Is your size your size?

« previous post | next post »

According to today's Cathy, men now have to worry about this too:


  1. Peter Taylor said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 11:35 am

    One of the odd things about moving from the UK to Spain is that the philosophy of clothes sizes is different. In the UK, off-the-shelf trousers will list waist, hip, and inner leg measurements; here a single figure is provided, which so far as I've worked out doesn't directly measure any part of the anatomy.

  2. Faldone said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 11:47 am

    Judging from the fit at the waist, the pants might be his size but he isn't anymore.

  3. Dhananjay said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    For the love of all that is just and holy, please read this: I avoid the funny papers just so that I don't have to read this dangerous drivel.

  4. Sili said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    She has a point. Over the past decade I've gone from a size 43 to size 41 in shoes. And the sandals I bought last month are actually a tad too big (perhaps I should wear them now – does leather shrink?).

    I 'get' what the joke is supposed to be, but I just find the bloke annoying.

  5. Peter Harvey said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    The single figure for Spanish trousers is half the circumference of the waist in centimetres. Then you get a few different lengths that vary in proportion to the waist. If you're lucky, you find a combination that fits.

    But what do shoe sizes measure anywhere?

  6. Bloix said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    I tried on a pair of on-sale Lucky brand jeans recently, in "my size," and the rise was about two inches. To wear those jeans you'd need to have your pelvic bones protruding from a fat-free waistline. So I know exactly what this strip is talking about.

  7. Boris said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    My shoe size here in the US went from 11 to 8.5 (not at one time, of course). I'm pretty sure my feet are not shrinking. Maybe their extrawides are wider now, though, which I always needed, and which might allow me to wear a smaller size. But I always buy the same brand.

  8. Anna Phor said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    @Peter Harvey–in the UK, men's shoe sizes measure the length of the foot in barleycorns for each barleycorn over a hand.

  9. Theodore said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    I've had a similar discussion with my wife, but the strip misses the boat. US men's trousers are (ostensibly) sized in inches, which ought to be an absolute unit of measure. New dress slacks in a 36" waist and 34" inseam fit me fine as do any of my older clothes in that size, but new 36/34 jeans are too loose and too long!

    Maybe Cathy does have one thing right: Irving's ambiguity in communicating the reason for his expectation fits right in with the gender-baiting that's a mainstay of the strip.

  10. Vincent said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

    Until the skinny fit happened, I couldn't find pants with an inseam long enough to cover my ankles anywhere but a custom tailor.

  11. Richard said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

    Of course there is 'inflation' in sizing (a notional size X now is what would have been X+n in the past) and, for that matter, 'deflation' for those garments where being smaller is more fashionable or desirable. Since numbered sizes are arbitrary, I guess we get what we deserve. But what allows it to happen even to apparently objective units of measure like inches?

    I have long seen this as a place wherein may lie hidden nerdspeak: are size indications on the label the sizes of the garment (manufacturer point of view) or the person it is supposed to fit (customer point of view)? One might expect or at least hope for a close correspondence between the two, but experience shows hope generally exceeds expectation on this front, and that gives manufacturers wiggle room (if you will pardon the expression). Well, that and the fact that they can interpret the latter not as the actual size of the customer but the size the customer thinks he or she is or wishes or dreams that he or she were …

    At this point a complicated game of double or triple bluff ensues in the aisle as we try to work out which strategy the manufacturer has gone for and what they might think we might think that they might think …

    And in the end we finish up either with resorting to a tape measure (for both garment and self) or a pile of stuff to try on in all the plausible sizes, of which in the end nothing quite fits right – well except for one thing, and then we decide we don't like its colour after all!

  12. Anna Phor said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    The sizes on men's garments refer to the size of the person–however, the garment may be designed to be more or less baggy, so the finished waist measurement of a pair of size 36 slacks will be more like 37", while the finished waist measurement of a pair of size 36 bike shorts (which are made of a knit fabric which is designed to stretch) might be 34". The difference between the body size and the finished garment size is the "ease" of the garment.

    Women's sizing is a whole different ball game. The size on the tag doesn't just communicate your measurements. It also communicates something about the price of the garment. That's why a woman who wears a size 10 when she shops at Target might wear a size 6 if she shops at Neiman Marcus. The size range of a clothing line communicates something about the brand; more expensive clothing runs from sizes 0-8, and I think the communicative message is something like "if you buy this, you won't end up dressed in the same dress as a fat person."

  13. Skullturf Q. Beavispants said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

    This kind of reminds me of a sentence due to Douglas Hofstadter:

    "If you were a better painter, the girl with blue eyes would have blue eyes."

