The hyperreal trend of vanity sizing is the last thing we need in our society.
Have you ever walked into a store knowing your size, only to find out that the clothes just don’t fit? Did you have to go up a size? Two sizes? Three or more? Did you check the mirror to make sure that you didn’t gain weight and check the tags to verify that you picked up the right size? Well don’t worry: It’s not you—it’s them.
Vanity sizing or size inflation isn’t a new problem or something that only affects women. Clothing retailers and brands such as H&M, Dockers, French Connection, Gap and Old Navy are notorious for mislabeling clothing sizes; Old Navy is one of the worst culprits, according to Esquire’s Abram Sauer. In his own investigation, Sauer visited seven stores, including some of those named above, and discovered that his 36-inch waist didn’t allow him to wear the same size at each of them.
Though size inflation affects both sexes, men appear to have it much easier than women. Women’s clothing was last standardized in the 1940s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under pressure from the mail-order-garment industry. Today, women’s clothing designers create their own sizing standards, which creates a lack consistency across the industry. Men’s clothing, however, was standardized during the Civil War, and sizes have remained relatively constant for the past 150 years.
Today, sizes aren’t just inflated; they can also be deflated. Retailers can either mark larger items with smaller sizes or mark smaller items with larger sizes. Why do manufacturers do this? Well on one hand, it’s flattering. If you end up fitting into a size that’s smaller than what you normally wear, you feel great about yourself and want to buy multiple items. You will also be willing to spend more money, just to say that you fit into a smaller size. On the other hand, if retailers are aware that consumers already know that sizes are mismarked, the retailers will anticipate that customers will line up to try on items in their dressing rooms. And if retailers can get you to try something on, they increase your chances of buying the item. After all, once on, the item becomes more real; you envision it in your closet and are more likely to purchase it. But who has time to try on 50 different pairs of pants when you only need one?
The best way to get around this trend is to know your measurements well and do a little research to see what measurements your favorite brands and retailers use. The beauty of online shopping is that shoppers can usually view the sizing charts that retailers and manufacturers are using to define their clothing sizes before making purchasing decisions.
As someone absorbed in fashion, I appreciate consistency in sizes and speedy shopping experiences. A size two at H&M should be a size two at the Gap, and when the sizes don’t match up, I simply drop everything and leave.