The phlogistonists of vanity sizing

unicornI learned a new word today, Phlogiston [theory]. I’ll save you a click. In its strictest definition, it refers to

an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called “phlogiston”, which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion. The theory was an attempt to explain processes such as combustion and the rusting of metals…

And Phlogistonists are “scientists” and “researchers” who expend incalculable hours on pet theories for which there is no rational explanation. Consider within the context of my narrow domain, that of “vanity sizing”. One can find myriad mentions of it; researchers wax eloquent as to its ineffectiveness and detrimental effect yet where amid this bewildering compendium is quantitative research proving its existence?

Let us assume the phlogistonists academics are correct, there exists an unidentifiable ether with behaviors we cannot define or measure, we can only note its effects. Where is the body of scholarship within the needle trades itself to support this claim? We document everything. We write about mind boggling minutiae -on my site alone there are thousands of entries on arcane and possibly subjective matters as to the preferred sort of pencil to use when tracing patterns, does one cut a line away or leave it, whether one should use waxed vs colored paper to separate plies of a spread or the proper psi setting to adhere substrates -yet nowhere is any material, symposium, documentation, instruction, seminars, curriculum et cetera on the pivotal matter as to how to go about effectively “vanity sizing” one’s products to elicit greatest efficacy. Were the practice to exist as it is commonly believed, there would be volumes, millions of words on the practice. Yet, there are none. Where are the bodies? It must leave some evidence of its passage through the mores of our institutional landscape. Are we to suppose in these heady days of transparency, the inculcation and instruction of methods of vanity sizing remains an arcane blood secret amongst practitioners? Where exists the trade literature, the consultants, the mercenary service providers to instruct the proper ways to do this? They do not exist.

More specifically, the subject of my ire today is an abstract for a paper entitled You’re So Vain: The Effect of Vanity Sizing on Product Evaluations. It says in its entirety:

Vanity sizing is becoming a popular retail trend, yet little is known about the psychological mechanisms underlying the practice. The current research examines the effects that altered sizing techniques have on consumers’ evaluations of clothing items and retailers. Across a series of studies, we show that consumers respond favorably to clothing that is a smaller size than expected, and negatively to clothing that is a larger size than expected. Importantly, we identify the central role of appearance self-esteem and its maintenance in underlying these effects. Specifically, we show that individuals with high appearance self-esteem are less susceptible to sizing manipulations and that bolstering appearance self-esteem can mitigate such effects. Further, we find that although consumers generally avoid purchasing items labeled with larger sizes, they may compensate for the self-threat resulting from a larger size by purchasing more non-sized products. Finally, although altered sizing techniques can be a useful marketing strategy, they must be employed carefully, as suspicions about persuasion will make such tactics less effective.

In other words, yet again we are guilty of manipulations, catering to a narcissistic consumer -this is patently offensive. We respect our customers. We even like them. How dare you deprecate them in this way? As though they amounted to nothing more than a pathetic succubus mirroring our own inadequacies. This paper is quite ironically titled in that you’re so vain if you think vanity sizing is about you.

I’m trying to temper my annoyance, keeping the words of Jim Loy in mind who says “please suspend your righteous contempt for this phlogiston theory, and try to ignore your inside information” but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. It’s okay if consumers and reporters bandy it about but another thing entirely when researchers do. It is an insult to one’s dedication to craft and life’s work. Furthermore, I argue it is an indirect insult to researchers themselves. It is an insult in that psychology and marketing must not be such a big deal (and thus not worthy of academic pursuit) if idiots like us can use it when we have no background, experience or course of study yet we manage to employ it so “effectively”.

Is there a job in any other industry in which there are dedicated staffers whose only job is to size objects appropriately? Other than apparel, I don’t think there is. If sizing were as simplistic a process as these people seem to think, it is a slur and insult against the education, skills and dedication of people’s chosen vocation and education.

If sizing were as simple as people think, then those of us who do this all day must be really stupid -as are those who hire us. Were researchers conclusions valid, the only competencies required to size are psychology and marketing study by which those such as myself, can manipulate consumers better. It’s been 30 years since I was in school but this coursework was not required. In 30 years of experience working in the apparel industry, I have never been asked to “vanity size” anything, much less asked how to do it. No, we all size to our market. Our average customer. If our average customer is heavier than a rich person, our sizes will run larger. There is no conspiracy.

Considering the amount of paper dedicated to the purported existence of vanity sizing, it would have been discovered by now. Unless of course, it’s been buried with Jimmy Hoffa.

I will henceforth describe academics who write about vanity sizing as phlogistonists until they produce quantitative evidence -one would presume trade documentation minimally- to prove it exists. But they won’t. No, they will continue to trot out their little papers about how damaging it is, how manipulative it is, how we are such bad evil people to do it and how we are killing people with it. They see an effect of which they have yet to analyze -the invisible ether- describe its behaviors, pronounce us guilty, pat themselves on the back and indirectly insult the dedication and vocation of sizing professionals. Somehow, I don’t think they would like it if we did this to them.

So to any phlogistonist researcher who may fall this way, here’s some reading for you. It’s not about you. It’s not personal. Sizing evolves, sizing varies according to one’s target demography. Yes there’s something screwy going on with sizing but if we can’t get you to see exactly what that is, we will never be able to resolve it. What do you have to lose? We see that you’re onto us, we are not stupid so if we haven’t done anything about it, maybe that is not the problem. Anything else presumes we are abjectly stupid and I for one, am annoyed and tired of being insulted directly and indirectly in absentia. I’m telling you there’s no such thing. Aren’t you curious as to why that might be? Here are my arguments. If you are right, I’m doing you a favor in providing more fodder for your arguments.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition

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