“Why don’t my clothes fit me?”: The Headache of Finding Your “Right” Size

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 The headache of finding your ‘right’ size

If you’ve ever had to go clothes shopping for that new internship or just to get a break from the mountain of schoolwork you are currently procrastinating, this might be familiar to you: You enter a Uniqlo, H&M or Cotton On and browse the selection. You pick out a few designs, find your size, and give it a try in the dressing room. The first pair of pants seems to fit fine, but it is too short. The second pair has a longer seam but is too loose at the waist. Five pairs later, the changing room is a bit of a mess, you are close to giving up, and probably tempted to just compromise and choose one. You might be staring at the size tags wondering why they don’t seem to fit, or wondering if you are just weirdly proportioned and hoping you don’t have to end up in the same old pair of pants for the rest of your life. 

What would you do if we told you that the sizing system you just used was, in some ways, destined to fail?


This commentary is intended to serve as an entryway into the discussion on sizing systems and the multitude of effects it has, from the personal to societal. It is far from a comprehensive overview of the extensive history of clothing or further concepts related to this topic, like vanity sizing. As two University students with no fashion background but just an interest in clothing, we sadly do not have all the answers to many of the problems presented in this article. We hope to instead encourage greater thought on the subject and spark conversations between people about something we tend to take for granted, but which has far-reaching effects in our lives.  This piece also mainly focuses on fast fashion, as its market value, which is currently worth hundreds of billions of dollars, is projected to continue growing.


Our shared struggle of finding our right size is a relatively modern one, as prior to the 19th century, men and women mostly wore bespoke garments. However, the bulk of clothing today is ready-to-wear rather than custom-made, and an integral reason for this shift was the development of sizing systems. These systems trace their beginnings back to wars of the nineteenth century in Europe and the United States of America, which necessitated quick estimations of a man’s overall measurements for military uniforms. Over time, with industrialization  and the rise of mass production, ready-to-wear clothing (and in turn popular reliance on sizing systems) became a staple for civilians as well. However, this fundamental shift from the creation of garments for an individual with unique measurements and taste to a general template of a customer presented a problem for manufacturers. They had to analyse the population’s body dimensions, which inevitably varied greatly, and this led them to categorise those with similar body measurements into size groups.  

Herein lies the paradox of sizing. The goal of manufacturers is to maximise customer satisfaction to attract new customers and encourage them to return, and one way to achieve this is by having more size groups, with small numbers of consumers falling into each group. Clothing made for individuals within each group is likely to fit better as a result. However, this also means inflating production costs, and ironically may even cause confusion when customers are faced with an overwhelming number of size options, or frustration as they have to put in extra effort to find their right size. Conversely, having fewer size groups may not be a better option, as a much larger number of consumers would be reductively confined to one of these groups, and the likelihood of garments fitting every one of these people well is low. Having too few or too many sizes can lead to customer dissatisfaction, so a healthy balance is needed. In a way, this becomes a zero-sum game. It is up to manufacturers to decide what sizing systems align with their interests as well as that of consumers. 

Sizing systems reflect the priorities of manufacturers, perhaps even more so than they convey information about the individual consumer themselves.


If you have gone for some post-exam retail therapy with friends of a different gender and/or size, you probably realised that those frustrating moments of trying on a whole pile of clothing and leaving with nothing is something almost everyone goes through. The sizing system is evidently limited in its efficacy, so it is unsurprising that those shopping in the men’s or women’s section face similar challenges. 

We scoured Reddit threads on this topic and found that both men who are “smaller to below average” or have a bigger build seem to struggle most in finding clothing that fits them. Commenters draw a clear distinction between “Asian” and “Western” brands, due to their differing sizing systems, as clothes from Taobao run too small on men with larger bodies, while the selection of clothing from brands like H&M and Zara that are meant to fit those with narrower frames are apparently few and far between.

When interviewing some of our friends who are also studying in university, Wayne, a Year 2 student remarked that although he generally does not have difficulty finding his size in different retail stores, “the one place [he’s] found this to be really frustrating is in MUJI, as their tees usually aren’t long enough. Maybe it’s because they’re designed in Japan.” 

After our brief look at the historical practice of analysing population measurements to create sizing systems, it is possible to believe that a legacy of this practice is clothes being better suited to the proportions of customers living in the same areas that a brand originated in before going global. Uniqlo seems to produce clothing that fit the Asian market better, possibly because it originated in Japan, compared to Asos, as their main market is in Europe and the United Kingdom, the latter being its place of origin. 

