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 out 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 labelled 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 products 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 that 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 any more than it is unfair that people have to go to an Italian restaurant to get Italian food or complain they can’t get an eight-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 products 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 lifetime. I sincerely doubt that clothing sizes will return to normal even if the economy does because people are not going to diet en masse 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 the 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.

34 thoughts on “Apparently, anyone who wears clothes is a sizing expert”

  1. As a 5-foot tall Asian women who typically wear a size 0 petite, 00 petite, or the occassional junior’s sizes, I, too, was fed up with “vanity sizing.” However, after reading your blog entry, I am convinced that the concept of “vanity sizing” is a myth. Not only do you make compelling, logical arguments to substantiate your own position, but you also apply logic in articulating the inherent fallacies of the “vanity sizing” argument. Thank you for taking the time to post this excellent entry.

  2. I hate this website. I came here to learn about the fluctuation of sizing but all I saw was a condescending blog-writer who, instead of writing objective information, decides to cut down every other person with an opinion. You know..YOU are allowed to have an opinion just like everyone else. You don’t have to be an expert to thoroughly research something and develop a well-informed thought.

  3. At the bottom of the About page is a list of articles here that flesh out “vanity sizing” in depth. On Fashion-Incubator, there are over 300 separate entries on sizing.

    People are certainly entitled to an opinion. Being entitled to believe what one chooses doesn’t mean it’s valid. Belief does not equal valid. Some people think the earth traverses the heavens on the back of a turtle; that doesn’t mean it’s true. I also agree that not everyone needs to be an expert to hold a valid opinion only that the facts of the matter are dispersed such that most people know the truth. Unfortunately, we can’t say that yet about “vanity sizing”.

    One who espouses controversial topics and positions is traditionally unpopular. I certainly don’t hold my opinions to be on par as those of Copernicus or Galileo but they were no less unpopular for publishing research that ran counter to “opinions” of the day.

    It seems one only has the choice of being unpopular or to publish the truth I prefer the latter even at the expense of you hating me, my site or whatever.

  4. Penelope Trunk comes to my rescue this morning with:

    The other reaction you can get to a good idea is shock: This is terrible, awful, upsetting, offensive. You know you’re on target with that reaction as well. Because you think it might be right, but it’s so counter-intuitive that people cannot see it’s right because they would have to switch their world view.

    How do you know if what you’re saying is not new? You see confirmation that you’re right. It’s the kind of confirmation where you can tell for sure that the world agrees with you and you are right smack dab in the middle of a trend. Because if you’re right there with everyone else, then you’re not doing anything new.

    In other words, I’d be more worried that you agree with me than if you don’t.

  5. I can follow your arguments about why “vanity” sizing is a myth, even if I don’t agree with every point. However, I’m noticing an odd trend that goes beyond sizes and actually resides in the size charts–that is, the measurements provided for a particular size are inaccurate.

    I have other examples, but the most recent one is a pair of shorts that I bought from a Gap store in a 00. I was shocked that I would be such a small size, and I know it wasn’t a one-off labelling error, because I tried on pairs in a number of colors. The 00 fit perfectly, with no pinching or “muffin top.” When I got home, I looked up Gap’s sizing chart, and found that 00 is supposed to correspond to a 23.5-inch waist. But, according to the measurement I took myself this morning, I have a 26.5-inch waist. That is far too large a discrepancy to dismiss as a fluke of, say, body shape.

    Now, dress sizes may be arbitrary, but one’s waist measurement in inches should not be. So either clothing manufacturers are being sloppy and inaccurate, or they are deliberately misleading their customers.

  6. This whole article is a hoc of crap. Compare a 34″ waist pant between multiple brands, and you will find a varying sizes. Since when does 34″ not mean 34″?

