This week marks exactly one year since H&M announced they would be changing their women’s clothes sizing system to more accurately reflect a UK market.
My thighs and I had campaigned for the clothing giant to make their clothing more true to size following an unpleasant encounter in a H&M changing room. I think it is safe to say we have all been there, right?
After trying and failing to fit into a pair of jeans labelled as a size 14, I decided enough was enough. It felt wrong that I couldn’t find a pair of jeans true to the size they were advertised as in H&M, particularly when in the same store I could buy a jumper and glittery pencil case emblazoned with messages of female empowerment.
The brand wanted customers to buy these positive feminist messages but were failing to practice what they were preaching. How can you expect women to feel empowered if the clothes you are selling them do the exact opposite?
I called out H&M on social media asking them to take responsibility for making customers feel rubbish with their poorly sized clothes. I thought how my thirteen year old self would have felt trying on a pair of jeans in a size she thought she was, only to discover that they didn’t fit her properly. It could have had a detrimental impact on how I viewed my body and now, despite being confident and comfortable in my own skin, negative experiences in changing rooms can still have an adverse effect on how we see ourselves. I was determined to do something about it.
As a result of my voice and so many others like me (the amount of women of all shapes, sizes and ages who reached out to me to say they were in the same boat with H&M’s sizing was staggering), H&M announced they would be changing their sizes in the UK.
Cue a lot of unexpected chaos in this woman’s world; within 24 hours of the news breaking following Huff Post’s coverage of my campaign, I had spoken on BBC 5 Live, Radio 1, appeared on BBC Breakfast, Channel 5 News and half a dozen local BBC radio stations, including Radio Wales, to discuss everything clothes sizing, feminist fashion, body positivity, the power of social media to create positive change and of course, my good old squishy thighs. Top work, girls.
I thought it would be interesting to go back to H&M a whole year later and see if a pair of jeans advertised as a size 14 are now, indeed, a size 14.
I decided to try and find a few different pairs of jeans, hit the changing rooms and see if H&M had been true to their word and changed their women’s sizes to fit more accurately.
Strap yourselves folks, it’s gonna be a good ‘un!
After marching in to the Cardiff H&M store, determined to not be distracted by the copious amounts of leopard print (it was a challenge but this woman was on a mission) I found myself in a jeans section. First impressions, it was all somewhat overwhelming.
Following a preliminary glance around, I noticed that there were seemingly no jeans labelled with the expected numbering system i.e 10, 12, 14 etc.
The labelling system was now marked in what I assumed was waist size. I was however surprised that, given this is a significant alteration to how H&M have previously done things, there was no information anywhere explaining the new changes to customers.
Now we all know what an ordeal jeans shopping can be at the best of times (I can feel my brow getting sweaty just thinking about it) but I was relieved to see that finally some high street retailers have cottoned on to using waist sizes as the most logical way to sell clothes.
I imagine that if men’s clothing was labelled used the same arbitrary, nonsensical numbering we women have had to put up with for all these years I am pretty sure the entire sizing system would have been rewritten decades ago, but I digress.
So new labels, a much more straight forward shopping experience, right?
In the immortal words of the buzzer on Family Fortunes, nuh uh.
As I stood amidst denim pantaloons that were handily named things like Mom, Super Skinny, Boyfriend and Flare, I desperately tried to recall what my waist measurements were.
“What is a standard waist size for a size 14 woman? Should I have brought by my own measuring tape? Why are there so many washes of denim? Should I have checked what the equivalent European average girl size number equates to in the UK? What on earth is a petite girlfriend fit?!“
All of these questions ran through my mind while I was simultaneously trying to tell myself that one’s worth is not measured by the size of one’s waist; you can imagine how clammy my brow had suddenly become.
Imagine also my surprise to see, when checking on the next stand over, there was suddenly a pair of jeans labelled as a size 8. Say what now?!
That’s right, not only was I faced with jeans labelled with the new waist measurements system and the older European number system (if someone can tell me why and how a 44 equates to size 16, I’d be eternally grateful) but also, the standard UK women’s sizing number system. And I foolishly thought this was going to be straight forward.
