Most South African women have triangular or pear-shaped figures. But retailers are sticking to western body types for their clothing. Photo: Getty Images
  • Most South African women have triangular or pear-shaped figures but the “ideal figure” is a Western hourglass.
  • 70% of South Africa’s clothing is imported, adding to the challenge of finding the right fit.
  • SA needs a nationwide survey of body sizing, says one academic.

It’s not you – it’s the clothes you’re being sold.

South African ready-to-buy clothes cater for a Western hourglass body-type, rather than the specific shapes of women in the country.

While clothing sizes vary wildly between retailers, even if they kept to the South African Bureau of Standards’s measurements, they would not fit most women in the country.

Most South African women have triangular or pear-shaped figures but the “ideal figure” is a Western hourglass, according to research out of the University of Pretoria and Tshwane University of Technology.

“You blame your body, you don’t blame the manufacturer,” says Professor Anne Mastamet-Mason, head of fashion design at the Tshwane University of Technology.

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

Women’s clothing is based on a standard size designation, which is published by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). Measurements, such as the bust, waist, and hips measurements, and the ratio between them, determine which size you are – a size 10 or a size 20.

But this does not take into account women’s different shapes.

“One is typically reliant on an international standard regime that is defined by a [country] that has taken the time and trouble to do this, such as American European or Chinese production regimes,” says Michael Lawrence, the executive director of National Clothing Retail Federal of South Africa.

Also, 70% of South Africa’s clothing is imported, he says, so while retailers may try to keep to the sizing standards set out by the SABS, it is not always possible.

“Retailers’ worst nightmare is an empty shelf. So if the product comes in and the medium is slightly small, the large is extra large, what do you do? You put it on the shelf.”

But this does not address the issue of clothing designed for the South African figure. Even custom-made clothing would rely on European principles of pattern making, says Mastamet-Mason.

She says the country needs a nationwide survey of women’s body shapes and measurements. But Lawrence cautions that if industry did this, they could be accused of collusion.

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