Have you ever gathered up an armful of pants to try on at your favorite store, hauled them to a fitting room, and realized half an hour later that none fit you? Finding pants and jeans that fit right may seem impossible after years of trial and error. What you need is a complete guide to help you understand women’s pants sizes to find the right pair of pants without all the hassle!
Women’s pants sizes use two key measurements, the waist and the hip circumference, to determine sizes. The most popular skiing system used for women’s pants in the United States is an even-numbered metric beginning at 0. Other sizing systems commonly used for women’s pants include the small, medium, and large scale and an odd-numbered system for teen women’s pants.
In this article, you will learn how the measurement for women’s pants work. You will discover the five main sizing systems used on women’s pants. Finally, you will find tips for converting one sizing system to another.
How Do Women’s Pants Sizes Work?
Women’s pants sizes use the width of the waist, the width of the hips/seat, and the length of the legs to determine the sizing. That sounds quite reasonable, but that is where the simplicity ends.
Women’s clothing uses an “ad hoc” sizing system, meaning that a stand-alone number or letter is used as the size even though that number or letter does not actually represent any concrete measurement system.
First, unlike men’s pants, no agreed-upon single sizing metric is used from one brand to another. Women’s pants can use an even-numbered sizing system, an odd-numbered sizing system, a small-medium-large system, a European sizing system, or even (in the case of some jeans) the same waist/length in inches system as men’s pants.
So the first trick to finding the right pants for you is understanding the different systems used to describe the size!
Also, keep in mind that different cuts of pants will fit you differently. Skinny jeans should only reach your ankle, while dress pants should usually hit the top of your foot. Tapered slacks may have a looser seat but will fit tightly around your calves. This means that choosing a cut or fit for your pants can matter even more than picking a particular size.
For example, you may have discovered the perfect pair of size 8 Everlane jeans, but if you get a pair of size 8 in a bootcut style next time instead of a skinny fit, they might not fit you at all!
Finally, even if you understand the sizing systems and the different pants fits, you have to realize that no two brands use the same measurements to choose a size within the system. For example, a 6 in Ann Taylor Loft slacks will almost certainly fit you entirely differently from a 6 in Old Navy khakis.
This does not mean that you have to resort to trying on half a dozen pairs of pants every time you need new slacks! The way around this difficulty is to look at the sizing charts offered by each brand for each cut of pants. This will tell you the specific measurements for the waist, hip, and inseam that the company used.
You may wonder why the brands can’t just use the actual measurements as the size. That is how sizing works for men’s pants, after all! But the sad fact is that vanity sizing has existed for women’s clothes as long as ready-wear clothing has existed, so it seems we’re stuck with it at this point.
Women’s Pants Sizes: Complete Guide
The most common method of sizing for women’s pants is an even-numbered system beginning at 0. For junior sizing, an odd-numbered system starting at 1 is the most common metric. You can also frequently find women’s pants that use a small, medium, or large sizing system.
1. Even Number Sizes
Most women’s clothing in the US, including most jeans, slacks, and casual pants, use an even-numbered sizing system beginning at 0 and ranging up to 16. You can roughly assume that sizes 0 and 2 equal an extra small, 4 and 6 mean small, 8 and 10 more or less equal a medium size, and 12 and 14 equate to a large size.
But beyond that, how exactly each numbered size gets assigned to a pair of pants is kind of the wild west of the clothing world, with no universal standards or agreed-upon measurements.
The idea of even-numbered sizing emerged in the 1940s, driven by the powerful catalog shopping giant Sears Roebuck. The company wanted to offer women’s clothing with understandable sizing, a big step forward from the sizes based on a woman’s age used in the past!
But this grand idea of using a simple, understandable metric to measure women’s clothes never worked. First, competitors to Sears Roebuck used their own measurements to choose sizes, just like today.
Second, every woman has a unique body shape with longer or shorter legs, a rounder or flatter seat, and so on. This means that even if you could determine that a size 4 fits women with a height of 5’6”, you can’t guarantee that it will fit all women with that height–some women with that height may have a waist of 30 inches, and others will have a waist of 40 inches!
Finally, the even-numbered sizing system has also suffered a lot of inconsistency because of vanity sizing. Between 1950 and 2010, the average measurements used to determine a size 8 in women’s pants increased by 8 inches! In practical terms, a size 12 in the 1950s and 60s now measures the same as a size 6 today. You can see how vanity sizing has ballooned the complexity of the women’s sizing problem.
The bottom line on even-numbered sizes is that you can use them within each brand to orient yourself. For example, if you know that medium-ish pants often fit you, start in sizes 8 and 10 within that brand and look at the sizing chart to check specific measurements. What you cannot do, though, is assume that since a size 8 fit you in one brand, it will fit you in another!