Similarly, women that are considered “petite”, “curvy” or ”plus-sized” also struggle with finding fashionable clothing that fits them. Some local fast fashion stores, such as the Editor’s Market, have faced complaints and criticism stating that their clothing does not flatter women with more curves. Additionally, even stores like Uniqlo that do offer plus-size options only do so via their online platform, rather than in-store. This makes it difficult for consumers to get a proper feel for whether or not an article of clothing suits their specific body type, contributing to the hassle of returns or exchanges should something not fit. 

To get around this issue of limited size ranges, many have embraced shopping in other sections for clothes. While it is increasingly common to hear of women going to the men’s section to shop, men of smaller body types also go to the women’s section or children’s section to look for better fitting clothes. Since these sections have different size ranges, consumers can effectively broaden their options. 

From the Reddit Thread “Sourcing for clothes for asian to below-average build men

However, this solution is far from perfect. Some Redditors noted that there is a sense of “fear and weirdness” when shopping for clothing in sections labelled for others. Additionally, the greater sizes available in other sections does not mean that shoppers can easily find something that also suits their own style. For instance, women going to the men’s sections are unlikely to find more feminine clothing like dresses, while some men may only choose items that are not obviously from the women’s section, even if they are . The freedom shoppers have in employing this method as an alternative to the flaws of sizing system remains limited still. 

From the Reddit Thread “Sourcing for clothes for asian to below-average build men


Some suggestions forth by the community include: 

  1. Knowing your measurements.

Needless to say, knowing your precise measurements before you begin your shopping journey, especially online, can significantly reduce your reliance on sizes and increase your chances of finding the best clothing for you, no matter the brand. However, it is also perfectly normal for people to feel a sense of discomfort about measuring themselves. There are other alternatives to this, such as buying an item and having someone else to help you tailor it.

  1.  Alterations and tailoring. 

An incredibly versatile solution would be that of making alterations and tailoring your clothes to your own measurements. Regardless of what the cutting for the clothing is, most talented seamstresses and tailors would be able to use your measurements to alter it into something more suitable for you upon request. 

Though stores like Uniqlo often offer alterations for an additional fee based on what you’ve spent, some Redditors recommended supporting local tailors. They can be found in marketplaces near hawker centres, and many of them have been in the business for a long time. Befriending your local tailor can make it easier to get your pieces altered at reasonable prices, with the added benefit of supporting an old tradition. 

  1. Finding stores that cater to your body type. 

Finally, should you find that altering clothing is a little out of your budget, you might prefer finding stores that cater to your body type. Many people recognise that from a business perspective, it may be difficult for every single business to cater to every single body type and size out there. It might thus be more effective to invest the time to find brands that align with the style you are looking for and offer a range of sizes that suits you. Just hop on TikTok or Reddit and you will find plenty of suggestions from users in comment sections on what stores worked for them. 

A minority of online commenters have flipped this solution on its head and instead suggested –especially to plus sized women– that they should change their lifestyles to lose weight in order to fit into clothing. They say that it would not only make their shopping experience easier on them, but would also be better for their health. 

An argument made by a Redditor who raises the argument that plus sized people complaining about the standardised sizes are simply entitled, and should just exercise instead of complaining

From the Reddit Thread “#trending: ‘Curvy’ woman urges Singapore fashion brands to be size-inclusive after CNY dress misfit; netizens weigh in with similar experiences

One has to wonder: Is it fair to put the onus on the consumer to change themselves if they do not fall within the parameters of an (as we have explored) inherently limited system? At the same time, how realistic is it for fast fashion brands to attempt to cater to all body types and sizes while churning out new styles regularly at affordable prices?

Who should be responsible when some sections of the population struggle more than others to find nice, well fitting garments  – consumers, producers, or society as a whole? 

We cannot offer a silver bullet or panacea for this web of issues as each person’s body is unique to them, and each brand’s sizing is likely influenced by their values, financial resources and level of demand from their base of customers. However, both customers and brands may benefit from being in closer conversation with one another. Some women have reached out to local brands to voice their desire for more diversity and size inclusivity, to which companies have responded (but whether they follow through with their comments remains to be seen). With the rise of social media, this conversation seems to be happening more frequently and on a larger scale, so one can only hope that companies make the effort to evolve with the needs of their customers.

As you can tell, this issue of sizing systems is incredibly complex, and we have only touched the tip of the iceberg in this commentary. If you have an interest in fashion and clothing, it might be worth talking about this with friends and family like we have. Every individual has had their own experiences that we feel cannot be wholly captured in this short piece. 

Ultimately, if you and I believe clothing and fashion to be a form of self-expression that we partake in every day, then perhaps greater attention should be paid to this paradox of sizing, and to other things in our lives that we take for granted, so that we see past the numbers and letters on a tag and listen more keenly to the human stories at the heart of these issues.