Sizing Up Our Clothing

Clothing Sizes and the ‘Average Australian Woman’

Collage of savory women in retro dresses
Retro dresses and fresh fashion. Image: iStock/Getty

Measuring Clothes Compared to the Average Australian Woman

Weight affects consumption of clothing, both the purchase and usage behaviours. Consumers are changing their eating habits, to fit the smaller size numbers that are written on garment labels. Rachael Martin published an article with Woman Magazine UK on 24th May 2016, to encourage this exact behaviour. The headline read, “Meal plan: How to drop a dress size in a week!” This story is one example of the approach consumers can take towards fashion.

What Does Marketing Mean

Clothes are products that are marketed by fashion companies. Marketing is at the core of not just the advertising campaigns, but also production of garments themselves. So it is time to look at an original intention of marketing as a practice, before then looking specifically at fashion. Philip Kotler provides the following definition, “Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.” This definition is from this web site. Kotler is the author of Marketing Management and business consultant through the Kotler Marketing Group. So he knows what it means to sell a product to customers. Marketing has been taught with the premise of targeting products towards the needs of consumers. And yet the consumers of clothing are now trying to fit themselves to the sizing needs that their garment product require from them as wearers. It’s like the tables are turned. Questions can be made about who the target markets actually are (non-plus size or everyone) and how to balance these needs with profits.

confidence plus size fashoin
Confidence looks good. Image: iStock/Getty

Average Size of Australian Women

Australian women have diverse weights and measurements. They have many different needs as consumers of fashion. This poses a challenge for the fashion industry’s systems of standardised sizing. Garments now measure up differently not just in Australia, but from other countries in a global marketing offline and online.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released data on the average weight of women from 2011-2012. The Profiles of Health, Australia, 2011-13 was published in October 2012. A summary confirmed, “The average Australian woman was 161.8 cm tall and weighed 71.1 kg.” When observing weight, height is an important consideration, “On average, Australians are growing taller and heavier over time.” Height affects hem lines, as they can seem shorter or longer on human beings who are becoming taller over time.

Weight does not equal size – people can be similar sizes and different weights, or vice versa. So The Australian Bureau of Statistics also published information about waist measurements in the same report. A summary outlined, “On average, men aged 18 years and over had a waist measurement of 97.9 cm, while women had a waist measurement of 87.7 cm. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, average waist measurements increased by 1.7 cm for men and 1.9 cm for women.” Keep in mind this is happening as heights are also taller.

How This Fits Into Sizes

People do not all fit an ‘average,’ as much as they do not all fit a ‘sample size.’ Of course people deviate from the norm. This presents yet another problem for the fashion industry to solve. Mean waist measurements start 80.4cm for women aged 18-24. This is closest to the Australian size 14. Waistlines then, on average, gain size until around the 60s and 70s age groups. So the ‘average Australian woman’ can expect to be a size 14 from early adulthood, and then grow in size.

Average Waist Sizes of Women in Australia from Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011-2012
Average Waist Sizes of Women in Australia from Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011-2012

Not One Size Fits All

People do not fit mathematical average. Individuals can be shorter, taller, larger and smaller. The average is simply a way to generalise about many people. So clothing is now targeting types of consumers – petites, plus size, loose and fitted styles.

Clothing Size and Fit

Standardised sizing is not currently used. Size 14 clothing alone can vary between brands. Keep in mind the average Australian woman has a waist of 87.7 cm. Although every individual is different, this gives some idea of a norm. An Australian/UK size 14 waist measures 82cm at Josh Goot, 80cm at Dion Lee and 79cm at Camilla. Chain stores also offer size guides. Jeans West offers size 14 at 80cm and Target is nearby at 81cm.

Blonde Plus size woman posing in pants for a fashion
Actual description from iStock: “Blonde Plus size woman, a model, posing in pants for a fashion editorial.” What does this mean for audiences?

New Role Models

Brands are now available for broader ranges of sizes. Melissa McCarthy, comedian and Gilmore Girls actress, launched a label in the US. McCarthy says on her Instagram,”I believe that women deserve better choices. Fashion should help us express our individual personalities.” Other public figures are appealing to larger audiences. Plus size model Robyn Lawley sells swim wear at her web site. Options are now available for all kinds of consumers.

“So not afraid of this tulle skirt. Love, Love, Love this!!” #MelissaMcCarthy Shop link in bio. #MM7Holiday2016

A photo posted by Melissa McCarthy Seven7 (@melissamccarthyseven7) on

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