The myth of vanity sizing

Amended: There is an extensive list of links at close to substantiate the claims I’ve made in this entry, this one being but the first.

I’ve been avoiding the topic of fit and sizing -which aren’t the same thing- for a very long time. I haven’t written about it because a truly comprehensive discussion is very controversial and guaranteed to upset everyone from consumers to manufacturers. The problems associated with issues of poor fit or standard sizes are so complex that they cannot but include everyone in the user-producer stream. This isn’t an issue of spreading blame; it’s more complex than that. The biggest problems are expectations and beliefs.

First of all, there’s no such thing as vanity sizing. Really. I could write an entire book about why there’s no such thing as vanity sizing. That is not to say there are no problems with sizing but vanity is the least of them. It’s best to understand the nature of sizing before we go crazy and adopt national sizing standards. People are so different from one another that it is an unreasonable expectation that our clothes should be sized uniformly. The day that we should only have one size “medium” across all manufacturers is also the day we should only need an identical dose of an identical medicine for an identical medical problem. Humans are unique.

Sizes are not created equally; not all mediums from company to company are identical and nor should they be. Manufacturers necessarily target a given consumer profile -even push manufacturers have target demography- and it is more common for consumers of a given profile to share anthropometric characteristics than it is that they not. A medium simply indicates the middle size of a given manufacturer’s size run; that’s it. The reason is that consumers tend to share body size characteristics that are unique to a given interest or lifestyle. The example I always use is western wear apparel and ballerina tutus. A medium in a demography of horse-riding, outdoor working people is strikingly different from what constitutes a medium from the pool of elfin sized ballerinas. Similar patterns are observed in the population based on income -the wealthier are thinner- and dietary -vegetarians are thinner- and it’s well known that lower income Americans average on the heavier end of the scale. It is only appropriate that a manufacturer of a given market segment establish the median size -a medium- for their product lines. It is an unreasonable expectation that a medium sized barrel-racer is going to wear a medium sized tutu. Just the sleeves in western wear are inordinately long so a mental picture of a ballerina with sleeves to her knees makes me laugh out loud because even a barrel racer won’t buy a riding jacket if the sleeves aren’t “too” long so you can only imagine how they’d hang on a small girl. The sleeves are too long because they need to cover the wrists when the reigns are grasped so their normal range of motion is expanded and they want their sleeves long enough to cover that.

The issue of what constitutes a “medium” is related to arcane production concerns of which consumers know little, how could they? For example, let’s say that everybody had to use the same sizes, can you imagine the number of sizes the western wear company would be forced to carry as compared to the tutu maker? Why should either company be forced to bear the costs of product development of sizes that they’ll rarely sell? Why? Just on the off chance that the barrel-racer has a hankering for a ballerina tutu or vice versa? Similarly, the degree of change in sizing variation is different as people get larger. In other words, as people get larger, they get proportionately larger and the number of inches that constitute one size or another increases. The opposite is also true. As people get smaller, the differences between sizes are also smaller so these two opposing expectations are not compatible. While I agree it’s not “fair” that neither the barrel-racer or the ballerina can wear each other’s clothes, that’s what niche manufacturing is all about. In the meantime, I await with bated breath for someone to tell me they’re launching a line of western wear tutus for horse riding ballerinas.

A medium to a manufacturer is a reference calculation of needed fabric purchases. Since the medium represents -statistically speaking- their average customer based on sales, the quantities of fabrics ordered are based on multiples of those measures and just the issue of marker making is so complex I don’t dare bring it up. For this reason alone a manufacturer will not want to change the sizing of their medium because it directly impacts utilization of all their other sizes. What it really boils down to is consumer expectation that they should be able to walk into any store, anywhere and pick out a medium and expect it to fit them but that’s just not reasonable. Particularly when many consumers are reluctant to pay the customary price points of that market. For example, it’s unreasonable for the average Wal-Mart customer -who only wants to pay Wal-Mart prices- to walk into Talbot’s and expect a Talbot’s medium to fit them and their pricing expectations so it’s unreasonable to expect every manufacturer to fit the full range of human size possibilities too. With companies free to fit “their” customer, you have more possibilities of locating a size that fits you than if sizes were standardized. Why does everybody and his brother assume the standard sizes would mirror their unique characteristics? That baffles me.

Back to vanity sizing, or rather, the myth of it. Hopefully I’ve explained to your satisfaction that the variation between given mediums is not based on vanity sizing but real concerns managing the costs of product development as dictated by a given consumer profile. The next thing I’ll explain is the variation in sizing that exists between different labels of a given manufacturer. For example, everybody says that designers like Ralph Lauren produce vanity sizing but that’s not true either. Just as given manufacturers are sized differently, so are labels within a given design house. The reason is simple. Ralph Lauren produces a range of products across different labels that appeal to different types of consumers. The products that are intended for the vanity market -those who buy a tee-shirt at resort for example- are sized very differently from their core designer customer. The customer with more discretionary income is thinner than the former so if it were true that Ralph Lauren (for example; I have no bone to pick with him) sized for vanity then Ralph’s core customer wouldn’t be able to find a size to fit them. And you know that’s not true.

