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Toward a Different Language of Size

Increasing numbers of brands are attempting to rectify the situation. Universal Standard, ModCloth and Wildfang (to name a few) offer the same styles in every size between “straight” or “missy” and “plus” to cater to as many women as possible. As of next month, Good American, the contemporary fashion brand founded by Emma Grede and Khloé Kardashian, is going even further, adding a size 15 to its roster, which runs from 00 to 24. (The two most popular sizes are 00 and 18.)

Wait, 15? Yes. A size that until now did not exist.

“We discovered that between 14 and 16, we were seeing 50 percent more returns than in any other size range,” Ms. Grede said. “So we started to look at the data and realized that this was the tipping point between missy sizing and plus sizing, and that step change in patterns was too extreme.”

So, because there is no absolute in sizing, or has not been since World War II, the women were free to invent it. It took a full year, around eight prototypes and 200 sample women who were measured, tested and assessed.

It makes a certain amount of sense. But what the introduction of size 15 does, other than perhaps solve the fit issue for Good American customers, is point up the fact that the numbers are increasingly like a piece of performance art: something infinitely malleable. That they have become, as Kathleen Fasanella, a patternmaker and researcher, wrote on her blog in response to an NPR interview on size back in 2011, “a social phenomenon and not a mathematical one.”

Or, as the academics Katelynn Bishop, Kjerstin Gruys and Maddie Evans said in their study “Sized out: Women, Clothing Size and Inequality,” a “floating signifier.” Which is a concept used by the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss to refer to a term that can mean different things to different people but is also recognizable enough to be a spur to action.

So why not throw out the numerical size scale entirely and replace it with something else? Not throw out the system — we do need different options. We have different bodies, after all. But jettison what has become poisonous, politicized and generally confusing terminology. The #Droptheplus movement was a beginning, but what if we took it the natural next step?


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