Women's Dress Sizes Explained

Updated April 17, 2017

Unlike men's clothing, which has remained standardised and based entirely on measuring the waist and inseams, over the last 25 years, there have been major changes in the fashion industry when it comes to women's dress sizes. What was a size 14/16 in the 1950s is now a size 6. Many women don't know where to begin when it's time to update their wardrobes.


Junior sizes are odd numbers with a narrow cut in the hips and thighs. Junior sizes are suitable for women older than 18, as long as they can comfortably fit into them. Standard junior sizing is for women 5-foot-4 to 5-7 and is available in sizes 1 to 15. In most stores, 13 is the highest junior size available.


Misses were initially meant for women between the junior and women's stages in both age and style. Now, designers are opting to size in misses to reach more consumers. The numbers are always even and are available in sizes 0 to 14. In some cases, you can find a 16 as well, based on the manufacturer but in most cases, 16 begins with women's sizing and is equivalent to the smallest women's size 1X.


Women's sizes are the second-most commonly worn in the United States and cover from sizes 16 to 28 or 16W to 28W. They are also known as plus sizes, which is typically sized as 1X - 5X.

The fundamental difference between women's and both misses and juniors is the ample room for bust sizes and armholes. As for hips, that area is wider and more accommodating for the average American figure.

Vanity Sizing

Designers have changed their sizing systems from standards imposed by government requirements from the 1940s and honed in on the fact that the waistlines of American women are expanding, according to a study reported in "The New York Times."

Since women would rather see a 4 in the label, many manufacturers and designers have begun sizing their items up. This has caused a garment that measures as 8/10 in the government standards to be sized as a 4. This phenomenon is called vanity sizing, as it appeals to the vanity of the consumer. Recognising that the consumer responds by purchasing more clothing if the sizes are smaller and easier to find, the trend was predicted to continue, despite the regulations.

Speciality Sizes

If you are particularly short (below 5-foot-3) or tall (over 5-8), you may be required to visit speciality sections or shops to find clothing that fits. Women less than the standard junior or misses heights are considered petites or shorts and women who are over the height will either wear a massive amount of short clothing, or opt for talls or longs.

Unfortunately, many designers and manufacturers do not cater to speciality sizing and it is harder for women to find clothing that does not require alterations to fit comfortably. A few retailers and catalogues offering petites and talls are New York & Co., Victoria's Secret catalogue, Metro Style catalogue, JC Penny, Wet Seal (jeans only) and Express or Limited.

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About the Author

Toi Troutman, best known as a celebrity publicist and author of one book titled "Look Fab-Looking Like a Million Without Breaking the Bank," is now freelancing full time. The author of helpful articles published at various Internet destinations and beauty magazines including "Polished" and "LA Style," Troutman is a full-time journalism student where she is senior fashion beauty editor and news writer.