Another thing people drag out as evidence of vanity sizing is the “inflation” of sizing numbers, that because what’s known now as a size 4 was formerly designated as a size 16 (pre 1960’s) that this is proof of size inflation but that’s not true either. The reason is that old sizes were based on -yet another- arcane principle related to pattern making and sizes were designated based on something known as “scale”. Scale was a pattern maker’s reference to use that given number on the back side of an L-square (a scale of aliquot parts) to generate the proportionate measures appropriate to that size so these numbers were not arbitrary. The sizing system changed as consumers wrested meaning away from scale to what became an arbitrary system of numbers to represent given sizes. So, if the number of the size doesn’t “mean” anything today, don’t blame us. We had sizing numbers and they meant something, namely scale. And lastly, sizing is evolutionary. It evolves just like people do. To suggest that the qualitative measures that constitute any given size should not change over time is idiotic. Were this the case, we should still be using standards from the 1500’s. Nobody with a rational mind considers the archaic and racist data of the Shelton study in the 1940’s to be valid so they don’t use it either.

Some people drag out vintage samples of old clothing as proof of vanity sizing too but I can’t see that proves anything except that consumers have gotten fatter but I don’t think consumers have gotten quite as fat as some people claim either based on their reference of comparison. Then as now, women have hoarded keep-sake garments. These are usually wedding gowns or fine dresses that one wore in their youth or peak of life and while I’m not saying we weren’t smaller in the past, I am saying that the garments that managed to survive the era were not representative of the population then anymore than the too-small keepsake garments are representative of women today.

I think I’ve just about eliminated vanity sizing as the demon responsible for bad sizing. That done, the real issue is fit which as I said before, is different from sizing. That’s where our concerns should lie.

Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition

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  1. Carol Kimball says:

    Currently I’m involved with a Tall Girls project – shirts (dress, polo, tank top) for young athletic women 6′ and over. The two we are building the prototypes for are arbitrarily defining Medium, and refining that, and grading to L and S will be based on numerous actual measurements of their friends and acquaintances, particularly the shoulder width. Thorough knowledge of pattern making and grading is a help, but being bound by or forced back into the usual parameters would be a great mistake.

  2. kathleen says:

    Hi Carol
    I would really like to discuss your project further -and think others could learn from the experience- so I added a new topic area to the discussion forum (link in the left sidebar) for this purpose if you’d care to repost there. Look for Patterns-Grading & Sizing. Thanks for the idea too.

  3. Ileen says:

    Kathleen, thanks for writing this essay — it explains a lot to an industry outsider like me. However, I don’t think you’ve addressed the complaint about Vanity Sizing in the way that the folks who complain about it intend. When consumers talk about Vanity Sizing what they mean is that they are a size 12 in Walmart but a size 6 at Ann Taylor. The pricier the garment, the more likely that the size number is “flattering.” Are you saying that this is a myth?

    What *I* think is a myth is the idea that when things don’t look good we can always assign the entire blame to “fit.” Sometimes we need to remember that nothing is as slimming as actually losing weight!

  4. kathleen says:

    I am definitely saying that vanity sizing is a myth. I would **love** to see a comparative of the Ann Taylor size 6 and the Wal-mart size 12 because I don’t believe it’s true! Not for an instant. Just because everyone says it’s true doesn’t mean that it really is. That would mean Wal-mart’s average customer is smaller than Ann Taylor’s average customer and I think we’d all agree that’s not true.

    If you were to compare a range of size 6’s at Wal-mart to a range of size 6’s at Ann Taylor, I’ll bet you or anyone else money that the Ann Taylor size 6’s will be smaller -not larger- than the Wal-mart 6’s because the Ann Taylor customers are higher income and thinner than Wal-mart’s. Dragging that out to its logical conclusion, the size 0-2’s shopping at Ann Taylor would’nt be able to find anything to wear and would end up at Wal-mart. The latter scenario is impossible btw.

    As someone who actually wears a size 0-2, there is almost nothing I can find at stores with lower price points (Target, Wal-mart et al). You may not have noticed but the smalls and extra-smalls at Wal-mart and Target sell out practically overnight and I can’t find anything there in my size unless I shop in the children’s department and then I have the problem of finding sleeves and pant legs that are long enough (which is also a problem in the smaller women’s sizes too). It’s only in more expensive brands that I can find anything in my size. The more expensive the item, the more likely it is to have sleeves and legs of sufficient length. I can’t afford new expensive designer apparel so I have to wait till those hit the thrift stores.