  7. Kathleen,
    While I agree with you on the basic “myth” in regards to fashion sizing for women, I’m just trying to fins an explanation as to why men’s pants labeled a size 34 (which should be nothing more than a measurement of waist..) have a variance of as much as 4 inches? The men’s clothing designed for a younger “audience” is closer to the actual measurement, but walk into a Gap or similar store, and the “size 34” pants jump up to a 37 inch waist…. The problem gets worse when you compare American with European manufacturers….

  8. I see what Lucy is saying. There’s an air of arrogance that comes across from the author, but I don’t necessarily fault her, as I can imagine how irritating it might be when people my factual statements that you know or believe to be false. I’ll believe that “vanity” sizing does not really occur as a means to “flatter” the customer, thus enticing him/her to buy. But I don’t really care about that. I think the problem is that vanity sizing and size inflation are being used interchangeably. So it’s really a matter of semantics and by declaring at the top of your lungs VANITY SIZING IS A MYTH, you are leading the impression that size inflation does not exist.

    Not only does it exist, but (as the last two commenters pointed out), it exists in an incredibly inconsistent way among brands. So my question is: who sets the standard for how men’s clothing is sized, the retailers or the manufacturers? Because men’s sizing is supposedly based on inches, so when size inflation occurs, the discrepancy is outright blatant. Coming at it from this angle, Kathleen, is it really shocking for people to come to the conclusion that it’s “vanity” sizing (even if that conclusion is wrong)? It’s fine that sizing needs to inflate to reflect the mean, but when you buy a pair of jeans that are sized at a 36″ waist and the actual size of the waist measure 41 inches… then the whole naming system of men’s pants is pretty whacked.

    At this point men’s sizing is not different than womens… 32, 34, 36… these are just representative numbers, not actual inches of the waist. So when I see these guys come into the city and go into H&M, they bemoan that the clothes are all sized “wrong”–which is because they think their waist is actually 36 inches, when in fact that’s just name of the size for their old navy pants with a waist much much larger than 36 inches.

  9. If people are generally getting bigger and taller, then fine, but why does that mean that a “size 4” has to keep shrinking, instead of just making size 18’s, size 20’s, etc., for people. We can add at the end and keep sizes consistent to account for this, we don’t have to adjust our whole scale and start carrying 00’s and 000’s. I am someone who has stayed the same height and weight over the past 10 years, but has gone from a size 2 to a size 000. Many stores I can’t even shop at any more. I believe both vanity sizing and size inflation account for this. Just consider the fact Marilyn Monroe used to wear a size 16 dress…now that’s probably a size 4.

  10. Your information on here is DEAD WRONG! I used to be able to find clothes in my size, now I can’t. If I try on anything size 2, it falls to the floor. The new size 2 is more like a size 6. The invention of size 0 and 00 never existed before vanity sizing. They were only created in order to serve the people who could no longer find clothing in their sizes. You need to amend your information and desperately! I don’t know where you get off calling vanity sizing a myth. Nor do I care! You try being my size and suddenly no longer being able to find clothing in your size anymore unless you go to some extremely expensive boutique.

    You’re comparing clothes sizing with spirituality that differs from your own?!? Shame on you!

    1. Hmmm, she is only stating what the industry standard is to sizing. Sizing is the result of a norm referenced group (this is how many standardized tests are scored, such as the SAT). Groups of people are gathered every few years and their measurements are recorded, like test scores. Then, these results are grouped according to the mean, the average. Measurements, like test scores, are then placed according to the comparison to the mean, like average waist measurement and hip measurement.
      This is all very dry math, specifically statistics. Because we in the US are getting larger, this results in the standardized sizings changing to reflect this new norm. It’s a bell curve. Google it. This standardization applies to many items. Take shoes for instance, a shoe store will carry the most pairs of shoes that fit a majority of its customers. The store will often carry only one pair in the extreme sizes, meaning the smallest and the largest size, because fewer people will fit those shoes.
      It really makes more sense if you looked at a graph.

