A few months ago, perusing boutiques in the Flatiron district, we noticed something really, really strange. Even though we’ve been at least a size 12 since the sixth grade, even though we’ve been squeezing into the European 44—the top size—since our very first trip to Loehmann’s lo these many years ago, for some reason the items we were trying on—14s, or maybe 12s—were enormous. So we went out and got the 10s!! Still too big!! And then the eights!! A good fit—even a tiny bit roomy!
We started asking around, and other women told us that in fact this was no isolated incident: American companies now start their sizing with zero and they’re cutting far more generously, presumably so that the customer will think, “Oh my God, I’m an eight! I’m an eight!” and buy whatever she’s trying on, even though she’s the same old size she always was.
To test just how widespread this phenomenon is, we decide to visit a few downtown chains and see what’s up. We concentrate on poufy skirts so that our experiment has some consistency—and also because (a) we love poufy skirts and (b) they’re everywhere this season. We rule out skirts with drawstrings or elastic waistbands—that would be cheating—but still find plenty of candidates at our first stop, French Connection. Into the fitting room we bring a dazzling sequined pink net number (our idea of day wear) and a printed purple beaded cotton dirndl that looks like the bottom half of the national costume of Uzbekistan. Oh, joy—the sequined net is plenty ample in size 10, and it seems that if we just sucked it in a wee bit, we could sport the eight. (Interesting note—this skirt, like so many other embellished clothes around this year, comes with a little bag of extra sequins which is either a kindly gesture on the part of the manufacturer or a sad admission that disintegration is but a few wearings away.) The purple cotton brings even more good news—the eight is delightfully generous. In fact, we’re sure we could even fit into the six! Us in a six!
Feeling lighter than air—but of course weighing the same amount we have for years—we trot down to Zara, where we decide to try on a voluminous beige linen skirt embroidered with enormous flowers and sporting a fringed hem—clearly an homage to Dries Van Noten—that comes in small, medium, and large. There must be some reason the small is sliding on—could this be meant to rest on your hips? (Truth be told, whatever its size, the effect of gigantic linen blossoms is none too flattering.) Excited despite ourselves, we slip on a tiered black chiffon in a medium, but it doesn’t really slip. It fits, but just. Was the fake Dries an anomaly? Is there a God?
Slightly less buoyant now, we saunter over to H&M, where a similar but more capacious-looking tiered black chiffon (lots of flamenco looks around for fall) fits perfectly in an eight. We’re back in business. This one, we suspect, really is meant to be a hip-rider, but so what? An eight is an eight, no matter what the intention of some designer in Stockholm.
We cross the street to our last stop, the comparatively elegant (well, at least compared to H&M) Club Monaco, where we opt for the skirt in the window, an olive-green pleated garment embossed like kimono silk. Though we manage to zip up the eight, our tummy is undeniably sticking out. So what! We’re still feeling mighty satisfied with the results of our fact-finding mission when we notice, on our way out, the fabulous, lightly deconstructed dress that no less an arbiter than the September issue of Vogue, which usually doesn’t truck with places like Club Monaco, has dubbed “the prettiest dress for fall.”
We take the 10 off the rack and proceed to the fitting room, struggle to get the thing over our head, and are horrified to see in the mirror a gargantuan piglet who is clearly, very clearly, not a 10. Maybe not even a 12.
Oh well. No dream lasts forever.