The Truth about Dress Sizes

Is there anything more confusing than dress sizes?

They vary from store to store, they change year to year, and for the most part they seem completely arbitrary.

Heck, from what I can tell a woman can be a size 12 at Zara and a size 8 and LK Bennet! She can also be a 12 on top, 8 in her skirt, and a 10 in her dress. Suffice it to say women’s sizes are pretty confusing.

To make matters worse, dress size has changed over the years, WITHOUT women changing. Over the years, many brands have changed measurements so that a woman who previously wore a 12 can now wear a 10 or an 8, something called “vanity sizing”, hoping that women would be more inclined to buy from the store where they are an 8 as opposed to the store where they are a 12.

Marilyn Monroe was a 12 in the ’60s, but according to her measurements, she would now be a size 6… maybe even a 4, depending on the brand.

In the 1937 Sears catalog, a size 14 dress had a bust size of 32 inches (81 cm). In 1967, the same bust size was a size 8. In 2011, it was a size zero. (Whacky Wikipedia facts!)

The important, but often unrealized fact about dress sizes is that they have very little to do with your weight, and everything to do with your body shape. In fact, when they first started out, “dress sizes” only really referred to a woman’s bust size – clothing manufactures just assumed they could guess the rest of a body by knowing only the bust measurement!

Now, when it comes to “dropping dress sizes” the common belief is that you have to lose as much as 20 pounds to drop 4 dress sizes, but this simply doesn’t seem to be true. Dress sizes don’t care how much you weigh, a dress size only cares about your measurements.

And how much can you change your body shape in a short period of time?  Turns out, the answer is a fair amount.  You can make some very drastic (albeit it transient) changes in your dress size in a relatively short period of time.

Firstly, let me get this out of the way – I am talking about changing the shape of a body so someone can fit into a smaller dress. For some women this may involve some significant weight loss, for others, it may only be a couple of pounds. Again, the trick here is manipulating your measurements, not necessarily your weight.

And truth be told she may not look better in this new dress size (it all depends on the fit).

With that said, I believe it is possible for someone to drop as much as 4 dress sizes in as little as 7 days, going from say a size 16 to a size 12, or a size 12 to an 8 with the right techniques.

Normally, in order to accomplish such a feat, a woman would have to lose roughly 2 inches off of her waist. All of this loss will not be permanent, and not all of it will be fat, but remember – the key here is changing your shape… not necessarily your weight.

As a general rule, I like to say losing 5 pounds of body weight generally equates to a one inch loss in waist circumference, so dropping 2 inches from your waist means losing roughly 10 pounds of fat, but this is more a rule for true long-term weight loss, it doesn’t account for quick manipulations in water weight.

Also, your waist is always smaller in the morning right after you wake up, and even smaller the morning after a fast… sometimes this alone can account for a 1 to 1.5 inch drop in waist circumference.

The bottom line is that a drastic drop in calories and carbohydrates combined with some water shedding techniques could help create a non-permanent drop in dress size in 7 days … a very difficult 7 days, but 7 days nonetheless.

Some people will argue this isn’t a “true” loss in dress sizes, but since dress sizes are so arbitrary, and not related to weight, I’d ask what would be a “true” drop?

The bottom line is the best way to track long term changes in your body is by tracking your circumferences and your body weight, not something as arbitrary as dress size.

And remember, dress sizes really aren’t that important. They’re arbitrary, can be easily manipulated (and we haven’t even discussed what adding muscle mass can do to the fit of your clothes), and say nothing about your weight or health. So remember – if you are going to track the changes in your body (and I think you should) track your measurements (circumferences) and your weight.

Look for long term sustainable changes, not quick fluctuations, don’t worry about dress sizes.


Brad Pilon is the leading canadian researcher of intermittent fasting and its effect on weight loss, health, longevity and muscle building. He’s also the author of best-selling in North America intermittent fasting book called “Eat Stop Eat”.