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“I asked her her name, she said bla bla bla…”

“…she had 9/10 pants and a very big bra.”
Biz Markie, 1989

Years ago, I was browsing a rack of jeans at a store with my boyfriend at the time.

“What size do you need,” he asked.

“I don’t know, probably a 9.”

He pulled a pair out and glanced at the tag.

“Dear lord!”


“They’re a ‘half!’ Who the hell wears a half?”

They read 1/2, meaning a size 1/size 2. I corrected him, we laughed, but before he was able to feel too relieved, I showed him a size 0.

Women’s fashion has long been absurd. Men can remain confident that a 34/36 is going to be the same no matter where they go, unless one particular store is using metric and catering to dwarfs. Women, though, have had to figure out whether they are a six, seven, 6/7, or twelve depending on where they shop. In other words, men get to use the Euro. Women are still stuck converting escudas into markkas. Or something.

I remember my first time shopping in a Guess? store about six years ago. I was looking for a pair of size 10 jeans. A woman came to help me and laughed when I told her what size I wanted. She handed me a 6. Perfect fit. My first thought? Ooh, I’m wearing a size 6! My second thought? I am such a sucker.

I’m not the only one who has noticed, and apparently it’s getting worse. From this Boston Globe article:

The downward evolution of sizes illustrates the extent to which retailers, apparel manufacturers, and designers are conforming to American women’s obsession with wanting to be thin — even if it’s only in their minds, said Natalie Weathers, an assistant professor of fashion industry management at Philadelphia University.

It has come to the point where companies are marketing sizes like 00 and extra extra small. Looking at how this trend is evolving, I notice that the marked size of a woman’s skirt is inversely proportional to the advertised size of a cup of coffee. I’ve made this handy chart to show where we are right now compared to about twenty years ago:

 small medium large extra large
skirt extra extra small extra small slightly less small small, but you still look fabulous
coffee tall venti la bucket oceano di caffeina

There’s a lot of talk about the growing sizes of women these days, and how manufacturers are changing their clothing lines to accommodate more junk in the trunk (as the kids say) but I’m not really seeing what that has to do with anything. This is a purely psychological game to sell more clothes to flattered women. The Boston Globe article doesn’t offer any kind of statistics concerning whether it’s working or not, though it does offer the complaints of smaller women who are finding it difficult to locate clothes that fit them. Rarely do I sympathize with the incredibly skinny, but this quote from Wendy Chao, a molecular biology grad student at Harvard, made me love her and her fellow petites:

“I tried on a size 0 skirt and it was too big. To me, a size 0 is antimatter; it’s something devoid of any physical reality.”

Well said.

As for me, though, I have to say I’m looking forward to the day I am finally able to squeeze into that pair of negative sixteens I’ve had my eye on.

Here are the lyrics to Just a Friend (quoted above), adjusted for deflation:

I asked her her name, she said “bla bla bla”
She had double-zero pants and a petite (yet still flattering) bra.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. why stop with the Real Number system? Wouldn't it be great if your mass was partially—or even totally—imaginary? I'll be looking forward to the royalities rolling in when they start selling 1+9i sizes.

  2. Your story about sizes brought to mind a Sci-Fi short story called, "Marching Morons". It's about a society where most of the people are not very bright. The ones keeping the society going are very very smart, but they aren't in charge.

    What's always stuck in my mind is that the cars the morons use are very flashy and big, with flames coming out of the exhaust. The speedometers are set to give the impression that the cars go very fast, but they're very underpowered.

    If you look at most cars for sale, their horsepower ratings are always going up and the companies tout how fast the car and accelerate to 60, pointing out that it's .3 seconds faster than last year. As though this makes a difference?

  3. I've been bitching about this very trend of late: I never know WHAT size to buy when it comes to clothing. My closet contains everything from a size 4 to a size 8.

    There's not just size 0s, incidentally. There's now also 00s. It's just absurd. Women are truly aspiring to become nothing…

  4. Some manufactures make the clothes larger and leave the size ont he tag the same so women will buy their brand.

  5. Okay nsetzer, that "1+9i" comment nearly made me choke on my glazed donut (no use dieting, I'll fit in my desired size eventually).

    Also, everyone please note that I have edited the entry to add a punchline. Often, I start an entry with a mental bulleted list of jokes I want to hit, but then I get distracted by something shiny and always miss at least half.

  6. I’m afraid Wendy is incorrect, though: antimatter very much has a physical reality.

    Good point. I'm glad, because now I can go back to loathing the skinny. (I kid, I kid.)

  7. You know, this really IS a problem for very small people. When I was in junior high I wore size small shirts and size 3 pants. And now I'm an XS and 0?! I cannot be shrinking. I weigh 10 lb more now than I did 15 years ago (I have a very high metabolism — I don't say it to brag or anything, but it's really annoying not being able to gain weight, honestly), and my clothes sizes are smaller. I totally symphatize with Wendy, because I've been in that situation. It's quite annoying, really.

