Is there “vanity sizing” in clothing markets?

Imagine the temptation to sell nominally-marked small sizes (but the clothes are still large) to those who do not "deserve" them.  Does this appeal to self-deception — also known as vanity sizing — occur on a wide scale?   Do we observe ongoing private sector inflation when it comes to clothes sizes? Kathleen Fasanella, a successful apparel pattern maker, says no, it only looks that way sometimes:

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.

…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? …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.

Read Kathleen’s whole post, and here are some rough data.  Here is a typical charge, which also names some (supposed) culprits, such as The Gap, Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic.  I do not have the expertise to evaluate this debate, but I am more generally intrigued by claims that non-uniform, heterogeneous standards are more efficient than pure uniformity.  Note that the fashion industry has never tried "hard enough" to create uniform standards.  I’ve opened up the comments for those who are more sartorially minded than I am.  A related but not identical question is whether movie critics suffer from "praise inflation" over time.

Comments

I think you are missing the trees for the forest. The efficient alternative to weird sizing schemes is sizing according to an objective characteristic, such as the waist size in inches. This cannot be dismissed as impractical, as it is already how, eg, many men's pants and some bras are sized.

Vanity strategies, if they exist, exploit the fact that size is not just a way of buying clothes that fit but also a signalling mechanism of some sort. If size were just a way of buying clothes that fit, objective sizes would be used everywhere, and they aren't. So a priori we should expect vanity sizing in some clothing markets, and we should be suspicious of any argument that vanity strategies in clothes sizing do not exist.

I think the question is not whether the choice of a particular mapping between marked size and actual size is a manifestation of "vanity sizing". Rather, we should ask why some clothing markets elect not to use objective sizing measures while others do (eg, why aren't dresses sized in inches, anyway, rather that weird dimensionless size units, while men's suits are more often sized by an actual anatomical dimension). That, I suspect, is where you will find that the market structure reflects the dominance of "vanity" strategies over objective-sizing strategies.
--G

I've always been bewildered by the sizing of women's clothing. Men's non-dress shirts often suffer from the small/medium/large problem, but suits, dress shirts, and pants all come in inch measurements. I can walk into any store, pick up a 30" x 34" pant, and wear it home without trying it on. My girlfriend, on the other hand, refuses to buy any brand of jeans other than LEI because they're the only ones she knows will fit and won't have to spend time trying on. It seems like objective sizing for women would make everybody happier. Maybe the numerical, largely arbitrary sizing is a case of momentum?

I have two old pair of pants, marked 32 waist, that I cannot fit into. I recall these pants fit the same as every other pair I had back then.

Every pair of pants I have purchaced recently is also marked 32 waist, and they fit just fine.

It seems to me that 32 inches is a fairly objective standard, no?

Measuring the inseam and waist in inches is hardly a sufficient objective measurement. (And is the waist for your actual waist or for your hips?) Unless you don't care how you look. (Which I suppose is the case for most men.) You still need to guess at the rise of the seat, the width of the thighs, the tapering of the legs, how much it flares out at the hips, and so on. For shirts you need to know the width of the shoulders, how full or slim the fit of the chest is, the length of the torso, the thickness of the wrists, the cutaway of the collar, and so on.

With the rise of internet shopping for clothes more of these measures are being listed but there is still a reason most people try clothes on before they buy them.

Could it be just an attempt to force people to try the thing on, in the hope that they will then buy it?

The worst are baby clothes! Half my son's 6-9 month clothes are smaller than his 0-3 month clothes. And it's not exactly practical for him to try on each outfit in the store.

I agree: 32" mens pants means from 31"-36" - just as useless as women's sizes (at least they still do shirts right...)

"It's possible that the numerical system for women never caught on because it would be a little more complex."