  5. MW says:

    >>When consumers talk about Vanity Sizing what they mean is that they are a size 12 in Walmart but a size 6 at Ann Taylor. The pricier the garment, the more likely that the size number is “flattering.” Are you saying that this is a myth?< You wrote it backwards, where you should have said that the size 12 at Ann Taylor wears a 6 at Wal Mart, and then it would have been clear. The concept of numeric sizing is not drastically different than that of letter sizing. While there *are* what we consider *standard* size charts for numeric sizing, the issues of body shape and proportion STILL come into play. If you go into Ann Taylor (and I do), you will notice that their clothing is built for a certain *build*. And it is usually a very ideally proportional build. You will find another line built for another build and so forth and so on. MOST of the women who make those complaints, aren't actually talking about drastic differences in the actual SIZE, but that they can't get thier BODY in the clothing. So, if I go into Ann Taylor, I *might* have to buy a 10/12 to get the clothing to fit my butt and hips. Because that's my shape. While, I can go to a clothing like that's designed for people who are closer to my shape and fit the size 8. This is what designers deal with when they target a niche. If you look at premium denim (and even though they use waist sizing, this still applies). You might find a jean that is built for a woman with thin thighs and long legs and a jean built for a woman with bigger hips and a round behind. It doesn't mean they are two entirely different sized women, but that they just have different builds. Now if curvy woman wants to buy thin jeans, then of course, she will be forced to buy a much bigger size and then deal with the gap in the waist (as is a common complaing). And if thin woman buys curvy jeans, they won't fit in the right places. Kathleen, I love this story and I'm bookmarking this like because you just don't know how many times I get into discussions about this and people throw out the statement "a 12 in the 60s is now a 4 because we have gotten so fat" no one has proof but it has been repeated so often, it's urban legend.

  6. Ileen says:

    No, I didn’t write it backwards — I meant it the way it was written! To clarify, I’m *not* trying to argue that what Kathleen, and now MW, have written is incorrect. In fact, it makes perfect sense to me now that you have explained it. What I’m saying is that when people complain about vanity sizing, they are saying that the pricier the clothing the “roomier” it is in the same size. That any woman can be a smaller size if she’s willing to pay for it. They are saying that high end manufacturers exploit their vanity by giving them a size 6 for their size 12 butt and then charging twice as much for it.

    This article sums it up:
    Notice the paragraph: “Pants with the biggest waists and smallest size numbers were typically the more expensive clothing brands, Kinley says. In her study she found that pants costing $100 or more were more likely to have vanity sizing, while pants under $50 were sized more consistently.”

    I only used WalMart and Ann Taylor as examples of low and high end retailers, not my own personal experience — I don’t shop in either store. I make most of my pants since I am, ahem, “curvy.” (Thanks for the definition Kathleen; it sounds so much better than “big-hipped.”) Since I rarely buy pants and have never spent $100 or more on a pair of pants I can’t say if doing so would deflate my size (which is 12) to something smaller!

  7. Ileen says:

    Oops, I wanted to address this comment:

    “MOST of the women who make those complaints, aren’t actually talking about drastic differences in the actual SIZE, but that they can’t get thier BODY in the clothing.”

    Yes, I totally agree! Women love to complain that men can just “go in and find their size” but men don’t wear clothing that conforms to their curves, do they? And a man with a flat butt doesn’t spend hours trying on sewing lists and newsgroups trying to find tweaks that will give him the perfect pants pattern — he just goes ahead and wears a pair of pants with some bagginess in the back. If we want to have form fitting clothing we’re going to have to deal with the fact that our forms are different and therefore variety (in manufacturing) is a *good* thing.

  8. Alex says:

    I have no problem with the fact that I can’t fit into certain (read: most) clothes. According to a sizing chart (granted, this is one chart, but it puts things into perspective) my bust is a size 10, my hips a size 4, and my waist a size 16. I end up wearing a lot of men’s clothes as a result. I also understand that certain companies will size things differently to attract different people, so I tend to be loyal to brands so that I can walk in, find something I like, and walk out without trying it on.

    My conundrum is that 5 years ago, I could only fit into a size 12 and have it look good on me. This was when I started my first real job and suddenly had cash to spend. I ended up shopping all over the place because I didn’t know what was out there. Now, I’m probably about 10 pounds heavier, but I can slip into a size 10 with room to spare. I can’t help but think that manufacturers are trying to entice at least women (I don’t know much about men’s sizes) into thinking that they can wear smaller sizes. It would have nothing to do with the actual construction of the clothes – all you would have to do is change the labels. While I usually shop in a couple of stores, when I do venture elsewhere I’ve found that this is the case all over. Yes, I’m flattered that I can wear a size 10 again (even though I know it’s the same actual size I used to wear,) but do you think this is an issue of flattering the consumer or do I spend too much time shopping and I should tell myself not to ask too many questions?

  9. Amber says:

    I’ve had the experience in the last few years of purchasing clothes at a store in one size and then going back to the same store 1-3 years later and having to buy a smaller size, despite the fact that I have gained, not lost, weight over that time. The Gap is perhaps the most egregious offender in this regard. Since I don’t think the Gap’s target market has changed appreciably in such a short period, I can only think it is vanity sizing.

