Err, 6, 8? You pause, scratching your head. Or is it 14? 4 is to 27, 32 is to 11? Your brows furrow even deeper. Math used to be your favorite subject in college, but sifting through the sizes on the clothing racks of your favorite retailer? You are not a fan. In fact, you’d rather skip this whole part of the course. But then the clouds part and the angels begin to sing. You come across that one size, that one magic number, you’ve held onto for years. You pull the fabric to test the stretch factor. None. That’s all right, you assure yourself. You’ve worn this size for years. Without even glancing at the larger or smaller cuts, you head to the fitting room. You wiggle your way into your planned purchase and take the 360-degree mirror head on.

It’s a little snug in the back, but that’s no biggie. Flaunt what you got, right? There’s some funky puckering in the crotch, but pants are supposed to do that … you think. The front buttons won’t close, but that’s nothing a few safety pins won’t take care of.

We all have done it one time or another. Held near and dearly to that one size we’ve worn for years. It’s comforting because it signifies consistency; those extra calories from the office’s vending machine haven’t caught up with us after all. It’s convenient. Who wants to take the time to try on different sizes when you can just stick to what you know?

Here’s what most women usually overlook:

All sizes are not created equal. There’s no standardized measure for a “S” or “L,” or even a 29 or 32 in jeans. Every brand determines its own sizes, which is why some labels have the reputation of “running small” or “running big.” This is why it’s essential to try on multiple sizes so you can see what fits. You might be a size 8 in one brand and a size 10 in another. Sizing can even vary within one clothing line, depending on the fabric and the cut. When shopping in-store, grab 3 sizes — the size you usually wear, a size up, and a size down.

Road test it. When you try on a pair of pants, a shirt, or dress, take it for a trial run in the fitting room. Squat, sit, and walk around. Pay close attention to any gaping, bunching, or exposing of too much skin.

The tailor is your friend. Instead of squeezing into something that’s unflattering, opt for a larger size and have your tailor take it in. You’ll wear it longer because it’ll fit impeccably. An ill-fitting blouse or dress is more likely to get disposed of prematurely. Think of it this way: You’d never toss something that makes you look amazing. It’s worth the investment.

Measure up. While you’re at the tailor, have him measure you and keep these dimensions handy for online purchases. Sites like net-a-porter.com will even tell you what size the model is wearing and her measurements so you can estimate what your fit will be. If you can’t make it to the tailor, grab a measuring tape from your local fabric store and have a friend measure you.

Embrace you, not a number.. At the end of the day, no one knows whether you pulled a size 24 or 32. All they know is if it fits well. And even if the size was sown to the outside of garments, who cares?! Find what works for your size and shape — the present and current you, not the you 10 pounds heavier or lighter. Celebrate the now you, the completely and uniquely fabulous you!

–Audra E. Lord

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  • When women ask me what size I wear, I always ask in return “in what brand?” Between the juniors and women brands, I wear 4 different sizes

  • Jess

    I’m definitely a different size in every brand, I keep a list in fact. Oh and the tailor really is a girl’s best friend. I have almost all of my clothes tailored, and it makes a world of difference. A great fit is everything!

    • Me

      A list might not be a bad idea–especially for someone like me who shops infrequently.

  • i absolutely HATE shopping for this reason. i don’t even bother with shorts and jeans anymore. my thighs look disgusting in them anyways. i stick to dresses and skirts now. eff it!