    And I really don't understand it when women are *proud* to be wearing a size 0. When I'm in a situation in which I have to say that my pants are size 0 I'm actually quite embarrased. I wish I could at least be a 3 again…

  8. I sympathise with Wendy. When a size 0 is becoming too large (because manufacturers are making the clothes bigger when keeping the size labels the same), it often means you'll have to look for your clothes in the kiddie department. As if wearing a size 0 or -1 wasn't bad enough, now you can say that your new dress is an age 11-13.

    And for what it's worth, I doubt the kiddie department has bras, thongs, sexy panties or slinky negligees labeled age 11-13, although I must admit I haven't checked …

  9. I don't think I was ever a size 0, even when I was born…

    There was a recent move by M&S (Marks and Spencer) in the UK to resize clothes for 'real women'. Adverts trumpeted this change. I've tried some of these new sizes on and they don't fit me at all. So I guess that means I'm a fictional woman.

    My size varies considerably depending on where I shop. On average I'm a 16 (US 12, I think) but in big departments stores the 16s fall off me whereas in shops that cater for the younger crowd, a 16 is sometimes embarrassingly too tight. Sometimes even in the one shop, different ranges are differently sized.

    I am six feet tall with no excess baggage and considerable shoulders so as far as most manufacturers are concerned, I fit into the 'freak' category. A couple of shops stock Tall ranges but these are mostly cheap and nasty clothes. I've noticed that the Petite ranges have quite nice clothes though. I often give up and buy men's casual clothes – jeans, T shirts, vests etc (not sure what you call vests in the US).

    Judging from the other posts here, no one is happy – short, tall, thin, big etc etc. Don't the manufacturers want our money?

  10. It's not that I'm unhappy, it's just that the first time I found a pair of Levis size 29/32 was in San Francisco. Levis stores here usually don't have anything below size 30/32 (either that or they're sold out really quickly during the sales period because the average European is a bit smaller). They sort of fit, but if I don't tuck my shirt in, my pants will start sagging. Unless of course they're supposed to do that to make you look like a "gangsta-rapper".

    I think the American word for a vest would be a jacket? Or a blazer?

  11. As a male, I had no idea that jeans come in those weird girl-sizes. I assumed that clothing manufacturers only used them for things like skirts and dresses, and used sensible measurements for things like jeans and shorts.

  12. You wouldn't think that with men's clothing listing an actual measurement you'd have sizing problems, but being a big man (6 feet tall and rather… um… obese), I find that trouser sizes are pretty random.

    I'll go in the the Big, Fat, and Oddly Shaped Men's clothing stores and I'll try on 3 pairs of trousers in the same size and they'll range from being much too large to skin tight. I can't even trust the brands I know because they'll change the cut or size of the trousers differently each year.

    Another odd thing about fat-guy clothes is that the larger the waist measurement, the shorter the inseam. As if people lose height when they gain weight.

    And just to finish off the rant; why do designers of Plus-size clothing think that fat people want to look like circus tents? Half the clothing in those stores are done with wide stipes in garish colors.

    I guess it's just our punishment for being huge.

  13. And just to finish off the rant; why do designers of Plus-size clothing think that fat people want to look like circus tents?



    Maybe they're still trying out the whole "vertical stripes make you look slimmer" shtick? I guess that doesn't work any more once you get past a certain size …

  14. I enjoyed reading your take on that article – I'm the girl that alleged "size 0" girl.

    Actually, the reporter misquoted me. In fact, she pretty much made up that "quote" – and I was pretty appalled to read that on the front page of the Boston Globe.

    I'm not even particularly skinny or petite (I'm 5'6" and 130), which makes it all the more absurd that a size 0 could be too big.

    Personally, I think dress sizes should approximate how many pounds over (or under) 100 you weigh. For example, size 0 would be for a 100-pounder (which is REALLY skinny), 1 for 105, 2 for 110, 3 for 115, and so on. At 130 lbs, I would be a 6, which is more realistic than a 0. Size 00 would thus be for pre-pubescent girls that weigh, oh, 90 pounds or so.

    Anyway, I digress. If anyone is still reading this entry, here's the true story of how I ended up in that article.

  15. What is called a vest in the U.K. is referred to as a sleeveless t-shirt or tank top in the U.S. A derrogatory term for the same thing is "wifebeater" in reference to the stereotypical violent husband who sits in front of the television in his underwear drinking beer.

    What Americans call a vest is what is called a waistcoat in the U.K.

  16. To me size 0 is a baby size – literally. Babies clothes come in 0000 (for premmies) 000 (newborns) 00 (3-6mths) and 0 (6mths+).

    I have never understood the American dress sizes….to me anyone wearing a size 6 needs to be checked for anorexia. (I'm a size 10-12)

  17. I don't understand why dresses don't just come in sizes that are actually based on measurements.

    Even though it's in inches, I know that my pants size is 32/29 (inseam/waist).

    Is it that difficult to make up a size-system for dresses where "chest/waist/underarm seam" is the measurement reference? Is it that annoying to have the convenience of knowing your measurements and thus knowing exactly which dress to try out, but unfortunately being reminded each time that you are fat?

    At least it would reduce the number of tries to get it right though.

    Maybe women just like undressing in store dressing rooms and trying on various different dresses, none of wich fit on the first try? Like playing dress up in mommy's closet.

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