Vanity sizing is an idea that has become the industry norm. It is the idea that the smaller the clothing number without corresponding to actual body sizes leads to higher body positivity. An idea that had the best intentions created a monster that has led to widespread issues in the United States. Instead of having one clothing standard this has caused companies from big-name retailers such as American Eagle and H&M to small-scale brands to have disparities in their clothing size. A size 9 in one company can mean something completely different than another store or in some cases even the rack of pants 5 feet to your left. This has caused consumers to bear the burden of knowing their sizes every time they want to purchase an item. The most destructive effect of this is, in lieu of boosting the consumers self-esteem, it has become a hindrance and a source of anxiety and anguish. Luckily there is a sizing rebellion happening, including the creation of a new body-positive sizing chart pushing toward developing a new sizing standard.

To understand why there is a sizing revolution let’s take a look at the history of vanity sizing. Vanity sizing came about in the 1970s after the last industry sizing standard became optional. This has allowed retailers to develop their own interpretations to current sizing charts. Issues that arise from that are that some retailers actually change the body dimensions in which each size is intended for on a far too frequent basis. Additionally, brands are creating their sizes based on the target audience they are looking to pursue with that seasons line. A major issue with vanity sizing is having brands use the argument that the more diminutive sizes and not true to standard sizes actually increase the consumers self-esteem. They use evidence from journals to back up their arguments. An issue behind that is that these journals are actually owned by the fashion industry so the evidence being provided must be taken with a grain of salt. The most detrimental issue brought about by vanity sizing is the segregating nature in which these brands choose who can wear their products. Many of these brands have target audiences and demographics that they want to wear their labels. If you do not fit within the brand identity and image, then you are the considered secondary consumers by them. Think of the secondary consumer as somebody outside the target audience who just coincidently purchased their goods. They are neither hindering or promoting the brand image by wearing their clothing. A frustrating part to this is that vanity sizing has allowed industry brands to change the dimensions of what for each size every fashion season. Another issue brought by vanity sizing is lack of abundance of clothing for individuals who do not fit within a retailer’s available sizes. For example, if you look at an online store for PacSun you see that there is a plethora of dresses and rompers to choose from. Yet once you search for their largest size which is an XL then those numbers are dramatically reduced. This is not only limited to women’s clothing the same can be said for men’s clothing. When going onto the site Zumiez out of the 145 shorts they only have 20 available if you fit their largest size which is an XXL or size 40. That forces the consumer to purchase only a limited option of clothes. This forces individuals to settle even if the item they are purchasing does not necessarily fit with their own distinctive tastes. Instead of boosting the consumers’ confidence this makes them feel alienated and isolated due to the lack of choice. Yet many brands do not care because as long as they are able to reach their target audience(s).

While men face the same challenges, women face an even greater variable when it comes to sizing. According to individuals in the industry the reason why vanity sizing is still prevalent is because brands do not want to associate themselves with larger sizes and change the perception what their target audience is. Vanity sizing has been more troublesome than it has been positive. Instead of helping the consume feel good about their body, it has the exact opposite effect. How can a consumer possibly feel good about how they look in a medium sized shirt, when the shirt is sized and set differently between stores and labels? With brands incorporating varying dimensions from season to season it can influence how the consumer feels about their body identities. In 2010 Esquire’s Abram Sauer launched his own investigation into Vanity Sizing when he had an encounter while pants shopping. He noticed that a “size” 36 pants had different sized waistlines when compared to what an actual 36-inch waistline (image 1.1). This is can detrimental for the consumers self-esteem, because it messes with the consumers mentality when they don’t know if they can truly trust what size they are. There are individuals trying to break the grasp vanity sizing has on the fashion industry however.

(1.1 Esquire)

While vanity sizing is very problematic you have brands fighting against current sizing stands. Some of these brands either create a more body positive sizing chart or include their body measurements along with the corresponding size. For example, the label Tuesday Bassen utilizes its Instagram account to highlight how various garments fit on women of various sizes and busts. The brand caters to a wide arrange of sizes with their smallest size is an XXS and their largest size is an XXXXXL. This breaks all of its consumers sizing options and tries not to alienate anybody who wishes to purchase any of their items. Another company that has created its own sizing chart is the company ModCloth. Their sizing goes from a small through 4X and included with the sizing for each item on their website is a corresponding sizing chart the includes the body dimensions for each size that are available. If you look at figures 2.1 and 2.2 you will see how each brand shows the availability of their clothing off screen shots taken from their websites.

 (2.1 Modcloth)

(2.2 Tuesday Bassion)

While you see companies fighting against the juggernaut known as vanity sizing you also notice there has been a call for a new sizing standard to be implemented. An unprecedented sequence of events happened in 2003 when TC2 Labs surveyed 10,000 individuals for new body sizing data. The name of the survey is called Size USA. The Size USA data available to industry individuals to create their own sizing charts from over 300 sizing points. This survey was backed by some of the leading clothing manufactures and can be used to create a new industry sizing standard. Another method to improve the clothing size standard is to adopt the American equivalent to EN 13402. EN 13402 is the European standard in fashion based on various body dimensions. While the United States does not utilize the metric system like in EN 13402, an alphabetic or numerical based chart can correspond to the same sizes as in EN 13402. This could be helpful because due to the global market it will make it easier for the consumer to make purchases from European manufactures.

While it is hard to find a new way to end vanity sizing. Companies like ModCloth and Tuesday Bassion are fighting against the issues that vanity sizing has created. Using information from the Size USA survey or following a model similar to EN 13402 can help create a new standard. Hopefully this will help end the issues brought about by vanity sizing and usher in a more body positive era in clothing sizing.




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.