Sunday, May 13, 2007

women's clothing

Was out shopping for shoes today, and after my shoe-hunger was sated, I had a quick look into a (BrE) shop/(AmE) store as part of my never-ending quest for high-waisted (BrE) trousers/(AmE) pants (or as I like to think of them, waist-waisted trousers). I tried on the ones with the longest (BrE) zip/(AmE) zipper, and was predictably disappointed. But looking at the tag made me reflect on an interesting difference in BrE/AmE fashion-marketing lingo.

I was in Next. (I thought about pretending here that I was shopping somewhere fancier, but it is the only the place in the UK where I've found a pair of trousers that (AmE) fit/(BrE) fitted in the past three years, so they deserve some credit.) On the tag of the ill-shaped trousers/pants was the line Next Woman. That is to say, the item was from their women's range.

Compare this to American brands, where Woman often means 'extra large'. For instance Amazon.com lists 'Woman Sizes' as (US) 14-24. (American 14 = UK 16/18.) The Women's department in an American department store, such as Macy's, will carry precisely those larger sizes. Of course, this is confusing, since there are plenty of women who don't wear these sizes. But it works in the US because there are two other types of departments for smaller women. The Misses department carries the even-numbered sizes 14 and down, and the Juniors department carries odd-numbered sizes (up to 13) that are cut for younger women--or teenagers (smaller bust and hips). The word Misses is seen less these days in the actual marketing of clothing than it was when I was young, but the term is still used to designate sizes. Some non-department store retailers, like J.Jill, make the Misses'/Women's distinction. (There are also Petites in both AmE and BrE, but this category has to do with height, rather than width. One can find Petite Misses and Petite Women's sizes.)

The less-confusing name for women's sizes is (orig. AmE) plus sizes, but one sees the effect of the 'women' designation sometimes in plus sizes, which can be designated as 14W-24W. As Wikipedia (today, at least) explains, the W indicates a difference in cut:
As more and more retailers are rushing to join the plus-size clothing market, the fastest growing sector of the apparel industry, confusion has entered for the consumer regarding sizing. Some lines offering traditional "Misses" sizing have extended their size ranges up to 18 or 20, overlapping the "plus" or "women's" size range. However there is a difference between a Misses size 14 and a Women's size 14W. Traditional plus or "women's" sizing is cut with a deeper arm hole, lower and larger bust-line, and larger waist compared to hip ratio than "Misses" sizes. This results in 14W being about one size larger than a Misses Size 14. This cut difference also means a better fit for differing body types. Those women with a traditional hour glass or pear body type will usually find a Misses size range fits better. Women who have a rounder, more apple shaped figure and carry their weight mainly in the bust and abdomen, will find the traditional plus-size clothing or Women's Sizes will fit their figures better.
Of course, the fact that the US has invented this vocabulary for large clothing might be taken to corroborate the picture of Americans as fat--and it's true that Americans on average are fatter than other nationalities. But it's worth pointing out that the UK is not far behind--if at all behind. According to WrongDiagnosis.com, the rate of obesity (as opposed to mere over-weight) is 14.6% in both countries. However, as this site points out, attitudes toward(s) obesity vary in the two countries.

22 comments:

TasmanSea said...

I have just ordered my first pair of trousers / pants in the US. I assume it will be the first in a series that don't fit that I will have to buy before I find a pair that fit while preserving the outer/underwear distinction, and are not horrendously unflattering. I decided to err on the larger rather than smaller side of the size-range that wikipedia suggests is equivalent to UK sizing. At least it will be a little less depressing if they don't fit because they are too large.

The pair I ordered were described as "navy", which to me unambiguously refers to dark blue. The swatch on the website was a lighter bluey-grey colour. Is that a problem with the colour swatch online, or an actual difference in usage?

On a slightly related note, I noticed that you used the word "overweight" as a noun.... I have seen this sometimes, but it always seems to me that it should be something like "overweightness" or "prevalence of people who are overweight". Is using "overweight" as a noun like "obesity" a neologism, or an Americanism?

1jonboy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
johnb said...

Oooh - blogspam! I wonder if the bots are getting through Blogger's defences?

Stephen said...

have just ordered my first pair of trousers / pants in the US. I assume it will be the first in a series that don't fit that I will have to buy before I find a pair that fit while preserving the outer/underwear distinction, and are not horrendously unflattering. I decided to err on the larger rather than smaller side of the size-range that wikipedia suggests is equivalent to UK sizing. At least it will be a little less depressing if they don't fit because they are too large.

Err, how about going to an actual shop and trying them on. Or is that so 20th century?

jhm said...

tfzxrtThis is hopefully an aspect of the industrial revolution that will become obsolete. I wonder how the generations of people used to tailored clothing were ever convinced that some rag-tag collection of mass-produced sizes (which often don't even correspond to actual measurements) might be better?

jhm said...

Apologies for the "tfzxrt." I can't ever seem to get the "word verification" on the first try, which is bad enough, and now I have this string somehow intruding into the post itself.

lynneguist said...

