You walk into a store, see an item of clothing you like and decide to try it on. Now unless you are a seasoned shopper or have a good eye for fit, chances are you’ll take various sizes of the same garment into the changing room.
Why? Two words: vanity sizing. It’s a practice where clothing manufacturers reduce the sizes of their clothing in order for women to feel good about their bodies and in turn buy their clothing. A positive consumer experience also means customers are more likely to return to that store and buy more.
While dress sizes are shrinking, and we believe we are getting smaller, we are also told that obesity and obesity related illnesses are on the rise. According to the Sunday Telegraph, size discrepancies in women’s clothing are causing concern among public health officials. The national guidelines aiming to tackle obesity under the ‘measure up’ campaign, suggest that a woman with a waistline greater than 80cm is more prone to heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers.
“A size 12, or medium in popular women’s retailer Witchery, caters for a waistline of 85-89cm. The same waist measurement at Country Road is a size 16, or extra large. A size 12 at Suzanne Grae fits an 80cm waist.”
So now a size 12 is considered obese? Great. From someone who buys a medium in Witchery, this is not particularly comforting news. In fact it makes me angry. Even though my body mass index sits in the healthy range for my height and weight, I still feel like I’ve been duped.
It’s not only Australian women who are affected by vanity sizing. If you’ve ever shopped online from the US or UK, you’ll know how hard it is to get the right fit. Alaina Zulli, an American designer studying dress sizes in Vogue advertisements from 1922 onwards, found that clothing sizes have been irregular for decades.
“A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8. Today, she would wear a zero,” Ms. Zulli said.
As designers and clothing manufacturers continue to mess with our heads -and sense of self- US designer Nicole Miller has introduced a size smaller than zero. Temporarily called the “subzero” it is for petite women with 23½-inch (59.7cm) waists and 35-inch (88.9cm) hips. Another US retailer, Banana Republic has also begun offering a “00” on its website.
With all these differences, no wonder we’re confused about which size to take into the changing room. Denim brand, Levi’s has recognised the frustration most of us feel in having to try on four different sizes and has introduced Curve ID. Having already sold one million pairs of the jeans, the styles go by the shape of a woman’s derriere – slight, demi, bold and supreme and come in a variety of styles, washes and sizes (32, 34 .etc) to fit.
Shopping malls in America have also looked into body scanning technology that will tell shoppers which sizes they are in different boutiques. But how is this for a novel idea, instead of investing in technology and marketed styles, why not just make standard sizes exactly what they are meant to be – standard across all brands.
Have you ever been deceived by vanity sizing?