2. Odd Number Sizes
Odd-numbered sizes deserve mention as they serve as the most popular sizing system used on junior women’s pants and jeans in the US. In theory, junior’s sizes starting at 1 and ranging up, have a smaller, slimmer fit than regular women’s clothing. That theory doesn’t hold water today, though, because teen clothing has reached such huge popularity that many women shop these styles instead of the misses racks!
On top of that, between vanity sizing and brands doing an admirable job of trying to offer clothing in shapes to fit everyone, junior-sized clothing comes in various shapes and measurements.
The main thing to know about junior sizing is that it does not align with the even-numbered sizes used for women’s clothing. This means that a size 7 in junior pants is probably not slightly larger than a size 6 in women’s pants.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that even though junior’s sizing ostensibly applies to teenage pants and jeans, companies use the same three key measurements of waist, hip, and length to choose these sizes. If you know your measurements, you can find pants that fit you in junior sizes just as easily as you can in women’s even-numbered sizes.
3. Small, Medium, and Large
The second-most popular sizing system used on women’s pants in the United States is the generic small, medium, and large metric. Once again, there is no standardization of these sizes! That means that an S from one brand could fit you in the same way as an M in another brand.
What you can count on is that this system helps you quickly narrow down smaller or larger versions of the same garment within a given brand. The downside here is that you won’t find as many incremental changes in measurement as you do in the more varied even-numbered sizing system.
For this reason, the S/M/L metric often works best on stretchy pants like leggings or loose pants like sweatpants and workout pants.
4. European Sizes
European sizes use metric measurements based on a range of centimeters rather than inches, providing slightly more specific sizing (because centimeters measure a smaller space than inches, allowing for more precise numbers). You can roughly correlate European number sizes to US numbers by adding 30 to your US size. So if you wear a US 8, you may wear a European 38.
Of course, the same issue of measurements varying from one brand to another also plagues the European sizing system.
It’s interesting to note that a new standard is in place to help create an industry guide to this challenge. China has already largely adopted the EN 13204 standard, which uses primary and secondary measurements and a range of body measurements in centimeters for each type of garment. Perhaps this standard will eventually reach the US and help make women’s pants sizes more universal!
5. Size in Inches
A few popular brands of jeans, like Wranglers list women’s pants sizes in inches, with the waist measurement followed by the inseam measurement. This is the same system used by all men’s pants. For example, if you see a pair of jeans sized 30/30, they will have a 30-inch waist and a 30-inch inseam or inner leg length.
On the surface, this does seem much easier than the even-numbered sizing system with its arbitrary rules. But it leaves out a crucial aspect of all women’s pants, which is the hip measurement. You will still need to try the pants or refer to a sizing chart to check the hip measurement.
And it gets worse. Many brands will provide an accurate inseam measurement in inches on the size label but lie about the waist measurement! Just because jeans claim to have a 30-inch waist does not mean the waistband measures 30 inches. It could measure anywhere from 30 to 37 inches.
On average, women’s pants that use sizing in inches will have about a 2.5” discrepancy from the actual waist measurement due to vanity sizing.
Average Pant Size for Women
The average pant size for women in the United States falls into the extra large size or in sizes 16 to 20.
The average height for US women falls around 5’4” and the average waist measures almost 40 inches. The average weight for women over age 20 lies at 170 lbs.
A few years ago, the clothing industry based a lot of its sizing on the concept that a size 14 was the average for women. Recent data suggests that this is no longer true, and the average size is now a size 18. This could help explain why you have trouble finding pants that fit you–lots of clothing still uses outdated data to determine sizes!
Does the Type of Pants Change its Size?
The type of pants does not necessarily change the size label used, but it will change how the garment fits your body.
- In general, loose or stretchy pants fit more body types than fitted pants. Fitted pants like slacks, dress pants, or many types of jeans will pair well with fewer body types and you will need to make sure the pants match your measurements instead of trusting that they can stretch to mold to your form.
- The type of waistband, such as elastic vs fitted, can also impact how well different sizes of pants fit you. Loose sweats with an elastic waist may fit you comfortably in either an S or M because of the stretchy nature of the pants. But if you try fitted dress pants, you probably need one specific size because they do not stretch out to accommodate different body types.
- The cut of pants and jeans changes the shape of a pair of pants. For example, boyfriend jeans have a baggy, relaxed fit in the seat and thighs that you may love if you have a curvier posterior. Slim-fit jeans and slacks will more closely outline your seat, so you will have to find slim-fit styles with just the right curve that matches the curve of your seat.
- The rise on a pair of pants determines how far up your midsection the waistband reaches. A higher or lower rise can place the waistband as low as your hips or up above your navel.
Can You Convert Men’s Pants Sizes to Women’s?