  11. As a plus-sized sociologist, I previously took it for granted that vanity sizing was a real phenomenon, and that the lack of plus-sized choices reflected a bias on the part of designers and manufacturers. I am very glad you set me straight. Now that you have given us a better view of the logistics nightmare that is designing, manufacturing and retailing new clothing lines, and a better investigation of the history of sizing, I know I will be able to quite confidently tell people that vanity sizing is a myth. Some clothes makers may very well BE sizeist, but that’s not the reason they’re not making plus-sized clothes.

    Thank you very much for making all of this information freely available to the public. I wish your sites would be the first thing that comes up on a search about vanity sizing.

    You’ve also revealed a big issue with academia, one which is of greater scope than just our commentary on the fashion industry. Any academic in any discipline tends to view the world and everything in it through the lens of their particular discipline. For social researchers, this means that everything we do is social and has a social motivation, which may or may not be objectively the case. A social reason for clothes availability doesn’t take into account the logistics and economics – which, for an industry driven by profit as all industries are (everyone needs to make a living, and everyone wants to make a good or great living), undoubtedly has a greater effect on what gets to the consumer than individual biases or discrimination.

  12. Thanks errihu and ruby, I’m glad someone understands. And you’re right. I don’t mind that people contradict me, by all means, find my flaws! What is very irritating is when people don’t even bother to read the considerable material I’m compiled, on which to base a factual case. I mean, it is so stupid when people say “I use to be a 6, now I’m a 2” and they haven’t bothered to follow the links to explain the phenomenon. So, I print their comments so everyone can see what I have to deal with day in and day out. I do all this research and analysis and they expect me to “respect” their opinion when all they can say is “nah uh!”

    This has got to be my most favorite comment ever (emphasis mine):

    [..] I used to be able to find clothes in my size, now I can’t. If I try on anything size 2, it falls to the floor. The new size 2 is more like a size 6. The invention of size 0 and 00 never existed before vanity sizing. They were only created in order to serve the people who could no longer find clothing in their sizes. […] I don’t know where you get off calling vanity sizing a myth. Nor do I care! You try being my size and suddenly no longer being able to find clothing in your size anymore unless you go to some extremely expensive boutique.

    That’s right. Pricey clothes run small. So much for that vanity sizing theory that designers manipulate customers into buying their expensive clothes by putting really small size tags in the garments. I do appreciate you making the point for me (again). Mass market clothes continue to get larger because their customers do.

    You’re comparing clothes sizing with spirituality that differs from your own?!? Shame on you!

    uh…. I wasn’t discussing spirituality. Some people do think the earth traverses the heavens on the back of a turtle. That is their opinion. Who said anything about religion? Or are you saying it is okay to believe crazy illogical ideas and expect for other people to respect you for them as long as you call it faith or spirituality? Okay, I’m hip to that. I think you could definitely start a church. Call it Vanity Faith or something like that. It’s the only way you wouldn’t have to have logical arguments to make a case for your opinions on vanity sizing.

  13. Ruby, you don’t follow all of my points.

    So it’s really a matter of semantics and by declaring at the top of your lungs VANITY SIZING IS A MYTH, you are leading the impression that size inflation does not exist.

    Semantics? Seriously? Does cyst mean tumor? I don’t think so.

    I have described at great length that sizing inflation exists. Ad nauseum. I’m not offended by it, I tell you all about it. We’re responding to market forces. It is not an issue of semantics because vanity sizing presumes malfeasance. That we deliberately attempt to manipulate consumers.

    Let’s review:
    Sizing inflation –> explained by market forces
    vanity sizing –> evil manufacturers are proactively attempting to manipulate you.

    You want to call it semantics, have at it. Let’s just hope whoever reads your ma’am-o-grams doesn’t feel the same way you do.

  14. As William MacLeod has already pointed out, if vanity sizing is a myth then how do you explain the fact that men’s trousers are incorrectly labelled to flatter the customer?

    A size 10 in women’s clothing does not (as far as I know) relate to an exact measurement anywhere on the body which leaves it open to various interpretations but a pair of men’s trousers labelled as 34 should measure exactly 34 inches round the waist but they rarely do.

