying clothing because of the size on the label. Millennials have felt the most “point of sale sizing shame” (1 in 4), while African-American women are the least likely to feel shame because of the size on the label (7 percent).

Most of us own four to five pieces of clothing that no longer fit.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

On average, women own four to five items of clothing that no longer fit but that they hold on to in hopes they’ll one day fit. And just over 1 in 10 women have bought clothing in a smaller size in hopes of one day fitting into it. (The highest group here is millennial women, who clock in at 1 in 7.)

Overall, our survey illuminated the range of complex emotions women feel surrounding their bodies and clothing, from confusion over sizing, and the pressure to conform to body ideals that differ from culture to culture, to the anxiety that prompts women to inflate or deflate their size when talking to friends. One thing that’s certain is that, for many women, there’s so much more to size than the number on the tag.

What do you get when you combine perfect style with perfect fit? Perfect confidence — and an outfit that’s your #PowerLook. Find yours with Yahoo Style’s complete guide to fashion that makes you feel invincible, and post your #PowerLook to be featured on our feed!