Apparently, anyone who wears clothes is a sizing expert

I fail to understand how anyone — by virtue of wearing clothes or liking them — feels competent and qualified to discuss the complexities of our industry.

In the case of this pharmaceutical sales rep cum “journalist”, I like medicine but it doesn’t qualify me to remark on the pharmaceutical industry. I read newspapers but it doesn’t mean I’m competent to write a critique about journalism. So why does anyone who wears clothes consider themselves competent to discuss the complexities of clothing sizes? Lest you think I’m harsh, this is what Sara had to say:

Vanity sizing is the practice of using smaller numbered sizes on bigger clothing patterns… to make customers feel better about themselves and become more inclined to buy.

This is what consumers think but vanity sizing is a myth. We are simply too busy putting out product to even try to figure how to manipulate consumers or massage their egos with everything we have going on. Minimally, if we were concerned with sizing to ego, there would be instruction and advice in the trade media — to include textbooks and even seminars — on how to do it. I’ll save you a search, there is none.

The sizing discrepancy you observe is better described as size inflation. Sizing normalizes to the mean. If this were not true, we’d still be making clothes to fit people in the mid 1800’s. But then if we did, we would have gone broke because nobody could wear them. I don’t see anyone complaining that doorways and seats are larger but these are also sized to the mean. We have to change our sizes based on average sizes (and) due to the way fabric allocation costs are calculated. If you don’t want sizes to change (to match increasing consumer girth) then everyone needs to go on a diet. Sara continues:

Over the last 50 years, the height and weight of people has gradually increased, inspiring fashion designers to change their patterns and shift with market needs to accommodate for the differences.

This is very true. It’s called sizing to the mean, or normalizing. Sara then makes a leap of logic to call this strictly market driven phenomenon “vanity sizing”. I don’t follow… the market does A (gains weight and gets taller) so we respond with B (make sizes larger) yet we’re guilty of manipulating people? I don’t follow. If we did not and with the majority of people larger, they would complain that clothing was too short for increasing heights and too small for commensurately increasing weights.

This effect is most striking in the modern Japanese economy. Those born in the post war recovery are significantly taller -on the order of four to six inches; so Sara’s claim that to size to fit that population is vanity sizing? If customers of a given segment (younger people) are taller and commensurately heavier and there are few to no people sized like their parents, dropping sizes that are no longer needed and cutting for the new average is practical not vanity. This is the meaning of sizing to the market; just where does the making pant legs longer fit into the ego stroking equation?

I think Sara misinterpreted her source’s information in this next bit:

“Big box stores have made larger clothes in smaller sizes for years,” said Maren Roth, owner of Rowe, an independent clothing boutique located in the Short North neighborhood in Columbus. “Contemporary fashion, like what you see in boutiques, is a niche market and target for a very specific customer, so a 10 in a chain store could be an eight in here.”

The last sentence should read “so an 8 in a chain store could be a 10 in here”, otherwise it contradicts Roth’s first point that big box stores make larger clothes labeled with smaller numbers (with the caveat that stores sell clothes, they don’t make them). Roth’s point is absolutely true. There is a direct correlation between disposable income and body size. The poorer you are, the heavier you are. The more money you have, the thinner you are.

Sizing is very much based on demography. If you sell to lower income people, your average size is going to be larger than the average size sold to rich people. Boutiques sell pricier clothes that are sized on average, smaller than product in mass merchant stores. If it were possible to say such a thing, expensive clothes run “truer to size” in that these sizes more closely represent what people should weigh. The other reason expensive clothes run comparatively small is because if they did not, their smaller customers (remember, they have more of them) would not be able to wear that label anymore.

Sara then says:

The retail industry employs fit-models who are specifically used for building patterns for clothing designs.

Another thing that bugs me is how everybody and his brother -to include professional “journalists”- use retailer and manufacturer interchangeably. If said writers were experts to the extent they’d be qualified to comment on the topic, you’d think they wouldn’t make such an elementary error. Retailer and manufacturer are not synonyms. Most manufacturers don’t retail and most retailers don’t manufacture. Here’s a review: the primary activity of manufacturers is to make stuff. The primary business activity of retailers is to sell stuff. More specific to the point,  manufacturers use fit models, not retailers. Retailers don’t build patterns for clothing designs, manufacturers do. [The only exceptions are vertical manufacturers like GAP etc but these are a small percentage of manufacturing operations. The other exception is private label programs of select retailers.] Sara continues:

A company will use the [fit] model to determine what a size two or four should look like.

