This week, Heather asks about Vanity Sizing. We discuss, what it is, what it’s not, how to spot it, and how to avoid it!
If you struggle with inconsistent sizing, you won’t want to miss this one!
Links & Resources from the show:
Visit Living Wonder to take 15% off of your purchase with code STYLE15
The Absurdity of Women’s Clothing Sizes- Washington Post
European brands available in the US
Showing off My Stitch Fix Haul Video
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Have a question you’d like answered in Office Hours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full episode transcript below! – Ep 59 Office Hours The Truth About Vanity Sizing
Today’s episode of Office Hours is sponsored by Living Wonder. If you want younger looking skin, faster growing hair and nails, and joints that creak less in the morning, it might be time to try collagen supplements! My favorite is Collagen Boost Plus from Living Wonder–I take it every day, and love it–I hope you will too.
Everyday Style listeners can take 15% off their purchase by going to mylivingwonder.com/style and using code STYLE15. As always you can visit our show notes for the link.
Welcome back to Office Hours–the weekly show of the Everyday Style School podcast, where we answer just one question, submitted by you, you lovely ladies, you to help make style easier, and getting dressed more fun.
We’ve got another great question this week, one I know a lot of you wonder about. It comes from Heather, who wrote:
Hi Jen, Thanks for your podcast. I’ve learned so much, and I find myself saying “Jennifer says” when talking to my friends about style. I do have a question though, and it’s about vanity sizing.
Why do some stores do this? It’s hard enough to find clothes, without sizes constantly changing. I just want to know what size I am. Can you recommend stores that don’t do vanity sizing?
Well, Heather, thank you for your kind words! I hope your friends are as excited to hear from me as you are! But, let’s talk about vanity sizing, and see if we can clear up some of the confusion.
If you’re listening, and you don’t know what vanity sizing is, let’s cover that first
Vanity sizing can actually mean a couple of things.
The first is that the garment is labeled smaller than the measurements on the size chart would indicate. A good example of this is jeans. According to Levis size chart, which I’ll link to, a size 12, is also labeled a 31, which all of us would take to mean that the waist measurement is a 31, right?
Wrong, Levis size 31’s actually measure 32.75 inches. This makes retailers’ size charts totally useless, and can make shopping, especially online more frustrating, because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
The second definition of vanity sizes is that clothes are sized and labeled in a way that matches up, but over time, but that those labels have changed.
For example, I’m so over the body positive meme that says Marilyn Monroe was a size 16. Sure she was, in the 50’s. Today, she’d probably be a size 8. I’ll never forget a client who loved shopping at Talbots, and had a bunch of pants and skirts that fit perfectly, that she’d had for close to 15 years.
They were all size 10’s. But when we went shopping, she went home in 4’s and 6’s. This is actually called size inflation, but most people call the change of sizes over time vanity sizing.While there is a difference between the two, I’ll be talking about both today.
Now let’s talk about WHY stores do this.
Vanity sizing, in the literal sense of labeling garments differently than the measurements indicate, is simply to make you feel better. Women feel better when they can buy the smaller number.
We can do a show about why that is, and we kind of talked about it in the Weight & Wardrobe episode, but I’m not a psychologist, so today we’re going to leave it as “we just feel better”, and while you might think “no, I love my body just the way it is, I don’t care about sizes” awesome, I applaud you.
But if you were faced with two pairs of jeans, both of which fit perfectly, one being labeled a 31, one being labeled a 32.75, I’d bet my favorite shoes you’d pick the 31 every single time.
I know I would, and I’m not that hung up on sizes, or smallness.
Now let’s talk about size inflation. This one also has to do with making you feel better, but it’s a little different. Do you think Marylin Monroe would rather pick a 8 or a 16? I’m guessing she’d rather have had the 8.
So there’s that. But size inflation is a response to the fact that people are getting bigger. Size inflation is really a western construct, specifically the USA and the UK, and to a lesser extent Australia.
As people got bigger, rather than creating additional sizes at the upper end of the spectrum, that women weren’t used to seeing, they simply shifted, a 14 became a 12, a 12 became a 10, a 10 became an 8 and so on and so on.