  10. A says:

    I work in the apparel industry. For the most part, I agree vanity sizing is probably a myth as I have never known first hand that it exists. It never really made sense to me because it would inevitably knock off the smaller sizes and cause smaller sized women to have to shop elsewhere. If it were the case then people would have to be getting bigger because no sane company would eliminate an entire size of people from its previous target group.

    However, I have an example that might provide insight into this phenomenon. I work with a major children’s apparel company that changes there spec occasionally. We run 4 basic styles for them. 2 l/s and 2 s/s bodies. so when they change a spec we know it is that basic body that they are changing. They have changed 1 l/s and 1 s/s to be wider and longer in spec for each given size. Maybe the Wal-Mart customers were beginning to shop at there store. But, the one really odd part of it is that they also state that there average customers age is getting younger and therefore the style (not size) is actually changing for a younger customer. So I guess this merely proves that the customers are getting fatter. Most children don’t care about what size label they are wearing because Mom bought it.

  11. Amy says:

    I’ve spoken to clerks at both Ann Taylor and French Connection who confirmed that both stores had adjusted their fit within the last couple of years to be more roomy through the midsection, and personal experience has suggested to me that most stores in that general market range have done the same thing. The result feels a lot like vanity sizing, in that I’ve had to go down a size, sometimes even two, to get something that fits in the waist. However, the sizing has stayed fairly consistent through the bust and hips, so going down the necessary size to find a waist that fits often also results in pants that are too tight in the thighs or shirts that gap around the bust.

  12. paa says:

    I’m a guy, but I’ve noticed that, although my waist has been constant/expanded slightly, I’ve gone from a 31/32 over the years to a 30/31 now.

    30 inches is supposed to be 30 inches, but it’s getting bigger. There’s definitely some size creep going on.

    As for sizing between brands, I’ve never thought it odd that I can be a M in some brands and an L or S in others.

  13. Sizing evolution

    Judging from continuing comments and emails in reference to my fit and sizing postings here, here and here; I’d have to conclude that I have failed to explain the myth of vanity sizing adequately. This is another attempt. ——————————…

  14. MW says:

    [i]**I’ve spoken to clerks at both Ann Taylor and French Connection who confirmed that both stores had adjusted their fit within the last couple of years to be more roomy through the midsection**[/i]

    It’s a reflection of feedback and/or changes in their average consumer.

    If you manufacture a clothing line for a particular target market. After a few seasons of fit/manufacture/feedback, you get feedback from your consumers, sales reps and buyers that customers constantly complain about the fit in the waist (not the hips or bust) what would you do? Expand the waist or tell them to buy a larger size, and have the bust and hips not fit properly.

    It just seems like common sense to me, not vanity sizing at all.

    This is an issue of adjusting your fit to cater to your clientele, not vanity sizing. Keep in mind that a *middle* size in a brand, such as a M is *supposed* to fit your average customer. Therefore, if your average customer gets bigger or smaller, your middle size gets bigger or smaller too.

    [quote]The Gap is perhaps the most egregious offender in this regard. Since I don’t think the Gap’s target market has changed appreciably in such a short period, I can only think it is vanity sizing.[/quote]

    Oh they most definitely have. The Gap used to be the baby boomer khakis and relaxed fit jeans, crisp white shirt and tees retailer years ago. “Classic American Wardrobe” as it was called. That segment of their market has gotten older and bigger. Also, if you have noticed some of these retailer/manufacturers have gone from topping out sizes at a 14 to going up to a 20.

    In fact that was a big issue to the Gap years ago since they were such a baby boomer brand. Which is why you’ve seen so much of a shift recently towards trendier stylish apparel and ads featuring musicians and actors who are really known to younger, trend driven, audiences.

  15. Amber says:

    I knew the GAP was the place to go for boomer staples a decade or two ago, but I’ve only shopped there for five years. They’ve been trying to be trendy all that time, I think.

  16. Cyn says:

    As a smaller person, I’ve noticed that it’s increasingly difficult for me to find clothes that fit well. Three years ago, a pair of size 1 GAP pants fit me very well. Today, even their 0s are slightly too big. I have not lost much weight, and my measurements have remained the same. I DO know that Banana Republic has adjusted their sizing a bit as they introduced petites into their women’s line.

    Sad, huh?

    Judging from Marilyn Monroe’s measurements of 38-24-36 or something like that, she would definitely NOT be a size 12 or 14, according to most catalog sizing charts of 2005. It’s more like an 8.

  17. Stupidity: Confirmed

    The only ideas that I managed to fish out of a pair of links provided by Amber Taylor is that push manufacturing is bad and “vanity sizing” is not real… Amber could plan her vacation around hitting any of these foodspots that she hasn’t already vis…

  18. Megan says:

    What does Marilyn Monroe’s size have to do with any of this?
    Or are you just trying to make people feel bad?

