Revelle Blog

At Revelle, We Prioritize Body Shape Over Size. Here’s Why.

February 3, 2022

JoAnna Hartzmark

Our bodies are incredibly complex and varied, which is what makes us all so uniquely beautiful. And the size chart just doesn’t cut it.

I started Revelle to try and understand the ridiculously inconsistent sizing among retail brands. There’s so much that goes into finding the right clothes for your body, your lifestyle, and your identity, and I spent a lot of time unpacking the emotional turmoil that we all deal with every day just trying to step outside as the best version of ourselves. 

And as I began thinking about this more, I realized that clothing brands themselves have been complicit in making us feel this way — and not just by supporting the unhealthy beauty standards we all see plastered across our news feeds, but also by relying on an antiquated, arbitrary size chart that makes it impossible to understand how their clothes are supposed to fit our bodies in the first place.

The origin of the size chart

For the majority of American history, women have made their own clothes — not to mention the clothes of everyone in their families. In fact, through a good part of the 1900s in the US it was just assumed that all women knew how to sew (LOL — amirite??). There were of course also plenty of dressmakers and seamstresses for those who had the privilege to be able to outsource this time-consuming task. But the bottom line was that for women of all walks of life, whether rich or poor, clothes were essentially made to measure so there was no need for an objective sizing system. On top of this, women at this time simply had fewer clothes in their wardrobes, not to mention more limited choices (um, hello, e-commerce). 

Around WWI, however, things started to change. As individuals began to spread out across the country, moving west and settling in smaller towns, the traditional fashion industry was disrupted. Although many, if not most, women were still able to sew their own clothes, the birth of the catalog industry changed everything. Retailers like Sears and Montgomery Ward (early ancestors of Amazon) sold everything from cod liver oil to carburetors, all delivered by the US Mail. And thus, ready-to-wear clothing was born.  

As it turned out, women were happy not to be chained to their sewing machines (who would’ve guessed??), and they eagerly bought what catalogs had to offer. The problem was, just as it is today, that when something didn’t fit they had to send it back — and items often didn’t fit. But this was before the days of free returns and two-day shipping, so the amount of time and investment that came from items being sent back created quite an obstacle for these retailers. So the big catalog companies, estimating their annual losses from returns in excess of $10 billion dollars, began to pressure the US government to come up with a standardized system of sizes for women’s clothing. 

So in the 1940s, the US Department of Agriculture (yes, really) commissioned a study to measure the bodies of 15,000 women in an attempt to establish a baseline for a standardized sizing system. One hundred trained (we hope) operatives were to be sent out into the world to take 59 different measurements of the female form in the hope that, by analyzing the data, they would be able to come up with a system of sizing that could be applied to all women.

The first size chart was flawed from the start

For one thing, even though the sample size was large, it was unlikely to encompass an actual cross-section of the American female population without some serious strategizing. And furthermore, it relied on volunteers. Women who came forward to be measured were given a small payment for their participation, meaning the women measured were far more likely to be low income, and potentially malnourished given the times. Even more significantly, all of the women measured were white. When women of color volunteered to participate in the study, they were either turned away or their measurements were simply discarded. To say all of this would skew their results would be an understatement.

Long story short, the study findings were never implemented in a meaningful way, and brands were left to their own devices. The result? A veritable wild wild west of sizing mayhem.

Fast forward to today & brands decide how they want to size their clothing

Every brand is cut for a slightly different variation of the female body shape, and it really is just the brand’s own arbitrary choice how they size their clothing. So we’re at a disadvantage from the start, because no brand openly announces the body shape they use as the foundation for their clothing, which brings us right back to where we started: left to our own devices to try to understand the endless complexity and nuance of thousands of retail brands who don’t seem to care whether or not we feel beautiful.

Plus, “fit” still isn’t nearly as simple and linear as the size chart would lead us to believe

We’re talking about such a complex combination of issues — how a garment is cut, its fabric, its style, not to mention how you happen to be feeling about your body that day. All of these factors (and many, many more) all contribute to whether or not a garment “fits” our bodies. 

The solution? Focusing on body shape, not size

Simply put, the size chart is overly simplistic, reductive, and arbitrary. Who was it that decided that a linear progression of numbers that has NO relation to the actual measurements of any part of a woman’s body was the best solution here? Our bodies are incredibly complex and varied, which is what makes us all so uniquely beautiful. And that’s why Revelle focuses on body shape. 

During your “Fitting,” we ask you questions like what your favorite brands are, what your body shape looks like, whether you prefer looser or tighter fits, etc. That information, combined with our intel on what brands run true to size, small, or large, impacts what jeans we add to your personal store and what size for each jean we recommend for you. 

It’s a new way to shop…a way that helps you find jeans that actually fit *the first time* and that makes you feel the most beautiful and confident in your body. Join us today!

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