Yes! Both size AND shape have to be considered. There is a lot of variance in the waist:hip ratio in women, so you would have to have a bunch of different hips sizes for each waist size. Then if you are talking about one-piece dresses, you have to take the variance in bust sizes into account as well. So there are 3 different measurement points on women's bodies that clothes have to fit. From my personal experiences clothes shopping, it seems that different brands are designed for different ratios between these points.

(If any of the ladies reading this thread can direct me to the skinny waist, wide hips brand for jeans and pants, I would be very grateful, because I've had a difficult time finding pants that accomodate a relatively low waist:hip ratio.)

No one denies
1. The entropy of sizing and fit
2. The inflation of sizing
3. The variations existing between sizing standards employed by any given manufacturer

but these are not "vanity sizing" related. The entropy of fit and sizing is far more complex than that -to say nothing of poor process controls that account for disordinate shrinkage between the cutting and prewashing of goods for stores. Vanity sizing is a myth; it is not economically rational because the range of smaller sizes of a manufacturer's core customers would then be forced to shop elsewhere. Perhaps the posting Fit and Sizing entropy would be enlightening.
http://www.fashion-incubator.com/mt/archives/fit_and_sizing_entropy.html

I wonder how much size inflation is based on real vs. nominal factors. How much bigger and fatter has the average woman gotten over the past 30 years? As for movie critic praise inflation, maybe movie critics judge films relative to recent releases (ie judge Fantastic Four compared to, say, the mediocre Batman Beyond rather than the excellent X-Men 2) rather than on their own individual merit or compared to the entire canon of cinema. A reason for this might be that if people want to go out to the movies as a social event, they'll decide which movie they see based on how good it is relative to the other movies available. In this case, we aren't dealing with praise inflation, but rather a decline in the average quality of recent films - something I can buy in to.

I agree with a number of women who point towards the greater variation on woman's body shapes than men's. That said, I also think you're overanalyzing the issue and think vanity is very definitely in the mix. No woman wants to be a "large" and some clothes are sized to avoid the issue! Kari's post is an example of patterns getting larger but remaining the "same size."

Count me in among the woman who tend to resolve the problem by focusing on a preferred brand. In my case, it's Lands End. With just a few, few exceptions, I know a size "X" is going to be exactly the same size no matter which style of within a class of clothes (pants or tops).

Jacqueline -- you might also try Lands End. They tend to provide a variety of "fits" for real women.

"Vanity sizing is a myth; it is not economically rational because the range of smaller sizes of a manufacturer's core customers would then be forced to shop elsewhere."

You haven't seen size 0 dresses? I have.

Many of the commenters have noted that sizes for men are relatively standardized, but the ladies are left to fend for themselves. What I have not seen is any note as to why the neck and sleve sizes are used for men in the first place.

It turns out that there was a sample survey conducted for the military in the run up to World War II so that they could specify proportions for the contractors supplying uniforms. They determined that only these two measurements were sufficient to determine the other proportions. Naturally, they were less interested in getting similar meaasurements for the ladies.

This, in effect, was a government standardization that, as far as I can tell, is now all but forgotten. Note, though, that such data collection is not without its costs, and so I wouldn't expect the ladies' sizing problems to be rationalized any time soon.

Eric: actually, having done a bit of historical reenactment, I was surprised to find that the average waistline (with corsets, mind you) of women around the time of the American Revolutionary war was roughly 32" to 36" -- what we'd call a size 14 to 18, approximately.

Ignoring the excesses of the mid-19th century and the almost obscene amount of waist-compression so popular from about 1830 to 1910, prior to that the average woman would probably be today's modern 12 to 16, and was as much for easily four or five hundred years.

This is ignoring the highest classes, of course, who were always at one extreme or another, with the time/energy to be on the skinny side. But given that the most common place to find 0 through size 4 dresses is in the really expensive boutiques (or the junior's section), hey, maybe that trend continues.

"Jacqueline -- you might also try Lands End. They tend to provide a variety of "fits" for real women."