  19. Jennifer says:

    I’m not sure if vanity sizing is a problem in larger sizes, but it is definately a problem with smaller sizes. I cannot buy jeans in any of the department stores or discount stores, because all of their pants are way to big. This isn’t just a matter of fit. When I was 5 lbs lighter, I usually took a size 6 – I was never as small as a 4. Now I take a size 2, which many places do not sell, and they are usually barely small enough. I have also gone from taking a M in shirts to a x-tra small in most stores – never as large as a M. Can vanity sizing really be a myth when people are getting larger and fitting into sizes they never dreamed possible? Also, ask smaller people if they have difficulty finding clothes small enough for them. I never used to.

  20. Fit and sizing entropy

    When I said I could write an entire book about why vanity sizing was a myth, I was exaggerating only slightly. What I should have said was I could write an entire book about why clothing fits so poorly and…

  21. Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop

    “Push” manufacturing can be described as producing an entire line of products without pre-selling and taking orders for it. This means making up a bunch of stuff without knowing if anybody wants it beforehand. In my opinion, push manufacturing is…

  22. Monica says:

    This is Kathleen; the comment written by “monica” is removed because she left a fake email address. My policy is to delete all comments from made-up addresses. If what you’ve got is important enough to say, it’s important enough that I should be able to contact you to continue the conversation if needed or desired.

    The second reason I deleted the comment is because this particular series generated a lot of controversy. To explain all of the nuances, I wrote a series of posts and I respectfully requested –repeatedly– that people with hold from commenting until they’d read all of the entries. That way -as in Monica’s case- I don’t have to deal with the pot being restirred with controversy when the particular issue was discussed in a later post. That is why you’re supposed to read all of the posts in the series before you jump in with all of these reasons for why I am wrong. Monica didn’t do that. So her comment went bye-bye.

  23. Karen says:

    I am a size 0 at The Gap. I was a “0” in my twenties. I am now in my early 40’s and I have put on about 10 to 15 pounds over the years and I still wear a size “0” at The Gap. The Gap (and other similarly priced stores) have definitely changed their sizing (probably twice) over the past 15 years. Imagine if I had not put on weight, then I would not be able to shop at The Gap because there is no such size there as a “00” or a “minus 1”.

  24. MK says:

    When I think of vanity sizing, I don’t think of inconsistent sizes between stores. I think of the fact I can’t even shop at most stores anymore because their clothing is way too big, and my weight or measurements have not changed over the years. I have several pairs of Banana Rep. pants from a number of years ago that are a size 0 and they still fit. However, today, Banana Republic’s size 00 is too big on me. This store, along with many others, has changed its sizing scales so people can fit into smaller sizes to flatter people’s “vanity”.

  25. Alicia says:

    I’m also a small framed petite person – previously misses size 2 – I have no idea what size I am considered now (maybe negative 2 ??). My weight & measurements also haven’t changed for many years. I’m running into the same problem as described above. In the last few years, I’ve tried to purchase the same brands and sizes that I’ve worn previously. But now they’re one or two sizes too large!

    I recently tried on a suit that was labeled 2 Petite, the size I wore for 14 years. I was swimming in it! My sister, who was always a size 6 average, popped it on. Guess what – it fit her perfectly, with the exception of the sleeves & pants being too short.

    There is definitely some size adjusting going on with the manufacturers. And the petite size shoppers are simply out of luck. We’ve ended up scrounging in the teens and little girls departments, trying to piece an outfit together.

    Manufacturers, please – don’t give us a size 6, cut the arms and legs off by a few inches, and label it as a size 2 Petite!

  26. Margo says:

    I say just wear what fits.

    If you want to know your body size, get a tape measure and then match your measurements to the size chart. In some clothes I am a 2, others a 4, and 6, sometimes an 8. I am 5 ft 5 and 120 lbs ; 36-24-36. No I haven’t gained or lost weight. I just bought different brands of clothes.
    In Europe, I can wear a 34-36. In the UK an 8.
    It just varies.

  27. Martha says:

    Forget about sizes, I couldn’t care any less. However, even if I do shop for my “body shape” there simply aren’t any clothes to be found in small enough sizes for me. If I were to shop at walmart or even ann taylor and banana republic, their smallest sizes are still too large. I found that actually the more higher end the shop, and by higher end I mean geared toward the young and higher end, the more they have sizes that run smaller. Also, everyone is talking about how America is getting larger and so are the sizes. However, if thats the case then how come XS clothing always seem the first to sell out? Check out sales racks, are there ever xs’s left?

  28. Joyce Ireland says:

    Martha, The XS (and XL) sizes sell out first because fewer of them are produced to begin with. In prior posts Kathleen has described how manufacturers make more units of their middle sizes and fewer of their XS and XL sizes because they sell more of the middle sizes.

  29. Alexandra says:

    I have to agree about the difficulties shopping as a smaller woman. About 2 years ago I used to buy all my work clothing from ny & company and it fit great. I tried on 5 different pair of pants from there today, and they were huge in the waist and the legs. I was forced to buy $78 pants from express instead. I refuse to shop in junior departments as an adult, because most of it is not proper business atire. I understand having different cuts, but there is no reason for the waist of the pants to be 3 inches bigger than what is every other size 2. Don’t call it what its not. Those 3 inches are not just to accomodate “curves”. Oddly enough all of their pants from 2 years ago still fit me, and I have not lost or gained any weight.

