Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2

Apparently, our attempt to inflate the egos of the public has reached new lows; we’re after babies now. My first generational edition was about geriatrics and whether pre WW2 women in Japan would describe today’s clothing sizes as “vanity sizing”. Today’s generational edition is about infant’s wear. This was the quote I found that brought this idea to mind:

Max now weighs 14.5 pounds. And yet, due to baby vanity sizing, he is wearing NB in the picture I took this morning of him in a white long sleeve onesie, brown pants, and a blue cabled sweater. All are labeled newborn. And he is 12 weeks and 2 days old.

Sizing to the mean (what “vanity sizing” really is) is an interesting question in infant’s apparel. In many respects, the expression is the exact opposite of adults. Specifically, as wealthy people tend to be thinner than average, expensive designer fashion runs truer to “size” (smaller). However, it’s the opposite with infant’s apparel. In infant sizes, it’s babies born to wealthier parents who are larger. In other words, while the median size for lower income adults is larger (than that of wealthy people), the corresponding sizes for lower income infants are smaller as baby size is an expression of general health.

I’m sure Max’s mom was being glib with her comment of vanity sizing but sizing infant’s wear is a challenge. Newborns weigh from between 5.5 to 10 pounds at birth (CDC 2000). That’s a huge range of body sizes to cover, nearly double body weight. In adults, that’d be like having one size designed to fit anyone from 100 to 200lbs. At three months (Max’s age), babies range in weight from 10 to17 pounds. Max is at the 75th percentile (14.5 pounds); not surprising as Mom is articulate and at least middle class if not upper middle class. For manufacturers to serve the infant market well -remember larger infants are well off and who’s parents buy oodles of baby clothes– manufacturer’s had better hit the upper end (17lbs) of the size range. In fact, were it possible to do a comprehensive analysis of the sizing of children’s wear as compared to price, one would expect costlier infant clothes to be sized larger than budget brands because these kids are larger than lower income kids.

By way of comparison -since I’m not going to run out and buy a lot of infant’s wear to analyze- I have the size specs of a well known and unnamed retailer who is probably the single largest retailer of budget priced children’s wear. Their size specs say that NB to 3mo is designed to fit an infant weighing 13 pounds which is the exact 50th percentile. Were this retailer selling much more expensive infant apparel, I can only imagine their sizes would run larger (up to 17lbs, the 99th percentile) or else the heavier and healthier babies of middle to upper middle class families could not fit into these clothes. In fact it’s likely that if Max’s mom (or someone like her, I have no bone to pick with her) were to shop at Unnamed Retailer, she’d find the clothing so small she might think manufacturers were trying to limit fabric costs. Either way, we lose. Either we’re cheap for sizing appropriate to the market, or we’re vanity sizing if we’ve cut something to fit the range of normal infant development of those price points.

According to the CDC growth charts, here’s the sizing breakdown by weight for infants:

  • 0-3 months: 10.5-17 pounds (Max is under the barre for others of his age)
  • 3-6 months: 14- 21.5 pounds
  • 6-9 months: 16.5 -25.5 pounds
  • 9-12 months: 19-28 pounds

According to ASTM D4910 (based on 1977, 1980 data):

  • Preemies: up to 5.5 pounds
  • 0-3 months: 9.5-14.5 pounds
  • 3-6 months: 15-18 pounds
  • 6-9 months: 18.5 -22 pounds
  • 9-12 months: 22.5-28 pounds

As you can see from a comparison of the two, the ASTM data runs underweight for the first age breaks, then a little heavier after that, at least as far as the size ranges covered. By the way, you can purchase the ASTM dataset if you want specific body measures. If you’re targeting budget priced kid’s wear, you’d top out your sizing at the 50th percentile. For more expensive goods, I’d think the 50th percentile would be the bottom spec, pulling more toward the top of the weight category.

In any event, kid’s sizing is also unique from that of adults as it is largely based on age (unlike adults). However, I find it hard to believe a consumer would seriously think that the child’s age is the only yardstick. Parents are always doing size comparisons of their kids to others.

Anyway, at Max’s current rate of growth, he’ll weigh 19 pounds when he’s six months old. At such time, if his parents are still buying the same brands, his 3MO sized clothes still won’t be too snug until he’s 6 months old. But I’m sure mom will still chalk it up to vanity sizing. A better descriptor might be he’s undersized as compared to the 99th percentile of other children of his parent’s demography :). I could also see a mom with a kid in the 99th percentile complaining manufacturers are cheap if she tried to buy age-labeled apparel from Unnamed Retailer. Like I said, either way, we can’t win. Either we’re guilty of inflating the egos of infants or we’re cheap.

