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Top 10 Size and Fit Issues in Children’s Clothing

As you know, I’m a huge fan of SizeTracker – my chunky monkey QUICKLY breezed through 3 sizes one winter and I was left purchasing new clothes with only a few months left “in season.”  Then, I discovered SizeTracker.  It’s a brilliant tool that predicts children’s sizes and a perfect tool when you need to guess months in advance.

I am thrilled to share some tips & advice from Stormy Sweitzer, owner and co-founder of SizeTracker. 

Thanks to Consignment Mommies for inviting me to guest-post about children’s clothing sizes. Before we get started, I just want to say that clothing sizes can vary from brand to brand, product to product, country to country, and even item to item. Sizing, size charts, and fit are complicated, and, at the risk of oversimplifying them, I’ve done my best to demystify the issues.

1. Why do sizes vary from clothing brand to clothing brand?

Finding the same fit from one children’s clothing brand to another is almost impossible, even when the labels say the same size. The short answer is because clothing manufacturers tend to use their own sizing guidelines, so there is really no “standard” when it comes to size labeling and what measurements the clothing is designed to fit. Like other companies, clothing brands try to cater to their intended customers, and design their products to suit that customer group’s characteristics (like typical measurements and body types), as well as their needs and wants (design features, styling, materials, pricing, etc.). Size guidelines are just one way that brands can distinguish themselves.

2. Why doesn’t the size on the label match up with my child’s age?

The use of “age in months” as a size is misleading. Not only do brands design their sizing systems for specific demographics, children also grow at different paces and in different ways. Because of this, it is not uncommon for a child to wear a size that is different from the size that is “recommended” for their age.

To make sure a size will fit your child, either have them try it on (if you can) or look at the brand’s size chart to find the size that will accommodate your child’s measurements. More than likely, you will need to buy a size that is different than your child’s age. That’s OK. The key is to make sure that an item will fit your child comfortably, not to rely on the month/year-based sizing on the labels.

3. I bought two-different colors of the same item in the same size in the same brand. Why don’t they fit my child in the same way?

The color of fabric has a strange effect on shrinkage – the darker it is the more it is likely to shrink. Some brands try to design with color-related shrinkage in mind, but this does not always happen. So, two items of different colors may very well end up fitting differently before they are washed (but may fit the same afterwards), and some will fit differently after they are washed (if no testing and design alteration was done). Because this kind of testing and pattern adjustment takes resources, higher-end brands are more likely to do it, meaning that their products should fit consistently across colors. There will be some trial and error on your part to figure this out.

4. How do I find the best clothing fit for my child?

To me, there are really three key tips for finding the best clothing fit:

  • Know your child’s basic body measurements. Size guidelines vary from brand to brand, but height, weight, chest, waist and hips are generally good measurements to track
  • Learn to read size charts like you do food labels. Use the size charts to not only find the best size in a brand, but to find brands that are geared towards your child’s body type.
  • Be open to trying different brands and styles (or cuts). Some may be the perfect fit for your child, while others will just be “off” for them.

5. Why can’t I use just my child’s height and weight to find the right size on a size chart?

Sometimes you can. It depends on the brand and/or the age of your child. Typically, you can find baby and toddler sizes using height and weight measurements. As children grow, though, their body shapes change in less-predictable ways and understanding how a child’s weight is distributed on their body becomes more important. For larger sizes, brands will often list other body measurements that show weight distribution – like chest, waist, and hips – in their size charts to help you find a more-precise fit.

6. Why do foreign brands have different sizes, and even if I find the right size for my child, why does it fit differently than the local sizes that fit my child?

Different countries have different sizing standards. I know, I said there is no standard. But, that’s not entirely true. There are standards organizations that make recommendations on clothing size guidelines and labeling. The U.S. children’s clothing sizing standards, for example, use an age-based size labeling system primarily, while European brands use a height-based sizing system; each standard has recommended measurements associated with the sizes. But, brands still frequently design their sizes to accommodate their core customers, and because body shapes vary from country to country (or demographic to demographic), you will have to a) figure out which size seems most appropriate by reading size charts, and b) try the brand out to see if it’s a good match for your child’s body.