  30. A. Tylczak says:

    I don’t care whether you call it vanity sizing, size inflation, size adjustment, or whatever. The fact is that the number marked on garments that are of my dimensions keeps getting smaller. I have 10-to-15-year-old size 8 and 10 skirts in my closet that are a bit tight. I took size 6 from about 1995 to about 2002 but recently find myself taking size 2.

    I have 35″ hips and 27″ waist. On the tables from PS42-70, “Practical Dress Design” by Erwin, and “Pattern Drafting” by Rohr, I take a misses size 14. According to ASTM D-5585 I take a size 6 or 8. According to McCall’s patterns, I take a size 10-12 in misses sizes and a size 3- 4 in juniors sizes!

    Admittedly, part of the change in in relative hip to waist dimensions since the 50’s and 60’s is because women used to wear girdles and we don’t any more. But I can’t think of any particular reason for the size cascade that has taken place over the last five years.

    I don’t find this change of sizes flattering, I find it irritating. It’s a waste of my time having to try on two or three different sizes to figure out what each manufacturer’s idea of a size 4 is, and it’s even more of a waste of my time trying to find smaller sizes in the department stores. Although I live across the street from the largest shopping mall in the province, I rarely attempt to buy clothing there because it takes too much time wandering from store to store trying to find anything smaller than a 6. Instead I go to the thrift store where I know I will find racks already sorted for sizes 2 and 4.

    I’m not sure what I’ll do for clothing when my size goes negative.

    I would vote for garment tags that list what dimensions a particular-sized garment is meant to fit. At least that would save time with the try-ons.

    Incidentally, I recently had the interesting experience of buying a swimsuit at the Chinese night market. I pointed out the style I liked to the proprietor, and she looked me over then dove into a cardboard box and started rifling through the packages until she found the right size. When I got home and tried the swimsuit on, it fit perfectly. We need more clothing-sales people like that!

  31. TRS says:

    Bingo. I agree with the last post!!

    However you define or dispute Vanity Sizing, the fact is… I used to wear a 4 or a 5 and now the 0s hang off of me.

    My mother is larger than I… but beautifully proportioned… she’s tall and not necessarily thin but fit. She has always worn a size 12, and now in the past five to ten years, she gets 10. Meanwhile, she still fits into her old size 12s.

    I on the other hand cannot fit into my old size 4 jeans, but I blame that on the high waists… and the fact that low rise pants have given my tummy free reign to expand… and it has!

    My friend Kat, who is a shorter, fit, athletic woman… would normally wear an 8 and would be happy to do so… but she complains of having to drag the size 4, 6, and 8 in the fitting room.

    I take the 0, 2, and 4 with me. I too — am waiting for some stores to carry a 0.5!

    As for high end clothing… the difference is… they actually carry something small enough for me. When I try on a size four in a designer name – it fits.
    In mid range styles.. a size four is boxy, made for women with hips and no discernable waist… so I have to concede to you on that point.

    But it is getting increasingly difficult, as a 37 year old woman who doesn’t make a lot of money. I can’t afford the high end designers for my business wardrobe, so here I am, a grown woman buying cheap polyester suits in the Jrs Dept at Macy’s!!!

  32. Sabrina says:

    Quite frankly, I’d be happy to see manufacturers do away with sizing altogether. It would be nice to go into the store, put on the doggone outfit, and either it fits or it doesn’t. It would get rid of a lot of the paranoia surrounding those numbers.

  33. Cass says:

    Wonderful series of articles. As a woman who feels frustrated at times with weight and body, it was refreshing to know I’m a size 10 at Banana Republic because THEY want me to be one!

  34. Bonnie says:

    Again, whether or not the overall increase in the size of ALL clothes, or ALL brands is due to ‘vanity sizing’.. the truth is, everything is bigger. I have not gained a pound or an inch in the last 7 years, and have gone from fitting the smallest or 2nd smallest size at most stores at the mall, to being completely sized out of most stores at the mall. I am in my 20s now, and the only stores that carry tops that fit are ones that cater to teens. As for jeans, forget about it – Pac Sun is the ONLY brand that makes jeans my size (23 inch waist, 32 hip.. still too big in the thigh though, as theirs are 19 and mine are 18). When is this going to end? I am much thinner than ‘average’ but I see plenty of women about who are my size. Where will we be shopping in another year? Juniors and kids sizes are 4″ too short in the leg for me.

  35. Beth Miller says:

    Hear Hear!
    Very well put, and bravo to you for tackling such a sensitive and complex issue. I have worked in both costuming and fashion for the past 10 years with a keen interest in patterning, and consequently, fit.

