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military helicoptersNEW YORK The sight of all those size 0 models on the Fashion Week runways this week recalls an oft quoted line from the film Devil Wears Prada. Happy to be a size 6, the impressionable young fashion assistant Andy Sachs is soon brought down to size:

Six, her mentor declares, the new 14. for the rest of us folks, the question may be even more basic:

What is a 6, and what is a 14?

As any woman who tries on clothes frequently can attest, a 6 in one place can indeed be a 14 somewhere else or an 8, a 10 or a 2. Which makes you wonder: Is there any logic to sizes, or are they just a random jumble of numbers?

The question might not matter, if the whole issue of size didn matter. But as the fashion industry has long known, a woman size certainly does matter to her. Call it the psychology of size: Women care deeply about the number on that tag, even though it likely no one else will see it, save the person manning the cash register. Perhaps no one else will know, but we know, and that enough.

Just ask another Andy Andy Steiner, a mother of two in St. Paul, Minn.

hate to admit it, says Mrs. Steiner, 38, I know size is just a number and I like to think I too smart and feminist to fall for that. But I certainly have a size I consider myself. Of course, I buy smaller and maybe one size bigger. But I never buy two sizes bigger. Way too depressing. recalls a particularly rash fashion decision three years ago, when she bought a pricey, too short designer dress in hot pink, a color she dislikes. But it was a size 2, and she was literally flattered into buying it.

Not just the everyday shopper gets fooled. Suze Yalof Schwartz, executive editor at large for Glamour magazine, loves walking into a store and finding she a size lower. can make you feel fantastic, she says. like stepping on a scale. It can make your day. Or, it can ruin your day. that feeling, of course, will directly affect whether you make the purchase.

Which is why some clothing lines engage in so called sizing skewing sizes down to make the customer feel better. It the reason you might be able to pull an 8 out of your closet from 10 years back, but now, in the same label, you a 4.

can be a very happy 8 at the Gap, but just squeeze into an angry 12 at Club Monaco,
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says Berett Fisher, a New York mother and creative director. Naturally, she adds, don go to Club Monaco that much anymore. Gap is owned by Gap Inc. and Club Monaco is a retail division of Polo Ralph Lauren Inc.

know that nobody wants to be a big size, says maternity designer Liz Lange. wants to be more than a size 8 or a 10. She includes herself. can do it, she says of buying a larger size. don want that thing in my closet. yet vanity sizing doesn explain most of the disparity. The larger picture is that every designer uses its own silhouette, or model, based on its target audience, says Dan Butler of the National Retail Federation. The government used to have guidelines for sizing, he says, but they were abandoned decades ago and were never mandatory. Maybe that a good thing, says Mrs. Yalof Schwartz: would be depressed. I rather feel skinnier. is some science to back up the fixation with size: In a survey conducted in the spring by Talbots Inc., 62 percent of women said they would consider clothes only in their specific size when shopping. Asked whether they would go up from that size, 46 percent said they would go one size larger; only 24 percent said they would go up two sizes. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

There is no question that are size focused when they shopping regardless of what they say, says Betsy Thompson, fashion director for Talbots. But, she adds, the customers need to know you consistent. women see a great variance, they question it. other words, some consumers won appreciate it.

Lynemarie D of Evanston, Ill., a frequent online buyer, is frustrated to find her usual sizes are now too big. just makes me have to return more, and hate shopping more, she says. And she stops trusting the clothing line: like when you catch a lover in a lie. every woman cares about size. Some are more like, well, men, who tend to be more pragmatic.

think many men do care about what size their waist is, says New Yorker James Cribbs. I can imagine any of them would buy something they don like just because it fits. Why not move on until you find something that fits and that you like? so sensible. It certainly would avoid tales like that of Mrs. Steiner hot pink, purchase.

She wore the dress once, to a wedding, where she covered it with a shawl. wanted to pull out the size label and show people why I bought it, she said, laughing. She ended up lending it to a friend,
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who also wore it once.