Again, not true. By definition, a fit model represents the average size of the targeted demographic of a given manufacturer. A cursory web search (minimal research every journalist should do) explains this. The development of our other sizes (called grading) is based on a fit model who most closely represents our average customer. Our average customer is not a small; using a small size would really louse things up. Then Sara says:

Because of the increase in prices for raw goods, it costs more money to produce larger sizes through the whole manufacturing process from sewing the garment to shipping it.

The costs associated with a plus size line have almost nothing to do with higher fabric costs. It has more to do with everything else that goes into it -namely product development and sales. Unfortunately, almost nothing from the regular clothing sized lines can be rolled into the plus sized line to reduce its operating costs. If it were a simple matter of fabric costs, we’d pass along the higher MSRP and sail off to fame and fortune.

Sara really loses me with her logic:

By eliminating one hard-to-sell size, retailers cut their costs and reduce potential loss. As a result, they will cut a slightly larger pattern for their other sizes and lessen the number on the tag, resulting in a vanity sized pant or dress.

I don’t understand how increasing the sizes of other patterns is saving money. I’m guessing Sara is saying the other sizes are substituting for the dropped larger size but if the other sizes increase as an aggregate to make up for it (which I don’t agree they can), it still results in higher fabric costs.

Then Sara says:

Some might raise questions as to how ethical this practice is because it could be seen as misleading to customers. People want to be able to shop where everyone else does, but in today’s market, that can’t always be the case.

It is far from unethical. There is no inherent unfairness if people cannot shop in the same places anymore than it is unfair that people have to go to an Italian restaurant to get Italian food or complain they can’t get an 8 course meal at Denny’s.  It’s called specialization and our economy thrives on it. If my local boutique started catering to Wal-Mart customers, it would drive out product I’m looking for because a retailer has limited funds to acquire merchandise. To do otherwise is a corollary to Gresham’s Law (bad chasing out the good) which would ruin the boutique’s customer base.

“I don’t know why this industry can be so segregated,” said Roth. “I don’t judge my customers because they come into the store and can’t find something to fit in their size. My goal is to provide them with the best customer service I can and offer alternatives when I can. Jewelry and accessory sales make up a good portion of my business, and I’ll continue to offer that to my customers at Rowe.”

I wonder if Roth’s comments were taken out of context since specialization is pivotal to her operation. One thing is certain, consumers are financing clothing purchases at unprecedented levels which has also decreased manufacturers ability to discern appropriate clothing sizes. Consumer credit purchasing has dramatically increased sizing problems. It is not coincidental that luxury handbag sales have skyrocketed. Consumers who can’t find designer clothing in their sizes face no such restriction in carrying a designer bag.

Then Sara closes with a return to her economic argument, the precepts of which I cannot fathom -which is ironic in that I majored in economics:

Until the economy turns around and designers once again alter their sizes to accommodate society’s ever-demanding needs, however, vanity sizing will continue to grace our country’s retailers.

I can only surmise that Sara thinks clothing will be sized smaller once the economy returns to normal. Problem is, clothing sizes are only indirectly related to the economy in that sizes normalize to consumer behavior. The only thing that is certain is that clothing sizes will not return to the sizing known previously until the majority of people diet to return to some semblance of normal (not average) height and weight proportions. I don’t think that is going to happen in my life time. I sincerely doubt that clothing sizes will return to normal even if the economy does because people are not going to diet en mass to weigh less than they do now and that is the only thing that could change clothing sizes.  More directly, I’m confused that Sara selectively cherry picks economic concepts in an attempt to give her points more heft or weight; a transparent attempt to lend a patina of intellectual rigor or academic gravitas but then selectively omits its most salient concepts. People forget that economics is a social science. It is merely a course of inquiry that attempts to measure and rationalize individual and societal management of resources. That’s it.

The sum of my conclusion could be stated as, if you’re going to discuss sizing, it is only logical that you go to a sizing expert. That is not a retailer, they don’t make clothes. It is often not a designer either, they hire pattern makers and pattern graders to do it. It is incumbent upon journalists to conduct research based on expert opinion before writing anything.

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