Designer fashions are sized smaller than mass market clothes

Andy provides a delightful twist for today’s foray on my favorite subject. He wrote:

Now purchasing an amazing swimsuit at 70% off at the Marc Jacobs store at the very tip end of the season in Provincetown (as in January 1, which honestly I don’t think counts as late summer in anyone’s book), assuming of course that you are vacationing in the actual winter months of January through June in the northern hemisphere, means that you are indeed a la mode. In fact, Marc Jacob’s habit of “manity sizing”, the opposite of “vanity sizing” where a designer makes a garment larger than the actual size so you think you are smaller than you are, makes all those squats seem to have paid off when you can barely squeeze your thigh through the leg openings which were obviously fit on Kate Moss on a coke binge.

He’s packed so many delectable topics into one small paragraph that I don’t know where to start. I feel like I’m first in line at the world’s largest chocolate and fudge buffet with a TV tray on wheels. Gathering my wits, here are the concepts specific to this purchase as it relates to our hero’s dissatisfaction:

  1. (the presumption of) end of season goods
  2. purchased in a resort town
  3. Marc Jacobs swimsuit at 70%
  4. the suit is “too small” for the designated size

Here’s my summary conclusion: Yes Andy, high end designers (not just Marc Jacobs) do the opposite of “vanity sizing” in that their garments are sized smaller than average mass market goods of the “same” size. I’m so glad you noticed. Now I’ll dissect it for anyone who wants to read it all (apparel producers are advised to).

End of season goods:
I seriously doubt this suit was end of season goods. Consider the traditional apparel buying calender; specifically how and when store buyers stock products. Swim suits are sold in two time frames in the northern hemisphere. The most obvious season is Summer. However, there is another season in which swimsuits are sold at retail that is in the middle of winter. This season is called Resort. Resort is a very small segment and its goods are carried in mostly resort and holiday areas. Not coincidentally, Provincetown (where our hero lives) is a resort town. It would have to be to have a Marc Jacobs store considering the size of the population (>3K residents year round). That you wouldn’t wear a swimsuit at the beach in Provincetown Massachusetts in January would not prevent its inclusion in the merchandisizing mix at Marc Jacobs.

Purchased in a resort town:
Resort (previously called “Cruise”) is a small selling season dominated by summer clothes for that minuscule segment of the population with the discretionary income to vacation or travel south of the equator (or thereabouts) during the northern hemisphere’s winter months. Resort is dominated by designer labels. One would expect a Marc Jacobs store to carry resort products even in Massachusetts in the dead of winter because the Marc Jacobs customer will shop locally before they leave for their trip to Brazil. In fact, this is exactly what Andy did. He went to Marc Jacobs at the height of the Resort season to buy clothes for his mid winter vacation in Brazil (I am so jealous). Obviously, Andy is the perfect Marc Jacobs customer.

Why the swimsuit is 70% off:
To play devil’s advocate, the alternative context of finding a swimsuit at Marc Jacobs in January in a Massachusetts resort town is that the product didn’t sell in summer when it should have so it stayed on the shelves. I don’t find that credible. Not a fashion forward store like that. Aging inventory on the shelves at MJ would be a scandal. The implication of what it means could be enough to cause savvy investors to dump their shares. What is more likely is that this suit -it was 70% off- wasn’t selling, perhaps because it was mis-sized just as Andy says it was. However, I doubt that both of these scenarios -that the merchandise was aged and that it was mis-sized- are true. It is possible that the merchandising mix was off; that the trend (color or style) didn’t resonate with consumers. It happens. There is no way to know the truth of it.

The suit is “too small”:
Mis-sizing (Andy’s complaint) is another possibility but if it were, this would mean the item was defective and should have been shuttled off into the off-price market or to a MJ outlet. However, as it bears reminding on the subject of sizing, designer clothes run smaller than mass market goods –vanity sizing is a myth. It is the exact opposite of what people think. The reason designer clothes run smaller is because wealthy customers (not the customer who finances their aspiration with a credit card) is thinner.

And of course, by designer clothes, I’m not referring to a designer label t-shirt or lower cost sportswear items like caps, sweats etc. These mass market products are not designed for the designer’s core customer -the customer other customers aspire to be mistaken for. These t-shirts, sweats and caps are typically sold at locations where the mass market shops. The average shopper can’t afford to pay for top tier designs but they can borrow a little of the designer’s cachet with tees. Each division has its own sizing because the customer base for each division is different. Sizes from one division cannot be grafted onto another.

That divisions and labels from a given designer differ to appeal to different segments of the market is because statistically speaking, the richer you are, the thinner you are. The poorer you are, the heavier you are. If designer label goods sized like mass merchants, the designers would go out of business because their customers are skinnier and they wouldn’t be able to find anything in their size. So, a size two Ralph Lauren’s purple label is going to be significantly smaller than Jaclyn Smith’s size two (if that is even available) at KMart. That there are insufficient numbers of plus sized customers with the discretionary income to buy elite designer fashions is why there are few lines that sell a size larger than 14.

It is possible that our hero’s body is larger framed, more muscular and taller than the body type defined as Marc Jacob’s targeted customer. I don’t know Andy personally but I imagine that he (mostly) fits the demographic profile of Marc Jacob’s core customer. He is educated, urbane, higher income (he lives year round in a resort town and can afford to vacation in January in Brazil) and obviously has discriminating tastes which he is willing to pay for. However, this profile describes a lot of men, among them professional athletes who would not fit the targeted physical profile of the targeted MJ customer. This may also be the case for Andy. I don’t know. Just because a customer matches a demography doesn’t mean their body does too. However, I’m assuming that Andy didn’t trot over to Marc Jacobs on a lark. He probably shops there however often.