You can translate the waist and length measurements listed in men’s pants sizes into the average measurements used for women’s small, medium or large pants. That said, men’s pants have a different shape from women’s pants. They have a more rectangular fit and they do not use the hip measurement as a key metric in determining size.
For women, the hips often form the widest portion of the body. The curve out from the waist and then in from the hips dictates the shape of women’s pants. This means that even if a pair of men’s pants use the same waist and length measurement as a pair of women’s pants, the hips and seat will fit quite differently.
Common Women’s Pants Sizes Explained
Now that you have a decent grasp on the sizing systems used for women’s pants check out the answers to some common women’s sizing questions!
What Size is Medium in Women’s Jeans
Sizes 8 to 10 often equate to a medium in women’s jeans. If you want jeans that use inches for sizing, a medium often correlates to a 32/30 or a 34/32.
Keep in mind that medium no longer means average in women’s clothing. In fact, the average size for women’s jeans in the US is extra large.
Is a Size 4 the Same as a 26 in Women’s Pants?
A size 4 in women’s pants can sometimes have a 26” waist measurement, but this varies from brand to brand and also depends on the cut of the pants, especially the rise. Many Size 4 pants have a waist measurement between 26 and 32 inches.
Also, the “size 4” label means more than just a single waist measurement. It also depends on the hip and length measurements for that specific pair of pants.
What Size is 28 in Women’s Jeans?
A 28-inch waist often indicates a size 6 in jeans, though you can also find a 28-inch waist on a 4 or 8, depending on the brand and the cut of the jeans.
What Size is 2XL in Women’s Pants?
2XL or XXL in women’s pants usually means a size 20 to 22. These sizes use average measurements of a 42 to 44-inch waist and a 52 to 53-inch hip circumference.
Size 32 Jeans in the US
In theory, a pair of size 32 women’s jeans means jeans with a 32-inch waist, roughly the equivalent of a pair of size 14 women’s pants. Keep in mind, though, that just because the jeans say they have a 32-inch waist does not mean that the waistband measures 32 inches!
Pant Size Chart
This pant size chart will give you a good idea of the common measurements used to determine sizes. Of course, as you now know, every brand uses its own measurement system to determine sizing.
|Even-Numbered Sizes||S/M/L Sizes||Waist||Hip||Inseam/Length|
|2||XS||27”||35” to 36”||29”|
|4||S||28”||36” to 37”||30.5”|
|6||S||29”||37” o 38”||30.5”|
|8||M||30”||38” to 39”||31”|
|10||M||31”||39” to 40”||31”|
|12||L||32” to 33”||40” to 41”||31.5”|
Conversion Chart Women’s European Size
Sometimes when you want to buy clothes from a European or Chinese brand, they only list the European sizing, but you can easily use this chart to convert that sizing to US sizes!
Though this chart offers a handy starting point, you should also look at the sizing chart offered by the European or Chinese clothing brand. Comparing your measurements to their measurements will give you the most specific results.
|European||US Even-Numbered||US S/M/L|
Best Way to Find the Right Pant Size For You
The best way to find the right pant size for you is to focus on measurements, cut, and style rather than a particular label or size number.
- First, pick the cut or style you like best and then select a size within that particular type of pants. To do this, think about how you like pants to frame your body, like whether you want high-waisted pants that draw the eye to your narrow waist or mid-rise pants with a more forgiving silhouette at the midsection. Likewise, do you want your jeans to cling to your posterior and outline every curve, or do you prefer a looser fit?
- Next, ignore the size labels on the pants you want and pull up a sizing chart in the online product description instead. This should list the specific waist, hip, and inseam measurements used for each size in the cut of pants you want.
- Pause here to take your measurements if you do not already know them!
- Using a mirror to help you keep the tape level, measure around your natural waist, and write down the number. Find the widest portion of your hips and seat and measure that, too.
- The inseam or inner leg length you want will vary based on the style of the pants. But it’s also a good idea to measure your inseam so you know if a pair of pants will swamp your feet!
- Once you have your three key measurements written down, study the sizing chart to find a hip measurement in inches that matches your hip measurement. Trace across that row to see if the waist and inseam measurements for that size also match yours.
- If so, you know that these pants should have a style that flatters your figure and a size that fits your precise measurements!
Women’s pants can use several different sizing systems, but none of them use industry-standard measurements. Because of this, you should always refer to a sizing chart rather than depending on a size label to select pants that fit you. The most common sizing system for women’s pants in the United States is an even-numbered system starting at 0 and ranging up to the 20s.
Another common system is the generic small, medium, and large system that offers more of a one-size-fits-all approach. European sizes for women’s pants use measurements in centimeters rather than inches. And in rare cases, you can find women’s jeans sizes listed as waist/inseam in inches, just like men’s pants.