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How to make sense of sizes

You've worked hard dieting and exercising, and you've finally lost those 10 (or 20, or 50, or more) pounds. Now you just can't wait to buy some new clothes to show off your fitter figure.

But one trip to the mall, and you might start wishing for your old body back. The reason? No matter what you try on, nothing seems to fit! The slacks that fit your waist are too snug in the hips. The size 10 you used to wear swallows you in one store, and is tight in another. And trying to decipher the different sizing systems -- missy, juniors, women's -- sets your head spinning.

But before you give up and go back to your oversized sweats, read on for some advice from experts in the clothing industry on how to make sense of sizes.

We'll start with some good news: It's not your body that's to blame.

One problem with today's clothing sizes is that as a nation, our basic shape has been gradually changing. Yet much of the clothing industry hasn't yet recognized that fact. At least, that's the conclusion of SizeUSA, a research project from textile company [TC]2 that recently set out to determine today's true American size standards.

"We heard a lot of complaints from consumers about not being able to find clothes that fit them, which is what led us to develop this project," which was jointly sponsored by manufacturers and the U.S. Commerce Department, says SizeUSA director Jim Lovejoy.

Using a specially designed body scanner, the company took electronic measurements of some 10,000 American men and women in a range of ages, races, sizes, and locales. These measurements were used to create a mathematical model of today's "average" body. Not surprisingly, says Lovejoy, it's not exactly the shape the fashion industry has been using to create our clothes.

"Clothes made today are based on the hourglass shape for both men and women," he says. "We found men are now leaning more towards what we call the inverted triangular shape, their shoulders wider than their hips, while women are going the other way, pear-shaped, with hips wider than shoulders."

So if trying to put your "pear" body into an "hourglass"-shaped designer garment feels a lot like putting the square peg in the round hole, you're not alone.

Still, don't expect your local mall to be full of better-fitting clothing right away. While Lovejoy hopes the new report will eventually change the way all clothing is sized, he says it will likely take some time before manufacturers make major changes.

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