It’s officially spring! I don’t know about you, but every year when spring comes, I like to head out to the mall and celebrate the warmer weather by buying a new outfit. As much fun as it is to go shopping, though, does anyone else feel a sense of dread when you finally are in the store and looking for clothes? You’ve found a something you love the look of, but the question is, what size should you take into the fitting room? If you’re like me, you’ll have to try on a couple of different sizes until you get the best fit. Has anyone else started to wonder why finding your size is so complicated these days? Maybe your body hasn’t changed in size, but the size on the tag has! Or maybe the dilemma you’re faced with is that in one store you fit one size, in the next store you fit a size smaller, and in the third store you fit two sizes larger. How do clothing stores decide on sizing?

It turns out, over the years many stores have started practicing what’s referred to as “vanity sizing.” The Oxford dictionary defines vanity sizing as, “the practice of assigning smaller sizes to articles of manufactured clothing than is really the case, in order to encourage sales”1. This “vanity sizing” is the reason sizes like 0 and 00 exist, because clothing manufacturers switched a size 6 to a size 4, then a size 4 became a size 2 and after that they had nowhere to keep going but 0, 00, 000…sizes which are extremely rare to have naturally2. The size of clothing that would be called a size 12 in 1958 is now labelled as a size 63. This is especially common in the more expensive brands; two pairs of pants, one from an expensive brand and the other from an inexpensive brand, may both be labelled as the same size, but the expensive brand likely will fit larger4.

Why do clothing designers do this to us? Why not have standardized sizing so we don’t have to play the guessing game every time we go shopping? Not surprisingly, it’s all about profit. Research has found that if a clothing item is labelled with a size smaller than what the buyer is used to purchasing, it will boost the buyer’s self-esteem, so they’re more likely to spend money5. On the other hand, we know it’s not always the case that we end up fitting into a smaller size than we usually fit – a lot of the time we end up fitting into something labelled one or two sizes larger than we’re used to. Wouldn’t that have the opposite effect and decrease spending?

It’s true that fitting a larger size than we’re used to can lower our self-esteem. Studies have shown, however, that even though we may not buy the item with the larger size on the tag, we’re likely to engage in “compensatory” spending to help repair our broken self-esteem5. This means that we’ll just buy other products that don’t have a size, like accessories or jewelry, to help ourselves feel better. Does it feel like a lose-lose situation to you, too?

Researcher Tammy Kinley measured 1011 pairs of pants to determine how much variation there actually is in women’s pants4. She measured pants from sizes 4-14, and at every size, there was variation in waist, crotch and inseam measurements. For example, the waist measurement of all the size 8 pants that Kinley measured varied by almost 8 inches! And it’s not just in women’s clothing either. Even though men’s pants are often labelled with the waistband size, it turns out the labels aren’t always accurate. The waistband may, in fact, be several inches larger than the label says it is6.

What does this all mean for us as consumers?

To me, it’s a reminder that the numbers don’t matter. The meaning of the size on a clothing label varies from store to store and has changed over the years. Let’s not be defined by a number. Let’s not be defined by something that is constantly changing. Let’s be defined by who we are, not what size we wear.



1. Vanity Sizing. (2018). Retrieved from

2. Barton, A. (2014). J. Crew blasted for introducing size 000. In National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC). Retrieved from

3. Dockterman, E. (n.d.). Inside the fight to take back the fitting room. In Time. Retrieved from

4. Kinley, T. R. (2003). Size variation in women’s pants. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 21(1), 19-31. doi: 10.1177/0887302X0302100103

5. Hoegg, J., Scott, M. L., Morales, A. C., Dahl, D. W. (2014). The flip side of vanity sizing: how consumers respond to and compensate for larger than expected clothing sizes. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24(1), 70-78. doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2013.07.003

6. Dooley, R. (2013). The psychology of vanity sizing. In Forbes. Retrieved from

One Comment on “Vanity Sizing

  1. Pingback: Shopping: When You Aren't Yet In Love Your Body | change creates change

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