    Like Cathy's second sentence in the third panel, a hyper-literal reading appears self-contradictory. How could your size possibly not be your size? How could a girl with blue eyes possibly not have blue eyes?

    Hofstadter's sentence seems to offer more possible interpretations than Cathy's. It could mean that you didn't do a very good job of capturing somebody's blue eyes in the painting, but it could also mean "if you were a better painter, the girl whom you gave blue eyes would actually have blue eyes in real life!" Hofstadter points out that the second interpretation works better if you stress the word "have".

    [(myl) Yes, the question of whether your size is your size seems related to a number of standard semantic problems, and perhaps also some not-so-standard ones. What makes it fun is that there are no obvious opacity verbs, and in fact no obvious places to hang scope differences on.]

  14. phosphorious said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

    Bertrand Russell addresses this question somewhere ("On Denoting", maybe?), where the example is something like:

    "I thought your boat was bigger than it is"

    Which is not as contradictory as it sounds.

    [(myl) This is one of the standard sorts of example (see e.g. here and here for discussion) that is traditionally dealt with in terms of the scope of quantifiers relative to opacity verbs. As I observed in response to an earlier comment, there is no overt opacity verb in evidence here, nor any quantifiers for that matter.

    Or, more precisely — Cathy's statement ("The days of men just walking in and assuming everything that's your size is your size are over") does have an opacity verb ("assuming") and a quantifier ("everything"), but these don't seem to be essential to the ambiguity of "your size", which can refer either to something of a given culturally-defined class ("size 6"), or to something that fits you. ]

  15. Bobbie said,

    September 4, 2009 @ 11:40 pm

    What I don't understand about women's sizes in the US is that as the sizes get bigger, the arms and legs get longer! So I have to grow taller if I gain weight!

  16. marie-lucie said,

    September 5, 2009 @ 12:25 am

    I completely agree with Anna Phor's comments about the difference between the sizing of men's and women's clothes, and the consequences for the respective shopping experiences of men and women.

    To go back to the basics, a standard clothing size, whether expressed in actual inches or cm, or by a more arbitrary number, always refers to the size of the body, not that of the garment, since different garments are designed to be more or less close to the body: for the same person, a shirt and an outer coat cannot be the same size in inches around the chest, since the shirt needs to be fairly close to the body (though not so close as to restrict movement) but the coat needs to accommodate several potential layers underneath it (eg sweater, jacket, removable lining). The type, thickness and stretchiness of the fabric also play a role, as well as the fashion style which may dictate how close-fitting or baggy the garment should be. So there would be no sense in a person trying to memorize the actual size of a garment when buying another, even of the same general type, rather than a few crucial measurements of their own person.

    As for the gentlemen whose shoe size appears to have shrunk, perhaps they bought shoes manufactured and labelled in other countries? Each country still has its own system of sizing.

  17. marie-lucie said,

    September 5, 2009 @ 12:45 am

    Bobbie, if you line up women from 5 ft to 6 ft tall, all with average figures, the taller women will also be wider on the average than the shorter women (and similarly for men), so height and width tend to co-vary. But if you gain so much weight that you need to get not just the next larger but a significantly larger (wider) size, then you can switch to the "women's sizes", made for those who are stout but not necessarily tall. Similarly "petite" sizes are for short women whether thin or stout.

  18. mollymooly said,

    September 6, 2009 @ 11:45 am

    @ marie-lucie@12:45am:

    by that logic, fashion models are not merely size 0, but size 0-XXXT ?

  19. marie-lucie said,

    September 6, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

    mollymooly, in principle, yes. I did not mention Tall sizes, which are not usually available in the average department store but you can find them in the Tall Girl chain (and I assume in higher-end stores too). Otherwise, very tall women would have to wear pants and shirts that were way too short for them if they had to rely on clothes made for those of average height (which covers the range 5'3" to 5'7"). In North America there is such a wide range of sizes because of the varied ethnic origins of the population. In Europe the range in each country is more restricted and women whose size is markedly different from the average have more difficulty finding suitable ready-made clothes.

  20. Adam said,

    September 29, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

    Glad to see this is a fresh thread. I'm a new designer and making a line of pants due out next season. I'm up to the point when i need to give size specs to the factory and I'm very lost as to a way to clearly communicate size to the customer. For example: I am a 40in waist measured tight with a fabric measuring tape but I wear either a 35 or 36 depending on the brand. 34 is always to small, 35 most of the time if its offered of a 36 with a belt. It doesn't make any sense to put a 35/6 on a pair of pants when its really a 40? Am i crazy here or is there something wrong with how this is being done. I can't go ahead and slap a 40in tag on it, people will try it on and wonder whats wrong with it….

RSS feed for comments on this post