Size Matters

An iconic Catherine Malandrino knit dress designed for a very slender woman.  Available at Julia Farr


News Flash:  Size matters. Or maybe it doesn’t.  You know I’m talking, of course, about women’s sizing in contemporary American collections, don’t you?  Here’s the issue:  you can’t tell a dress by its size label.  I spend my days fitting women in designs that if you go by the size on the tag — often do not fit a woman who thinks she’s that size.  This causes a lot of consternation for women who often identify themselves (physically, hopefully not emotionally) as a dress size.  “I’m a 2” you might hear or “I was always an 8 before I had children, but now I’m a 12.”  We women put a lot of stock in a size.  But the designers don’t seem to.

Every designer uses a different fit model to make the first sample.  Then, as you know from the Julia Farr Collection design process, the sizes are then graded.

If a designer has an especially small fit model, as I have found with my collections from Alice + Olivia, Halston Heritage and Catherine Malandrino, a woman has to go up at least one size, and often two to get the right fit.  And if the designer uses an average sized or fuller fit model who has curves, then often we size down or make alterations.  Lafayette 148 New York and Rachel Roy make clothes for women with womanly figures, so we find we are adjusting the pieces to remove the extra room in the bust or hips.

Alice + Olivia Beautiful but VERY form-fitting Gold Sequined Dress : Size 6. (Fits a lean size 4)

Available at Julia Farr

Lafayette 148 New York Faux Knotted Dress from its 2011 Fall Collection that ran one size larger

Available in Red in size 6 and 10 at Julia Farr

What’s the result here?  It’s really hard to know your size.  If you stick with one designer, you can rely on how the piece will fit. If you don’t mind making a size adjustment up or down with a few different designers, then you can get used to the fluctuation. Clearly, it takes time in a dressing room to determine which designer fits best.

But if you don’t know how a designer fits, this causes problems with online shopping.  How much does anyone really like the return process no matter how easy they make it? Is a 4 a 4 or an 8 a 4? Or a 6 a 2? It can also be a hit to the ego when you think you have been on your purification regime for a month, go out to get a dress for an upcoming occasion and have to size up two sizes from where you think you started.  I have had a few women hand the dress back to me because the number on the tag was not in her comfort zone, so it just wasn’t worth the onslaught of negative feelings.  Other women have hugged me and bought the dress immediately precisely because it fit and it was a much smaller size than they are used to seeing in their closet.  I like it better when that happens.

And for the buyer — for ME – it’s can be a real struggle to bring in what I think is a full spectrum of sizes and styles to find out that they were all cut for a very petite woman who clearly didn’t have bones, cartilage, muscle tissue and the like.  I often worry about that extra small fit model out there in the world, really hungry and clearly indefensible from a strong wind that could sweep her away.  But as I have concerns closer to home, I’ll spend my time educating myself on how the clothes fit before my client actually tries it on.

And for you and all our readers, don’t be discouraged by the mis-fitting experience and tie too much meaning to the number on the label.  I have heard from some designers that if a collection doesn’t fit most women, they change their fit model.  So there’s a ray of light.  But for now, if you have a question about the fit of a certain designer, send me an email at and I’ll share what I know. And if you meet a woman who wears an Alice + Olivia size 0, hand her a Snickers Bar from me.


Photos courtesy of Julia Farr and Lafayette 148 New York.

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