  15. I heard about this topic on the radio and decided to do some research. The author makes some interesting points about how sizes are set. I would argue that sizes do not ever need to be changed, just add new sizes. The majority of people would probably consider a size as a hard measurement like an inch or a centimeter. I understand that the author is making the argument that sizes must change to fit the evolving human. People are getting taller with better nutrition. People are getting heavier with less excercise and high caloric intake. People have been told for years that this size inflation is due to marketing ploys and we love to talk about conspiracy. I can not help but feel that if the industry wanted to, they could have very well kept sizes static. It is a choice to tailor clothing “to the norm” and increase averages over time. I have also noticed waist size problems. Some cheep brands of jeans have several inches difference between same waist sizes. Different brands of jeans like Lee or Levis also have quite a difference in the same waist size. (Over 2 inches). I consider this sloppy because most of us males hate shopping and just want to pull products of the shelf without having to return them. I force myself to try clothes on now before buying, because I have had so many problems with inch waist measurements.

  16. I think the key problem is most people don’t seem to get is you are not disputing that sizes have changed, but you are disputing that they are changing in order to make people feel skinnier. Personally, having worked in the fashion industry for manufacturers (not in design), everything you say makes perfect sense to me. P.S My husband is an econ grad and loves your blog.

  17. You are correct AGA. I am the last person to deny sizes have changed. I do deny that we do it to spare people’s feelings.

    Tell your husband that I also majored in economics.

  18. Hi Kathleen.

    Thanks for your articles. I found them quite informative and enlightening.

    If you haven’t already heard about it, I thought I’d let you know about the latest “vanity sizing” controversy.

    A prominent bra boutique owner has publicly made the claim that bras have become vanity sized over the past decade. And she’s quite adamant about it (but doesn’t provide any evidence to support her claim).

    You can read what she has to say here (includes links to responses from others):

    I see that your blog posts stopped the middle of last year, so I wasn’t sure if you’re still as passionate about this issue and/or would be interested in responding to her publicly, but I just thought I’d pass the link along.

  19. Hi Kat
    I did hear about the bra lady. Bras aren’t something I know much about -I suppose that is relative. I’ve written some about bra fit (pt.1 and pt.2) and the entropy of bra fit owing to push manufacturing. Due to practices of firms who are doing all their product development offshore (see the first link), it would not surprise me if we were seeing the same type of sizing pressures bought to bear based on retailer’s insistence of sizing consistency across brands [that aren’t preeminent enough to be able to dictate their own standards]. Iow, big box stores are increasingly dictating consistency among brands for sizes hanging on the same rack to reduce consumer confusion and frustration. Again, I seriously doubt any movement with respect to sizing has anything to do with flattering the consumer and more to do with following any mandates a chain store has the influence to exert.

    At the same time, another thing that can’t be minimized is individualism (or perhaps better described as “delusion”) among independent designers cum manufacturers themselves. As I’ve said before, I saw a video clip of a designer in Chicago who described herself as a size 6 and she couldn’t have weighed under 180lbs. She was completely sincere! You can have a designer who copies a bra she likes. Maybe she’s worn it awhile (stretched it out) and will want the copy to match it and she will ascribe the same size to it as what appears on the band of the original. My point is, there is no cabal; disparity in sizing has its roots in human frailty and fallibility which is why I persist in describing sizing as a social construct; not a mathematical one.

    I remain passionate about the topic but it does get old being the only person in the industry who will speak publicly about it. I also gets tiring to get the same old re-hash arguments about how wrong I am from people who feel perfectly qualified to tell me how wrong I am but haven’t even bothered to read my counterarguments. We’re talking about a population that increasingly expects “respect” [read: expecting cogent discourse in response] for their opinions regardless of how half baked they are. Lastly, I haven’t kept up with this site as much, being pulled to continue posting on my main site ( This site was initially intended to be a convenient place to aggregate all the vanity sizing posts instead of clogging my other site with it. Once I figure out how to do it, I will post the entries from there, over here. I mean, I know how to do it but I have to code it with canonical links to neither site is downgraded as a splog.

