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But don't worry chaps, Lynn Hawthorne isn't commenting on your performance in the bedroom, more her own diffculties in the boutique changing room.

Men claim that they will never understand women, but one thing they do understand is women's love of shopping.

Forget copies of The Collected Works of Shakespeare and The Bible - given the choice, your average shipwrecked woman would grab a copy of the latest Next catalogue or something similar as the vessel sank slowly to the seabed.

But is shopping quite the pleasure it used to be?

For me, especially since I piledon afew extra pounds, the answer has to be ‘no'.

Searching for pretty or sexy clothing in larger sizes is acutely depressing, but trying to work out exactly what SIZE you are is much, much worse.

In my wardrobe, I have tops in everything from size 16 to size 22 and they all fit.

Now, I can't be four different sizes all at the same time, can I?

A morning of traipsing around shops struggling into clothes which, according to the label, should fit but don't is enough to make me reach for the chocolate or to buy something far less confrontational…. like a CD.

So why is sizing so problematic? The catalogue industry knows to its cost how serious the problem is: 50% of all returns are due to poor fit, so you'd think there would be pressure within the garment industry to standardise it.

Well, there is, and in 2002 the British Standards Institute consulted the public on plans to do away with confusion and provide a common set of body measurements and clothing sizes for the whole of Europe. They gave the following example:

For a woman with a bust size of 88cm (34 in), a waist of 72cm (28 in) and hips of 96cm (37 in), her dress size is currently:

12 in UK

C38 in Norway, Sweden, Finland

40 in Belgium, France

38 in Germany, the Netherlands

44 in Italy

44/46 in Portugal, Spain

(10 in USA)

The new British and European Standard introduced in 2004 (BS EN 13402-3 “Size designation of clothes - Part 3: Measurement and Intervals”) was intended to standardise sizing so that ‘88 centimetres meant exactly that from Athens to Zeebrugge.'

That's heartening, I hear you cry, but is it the end of the problem? Er….no.

A quick visit to my wardrobe demonstrates that tops bearing labels of sizes 16 and 18 both originate in Lithuania, which, last time I consulted an atlas, was in Europe, so why don't these garments conform? (I must point out here that I am in no way singling out Lithuania for criticism and have no wish to initiate a diplomatic incident!)

With the influx of cheap textile imports from China and India where the average body shape is traditionally smaller, we might reasonably expect variations in sizing, but in 2005, an international directive on clothing sizes was issued (ISO 3635:1981, if you're interested) in an attempt to equalise sizing globally, yet the problem continues.

So, who is at fault? Is it the manufacturer for ignoring international guidelines?

Is it governments for failing to police the garment industry adequately? Or is it the consumer for (a) keeping quiet and (b) flocking to budget-price outlets such as Primark and Matalan and not caring where something originates or what size it is as long as it's fashionable and cheap?

The answer is probably a combination of all of these factors and the solution currently unclear.

Although these standards exist, they are merely guidelines and not a legal obligation.

All the law demandsare that labels should display fibre or textile content and washing instructions.

British legislation that required the country of manufacture to be displayed was over-ruled by the EU on the grounds that it ‘damaged competition.'

At the moment, the only recourse to law that one has is through the Trades Description Act if a garment is ‘not as described' (ie. A size 12 is not of the required measurement), although prosecutions are rare.

And all this confusion is before we even begin to discuss underwear….. The advice given to women is to be measured, as the vast majority of women wear the wrong sized bra.

I was measured and was one of the few actually wearing the correct size, but this operates only for one style by one manufacturer - anything else and I spend frustrating hours in cubicles putting my neck out being constantly disappointed. As a consequence, I currently have bras of three different sizes and dread the prospect of searching for new ones.

So, ladies, what to do?

I'd be delighted to hear your experiences and thoughts on possible courses of action. The only upside of this situation I can see at the moment is that if your man is brave (or daft) enough to buy you lingerie this Christmas, at least we can't be too mad with him if it doesn't fit!


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