Previous related GRADING entries:
Grading children’s clothes pt.1
Grading children’s clothes pt.2
Sizing information: who needs it?
How to create grade rules 1
How to create grade rules 2
How to create grade rules 3

Previous related VANITY SIZING entries:
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. AV says:

    Infant sizing is truly more difficult than adult clothing. I think they should get away from the age thing and go with weight (or length) only.

    My babies were out of NB at 6 weeks. Mainly because both were 21″ long when born instead of 20″. And both were long waisted (still are). So the sleepers were a nightmare, too short in the crotch and next size up was too long in the legs.

    Each baby has its own set of issues. Here is a short list of clothing complaints (not always about my designs, clothing in general) I hear from parents I sell to: too small in the neck, short to the crotch, too long/short in the arms/legs, chest width too tight, my baby was a preemie, at 1 year she wears 3/6M, big head, small head, etc…. I just had a mom call me to buy an 18M dress because at 9M her daughter grew out of my 6/12M. I was very surprised because I usually get the opposite response since I size larger. Well the baby’s mom is full Samoan and babies run large in their family.

    The next part, to complicate matters, is how fast babies grow out of outfits. I think that issue is why boy and girl babies in the old days wore gowns or dresses. You could make quick alterations to adjust for their growth. Then an outfit lasted a year rather than weeks.

    If any creature completely varies in sizing, it is babies.

  2. Another problem is that parents don’t like to buy actual newborn-sized things because babies grow out of them so quickly. If a sleeper is sized for a 5.5 to 9.5 lb newborn (5th to 95th percentile for infants at birth) then half the babies who could wear it when they were born will not be wearing it a month later; a significant number will have outgrown it within a week.

    Parents know this, so many just skip the newborn size and go straight to 3 mos. (This is assuming that your sizing is correct, remember!)

    A manufacturer then has some choices:
    – Accepting that they will not sell very many Newborns at all.
    – Dropping the Newborn size.
    – Sizing the Newborn not to fit newborns correctly but to be a first size that most babies can wear for their first two to three months. This will be significantly bigger, and the following sizes will need to be made bigger as well to minimise overlap.

  3. /anne... says:

    I’m surprised that with babies, wealthy=larger. I don’t think that’s the way it works here in Australia; larger babies are often a result of gestational diabetes, which tends to hit poorer women with less medical support and too much junk food. Taller babies here don’t really have a correlation with money; there are plenty of rich short people :-).

    DD was below the 3 percentile line (with a 50 percentile-sized head); I didn’t expect her to fit in with standard age-related sizing. My problem was finding age-appropriate clothing, particularly once she started crawling at four months (two-piece newborn stuff just wriggles right off), and when she was toilet-trained, it was very hard to find nice clothing that didn’t have poppers in the crotch. Good thing I can sew!

  4. marya says:

    I think its just that babies are so variable; my daughter wore nb for months, got a growth spurt and skipped to 3-6, and now is taller than average for weight so i make her dresses to get them long enough.

  5. teijo says:

    Another report from Japan… The infants’ and toddlers’ sizes here indicate the wearer’s height (and weight) with approximate ages marked for reference. (A somewhat garbled Babelfish translation may help decipher the size chart.) This allows mean sizes within the target market to change without affecting the size labels.

    After all, a child 70cm tall remains 70cm tall whether it is in the tenth or ninetieth percentile for its age group.

  6. Penny says:

    No one should ever buy children’s clothing based on age. The best way to find the correct size is by height. Weight can play a factor as well, but height is the most important by far.

    Also, many children’s manufactures do not pre-wash their apparel so it is a very common complaint to have a pant fit when purchased, but for it to shrink after a couple of washings to where it no longer will fit.

  7. sahara says:

    I have a lot of respect for my friends who are patternmaker’s for infants and children. As a knitter, I NEVER do NB, always starting at 1 year to compensate for growth spurts.

    The variables in knitting pattern books for infants, toddlers and children are interesting. American patterns are larger than their European and Australian counterparts, as we’re bigger. African-Americans are generally taller, with longer arms up to pre-teen. And let’s not even talk about infant head sizes. I always feel like my neck openings are WAY too big; but they work. (I guess you can figure I have no children).

    When I now have an assignment to design a sweater for a baby or toddler book, I have them send me their specs, as it’s easier. And weight never works for me; length is much better.

  8. ginevra says:

    I think I agree with /anne, Australian doctors are ever so much happier to report your kid’s 50th percentile. My (unscientific) experience is that cheap clothes are ginormous, but I buy median priced, not real expensive clothes, either. Bonds ( ) appear to fit my kids well, but some friend mothers reckoned they were a bit small.

    I agree most Mums don’t buy newborn, knowing kids will grow fast, but there’s a big gift-clothes market that’s newborn size ;)

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