    I’ve been meaning to do a satire of most vanity sizing posts on the web. Such as, why do nearly all of them feature a photo of Marilyn Monroe and close with talking about how attractive everyone is, “just as they are”? It’d be like talking about tire sizes, putting up a photo of a Ferrari and telling everyone how great their beaters are. What does one have to do with the other?

    1. Thanks for your response. And for the theories you presented and for the additional links.

      And I agree with the sentiment you expressed on your About page. That if we could put aside the idea that clothes are “vanity sized,” maybe the industry would be better able to determine the real causes of changing clothing sizes and sizing inconsistencies and be able to fix them.

      (And I look forward to reading your satire whenever you get around to it.)

  20. Hi Kathleen. I think your point that changes in clothing sizes are a reflection of changing average sizes for particular markets is compelling. Apart from the arrogance manifest in your article and unduly dismissive tone in some of your responses, my only issue is your lack of response to valid objections to your claims that vanity sizing is a complete myth, specifically those of William McLeod and Curtis B. To reiterate their principal questions with the hope that you will actually address them: (1) Why is it that a men’s pair of pants at the Gap labeled 34 inches – an inch being an established measurement, and not a mere symbol like women’s size “0” – run much larger than a men’s pair of pants at H&M with the same indicated measurement? (2) If not in an attempt to cater to people’s vanity so that they remain loyal customers, why don’t manufacturers keep sizes static and add larger and smaller sizes as needed?

    1. I’m going to attempt to answer IDN’s questions, which have also been asked by William McLeod and Curtis B.

      A brief background for myself: I am a fashion design major/graduate. Worked for a large company as a grader for women’s clothing that also did some petites and plus sizes (company had 5 different divisions.) I now work with a patternmaker for small independent designers in the area.

      So the question was…

      (1) Why is it that a men’s pair of pants at the Gap labeled 34 inches – an inch being an established measurement, and not a mere symbol like women’s size “0” – run much larger than a men’s pair of pants at H&M with the same indicated measurement?

      Curtis B. wrote “I have also noticed waist size problems. Some cheep brands of jeans have several inches difference between same waist sizes. Different brands of jeans like Lee or Levis also have quite a difference in the same waist size.” Your waist measurement is supposed to be the smallest part of your midsection, while your hip measurement is supposed to be the largest part of your bottom (usually around your butt and much lower than were your hip bone is). Where jeans typically fall or sit on your body would be somewhere in between those two places known as a “low waist” or “high hip” placement. If you are measuring your waist (smallest part of you) and comparing it to where your jeans actually sit (low waist), you’ll get something different. Your low waist will be bigger than you actual waist measurement and can account for the difference. Most people do not know how to measure themselves correctly.

      So let’s say you have a pair of jeans on already and have measured at the exact placement where your jeans sit on your body and know for a fact that the above is not the case and you have measured 100% accurately that your waist is in fact 34″. You DO NOT want a pair of pants that measure exactly 34″ as your waist… unless the pair of pants you are buying are made of latex or some other skin tight material meant to conform to your body shape. Most garments are patterned with “ease” or what you can call “fitting room”, “breathing room” or what my patternmaker likes to call “eating room”. This amount that is built into a particular pattern largely depends on the style of the garment (in your example for pants: high or low rise/hip huggers/loose fit/tailored fit/etc) and the material used to make it (non-stretch woven vs stretch woven or a knit). This amount can range anywhere from 1″ ~ 2″ or more to the actual low waist/high hip measurement. So if you are a measure of 34″ + 1″ ease, you’ve got a pant that should measure 35″ around, and should fit relatively comfortably on you despite being 1″ larger.

