The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes

TIME

In the world of women’s clothing, a 4 is a 2 is a 6. Everything is relative — unless, of course, you’re shopping in Brandy Melville’s teen-“friendly” SoHo store, where the only size is small. (“One-size” reads labels that don’t even bother with the usual “fits all” addendum.)

One of the most infuriating American pastimes occurs within the confines of a dressing room. But where do these seemingly arbitrary sizes come from? Sit down, unbutton your pants and enjoy a condensed briefing on women’s clothing measurements:

“True sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940’s,” says Lynn Boorady, fashion and textile technology chair and associate professor at Buffalo State University. “Before then sizes for young ladies and children were all based on age — so a size 16 would be for a 16-year-old — and for women it was about bust measurement.”

Suffice it to say, assuming all 13-year-old…

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