But there’s something else going on, that I think makes women feel like Vanity Sizing is a much more sinister practice than it really is. First, keep in mind, there is no standard sizing practice across all brands.
They tried that, it didn’t work.
Anyway-because there are no size standards, stores are free to label their sizes to represent the women they serve. Let’s put this into context, using two stores, Loft, and Zara. Loft is an American company, Zara is a European company.
If a woman with a 29 inch waist (based solely on their own size charts), went to Loft, they’d say, you’re a size 8 or 10, and a Medium. If she went to Zara, based on their size charts, she’d be a 12, and a Large. Does that mean that Loft “Runs big” or that zara “runs small”?
No, what it means is that woman with a 29 inch waist represents the middle range of the women they cater to, and at zara, she represents the larger end of the women they design for.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. So next time you say “oh that store runs big”, it might not. It might mean that their customer base or their target customer, in general, is bigger.
This is why you wear a medium in US sizes, and an XXL in those Amazon things that come from China. In general, US women are considerably bigger than the clothes were designed for. That’s all.
Forever 21’s medium is going to look a whole lot different than Chico’s medium. Why? Because the medium woman shopping at Forever 21 has probably just gone through puberty, and the medium woman shopping at Chicos has probably gone through menopause.
We’re using the same sizing labels to describe two very different groups of women.
Size inflation often leaves women who wear small sizes at a bit of a loss, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard I can’t wear a 00, that’s ridiculous, but calm down, it really isn’t. In 2014, Jcrew introduced a 000.
In 1995, a size 2 was the smallest size available, and in 1958–the Marilyn Monroe era?- a size 8 was the smallest size–there was no 6 or 4 or 2. Sizes started at an 8.
As size inflation happens, retailers have decided they’re not adding bigger numbers or letters for bigger bodies, so they have to add smaller numbers or letters. Will they go to a quadruple zero? Maybe? Who knows? Who cares? If that’s the size that fits you, buy it.
Which brings me to Heather’s next point–I just want to know what size I am. Well, best of luck to you Heather, and everyone else listening. It doesn’t work that way.
I wish that women would look at sizes as a starting point, with the understanding that there is variation from store to store, brand to brand, and even item to item within the same store or brand.
Its like the video I just did showing off my Stitch Fix haul–if you haven’t seen it, it’s linked in the shownotes–where I said I’m a size 12 in Loft jeans, I’m a 32 in premium denim, I wear a large in knit tops and an extra large in wovens.
Your size can be brand specific or item specific and still not be consistent. For example, when I buy knits, like t-shirts, I always try a large first, but my closet has mediums, larges and extra large tees because of cut, fit, brand, style, fabric and some items are just weird. Look at sizes as a starting point, and be willing to adjust without making it mean something that it doesn’t.
Heather’s last question was Can you recommend stores that don’t do vanity sizing? And frankly, no. I don’t know which stores are doing true vanity sizing and the degree to which brands participate in size inflation.
Your best bet if you want something that is labeled the size that its supposed to be according to the size charts, and hasn’t changed much over time is to shop european brands. In the shownotes I’ve got a link to a bunch of European brands available in the US.
The other thing to consider is that high-end, designer brands usually are truer to size, and have less size inflation than their more budget friendly counterparts. .
So, just to recap–Vanity sizing is when the actual measurements of the garment don’t match the size charts. Size inflation is the renumbering of sizes to accommodate bodies that have gotten bigger, without making customers buy bigger sizes.
They’re different, but they’re both done to make you feel better. Sizes are inconsistent, in part because brands are applying the same standards, small, medium, large, to different groups of people.
Finally, give up the notion that sizing is, or even should be consistent. It’s a waste of energy. Instead, use the number or letter on the label as a starting point, but don’t make it mean something if you need to go up or down from there.
Great question Heather, thanks for asking! Come share your thoughts on vanity sizing on Facebook and Instagram You can find us on both by searching Everyday Style with Jen, or again, head to to our website for the links.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to cover in Office Hours, email it to email@example.com.
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That’s all for today–see you next week!