I searched the racks for a good twenty minutes trying to get my head around it all. Surely it shouldn’t be this difficult to find a pair of jeans that fit a woman with a large arse, wide hips, wobbly tum and a waist whose measurements shall and always will remain a mystery?
It would have been really helpful if there was a sign up explaining not only H&M’s changes but also what size I should now be looking for, based on said changes. It wouldn’t be too difficult to let customers know that if they previously searched for a size 14 label, they should now be looking for a waist size x, right?
I am not sure how thirteen year old Rebecca would have felt still having to reach to the back of the clothes rack, elbows deep in a lot of denim, to find the only size 14 which turned out to not even be a size 14 at all. I can confirm that twenty five year old Becs felt pretty rubbish and ticked off.
After a fight that felt almost as epic as the Battle of Hogwarts (even I would have been tempted to take on He Who Shall Not Be Named after this debacle), I finally had four pairs of jeans which I hoped would do the trick.
Out of the four pairs I tried on, I managed to wiggle into two. A 50% success rate, which while better than last year, I am afraid to say it felt a bit like a hollow victory. Without further ado, the results:
Pair 1- Skinny Ankle, High Waist, 32.
This was the first pair I managed to find and I had to guess at the waist size. They were a bargain price at only £8.99, nice wash of denim and good bit of stretch for yanking up over the old thighs. Never the most glamorous look but I successfully managed to get in them. They are technically a size 14 based on the waist measurement. They were a little short in the ankles but as a five foot nine woman, this is sadly comes with the territory of being part giraffe.
Pair 2- Straight High Waist Ankle, Eur 42, UK 14.
As Simon and Garfunkel once sang, ‘Hello ill-fitting jeans, my old friend’.
There was no way on earth this pair of jeans was getting over my thighs, exactly the same issue as I had over a year ago. Labelled as a size 14 and yet clearly not, a size 14. OK, they may have been from older stock, they may have been a straight cut, they may not have had that much stretch. That shouldn’t matter. If they are labelled as one size, they should BE that size. Little Becs would have felt she was to blame, grown-up Becs knows high street retailers should be doing more to cater to every single body type and size. Grr.
Pair 3- Super Skinny Ankle, Embrace fit, 31
I took a little comfort in the fact that the woman on the label has a body shape similar to mine so I hoped these would fit a little better. I hadn’t seen this particular line of jean in H&M before and with a higher price point of £34.99, I would expect the quality to be top notch. I got in them, quality felt OK but there was a bit of a weird pattern happening on the top half of the jean where clearly the stretch had caused lines to form over the hip/thigh region. Not the best look.
I had to use the good old fashioned jump and pull technique to get them on, but technically, a size 14 that fit snugly.
Pair 4- Boyfriend, Low Waist, Eur 42, UK 14.
A very nice light blue wash with rips that my nan definitely would have thought were daft. She also would have disapproved of how poorly they fit, as did I. Once again, a pair of jeans labelled as a 14 which are clearly just not that size. The four button crotch region wouldn’t do all the way up and even if I could have pried the top button closed, there is no way I could ever sit down in ‘em . Very poor show.
So, what did I learn from this little venture into the H&M jeans department?
There may have been some attempted shifts to improve their women’s sizes but there is still a heck of a long way to go before a size 14 woman can walk in to H&M, pick up a pair of jeans in the size we know we are and confidently know that they will fit.
H&M are seemingly trying to improve their ways with a new waist measurement based system and ranges like Embrace which show more diverse body types but it still feels like a not particularly well thought out action plan.
Clear, concise information displays, (heck even a small poster!), in the jeans department would have made my shopping experience much less stressful and frustrating.
I appreciate big brand changes like the ones H&M proposed last June take time. I appreciate that it is inevitable that not every pair of jeans in the shop will ever fit me exactly. I appreciate you will never please everyone no matter what you do.
But we are not asking for the world.
My experience this week has led me to realise there is still work to be done.
A year ago, I felt the success of my campaign was a small victory for every woman I know, and those I don’t, who had ever felt rubbish in a H&M changing room.
One year on, I will continue the fight to ensure that no young woman is ever made to feel inadequate because of an ill-fitting, inaccurately sized pair of jeans.
I for one don’t plan on going away quietly.