“Size six? Wow, I wasn’t a size six last week!”
If you’ve ever walked into a store thinking you’re one size, and walked out holding another, this one’s for you. In most affordable clothing stores, there’s a huge discrepancy between what the size charts say you are, and what sizes clothes are marked as. At many popular retailers, you’ll find that you’re a medium in camisoles, then a x-small in the blouse you just picked up off the rack over.
These differences in size can be attributed to any number of things, like buying pieces from different manufacturers, or different fits for different styles. However, some researchers are documenting a noted trend of “vanity sizing” in stores, where retailers scale down sizes. For example, what was historically a size 14 could now be a size 10.
Historically, manufacturers used sizing numbers to standardize mass-produced clothing, and as statisticians have noted, as people got bigger, egos did as well. Many retail marketing teams saw it as an opportunity to get consumers to spend more money; if they thought that they were skinnier, they’d want to buy more clothes to “fit them.” In the United States and United Kingdom, which have the most notable trends of vanity sizing, sizes certainly dwindled over the years. Remember the popular stories of how Marilyn Monroe was a size 12? Her size 12 is a size six in modern terms.
I’m sure you’re thinking “what’s the big deal about that? It’s just a number.” People lend a lot of weight to these measurements, however. As noted in a Rutgers University journal article by Holly Ennis, self-esteem is inextricably linked with these sizing practices. Many women want to be skinnier, to get down to a certain goal weight or size. Ennis noted in the same article that sizing and vanity sizing across multiple retailers will also be different, a product of lack of standardization and the race to ‘0’ when it comes to sizing.
Of course, many shoppers are aware that this is a common practice in ready-to-wear fashion. According to a study from Eastern Michigan University, what the number is on the label doesn’t seem to determine whether a shopper makes a purchase. Researchers found that findings were inconclusive when it came to if whatever the number was negatively affected shopping habits. At the same time, they found that female consumers were satisfied with the mainstream, available sizes at their favorite retailers.
While there seems to be a lot of disagreement on what the point of vanity sizing is, there’s no doubt that it’s caught on like fire in the retail world. What’s your experience with vanity sizing?