7. What’s the difference between 2T and 24 months?

If you look at a size chart, you will see that baby size 24 Months and toddler size 2T – despite the fact that both are 2 years – are not even close in terms of measurements. At around the 2-year mark, many tots are beginning to thin out and/or be potty trained, while others may still have baby chub and/or wear diapers. The two sizes are designed to meet these two separate needs.

In general, Size 24 Months (sometimes labeled as 18-24 Mo) are a bit wider in the hip to accommodate diapers comfortably and in the waist to fit well around baby’s middle. Toddler 2T is designed for a slightly slimmer child who may no longer be wearing diapers, and clothing will be a little longer in the leg and torso area.

Which size you buy will depend on where your little one is in their development. This is also true of T and regular sizes, for example 4T and 4. The kids’ sizes are often longer than the toddler sizes, offering alternatives for children who grow upward a little more quickly than others.

8. What is size 6x?

6X is often found in girls’ clothing, but not in boys’. It falls between sizes 6 and 7, 6 being the last of the little girls’ sizes and 7 being the beginning size for big girls/junior size clothing. While the intent is to provide a half-size between these two size groups that accommodates certain changes in a child’s body, there is some variation across brands in how it is used. For some, the size is wider or longer than 6 – or both, whether it is a half size or a full size, and sometimes brands don’t use 6x at all. Best recommendation: look at the size chart to see a) if size 6x is available and b) if the size guidelines include your child’s measurements.

9. When are numeric sizes used vs. letter sizes like S, M, L, and XL?

Many brands use both number and letter (sometimes called alpha) sizing in their size charts. And, according to the size charts, letter sizes usually cover at least 2 number sizes (for example, Size S – small – might cover Sizes 4 and 5). As a general rule, the difference between the two systems is product-specific, and has to do with how the product is designed.

Number sizes are typically used when a clothing item is designed to conform to a person’s shape, and when non-stretch fabrics, buttons and snaps, and fitted waistbands – among other similar design features – are used. This is the case with jeans and fitted pants, dress shirts, dresses, etc. Letter sizes are typically used for looser-fit and knit clothing like t-shirts and sweat pants, as well as jackets and coats that are designed to be worn over other clothes and where having a little extra room is helpful. Some of the design features of letter size clothing are stretchy fabrics, elastic waist bands, limited if any buttons or snaps, and a generally-looser fit.

10. What’s the major difference between Regular, Slim, and Husky/Plus sizes and why do so few brands cater to slim and husky/plus sized kiddos?

Body shape. A child’s weight distribution and how it affects their shape need to be taken into consideration in the way sizes are designed and clothing styled. Offering slim or plus sizes is not as easy as just shrinking or expanding waist lines from a regular size. For pants, for example, designing for differences in waist, hip, leg girth, inseam, and crotch length are all critical to proper fit, as well as how body shape affects movement. Because of these differences, clothing companies that offer all three size types typically design each size range on its own merits, consider different design features and fabrics, and have individual processes for manufacturing them. Deciding to offer these other size ranges is a significant business decision, particularly when the numbers of slim and larger-sized children are small relative to the numbers of average-sized children

Still, there are a number of brands that offer slim, plus and husky-sized children’s clothing – the SizeTracker Quick Fit Finder offers a list of these brands and can help you find their sizes. Some brands which don’t offer these extended sizes may still fit because they are designed with slimmer dimensions in mind or to fit generously.

About the author: Stormy Sweitzer, is owner and co-founder of SizeTracker, a unique children’s clothing size chart calculator designed to help you find current and predict future brand-specific sizes from over 300 brands’ for children ages newborn to tween. Use the calculator to shop sales more accurately, find the best fit, or figure out when your child will grow into too-large hand-me-downs. You can learn more about children’s clothing size and fit at the SizeTracker Blog.