I’m taking a break from housework, idly pondering over a coffee how many pieces of Lego would fit into a vacuum-cleaner (and – more importantly – what percentage of them (once in) you’d realistically be able to fish out again) when the phone rings. It’s my mother-in-law.
“We’d like to buy James a couple of sweaters for his birthday,” she announces. “What size is he?”
This seems, on the face of it, a deceptively simple question. “Well, he’s 110cm in Mothercare,” I begin, desperately trying to remember.
“Quite!” she interrupts, briskly. “But is that chest, or what? I might go somewhere where they use inches. Or is it done by age?”
One long and surprisingly confusing phone call later, Nana is duly dispatched to town with what feels like an Identikit description of the said grandchild, comprising full details (both imperial and metric, just in case) of height, weight, chest, waist, inside leg (don’t ask), distinguishing characteristics and criminal record. And surely there the story should end.
Would that it were that simple.
Time was when all children’s clothing seemed to be sized by age – indeed, some still is. Fine, you might think. But it never did work, did it? Five-year-old James is wearing at this moment a pair of age 3 trousers and a sweatshirt labelled age 7, and I can assure you his physique is perfectly normal. Obviously he’s not the same build as the mythical “average” child upon whom, you’d expect, manufacturers’ sizings are based.
If clothing your own flesh-and-blood is so problematical, it’s well-nigh impossible to get it right for someone else’s. I’m sure you, like me, received a few disappointingly small gifts of first-size baby outfits into which your newborn never managed to squeeze. It’s not the giver’s fault – what does “fits 0 – 3 months” actually mean? There’s a world of difference between a premature baby and a bouncing 12-pounder.
I sometimes wonder whether it’s all psychological. Do outlets which cut their clothes small work on the assumption that you’ll be be flattered to discover your 3-year-old takes an age 5 in their shop? He must be so ahead for his age …
Well, yes. They do. And as you will no doubt have noticed, they size psychologically for women’s clothing, too. It’s called vanity sizing.
Then again, I sometimes think, trudging back to exchange a chain-store hoody (again), perhaps they just make it all up as they go along. And as for the thrills of attempting to get it right when buying online, don’t get me started …
Hence, no doubt, the introduction by some kidswear manufacturers of labelling by weight and height, which should in theory be foolproof. But because it can be inconsistently applied, you have to resurrect either the mental arithmetic of your schooldays or your trusty calculator to convert imperial to metric (or vice versa). There are times in life when it’s desperately important to know whether an 11 – 22 kg nappy is the same as a 14lb one.
I was impressed, therefore, to see newly-installed changing rooms in my favourite kids’ clothes shop recently. Great! I thought. About time – how sensible! Then I was struck with a fleeting vision of 3-year-old Michael limbo-ing under the cubicle door and sprinting triumphantly around the childrenswear department clad only in Beano Y-fronts. And I thought … no, perhaps not.
However, help is at hand. There are apps and websites out there which collate and compare clothing sizes and measurements across high street outlets to help you get it right first time. And a quick glance at the wide and frankly inexplicable variations in sizing shows just how much we need that inside info.
Standardise it, guys: sort it out between you. For something so fundamental, surely it’s not a big ask.
So app away before you buy. Hopefully then the discerning junior consumer should find his or her new clothes a better fit – and the junior consumer’s Mum will, at last, be able to depend on a consistent allowance of room for growth.
Here’s hoping, anyway.