How I improved my online shopping experience for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.
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A confession before I begin this: I have no idea what clothing size I am.
Well, that’s not exactly true—usually, I’m a size four. But sometimes I am a six, sometimes I am a two, sometimes I am an eight, sometimes I am a zero, and on some rare but not impossible to remember occasions, I have been sizes that either exceed and fall short of both of those numbers. This is due to something called vanity sizing, a phenomenon among some clothing manufacturers in which they’ve shifted the size scales for the “vanity” of shoppers whom they believe want to see smaller numbers on the tags of clothing they buy. For example, the average waist and bust measurements of a size 8 in 1958 were smaller than those measurements of a size 00 in 2015 (a size that didn’t even exist back in the day). There are a few problems with this, but the most inconvenient one is that clothing sizes now have less standardization across the board, so it’s impossible for shoppers to know what might fit them from any given manufacturer without trying clothes on.
This is all to say that I have been burned many, many times when online shopping. For years, I’d order something in the size I thought should fit, only to find it didn’t—and, in the case of a few unfortunate final-sale purchases, being stuck with. But that changed this summer, when I got myself a soft pink Singer measuring tape on Amazon for less than $3 ($2.74, to be exact). At the risk of sounding like one of those Silicon Valley ride-share executives who accidentally stumbles upon the concept of a public bus system: Have you guys heard of these things? They’re great.
In all seriousness, I was familiar with measuring tapes—I am no idiot, I have seen the movie Phantom Thread thrice—just not in an everyday sense. I did a lot of musical theater in my youth and I once had a prom dress professionally altered, which means that I have had measuring tapes used on me a few times. But I’d always considered them reserved for special occasions that required taffeta and chiffon, not for me, alone in my bedroom, figuring out whether or not I need to go up a size when I order something from Reformation.
As it turns out—yes! I usually do need to size up when I shop at Reformation, just as I need to size down when I shop at J. Crew, and I know this because of my measuring tape. Size labels vary depending on the store, but sizing charts tend not to lie. In the past, when stumped on a size, I would click on the hyperlink by the size selections that promised a size guide, only to see a pop-up window of something that seemed way too much like math to actually help me out. I don’t know what I was expecting—some oracle to poke their head out of my computer screen, give me a once-over and tell me my correct size, whether I'm a summer or autumn, and if I'm a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, or Miranda? Instead, I’d get something that looked like a multiplication table, that expected me to know the circumference of my waist, bust, and hips. Preposterous, I would think, before closing the pop-up window in a huff. Who knows that? Then, I would either buy nothing at all, or order several things that sometimes ended up being a terrible fit. (I sure showed them!) But once I received my measuring tape in the mail, it was shockingly, stupidly easy to take all my necessary measurements.
The measuring tape taught me other important things, such as: In a perfect world, we would all be getting all our clothes made fit to our exact dimensions. I’ve always known that my sizes differ depending on the store I am in, but it turns out that I am also often different sizes throughout my whole body—my waist and chest could be one size and my hips and thighs could be another, which makes buying things like dresses and jumpsuits challenging. And, as an entirely bespoke wardrobe is out of the budget for me, it just means I have to do a little extra brain maneuvering when I shop online. To buy dresses, I examine the photos and reviews to determine how and if a certain garment will cinch or taper and where on my body it will do so, in addition to my own measurements. With that, I usually end up getting it right.
But the benefits of the measuring tape is multilayered for me. Yes, it improves my online shopping accuracy, but it also, ironically, makes me less hung up on the effects of those size numbers on my vanity. Besides the obvious inconvenience factor, not knowing whether I am going to fit into an eight or a zero when buying jeans is a weird kind of low-grade emotional flogging that surely cannot be good for my mental health in the long run.
Body measurements, too, can be as fraught with complication and self-loathing as a number on a scale, and I can see how easy it might be to become obsessed with one’s inches, à la Midge, the main character on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, who takes her circumferences every single day. But I’ve found it comforting to know that, while my sizes may change from store to store, my measurements remain more or less the same.
And so, I feel better about gauging my size with a measuring tape. I know this won’t be the case for everyone. Although my sizes fluctuate, they still fit into a narrow bracket of conventional sizes carried by pretty much all clothing retailers, so I always know I will eventually find something that fits—many people may fall outside of those brackets, which can make online shopping (or shopping, period) frustrating if you know your measurements, but can't find a store that carries your sizes.
The actual tape you choose doesn’t matter that much. I have this one, mostly because it was one of the first results to come up on Amazon. I liked its pink hue and that, at $2.74, it cost less than a cold brew. It’s worked out for me so far. I find its measurements to be accurate and it’s made of a durable, flexible vinyl that wraps easily around the body and rolls up into a nice, compact spiral that I can place in my closet when it’s not in use. That said, the purpose of a measuring tape is not brand-specific—and, as such, I am pretty sure any old measuring tape should work.
The bottom line: Measuring tapes are not a revolutionary concept—I know this, I promise—but it revolutionized how I shop online. If you think it would help you out, you should get one, too.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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