    I have also wrestled with my own issues with clothing, and over time have discovered which stores/brands/labels do and don’t fit me. Yes, it takes time, effort and a lot of trial and error to figure out that Old Navy pants never fit my body type (gap too much at the waist, too tight in the thighs, and too short), while everything at The Gap does fit, even length. I’ve saved myself a lot of frustration (and money) by investing the time to figure out what doesn’t fit, and I don’t go into those stores anymore. I’m not even tempted. I’ve also stopped complaining about vanity sizing after working for a large department store and coming to understand the differences in target market between brands. Do the research, it’s worth it!

    If I see a style that I really like in a brand that doesn’t fit me, I’m also fortunate enough to figure out what I like about the style, adapt it to my body type and make my own pattern based on it at home. I may like some styles at Forever 21 (don’t shoot me), but I am certainly *not* their target market, and that’s OK.

    On the professional end, I don’t like for my clients to see their measurements or what “size” I pattern them as, because “size” is the most irrelevant thing about clothing. I only use measurements as a technical way to help me achieve good fit, not to brand them with a size. Fit -vs- size is the most difficult distinction to make (and explain) even to professionals.

    If I found a genie in a bottle, my wishes would be:
    -World peace (a given)
    -Global understanding of fit
    -World peace

  36. tinag says:

    OK. This has gotten out of control over the past several years, so I finally looked it up to see what was going on. Of course, the people it most frustrates are those of us who used to wear a real size 2 in women’s clothes and can now no longer even find clothes that fit in a store! It’s ridiculous!!!! I mean it seriously p-s-es me off!!! I am five feet tall and weigh around 100 pounds- just plain genetics. So not only can I never find a proper length, which was always a problem, but now I practically am required to shop in children’s departments. Many companies don’t even make clothing in this new bs 00 range, but stop at size 2, which is really a size 6.

    Also just love now reading on clothing sites where they allow people to comment and women saying of size smalls that “these run too small.” Then get your real size: MEDIUM.

  37. roni says:

    with the emergence of all the big and tall stores; everyone trying to make amends with those who are not the normal desirable shape; the short girl has been lost. in today’s society you would think that brands that embraced individuality would flourish but they’ve sunken in the midst.

    and as for the post before me; women not wearing their size because of their insecurity fears.. HUMPH!.. amen!

  38. Nan says:


    I’m not sure if the blog is active because the last post I see was from July 9, 2009 and today is Sept. 10, 2009. The basis for this blog interests me very much.

    My personal situation is this: I am a 57 year old woman. I am a bit under 5′ 4″ and weigh about 94 pounds, fluctuating between 92-96 which is just enough to make some of my smallest pants feel a bit tighter but not too tight to wear. These pants are from Dillard’s and are Antonio Melani brand in a size 0. It is the only size 0 I find that actually is consistently sized.

    I have some health issues on top of just always having been a small framed person since childhood.
    Over the past quarter century, my weight has fallen several times as low as 85 pounds (not anorexia) and I didn’t expect to find women’s clothing on the rack ready to wear, of course. But in the times when my weight is stable at about 94 pounds, I don’t *feel* like I am so “skinny” that I am alone on the planet. But when I go shopping, it sure seems as though I am.

    Even when I was pregnant with my children, the sales people would look at me and sort of laugh at my request for small maternity wear (back in the 70’s and early 80’s). And to paraphrase, they said things such as, “just buy the next size in regular clothes. You don’t need maternity clothes!”

    It is so easy for people to say, “why don’t you just get your clothes custom made for you?” As much as I have fought the good fight wanting to believe that the problem was just a passing trend, I am sure that I have been wrong all this time. I can’t wait for manufacturers and retailers to decide they should carry smaller sized and regular length clothing. Petite sizes are just a little bit too short in all lengths to give me a proper fit so I can’t really make use of that ready-made sizing option.

    I can sew but I am not a tailor. Maybe I need to learn how to do what I need for myself because it just doesn’t seem there is any other solution.


  39. LizPf says:

    There’s yet another sizing issue … The Tummy.

    I’ve always had a curvy figure — not fat, but hourglass. In my younger days, i was a 37-24-37. I could not find clothing that fit me properly in the 1970s — not the size, but the shape. Everything was too big in the waist. The standard waist-hip difference back then was 9″

    I’m older now, and 2 pregnancies and 40 pounds later. My waist has thickened so my waist-hip difference is now only 9-10″. But, along with the “obesity sizing”, the shape of clothing has changed, so the standard waist-hip difference is a lot less. I’m still too X-shaped for off the rack clothing.

    My 13 year old daughter, whose figure is much like mine was at her age, is having the same problem in her size 0-2 range that I’m having in the 12-14 range. It’s good that I’m teaching her to sew!


  40. 2busy2sew says:

    Vanity sizing, where a size 10 from Manufacturer A may or may not bear any semblance to a size 10 in a similar style from Manufacturer B, is only half of the two-pronged sizing issue in ready-to-wear. The other issue, which, from my perspective as a consumer, is just as critical as that of vanity sizing is that of quality control in sizing, where six different garments in the same size and style from the same manufacturer fit six different ways. As it is now, a size number in RTW just doesn’t have any meaning at all to most consumers, and this is a primary source of dissatisfaction and disillusionment with ready-to-wear.

