Emotion, Shopping and You

In case you missed it, I was on Woman’s Hour last week talking about clothing sizes.

You can listen to the interview on listen again.

I’m only bringing it up because I’m now calm enough to have a think again about that final question.

If you can’t be bothered to listen I shall tell you! The final point made by Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, was that women were “too emotional” when purchasing clothes for themselves. When purchasing for their children or partners they were calm and rational. when faced with purchases for themselves, however, it’s apparently not the fault of varying sizes from store to store or a lack of communication from the retailers that we find it frustrating and difficult to buy clothing that fits, it’s because we’re irrational and over emotional.

At the time I was too busy trying to frame a proper answer to think about it, but as I headed home, read tweets and thought about it more I got crosser and crosser. Today I intend to masterfully refrain from the use of expletives and address some of the points made by the talkative Ed Gribbin in my own time.

It’s quite long, so I hope you’ll bear with me!

Women’s Proportions change with Age

A lot of time was spent talking about “fit”, rather than size. This makes sense as it appears that Alvanons main business is producing fit models. I think that most of us, when considering our size in a shop are perfectly able to take their own proportions into account. Being aware that your waist is slightly thicker than average, or your hips slightly larger might lead you to take a couple of different sizes into a changing room. It doesn’t explain why a full skirted dress in a size 10 might fit you in one store, but in another you can’t get the 14 done up.

I, for instance, am well aware that my waist to hip ratio is considerably different from the UK average. I therefore never attempt to buy fitted dresses or pencil skirts on the High Street. If I wanted them to fit I know they would need altering and it’s rarely worth it.

I feel that this argument is rather self limiting as stores aimed at a younger market aren’t generally making the kind of clothes a 45 year old woman wants to buy anyway, but even if she did I see no reason why a size 12 skirt should be 2 sizes too small in TopShop and a perfect fit in Wallis. It might not SUIT her, the proportions might be all wrong. It could be too long or unflattering on that saddle bag area, but it shouldn’t be far too small.

Women don’t know their measurements

I do. I also know how they vary. I know what the minimum and maximum waist and hip measurement I can get away with is before I am no longer able to eat lunch. This is something I have in common with most women who shop for vintage clothes, they’ll also have an idea of any slightly unusual measurements so they can check an item will fit a long torso or wide shoulders.

If I’m buying a full skirt, I know that the main measurement to take into account is my waist, where as a more fitted garment it would be my hips (waists can be altered), and I’ll pick my size appropriately.

I think the reason many women DON’T know their measurements is that it serves them no good to do so. If I purchased clothing from Next based on the measurements given on their sizing guide I would conclude that my bust and hips are a size 14 and my waist a 12. This is as I would expect as I am already aware that I have a smaller than average waist. I would then, perfectly reasonably, assume that the best thing to do would be to purchase this empire line dress in a size 14 to fit my bust.

Wrong. I own that dress in a size 10, having already sold on a 12 as it was too big.

When a companies own size guide seems to bear no relation to reality, what is the point of being aware of your measurements?

Women know their shape

True, I’ll give him this one.

Women do know their shape and the fact that stores don’t accurately communicate the shape they are building to probably loses them custom. If I knew there was a brand out there building to that “quite curvy” shape where I could purchase a skirt that fit on my waist and hips then they would probably have a new loyal customer.

That still wouldn’t help me know whether I needed a size 12 or 14 or 16 and is therefore completely pointless when picking up clothes to take into a changing room.

Women are too emotional about their clothing purchases

I really think the implication behind this is incredibly insulting and returns to the gender politics of shopping, that I’ve discussed before. It also carries an assumption that being emotional is automatically a bad thing.

The way I see it there are 2 general types of emotion women experience when shopping for clothes for themselves.

  • Expectant Emotions
  • Emotions stemming from the idea or act of buying something new.

    The excitement you feel when you purchase something online and imagine the wonderful outfits you’ll be able to put together once it arrives. That thrill of knowing you have an event coming up and you have money to buy yourself something new. Flicking through a magazine with new season styles or looking at the new stock on your favourite website. Picking up the perfect dress and the anticipation of where you might wear it.

    These are the emotions that magazines and shop window displays want to encourage. They create brightly lit, attractive displays and lifestyle oriented advertising to encourage you to shop. In it’s darkest incarnation these emotions can lead to anxiety and frustration, and even things like shopping addiction as we’re encouraged to believe that buying a new handbag really WILL give us the glamorous life of an international super star. This is also why I now very rarely read fashion magazines.

  • Disappointment Emotions
  • Emotions stemming from the mismatch between your expectation and the reality.

    That frustration that reduces many women, myself included, to tears when having visited 4 stores and tried on 4 different sizes and 12 different styles of plain black trouser has failed to produce a single one that’s comfortable and wearable. The way you feel when the dress you ordered from a catalogue turns out to be cheap and nasty instead of beautifully tailored like it looked on the model. The irritation when a store has every size known to man, except yours.

    The responsibility for controlling either of these type of emotion can’t be laid, as Ed Gribbin suggests, squarely at the foot of the female consumer, and neither should it!

    Purchasing clothing SHOULD be partly an emotional experience. If you care about what you look like then that’s an emotion and not one we should be trying to get rid of. I think the current popularity of stretchy clothes, baggy T shirts and leggings is down, in part, to an attempt to control that emotion. If it’s stretchy and baggy then it can’t possibly not fit/suit and you avoid those negative emotions. I certainly know there was a lot more lycra in my wardrobe when I was heavier.

    What stores want is to encourage lots of lovely positive emotions in you. Those emotions keep you shopping to get that nice feeling. They manipulate the first type of emotion using advertising and window displays. The second emotion is harder to control, but if they want you to feel good about your purchases they don’t want you disappointed and upset. Tactics like vanity sizing make you feel more positive about the fit of the clothes you buy, as do modern day staples like elasticated waists and arms and jersey fabrics, all minimising the risk of something not fitting and making you feel bad.

    So don’t feel bad about getting emotional about your clothes and shopping, but do take responsibility for those emotions. Don’t let them be manipulated by stores who want you to spend your money on unflattering, over priced, badly made clothes.

    Become an emotional, but educated, consumer. Be realistic about your body and what suits it and don’t let the number on the label sway your head. Being a size 10 means nothing, it’s just a number and can represent a hip size from 34.3″ on the British Standard Size Chart to 37.5″ at Next

    Until retailers agree to communicate their “shape” models better, have more accurate sizing charts, add measurements to their labels (you see this in vintage, why did they stop?) and stick to a standard size scheme there isn’t a great deal we can do about the mis-match in sizes.

    My advice?

    Send emails to your favourite retailers asking them to be clearer about their sizing policy. Complain loudly if you buy clothes online that don’t agree to the sites size chart, and if you can’t find a size chart email them and ask.

    Buy a tape measure, learn your measurements, and don’t be afraid to whip it out in shops to check clothes sizing before you take them into the changing room.

    Unless we make a noise about the lack of standardisation in clothes sizes and how we feel about them it will always be men like Ed Gribbin who get the last say on what we get from a shopping experience. It’s your money, if you’re not happy, speak out!

    If you made it this far, then BRAVO!

    I’d REALLY like to hear your thoughts and experiences on the issue.

    photos by freeparking, ashley rose, and clotho98