As many sighs as there are sizes

Sizing, particularly in women's clothing, has baffled me for years. Why do men's pants sell according to waist and length measurements, while women's come cryptically labeled 2-4-6-8 or 3-5-7-9 or 1W, 2W, 3W? Why isn't a size 10 always just a little larger than a size 9 and a little smaller than a size 11?

How did the apparel industry come up with this system, and why do women put up with it? Why haven't we rebelled?

We could protest and refuse to wear clothes until the system is changed. Or we could start a letter-writing campaign - if only we had the time. Just imagine all the time we'd save in fitting rooms if the system were simplified. I'd gain at least a year on jeans alone.

Some days I'm convinced that what I call "the sizing issue" is a conspiracy to oppress women.

An evil madman wants to clog fitting rooms with frustrated women so we won't have time to correct pay-scale imbalances, to lobby our legislators to fix public education, or even to fix dinner and eat it in the same day.

Other days, I'm resigned.

Perhaps the sizing issue is just one of life's little mysteries, like how fruit flies know the exact hour when bananas will go bad. Why hasn't someone invented a fruit-fly detector to alert me when the flies are on their way? Then I could at least make banana bread and save the flies a trip to my kitchen.

Like fruit flies, the sizing issue comes and goes in my life. And I rarely see either coming.

I recently was blindsided by the issue at a shoe store. My 8-year-old daughter, who has generously proportioned feet, needed a pair of sandals. As any mother knows, sandals don't fit the way soccer shoes do, which don't fit the way house slippers, or dance slippers, or tap shoes, or snow boots do, and none of which fits the way socks do.

So when the clerk offered to measure my daughter's feet, I thought that would make our task easier.

It didn't.

As soon as she looked at my daughter's feet, the clerk asked, "Are you planning to buy a youth size or a women's size for her?"

Youth size? What happened to children's size? This sounded suspiciously similar to the small distinctions among "young miss," "missy," and "junior" size clothing.

I envisioned the sizing issue leaping from a clothing rounder and shooting like a kudzu vine into footwear.

"Youth size, I guess," I stammered. "Will they fit?"

"Yes. She's a 4-1/2 or 5 in youth, which is the same as a women's size 6 or 6-1/2."

My daughter grinned. She knew that I knew this bizarre sizing convention explained why most of my shoes (but not my slippers, sandals, or socks) fit her perfectly.

"Let's look at the women's shoes," my daughter said, much too gleefully.

"No," I said.

"Why? They'll fit," she said.

"No. You need a youth size. Besides, the women's styles are too high-heeled."

I am 5 ft., 2 in. My stomach turned as I pictured my 8-year-old towering over me in a pair of sandals that she might let me borrow one day.

"How 'bout these?"

"No."

"Oh, these are perfect...."

I was clicking my heels together and mumbling something about going home when the clerk suggested a compromise.

One non-stiletto, sturdy-yet-stylish style came in both youth and women's sizes. My daughter liked them.

I liked the fact that the youth shoe, numerically at least, was a size smaller than mine.

A smaller digit on the sole of her sandal was a victory of sorts for me.

But it wasn't an honest win. It was the same hollow sort of victory I get when I find I can still zip into the "size 2" dress in my closet (just barely). When I unzip it, I understand how such a thing could happen.

The dress was designed and manufactured by an evil madman who has trained genetically modified fruit flies to randomly apply size labels.

But hey, it's a size 2.

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