Fiona McCade: Sizing up a global measurement system

I HAVE a dress that’s size zero. Honestly, I have. And it’s not because I bought a size ten and snipped off the one, either.

OK, I admit, it’s not what you think. The only reason it’s a size zero is because the shop where I got it had a unique, and immensely irritating, sizing system. It was one of those quirky little boutiques which had, seemingly at random, chosen to label its clothes from a size four to a size zero. However, being so unique and so quirky, until you actually went into the changing room and tried on both a four and a zero, you simply couldn’t tell which was the bigger one.

Like most women, I am constantly challenged by UK clothes sizes (not that many shops still use the UK sizing system exclusively – I’m equally challenged by the European, and even the American one, sometimes).

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However, it’s reassuring to know that help is at hand – especially now, when we’re feeling post-festivity fat and nobody wants to venture into the unforgiving hell of the changing room until the New Year diet has kicked in.

Coming soon to a computer near you is Body Shape Recognition for Online Fashion. This is a system to help customers buy the correct size when shopping online. Essentially, you take a photo of yourself in your undies, add your vital statistics, and send this info to the BSROF people, who will create a 3D you and then advise you what size to buy whenever you visit an online retailer.

Alternatively, there’s Fits.Me, an application which relies on a robot (the “FitBot”) which can “mimic” up to 100,000 different body shapes. You choose the FitBot which most resembles your figure and use it to try on virtual clothes.

Fits.Me is already up and running, while BSROF is only a year or two away, but I’m not so sure either of them is going to take all the pain out of the fitting-room experience. I can foresee a great deal of pain if I have to take a photo of myself in my smalls and then blithely send it into cyberspace. Never mind the humiliation of having to endure the full Gok Wan in my own home – who knows where it’ll end up? Once I press “send’, there’s no guarantee that the next time I see myself, I won’t have been Photoshopped into some viral e-mail, with a tiara of fish on my head and in compromising positions with a bunch of Thai ladyboys.

Personally, I’d rather slip a fiver to the guys on the body scanner at the airport and get them to tell me my dimensions. Trouble is, once they knew the truth, I’d have to kill them. The Fits.Me solution sounds less embarrassing, but there’s always the possibility that you’ll input your measurements and the reply will come back: “We’ve got 100,000 permutations, but we’ve got nothing like THAT!”

Either way, there is one big problem which I’m unsure either of these systems can overcome – honesty. First, the customer has to be brave enough to state their real, actual, size. Since so many of us lie to ourselves on a daily basis, it’s quite a big deal to see genuine information written down in cold black and white, or to allow a photo to be taken where we aren’t sucking in our guts like our lives depend on it. Then, even more importantly, the retailers have to make sure their sizes are what they say they are.

We all know that a size eight in M&S equals a ten in Next, equals a 12 in Matalan, equals a 14 in Primark. That’s life. But what if you take two size 8s, of different colours, into the cubicle, and one fits and the other doesn’t? It’s happened. And what about the time I accidentally bought a size 18 T-shirt (OK, in Primark, but still) and found it looked so good, I went back and bought three more?

I suppose this is what happens when you get Vietnamese children to make your clothes, but what’s needed here are not cyber-models, but an official, worldwide sizing system based on actual measurements. I only have one request – whatever size I am, can we call that size zero?