Thanks, I tried it, including the Virtual Model feature. Unfortunately it appears that none of the clothes that would fit me would be anything I'd ever want to wear, except the most casual jeans and tank tops outfits. :(

As the point about vanity sizing being a myth, I direct you to your nearest Chicos as an example to the contrary. The smallest size they carry is a size 0 (zero). It corresponds to a very generous 4 - 6 in modern sizing. At Nordstrom a small is also 4 – 6 and usually a very relaxed loose fit.

Vanity sizing is a significant issue because while it may appeal to a growing (pun intended) market segment, it short changes those of us who eschew the fast food lifestyle. Increasingly I am finding it extremely difficult to find anything retail SMALL enough to fit me at any price.

I have read about the BS-EN 13402 standard, which calls for a pictogram with measurements in centimeters. I have been ready for this since 1983, as the URL link indicates. With the rise in internet shopping, this will make perfect sense. This standard was drafted in the UK in 2003. I would expect it to be a hit in France where metric was created, in Japan, where lifestyles make it necessary to find items fast, and in China and India, with their rapidly growing economies. It will be some time before it is accepted in the USA, where there is much resistance to metric. The rise in online ordering will increase the odds of the new labelling being accepted.

I bought an Eddie Bauer jacket, sized medium, about 5 years ago, and it fits perfectly. I just tried to buy a new jacket. The new large is smaller than the old medium, and the new extra large is for a giant. Eddie bauer admited to me that they recently changed sizes. Sounds like a conspiracy to me....BMI crap (no account of percent body fat) and now mediums are somewhere between a large and extra large.

There's a lot of confusion here about the 'evolution' of clothing sizes. What is changing is the PROPORTION of our bodies ... ie the ratio of bust / waist / hip / length. If you buy something marked as a 32 waist, it should fit a person with a waist measurement of 32. If it fits someone with a waist of 34 or 36, then this IS vanity sizing. However in order to accommodate our 'evolving' shape, clothing manufacturers have had to increase the proportion of their clothing so that in the 1960's a dress with a 36 inch bust would have a 28 in waist and a 38 in hip. These days many manufacturers will make a 36 bust with a 30 waist and a 40 or even a 42 hip - although they do all differ! That's why finding a label with proportions that match your body shape is important.

It's what they CALL the size that reflects the vanity thing ..... and yes - notwithstanding the adjustment for body shape, we do keep having to buy smaller and smaller 'sizes' just to get the same measurements.

I think there should be an industry code that requires garments to have the ACTUAL measurements on the label.

I have a waist of 30 inches what UK size trousers will fit me

I'm another woman that can't get clothing to fit anymore. My weight and measurements haven't changed for 15 years, but the sizes are now so big that even the smallest sizes don't fit me! Petite women have become increasingly frustrated with finding clothing that fits. (I can't believe the many websites that have discussions on this issue).

Like Maggie said above, we can no longer go to an actual store and shop. Everything has to be ordered online at an extra cost, or tailored at an extra cost.
Most people cannot afford to keep doing this for every piece of clothing purchased.

Wake up, manufacturers! Petite women have been forgotten and are now both frustrated and going broke trying to find clothing that looks normal on us.

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I say that you should go buy the way something fits rather than the size that you think should fit. I am five foot seven one hundred seventy five pounds. However, I look fifteen pounds slimmer with my average bra size and butt size. Most of the times I can fit a size 12 in Calvin Klein and DKNY jeans and a 38 C in bras from Victoria's Secret. But at Joyce Leslie I can't even fit a 15 in pants or a 38 D in bras. Go figure.

I say that you should go buy the way something fits rather than the size that you think should fit. I am five foot seven one hundred seventy five pounds. However, I look fifteen pounds slimmer with my average bra size and butt size. Most of the times I can fit a size 12 in Calvin Klein and DKNY jeans and a 38 C in bras from Victoria's Secret. But at Joyce Leslie I can't even fit a 15 in pants or a 38 D in bras. Go figure.

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