My 7-year-old needs new shorts. The ones labeled 4-5 have lasted us two years but they are now worn and stained. We could probably squeeze one more summer out of them but there's a high probability of a wardrobe malfunction at camp. So I went out and bought her a few more pairs of shorts from Gymboree. The label said 7 with a parenthesis saying 6-7 so I assumed they would fit. Wrong. Too big. (P.S. Gymboree, it'd be really helpful if you had a changing room so we could discover this before buying the shorts and coming home.) Then I realized that, this time last year, I did exactly the same thing. Bought her two pairs of shorts from Target labeled 6-6X. She was six at the time so I figured I was safe. But no, those were also big too and, for the record, we tried them on last week and they are still too big.
I always run into similar issues with pants in the fall with my son, now 9-years-old. He always seems to grow, like, a foot during the summer (an exaggeration, I know, but it's always when they seem to shoot up) and the pants that fit him fine in the spring are now four inches too short. So out I go and blithely buy him pants that are sized to match his age. And every time I discover they are either enormous around the middle and/or a foot too long.
Now, before you say it, I know that kids come in all shapes and sizes. I happen to think my two are perfectly average. They don't appear drastically taller/shorter/thinner/fatter that their peers. (I couldn't tell you their percentiles because their pediatrician never tells us -- he's a firm believer in not labeling kids and I love him for it.) I also know that kids have random growth spurts. One day you can't get more than a slice of cucumber in them. The next, they're chowing down on an 8-oz steak and a gallon of milk.
So, dear retailers, here's a plea from me and, I suspect, parents everywhere: please don't label clothes aspirationally. I mean we all know that kids are going to grow -- it's their job. But I'd very much like to walk into a kids clothing store and purchase clothes with the confidence that, if it says 7, it'll fit an average 7-year-old. At least until the next growth spurt. On the flip side, when you label things 8-10 (I'm looking at you Target), that's way, way, way, too large a bet too hedge.
Because here's the thing: kids are usually proud of their age. My 7-year-old does not want to have to wear clothes for 5- or 6-year-olds because the stuff labeled 7 won't fit her until she's 8 or 9. My 9-year-old doesn't want to continue to wear pants labeled 7 because they are the only ones the fit his waist: but the ones labeled 8-10 could fit a giant, by comparison.
By the way, we kept my daughter's new shorts even though they could drop down to her knees with one jiggle too many. Fortunately, we have safety pins that will have to keep them up until her 7-year-old body decides to expand sufficiently to fit these shorts labeled 6-7. Maybe by this time next year, they will fit.