Understanding Vanity Sizing

vanity sizing and why small sizes make us feel betterOver the last several decades, the measurements associated with clothing sizes have gotten noticeably larger. Many people attribute this trend to something they call vanity sizing, but others maintain society is just suffering from size inflation. So, what is really going on?

What Is Vanity Sizing for Clothing?

Vanity sizing is generally defined as the practice of labeling clothing with sizes smaller than the item’s measurements and industry standards would indicate. In other words, if a size 8 in many brands fits a woman with a 28-inch waist, a size 4 or 6 that fits that same woman is often considered “vanity sized.” The woman has the same body, with the same measurements, but in some brands she wears a “smaller” size.

Why would companies buck size consistency and engage in vanity sizing? Psychologically, it may make people feel better to wear smaller sizes, especially those who have low self-esteem, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

And, feeling good about clothing may make us more likely to purchase it. So, is any wonder clothing manufacturers engage in this practice?

What Is Size Inflation?

On the flip side, many manufacturers maintain that sizes have just grown to match the increasing sizes of people. In the last five decades, the average size 8 woman’s waist size has gone from 23.5 inches to 29, as recently reported by Slate. Of course, sizing was always somewhat inconsistent. Some brands in the fifties had size 8s with wa

Why are people larger than they used to be? There are lots of theories, but very little data on the actual cause. Whatever the reasons, clothing manufacturers say they are making clothing larger to accommodate this trend. So, if a size 8 was average in the 1950s and had a 24 inch waist, to keep a size 8 the average size today, the waist would need to be 29 to 30 inches.

Either Way… Clothing Is Getting Bigger

While it can be hard to quantify due to sizing variances among different manufacturers, there is nearly universal consensus that a size 8 today is larger than a size 8 of four decades ago, no matter the brand. In addition, to counterbalance the larger clothing, brands have been adding smaller sizes such as 0 and 00 in order to fit their smallest customers.

So, What Does This Mean to My Size?

First, the best way to find what size you wear in a particular brand is to know your measurements and to compare them to the company’s size charts. A site like SizeCharter will help you view a lot of size charts in one place and to find the brands that fit you best.

Next, this trend is not necessarily bad – if it leads to more options in clothing fit and sizing, there will be more options for the myriad of shapes and sizes of people. However, you do need to be mindful to buy clothing because it looks and feels good and not just because of the psychological boost of a low number on the label.

Finally, if you are a fan of vintage clothing, keep in mind you will probably need to go up a couple sizes from your modern number to ensure a good fit.

Understanding Vanity Sizing for Clothing infographic from sizecharter

Download or view a PDF version of this vanity sizing infographic

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