      Now, the industry *used to* pre-shrink their fabrics and/or garments before selling them. I don’t know of any that still do this. As a cost cutting measure, no one pre-shrinks their fabrics anymore (except maybe the high end stuff). Instead, they “build in” shrinkage to the pattern instead. I know this for fact because that’s what my former employer did. There are so many variables at play here that I won’t go into full detail, but a non-stretch fabric will have a different shrinkage amount than a stretch-woven (because you have to account for both the stretch amount AND factor the shrinkage). This could be as little as an 1″ or as much as 3″ ~ 4″ or more (for really bad quality fabric, but this could happen!) So what I’m getting at is… If your fabric is predictably going to shrink 3″ after a wash and dry cycle, the manufacturer is sure as hell going to build that in to make sure after you wash it once, it’ll still fit you or they know they are going to lose you as a customer. So your previous 35″ (34″ + 1″ ease) is now going to measure (+3″) at 38″. After some repeat washing and drying, it should “shrink” down to a standard 35″ measurement. I have never own a pair of jeans that did not shrink on me whether in width or in length (mostly both).

      So why are we calling this measured 38″ a 34″? Well because the 34″ means “I am made to fit a 34″ (low) waist” and DOES NOT MEAN “I measure 34″ at the waistband.” If everyone took a tape measure with them to a pant store and bought based on measurements, everyone is going to be sorely disappointed with their purchase after their first wear and wash.

      In summary, you can’t compare one pant to another due to pattern ease, fit style, and fabrication shrinkage. Too many variables at play. Every pair of pants is going to be slightly different. I hope that answers your first question; onto the second…

      (2) If not in an attempt to cater to people’s vanity so that they remain loyal customers, why don’t manufacturers keep sizes static and add larger and smaller sizes as needed?

      The most logical answer that comes to me is because people are used to shopping in a certain size range now (00-20 or XS-XXL) and to change or add to that may confuse shoppers. Its kind of why there are advocates to change the US from imperial to metric (like the rest of the world) but it hasn’t happened. It’s just too hard/confusing for people?

      To look at a break down in sizes, juniors are labeled in odd numbers (1-13), while missy sizes are labeled as even numbers (0-20) and women’s sizes start at 34 through 50 (I don’t have much experience with women’s sizes, so please excuse me if I’m wrong about this range.) If we kept sizes the same and just added to the size range as we needed, the missy sizes will eventually run into the women’s sizes. Ok, so now we have to change the size range for the women’s. That will confuse the women shoppers.

      Then there are alpha sizing (XS – XXL). Alpha sizing is orientated to a given manufacturer’s numeric size range. If Brand X offers a full range from 0-20, your break down could be as follows:

      XS = 0
      SM = 2-4
      MD = 6-8
      LG = 10-12
      XL = 14-16
      XXL = 18-20

      What happens when you start adding more numeric sizes as your numeric chart HAS TO stay the same? You add the XXXL, XXXXL, XXXXXL, etc? Or you could do 1x, 2x, 3x, but wait, that’s running into the plus size range of labeled sizes. Well, now I guess you have to change both the women’s size range AND the plus size range so we can have a fixed standard missy size range. That’ll confuse the plus size market.

      And as the size ranges keep getting bigger (because of bigger people), what will we do with the smaller sizes? Just eliminate them? Probably, since they won’t be in use anymore. So then your future size range will be something like 10-30? Which is your new 0-20, isn’t it?

      So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you don’t eliminate the size ranges at all and keep the full range from 0-30. There is no manufacturer that is going to produce ALL those sizes. This is why alpha sizing was invented – to eliminate the need to produce so many sizes and reduce cost to the company. Manufacturers will still produce within a given range; the smaller end (0 – 16) for the smaller market and the larger end (18-30) for the larger market, which isn’t any different than what is being done now between the missy market and the plus size market.

      And if size ranges were standardized and stayed fixed throughout the years, we’ll all eventually end up on the “plus size” end of the size range (from getting bigger.) And then, well, if everyone is plus size, is anyone really “plus”? Wouldn’t that just be the new normal? Wouldn’t it just be the same as reorienting the median size range of the current population to the already established 0-20 and XS-XXL that everyone is already used to using without all the other added confusion?

