A medium at Woolworths? You’re actually a XXL at Mr Price. Why SA’s clothing sizes are crazy

Business Insider SA
  • Clothing sizes at different retailers can differ wildly.
  • Most SA women are pear shaped, which can make finding clothes more difficult.
  • There are no official adult clothing size standards in SA.

Sizing charts of South Africa’s large clothing retailers show wild and confusing differences between the different brands.

Woolworths thinks its women’s size 14 (bust: 100cm, hips: 109cm) is a medium. That makes you a large (bust: 100cm, hips: 108cm) at H&M and closer to an extra extra large (bust: 102cm, hips 110cm) with Mr Price’s RT brand. And at Cotton On, a 14 (bust: 105cm, hips 110cm) is an extra large.

Zara is on its own planet, with its medium requiring a hip measurement of 98cm.

A large bust at Woolworths (105cm - 110cm) is significantly larger than the H&M sizing (100cm - 104cm). As is the hip sizing - an extra-extra large at Woolworths is up to 143cm, while at H&M it only reaches 132cm.

Importantly, many retailers in South Africa do not seem to accommodate the full South African shape. 

A number of studies have shown that most SA women are pear shaped. According to research, the typical African pear shape would be hip measurements that are 30cm larger the bust – compared to the 8cm of the western pear shape.

But at Mr Price and H&M hips are only 8cm larger than bust measurements. Woolworths offers a 9cm difference.

This inevitably means that most women are two different sizes for tops and bottoms, and that finding a dress or suit that fits perfectly is a challenge. 

While the SA Bureau of Standards announced that it would introduce new adult clothing sizing standards almost six years ago, this has not happened yet. Business Insider SA asked the SABS to comment on clothing sizing standards, but it had not responded by deadline.

The Woolworths sizing chart
The H&M sizing chart

Each retailer is charting its own course with sizing, says Rory Millam, manager of Figure Forms, the largest manufacturer of sizing mannequins for the South African clothing sector. Sizes are usually based on their own research of their customers. 

As retailers move to fewer sizes in order to save costs, this means a greater chance that clothes don’t fit perfectly. This is particularly apparent in men’s trousers, where different lengths for the same waist size are slowly being forced out.

Often, retailers will make clothes smaller to enhance ‘hanger appeal’ – if a garment is too large, it may not look that good on a hanger. 

Or, they would make their clothing bigger to fit an increasingly heavy population – but keep calling it a “small” or “medium”. “Vanity sizing plays can play an important role in promoting brand loyalty,” says Millam. 

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