One of the biggest dilemmas facing British women when clothes shopping could soon be over with a move to abolish traditional UK dress sizes.

The EU wants to scrap women's clothing sizes such as 10, 12 and 14 that feature in High Street shops in Britain.

Instead it wants to introduce a Europe-wide system where women's clothes will be labelled by bust, waist, hip and height measurement, in a similar way to men's clothing.

The move is aimed at ending the current confusion over European sizes, which also vary from country to country so that a UK size 14 can be a 40 in France and a 42 in Italy.

It could also prevent so-called "vanity" sizing where certain stores are known for stocking more generously proportioned versions of sizes - adding to the muddle.

Retailers and customers welcomed the idea, with some calling for the US to be brought into line too - a move that could end the size zero debate.

Guido De Jongh, a programme manager with the European Committee for Standardisation, said: "At the moment a size 36 in France will be different in Italy and different again in the UK, where sizes like 10, 12 and 14 are commonplace.

"We are proposing a European-wide numbering system for women's clothing so that shoppers can buy something in any country and be confident in their clothes size."

He said the move would also simplify stocking systems for retailers.

International fashion chains like H&M have stores in 28 countries and have already introduced the body size measurements on labels in some countries.

At Jenners in Edinburgh staff are planning to put up signs in fitting rooms during the summer's international festival listing the worldwide equivalent sizes because of countless customer queries.

Aileen Rahmani, sales manager in Jenners' ladieswear, said the EU proposal was a "fantastic idea".

She said: "I think this idea will alleviate all this misunderstanding about sizes. We are living in Europe in 2007. All women should be able to buy products in the same sizes.

"Some of the European sizes now are all out of sync. It would be good to have a system based on actual body measurements.

"Our staff all know the American, British and European sizes and they are asked lots of questions about the differences by customers."

She added that it would help to go further and bring US sizes in line with Europe too, saying: "We do get a lot of Americans who are a US size 4 and they come here and find they are a size 8 in the UK, which they don't like."

Research has shown that a UK 14 can vary by more than an inch.

Petite Edinburgh-based communications manager Fiona Richardson, 44, welcomed the proposed change. She said: "It wouldn't matter to me if I wore a size 6 or a size 106 but I think a size should be what it says, and if this does that then it would be fine."

Emma Ward, 26, a junior manager based in Edinburgh, agreed: "It will make shopping much easier because you get European sizes here and you don't know what they are, and being a big girl I don't want to go up and ask what size something is."

However, Aimi Hautau, a stylist at Edinburgh Image consultants Inspire Me, warned that British women might resent the idea. She said: "We have our own style and sizing system. Being a size 12 is part of our identity."

She did not think "vanity sizing" would end either, adding that regardless of whether a dress was labelled a size 12 or a 34 shops would still "flatter their customer base by interpreting dress sizes".

Stores that stock different versions of supposedly standard UK sizes say their clothing is designed to fit customer type rather than following standard measurements.

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said they were not in a position to comment on the proposed changes or how they would be interpreted.

She admitted that current UK sizes varied for different ranges in the store "to cater for the different body shapes" of the customers being targeted.

Meanwhile, there was opposition to the idea from Size UK, which researches sizing and believes that variety helps UK customers find shops selling clothes that fit them.