On being … the right size

By Ingrid Sapona 

No, I’m not writing to announce the end of a successful diet. (I wish.) 

Today’s column is about vanity sizing. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either until I saw a piece on it on CBC’s Marketplace. The Marketplace team tested the sizing on jeans from seven different, well-known brands. They made sure all of them were of a similar style (for example, all might have been boot cut or whatever) and all of them showed the same waist size (38 on the men’s jeans and 34 on the women’s). They had a male model with a 38 waist test all the men’s pairs and a female model with a 34 waist test all the women’s pairs. 

They found that the men’s ran pretty true to size. The women’s, on the other hand, varied quite a lot. They varied – as in, they were bigger than the labelled waist size – by anywhere from an inch to six inches! Yes, that means the actual waist was 40 on a pair marked as having a 34 waist. I noted that the reporter didn’t explicitly say they tried multiple size 34s of each brand (to check for innocent labelling mistakes). But, given that they actually named the brand that was off by six inches, I’m sure they checked for simple labelling errors. Indeed, the fact that there was such a big variation in the same size pants was kind of the point of the story. Apparently, vanity sizing is where a company makes the same style over a number of years and they keep the same size on the label, but they change the actual fit. This way customers feel good about continuing to fit into the pants and they keep buying that brand, not realizing the pants are actually getting bigger. 

At first I wasn’t too fussed by the whole thing. Indeed, I’ve often thought sizing on women’s clothing was odd and kind of arbitrary. Those of us who grew up in North America just accept that – for some reason – at some point we go from sizes that are stated using odd numbers (7, 9, 11, 13) to sizes stated in even numbers (6, 8, 10, 12, 14, etc.). And then, over the past couple decades some stores have gone way off course and use numbers like 1, 2, 3 and 4. Why? Who the hell knows. And if that kind of randomness isn’t enough – some places now have size 0. What does that mean? Is 0 for women who are so waif-like that they’re basically ghosts? 

The Marketplace report made a few interesting points about the impact of clothing size. First, there’s the issue of how difficult it is for women to shop with confidence and ease. A psychologist they interviewed made the point that people often connect the size of clothing they wear with their self worth. When seemingly objective measures (like a waist size stated in inches on garment tags) are not reliable, it’s easy to understand that vanity sizing is a way of manipulating how women feel about themselves. For those having trouble seeing the harm in this kind of thing, I’ll explain. If you’ve been buying jeans from the company that labels the waist as being 34 when the jeans actually measure 40″, imagine how you feel about yourself when you try on another brand’s 34s and they don’t come close to fitting. Is it any wonder that some people hate clothes shopping? 

Besides being eye-opening, I think learning about vanity sizing is kind of a relief because it drives home the fact that you can’t go by the size on the tag. Indeed, I’ve been trying to get comfortable with that idea for awhile. For the past couple of years when I’ve gone clothes shopping, I’ve adopted a new strategy. When I find something I want to try on, I take multiple sizes into the changeroom. I begin by picking up the size I think I am, but I also grab a size smaller and a size bigger. Then I try them all on and hope that one of them might fit comfortably and look ok. On the rare occasion when both those criteria are met, I pretty much feel I’ve hit the jackpot. But, if all of them are too small, I feel pretty dejected. If there’s something about the garment that I really love, I may screw up my courage and try yet a bigger size, but that doesn’t always happen. At that point, I’m usually to discouraged to try anything more. 

Though I don’t think I’ll ever really enjoy clothes shopping, armed with the new insights into the sizing games manufacturers play to manipulate us, from now on the only numbers on the tags that I’m going to continue paying attention are the price. 

What about you? How do you feel about vanity sizing? Does the size on the tag matter to you? Has your size or outlook changed over the years? Will it now?? 

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


Post a Comment

<< Home