On overweight as a noun, I first typed overweightness, thought that was horribly ugly, so went with overweight, as it seems to be used more and more in medical discussions of weight. I think it's more jargon than dialect. (Though all that's just my impression.)

Jhm, I've had the same problem with word verification ever since switching to New Blogger. They have straightened out other problems, so I'm hoping that this one will get better...

TasmanSea said...

Random responses:
It is always fun when you spot a word, like the noun version of overweight that sounds slightly strange now, but you know will sound completely normal in a couple of years' time. Even knowing that doesn't make it sound any less weird now. Although I guess I am assuming that the usage will catch on outside a somewhat jargony context which, now you mention it, is probably where I have read it.

I have always had to type in that word verification sequence twice too! Was starting to think I couldn't possibility be that bad at typing letters!

The main reason I order clothes online is because if I leave my computer I miss perfectly good opportunities to explain and defend my clothing acquisition strategies to people online... Plus the mall is far away and has clothes that are either boring or skanky, and overbearing shop(/sales) assistants (I am only gradually habituating to the US approach to customer service).

I am so looking forward to the time, that perhaps jhm is alluding to when it is possible to order clothes to your exact specifications online for not too much money.

Chris said...

The word verification problem is one of timing. There's presumably a counter that starts running when you click on the comments link. If you take too long to write your own comment, the timer runs out.

Ginger Yellow

Eloise said...

As a woman with both large hips and a small waist, who does not think low-waisted pants are flattering, I can recommend whole-heartedly Land's End for those who wish to mailorder sensibly-shaped clothes with (formerly-) ordinary waistlines, that stand up to everyday hard wear and aren't in ridiculous over-trendy colors and patterns.

strawman said...

It seems to me that there's a difference between overweight and over-weight which is what Lynne actually wrote in the blog entry. The hyphenated version reads much more easily as a noun, to me at least. I think in speech I would probably put the stress on over if using the hyphenated, nominal sense, as opposed to weight if using the non-hyphenated adjective.

Lois Fundis said...

An associated difficulty with the U.S. size system is that "Misses" is sometimes mispronounced, and misread, and misspelled, "Missies." Or in the singular, "Missy" instead of "Miss." This (mis)usage really annoys me -- "Missy" sounds demeaning -- and I have been known to protest and to stop shopping at stores whose advertising does this.

Not so much, though, since I grew into "Women's" sizes. These often come in 1X, 2X, 3X, etc. 2X is equivalent to Misses size 18-20, or 20-22, and is about what I normally wear (sometimes I can squeeze into a 1X).

And this doesn't even count "half-sizes" which is another clothing range for those of us who are a bit on the "pleasingly plump" or zaftig side.

lynneguist said...

Thanks for reminding me about half-sizes, Lois. I haven't seen those in years.

Eloise, I have tried Land's End trousers, and did buy some when Gap stopped making the ones I'd bought for years, but...I get a big gap at the back in them. My waist/hip difference must be larger than they're used to. Also find them a bit short-waisted for me. I am a freak.

Stephen said...

he rate of obesity (as opposed to mere over-weight)

What's wrong with good old 'corpulence'?

Sounds just the ticket.

Anonymous said...

Strawman, you will be glad to know that when I used to work with physical therapists doing research on the epidemic of obesity and overweight, they did indeed pronounce the noun "overweight" as you suggest, with less stress on "weight" and more on "over."

Janet said...

Lynneguist,

Re trousers v pants...

I'm reminded of a story that an American colleague told me recently. He came over to the Oxford office for his first visit. One of our most shy female (British) employees was apparently wearing some nice attire. He casually said to her, "Nice pants!" She apparently went beet red and ran into the loo/bathroom/washroom (Canadian). The poor guy couldn't figure out what he'd done wrong, needless to say!

I try to be careful...but I slip up sometimes, too.

Janet

PS I ALSO have problems finding sensible high-waisted trousers to fit here. I usually just end up ordering from Talbots or Liz Claiborne in the States.

Paula said...

I was brought up that ladies wore "slacks" and men wore "trousers" or "pants".
We used the word "britches" for play clothes/outdoor rough wear.
As for sizing, don't get me started. Each women's clothing company has their own idea about what is a large, x-large or plus size. Men's sizes seem to be uniform.....sigh....

Anonymous said...

The technical details that I recall are that women's sizes assume a C-D bust, versus a B for misses sizes. Half sizes differ primarily in the distance between waist and nape of the neck, being designed for more short-waisted people.

Sizes are standardized for patterns, but not for manufactured clothes.

Gotapparel said...

I face problems to finding sensible high-waisted trousers to fit here. I usually just end up ordering from Talbots or Liz Claiborne in the States.

CinnabarsKnitter said...

I had to comment, despite being shockingly late to the party, because I clicked the second link in the last paragraph (the foodanddrinkeurope one), and the survey is reported in absolutely atrocious style, with two errors and the rest with a more or less complete lack of flow!--Wretched editing is one of my least favorite things.

Anonymous said...
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Eric said...

I have such a hard time ordering women's clothing from the UK because the sizing is so different. It's too bad there's not a Top Shop here. Then again, I save lots of money this way, so maybe it's a good thing.