I think it's amazing how much a woman's self esteem is tied to the tiny little number on the label in her dress. Most all of us have a range of clothing sizes that make us feel comfortable (even skinny), and others that make us go 'omg I'm so fat, let's eat an apple for lunch today'.
I'm right there with the rest of you. I can go to the mall feeling fine about my body, even liking it, but if I try on something that runs small and I have to put on the dreaded 12 or 14 to get the right fit I immediately feel like a cow. It doesn't matter how much I know about clothing or the cut of a dress and whether a designer is cutting for my body type or not. I have let an article of clothing ruin my afternoon.
But I'm done now. After watching someone else go through this and realizing how preposterous it all is, I think I've finally come to my senses. So, in an effort to help the rest of you shop more freely and not put yourself down (ever!) here are a few things to remember:
Women come in more than nine sizes
Think about how many shapes and sizes of women you see every day - I can think of over a dozen. A dress that comes in only nine sizes is not going to work for everyone. The idea of trying to fit everyone into one of nine pieces of cloth is just ridiculous, but we subscribe to it and let it affect us.
Even an inch matters
If the cut across the shoulder is even an inch too narrow, you will need to go up a size (and freak out accordingly) If the rise of a pant hits too low, you may need to go up a size. Instead of thinking 'I'm huge' think about why the garment isn't fitting. Most of the time, it's due to the cut of the clothing not hitting you in the right places - not your fault.
One cut of pant may not suit four body types
Designers cut clothes for a certain body type, and if it's not the one you have, you may be out of luck. It has nothing to do with you. It is very difficult to cut the same pants for someone who is lanky as well as someone with a curvy shape. Your hips being one inch wider than the measurements used at the Chinese garment factory does not make you fat.
Women with hips should not shop in the Juniors department
Clothing for teenagers is cut for a more narrow body shape, since most 16 year olds do not have the curves they'll inherit in their twenties. Shopping in stores that cater to this group is just asking for a poor fit. Again, your hips being too large doesn't make you fat, it makes you a grown up who has an adult body.
There is no universal standard for size
Right now in my closet, I have five skirts that fit me well. The smallest is a size 8 and the largest is a 14. If you lay them on top of each other, the 8 is larger than another skirt by the same brand in a size 12. The 14 is the same size as another size 10 skirt. Clearly there are no rules.
When you tailor something, it is now a different size
When I buy dresses, I often have to buy larger sizes and look for seams that will allow for tailoring in the waist. When the seamstress makes that (or any) adjustment, the dress isn't a 14 anymore. Some tailors are pretty magical, but they can't create fabric where there is none. If you need an extra two inches across the bust, you have to get the size that offers it and work from there. Don't think of it as a 14, think of it as a 10B (boobs). Or if you're really upset, cut out the label entirely.
Don't settle for an ok fit to make yourself feel better
I would bet that everyone reading this can tell when someone's shirt is a little too small. That means everyone can also tell when your shirt is too small. If the buttons are gaping in any way, you need to go up a size no matter how hard it will be for you. A shirt that fits properly makes you look thinner. Always.
I don't think I am saying anything that you haven't heard before, but I hope some of you are thinking about how much we beat ourselves up over size labels. When something doesn't fit, it's not your fault. It is because a collection of fabric pieces sewn together thousands of miles away is not the exact same shape as your body. What a tragedy. ;-)