There is no certainty to defining the reasons that led to Andy’s disappointing shopping trip. The alternatives are that the swimsuit was erroneously sized, perhaps the wrong size tags were sewn into it. This happens -and if so, the item should have been shunted off to an outlet lest MJ’s customer become annoyed as Andy was. It is also possible that the elastic allowance was miscalculated or even, that the wrong elastic was used. If the elastic didn’t have the expansion properties for performance that are expected in a product like this, it would feel too small.

Above all though, a 70% discount is a red flag. It is not rational to expect a heavily discounted item will meet customary attributes of a given product line. It is on sale for a reason. If something is heavily discounted, one should assume there is something wrong with it -and proactively look for what that might be. It is only after that is known that one can determine whether it is something they can live with resulting in a bargain. You get what you pay for.

I have no bone to pick with Marc Jacobs (or Andy) but apparel producers must be wary of creating confusion in the marketplace. It is a difficult business decision; do you sell the defective goods under your own auspices (store, website etc), do you re-sell defective goods to the off-price market (remove the tags) or do you destroy them? Whatever you decide, be proactive in determining what went amiss to prevent it from happening again. Consumers have long memories if they feel you have disappointed them.

Summary: The sizes of designer fashions run smaller than mass market goods.

4 thoughts on “Designer fashions are sized smaller than mass market clothes”

  1. As a Marc Jacobs customer, I couldn’t help responding to your interesting article : )

    I don’t totally agree with you and Andy- I think vanity sizing is definitely for real, and you need only compare a contemporary size 6 with a size 6 from 10, 20, 30, etc. years ago to see that. It may be less of a phenomenon in the world of men’s apparel where so much of clothing is based on actual waist measurements (a size 32 trouser means the waist is 32 inches, whether it’s new or vintage). But definitely you can see it in S/M/L sizes from now compared to the past.

    I sort of agree with your statement about the Marc Jacobs customer vs. a KMart customer… but I think it’s more to do with the fact that KMart does vanity sizing (or at least, skews their sizes to suit a bigger spectrum of bodies) and Marc doesn’t do it to that extent. But having shopped at Marc a lot, I gotta say I find most of his clothing to be very true to size. I’ve also worked at another designer brand, and found her clothes to be true to size (as in, true to the size I expect to fit into) as well. But even a Marc by Marc Jacobs size 6 dress is gonna be bigger than a size 6 from the 1980s.

    There are so many other things to consider as well, like you said, such as cut and fabric. I can fit into size 6 Marc by Marc twill trousers, but not velvet, because the velvet has absolutely no give. I would have to go a size up.

    Some things are just cut funny, too. And those are among the things that end up in the end-of-season sale, although I can say from experience that you can find some awesome stuff at the Marc end-of-season sale, especially the shoe sale.

    Another note: Marc Jacobs does not have outlet stores. Where do the unsold clothes go? Don’t know! Some brands (such as Anthropologie) have brand-preservation practices where they will absolutely not send clothing to an outlet or mark it down below a certain price– the unsold clothing is either donated somewhere where the brand is unlikely to be recognized, or it’s destroyed. It’s how perceived value is maintained.

  2. I think vanity sizing is definitely for real, and you need only compare a contemporary size 6 with a size 6 from 10, 20, 30, etc. years ago to see that.

    If you’d followed and read any of the links in this entry, you would have read a perfectly rational explanation. This is better described as sizing evolution. The size of man-made things in your environment evolve, like furniture, car seats, airplane seats, counter tops, door ways, toilet seats. Good grief, even children’s play yard equipment has been resized to match the consumer’s increasing girth. In clothes tho, because it is on your body, you call it “vanity”.

  3. “I don’t totally agree with you and Andy- I think vanity sizing is definitely for real, and you need only compare a contemporary size 6 with a size 6 from 10, 20, 30, etc. years ago…definitely you can see it in S/M/L sizes from now compared to the past.”

    It’s amazing the extent to which people don’t find it necessary to actually read about a subject (even when the information has been laid out right in front of them) before telling someone else they’re “wrong”. You actually have a post on here that specifically explains the REASON “you can see it in S/M/L sizes from now compared to the past”, for goodness’ sake….

    Not only that, but the poster didn’t even get that you were expressing an opinion different from “Andy’s”, and that Andy has the same opinion she does….

    (I know this post and the comment are four years old now, but it’s still hilarious.)

    1. “It’s amazing the extent to which people don’t find it necessary to actually read about a subject (even when the information has been laid out right in front of them) before telling someone else they’re “wrong”.”

      It’s amazing the extent to which people don’t find it necessary to actually read read a comment for what it is. What’s also amazing is this poster’s ability to assume that because the previous commenter’s remarks differed in opinion to that of the discrete post above, that she explicitly considered him “wrong.” He even quoted the word as if it was used in the text of her comment. HILARIOUS.

      She was simply expressing her opinion, the very same the author did, as accurately identified.

      “(even when the information has been laid out right in front of them)…You actually have a post on here that specifically explains the REASON “you can see it in S/M/L sizes from now compared to the past”, for goodness’ sake….”

      OBVIOUSLY she was replying to THIS post at hand, as a discrete text because that’s what she came across. And the meaning within the text is technically all she’s responsible accounting for. Had the author explicitly explained within the text (and not via an external link that is easily overlooked by the concentrated reader) that what is generally known to the majority as “vanity sizing” is what she and probably few others refer to as “sizing evolution,” I think Tara would’ve understood what she meant by it does not exist. Clearly this is a case of terminology, rather than connotation. Kathleen recognized that, and responded appropriately, but since you’re such a great reader, maybe you should try reading in between the lines for once.

      I know the post is over a year old, but it’s still intriguing.

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