Alpha Sizing is the Reason Clothes Shopping Sometimes Makes You Cry


You've probably wondered why you can be a size 6 in one store and a size 8 in another. Women's sizing is endlessly frustrating. My boyfriend can buy the same size pants in Macy's as he would at Banana Republic, but when I shop I can be anything from an extra small to a medium depending on the brand. According to the Wall Street Journal, alpha sizing is the reason you can wear a varied range of sizes.

Alpha sizing is a simplified system for sizing apparel. When you see the word "small" instead of a number, that garment indicates two combined number sizes. But there is no standardized way to do this, which is why you can be a "small" sometimes and a "medium" or "large" other times. According to WSJ, the rise of alpha sizing has something to do with the increased popularity of relaxed fashions (baggy t-shirts, yoga pants) that rely less on exact fit. But alpha sizing can be really damaging to the psyche of shoppers, especially female shoppers.

The appeal of alpha sizing for retailers is a no-brainer, especially financially. From the WSJ:

From a consumer perspective alpha sizing has some surface level benefits as well because it's such a simplified process.

But the problem with alpha sizing is that it is inconsistent across the industry. A size large in one store does not necessarily equal a size large in another. Fewer size options lead to inexact sizing, which is such an issue when trying to find flattering clothing. Not all women are shaped like clothes hangers, and we need specific sizes to help us determine the best fit. As Erin Gloria Ryan wrote for Jezebel:

I have had countless dressing room breakdowns because of "sizing up" in a particular dress or top. You can blame this on my insecurities, if you wish, but here's the thing — those insecurities are not my fault. They are the fault of a society that prizes skinny over healthy and airbrushes the hell out of every woman featured in a magazine so that the rest of us believe that fat rolls are the work of Satan instead of, you know, natural.

When you place women in "small," "medium," and "large" categories, you aren't doing those women any favors. You are reducing them to the size-based word on a tag. Size matters when it comes to clothing, and some women wear larger sizes than others. Numbers aren't perfect, but they are far less judgmental and far more exact. If stores are going to employ alpha sizing, the least they can do is standardize the process and save us some grief.