      Hope that clarifies it a bit.

  21. “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 doesn’t make sense. If people are getting bigger, shouldn’t they go up in size instead of having the sizes warp around them? A big person shouldn’t be wearing a size 6 just because the average person is big, they should be in a bigger size.

  22. You claim to understand “vanity sizing”, and even quote someone who defines it, and then spend your entire article refuting something else. You never address the issue that an alleged “30-inch” belt is not 30 inches, nor the issue that the size of a “30-inch” belt has changed over time. You only address the issue that clothes in general get larger to match the growing population, which is obvious, and unrelated to the issue at hand.

    You use the phrase “vanity sizing is a myth” (on, which links to another lengthy article which also spends most of its content not actually addressing vanity sizing. The only mention of size inflation over time is the third paragraph from the end, where it says:

    “The sizing system changed as consumers wrested meaning away from scale to what became an arbitrary system of numbers to represent given sizes. So, if the number of the size doesn’t “mean” anything today, don’t blame us.”

    Of course, there’s no explanation of what “customers wrested meaning away” means or where the author got this idea. It reads like an opinion piece, not a fact piece.

    P.S., I’m glad you realize the importance of leaving things to the experts. For example, the outrageous number of simple grammatical errors in this article, not to mention the utter lack of any facts with reputable sources, shows that you should leave journalism to the journalists.

    1. “[C]onsumers wrested meaning away” is a sneaky way of saying — we’ll shove the blame entirely onto the people we rely on to butter our bread and wash our hands clean of our own fxck ups.

      In the words from this very blog:
      “RETAIL became king after ww2 and the determination of sizes didn’t make sense to them, they came up with this other weird system that has no basis at all”, and yet the author blames consumers for “wresting meaning away” 🙄.

      If the industry had any integrity at all, then it would’ve simply continued to print the sizes according to the so-called “divisional scale” & “half-sizes” used by the pattern makers and manufacturers, provided public information on how that scale works, and then referred anyone who needed to learn which size they were to said scale. Instead, the industry and this author treat customers like imbeciles who cannot possibly understand this magical, unknowable superduper complex divisional scale. 🙄

      Now the real question is: why would an industry want to introduce a new system with “no basis” when a working system that DOES have a basis already exists? Answer: because it makes it that much easier to dupe/manipulate their customers — including through such means as, say, vanity sizing, which the author with vested interests in the industry conveniently gaslights us into believing does not exist.

  23. Kathleen,

    thanks for this article. I am a product manager who has become responsible for a line of clothing and I couldn’t agree more about not being a sizing expert. do you know of any services available that you can pay to put together sizing charts for us? I would need charts for the consumer.. but also for the vendor to make them. I’m struggling to find such a service.

    thanks in advance.

  24. Hahahaha. So you think that FUBU is supposed to give the same fit to a person as Wranglers? Their 34″ means they intend it to fit a 34″ waist … in the way that their style fits.

  25. The whole dress size system is as outdated and useless as the gallon system that’s still used for measuring water in the USA. Time to introduce scientific measurements for dress size: length in cm / BMI. That will cover about 95+% of your entire population. So, if I want to buy a T-shirt next time I want a label that says something along the lines of “165-170/18-20”, which translates to: ‘Anyone between 165-170cm tall with a BMI between 18 and 20 can fit into this T-shirt.’

  26. Changing the size of clothes to fit the mean is a problem for consumers, like me. We don’t know what size to get as it varies between manufacturers, so we end up spending way too much time trying on clothes. And, if what you are saying about clothes not being pre-shrunk is true, after a few washes, the jeans that fit when we tried them on, now have shrunk and won’t fit! So I think the size inflation, no matter the reason, is better for the manufacturer than the consumer. It’s definitely making me not want to go shopping.

  27. Why do they bother to normalize the sizes to the mean tho? Wouldn’t it be easier to keep the numbers consistent over time but just adjust the volume that each size is manufactured at?

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