Table of Contents

  • Intro
  • This history of clothing sizing
  • The history of modern clothing sizing
  • Vanity Sizing
  • Alternative Sizes
  • Chart
  • Other Resources



Since the beginning of clothing history all garments were handmade. This was until the Industrial Revolution in which the process was mechanized. Before the Industrial Revolution craftspeople did not require a sizing chart to correspond with body shapes and sizes; instead, they were meticulously crafted to suit each individual consumer’s body. Once the mechanization of the fashion industry embarked on the search for a more streamlined process, a standard sizing was needed for consumers. This initiated the process of a standard sizing process for all garments. Women received the severest repercussions from this standardization. This has generated confusion in stores when it comes to finding sizing that suits the consumer’s body type and size. This is an outlook on how this process was created and what it looks like for the modern day consumer.


Before the standardization of women’s clothing sizing, a tailor who would make a garment fit just for you. Yet, once the 1930s happened modern sizing standards become ingrained in the fashion industry. The US Department of Agriculture in 1939 attempted standardizing the sizing process to benefit the fashion industry; who was losing over $10 million dollars a year due to a lack of set sizes[1]. During this process of collecting information, there were some glowing mistakes. Two of the biggest mistakes include out of the 15,000 women polled, including women of color, only white women bodies were given consideration[2]; and only 5 measurements were created to represent the bodies sizes of all women in the U.S. This standardized sizing lasted less than a decade. In the 1940s an update of the standard occurred. The Mail-Order Association of America working on the behalf of Sears Roebucks asked the National Institute of Standards and Technology to reanalyze the data and create new “standardized sizes” in 1953. This created a broad range of sizes in an attempt to reduce the number alternations needed when purchasing clothing[4]. Factors like girth, height, and body size were factors when purchasing a garment from a brand or manufacturer. In 1958 these new sizes became the new commercial standard and were named Commercial Standard 215-58((CS)215-58).


Commercial Standard 215-58 lasted a lot longer its predecessor. Yet, there was one issue preventing the (CS)215-58 from having a truly substantial impact on the fashion industry. That is the beginning of a major change in garment making and styling in the 1960s. The standard was updated again in 1971 to reflect the modern woman and styles. This new standard was created by U.S. Department of Commerce and it was named the Voluntary Product Standard(VPS)[4]. The VPS was different then its predecessors; it included health data and offered some consideration for the bodies of women of color. The information used to create VPS was based on a survey performed by the National Center for Health Statistics. A critical flaw with VPS was that, in lieu of making it an industry standard, it was voluntary. This allowed manufacturers and brands more flexibility when creating their own sizing charts. During this period is when you begin to see a more considerable disparity between manufacturers and consumers when it comes to sizing. The concept of vanity sizing develops during this period. A vanity size is if a customer purchases a garment they would prefer to see a smaller number versus a larger one[3]. Manufacturers began creating larger garments and placing smaller sizing numbers on them. This is how size 0 was created. Eventually, in 1983, the use of voluntary standards was abolished establishing a freedom of interpretation with clothing manufacturers.


Vanity sizing is considered the industry standard now. Due to the practice of retailers using vanity sizes, this created a disparity between clothing companies and its consumers. This has allowed each retailer to develop its own interpretation when creating a sizing chart for its customers. According to pattern making expert Kathleen Fasanella brands create their sizes for their audience[5]. Manufacturers are targeting audiences based on a number of factors such as brand identity, lifestyle, and even race. Companies knowingly cater to a target audience when creating garments and sizes for the consumer. Fansanella also states, “A medium simply indicates the middle size of a given manufacturer’s size run; that’s it. The reason is that consumers tend to share body size characteristics that are unique to a given interest or lifestyle (The Myth of Vanity Sizing,)” Some brands use the idea that the smaller sizes increase the self-esteem of its consumer. This sentiment has been backed by industry-backed journals such as a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology[6]. For example, Brandy Melville is a teenage clothing company whom only caters to people who wear the sizes extra small(XS) and small(S). Brandy Melville states that is what their ideal consumer strives for size wise.


Since the 1990s individuals and companies have been pushing back against the current sizing trends and standard. Individuals and brands are looking at developing a new or alternative standard and advocating that to become the new industry standard. In 2003 the SizeUSA survey was backed by many branding including industry leaders. The survey encompassed a wide array of demographics across various cities in the country[7]. Utilizing the data from the survey, a new standard has not been proposed yet. Companies are creating their own sizing charts/symbols or have included body dimensions next to traditional clothing sizes. One such brand is ModCloth who instead of using an industry standard numbers-based chart; they employ one that ranges XXS through 4X and includes the body dimensions for various pieces.[8]




  1. Stampler, Laura. “Women’s Clothing Sizes: When We Started Measuring Them.” Time, Time, 23 Oct. 2014,
  2. Robinson, Katrin. “The Origins of Clothing Sizes.” Seamwork,
  3. Dooley, Roger. “The Psychology Of Vanity Sizing.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 29 July 2013,
  4. Fasanella, Kathleen. “The Myth of Vanity Sizing .” Fashion-Incubator, 9 June 2005,
  5. Hoegg, JoAndrea, et al. “The flip side of vanity sizing: How consumers respond to and compensate for larger than expected clothing sizes.” Journal of Consumer Psychology, No longer published by Elsevier, 26 July 2013,
  6. “Size USA Data| Made-To-Measure Garments and Design Software.” “TC]² Labs LLC,
  7. Ingraham, Christopher. “The Absurdity of Women’s Clothing Sizes, in One Chart.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 11 Aug. 2015

DT is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. He earned his BA in English with an Emphasis in Journalism from Old Dominion. He is most interested with topics relating to sexuality, sex, and gender especially how these topics are discussed and viewed in various cultures and classes around the world.