    I believe that vanity sizing is an issue of whose convenience is served. As the essay explains, manufacturers tend to use these designations, whether alpha-based (XS-S-M-L-XL) or numeric-based (sizes 00 to 20 or larger) largely *for their own benefit only* — a size M is the “average” size of their desired clientele, with larger and smaller sizes based on that size Medium average. This may work very well for the manufacturers, but it really doesn’t give consumers — the customers — any useful information at all as to what size may fit their bodies.

    I think many consumers would agree that where we are dealing with specific numbers, i.e. sizes 00-20, it would make far more sense if a size number represented an objective and predictable set of measurements from manufacturer to manufacturer, much as they do in sewing patterns, and that from this, the S-M-L-XL sizes could be made to correlate with numeric sizes (i.e., an S would equate to numeric sizes 6-8, M to 10-12, L to 14-16, and so on both up and down in size).

    What I am trying to say here is that it would be far less frustrating for consumers if a blouse from Manufacturer A in a size 10 was at least close to the same size as a similarly-styled blouse from Manufacturer B in the same size.

    The “companion problem” to this — that of dirt-poor quality control *within* sizes, means that even within a specific brand, I have to try on each garment before I make a purchase. I’ve had this problem for years with buying RTW pants, but I suspect others probably have the same issue with other garments as well.

    I recognize that styling and ease in a garment will affect how a given size fits, and that looser-fitting styles will fit a much broader range of shapes than will a closer-fitting style. I understand that we will still need to use designations like “petites”, “womens” and “juniors” to represent different body types. Since pants seem to be universally troublesome (I have chatted with salespeople in higher-end stores about the difficulty fitting pants, and many of them agree it really *is* a big issue for them and their customers), I believe all women’s pants should be *required* to be labeled with waist measurements and inseam lengths — just like the men’s — since in this way, we would have the ability to skip trying on those pants that will be either too loose or too tight in the waist, or too short or too long for the look we wish to achieve.

    I have read the essays on “The Myth of Vanity Sizing,” “Fit and Sizing Entropy,” and “Sizing Evolution,” and understand that sizing changes and evolves as humans change. My point is that sizing should not just represent a convenience for manufacturers — it should convey objective information to consumers as well. I believe great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction among consumers could be cleared up if sizes had uniform meaning across the board. Yes, sizes can change over time, but when they do, *please* let the consumer know what the sizing criteria *are* in terms of objective, measurable information!

  41. Teresa says:

    Are you saying that the use of scale is arcane and not useful today? I think you are saying that it meant something once and still does, but no one uses it. I work in theater in costumes and we have found older books from the forties (Master Designer and English books by Mitchell) with standardized measurement charts and instructions on applying scale pretty useful to produce garments very close to the actor/actress’s size. This is especially true for men’s suits. It is true that one needs to be able to make allowances for the different silhouettes and fit for different eras and one also needs to be willing to commit to learning the method of patterning, but the sizes produced are very accurate.
    But we are not producing for a mass market, we are more like the custom tailor, for whom those books were most likely written.
    I have a “mystery book” (no front cover) from the 50s or 60s that has standard measurements for misses, misses petite, women, half-size, junior, junior petite. It can be useful, except that most of the sizes represented are “too small” for today’s “average” women. But it is useful as a starting point. I wish I knew the scale used to create that chart. I suppose I could figure it out if I really wanted to. I’d rather just have an updated chart.

  42. Kathleen says:

    Are you saying that the use of scale is arcane and not useful today? I think you are saying that it meant something once and still does, but no one uses it.

    Forgive me for not re-reading this particular entry before responding but I’ve rattled off on this topic quite a few times. Generally, I’m saying both. Scale is arcane -which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s not useful today. I still use it occasionally. Particularly as it relates to finding different length points for drafting. And yes, I’m saying it meant something once but very few use it. They do in remote places. A variation of it is used in Asia in made to measure and I’ve known Mexican tailors to use it, almost exclusively, amended with client measures as needed. My thinking is that people who learned to draft using the modern drafting methods (post 1968) do not use scale.

    I have a “mystery book” (no front cover) from the 50s or 60s that has standard measurements for misses, misses petite, women, half-size, junior, junior petite. It can be useful, except that most of the sizes represented are “too small” for today’s “average” women. But it is useful as a starting point. I wish I knew the scale used to create that chart.

    If you can send me a scan of a few pages, I can likely tell you which book it is.

  43. shane says:

    What do you mean ‘vanity sizing’ doesn’t exist?

    I went to Chico’s and found out that according to them I am a size 0. I have a substantial bust (36C) and a size 6 behind in most worlds but not according to Chico’s. I am a 0. The saleslady called it ‘friendly sizing’. Yeah.

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