Vanity Sizing: A Shopper’s Worst Nightmare

Ryan O'Neill

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A common experience that brings many of us together is when a pair of size 12 jeans won’t fit on your size 12 body. A size 12 in Zara might be loose, whereas a size 12 in H&M may feel like a size 4, and as it sits around your thighs with the stitching about to rip, it can feel like the most depressing thing you’ll ever experience. If you are lucky enough to live in a country that follows standard sizing this experience may seem bizarre, but for us here in Ireland and the UK, this is a very real problem.

Standard sizing refers to the sizing of the clothes sold off the rack in retail stores. Basically, standard sizing means that all garments sold should be sized the same, meaning a size 8 is a size 8 everywhere, and a size 16 is a size 16 everywhere. The European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) has set out these standards under the code of EN13402. However, even though these standards are in place by the CEN, many countries ignore them, including Ireland and the UK. Instead, we use vanity sizing.

View of Graton Street, home to Dublin's most popular retail stores. Photo Credit Henri Sivonen (Flickr)
View of Grafton Street, home to Dublin’s most popular retail stores. Photo Credit Henri Sivonen (Flickr)

Vanity sizing is when ready-to-wear clothing companies design garments to their own idea of what that size should be. Therefore, we as the consumers, end up being different sizes in different shops. This also results in our idea of sizing changing as a society. For example, a size 18 in the 1970s, is a size 14 today.

Vanity sizing can have a lot of psychological  effects on the consumer. Even though we are constantly hearing and being told about how we should love our bodies no matter what size or shape they are, for many of us with insecurities about our bodies, it isn’t always that easy. Unfortunately, a lot of us find confidence in our bodies through the size of our clothes. Someone on a weight loss journey may have a goal of fitting into a size 8 dress or finally fitting into the clothes in the back of our wardrobes that we tell ourselves we will wear when we finally get our dream body. Therefore, when we also have to deal with the different sizing of different retail stores, this can become tricky. If you go to five stores and you fit into a size 10 in two stores but can only fit into a size 14 in the other three stores, this is going to have a negative impact on your self esteem, because as human nature shows us, we focus on the negatives. A 2014 study in the Journal of Consumers Psychology on how consumers respond to larger than expected clothing sizes in relation to vanity sizing showed that smaller sizes increased the consumers self-esteem, whereas larger size and lowers their self-esteem.

Vanity sizing is used in popular retail shop H&M. Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/16166808767/in/photolist-qCB81c-pTJoaG-qyhm1e-qQzf6k-pTXoaV-pTJowd-qyhmnM-BaC1C-qL4rBe-5Hp1ZY-4J7qsP-kkv67-kkv69-kkv6a-7xbKh-7xbbi-7x82a-7xbbj-7x82b-5Hp28S-5HjKFT-7VGNw8-7x82c-7VL2Ah-7VLenq-7VGGcn-7xbbk-7VLm4U-6aGayu-7VKZbj-7VGK8x-7VLgJA-7VGMw2-7VKWVG-7VLaMN-kkv63-7VGHAR-7VGXLX-dtT97o-kkv64-7VLaxw-7VL19b-7VKXRY-7VGMZV-7VL3Tb-7VL1Bo-7VGUoB-kkxuF-7VLiHL-7VKZrm
Vanity sizing is used in popular retail shop H&M. Photo Credit Mike Mozart (Flickr)

Social media has played a huge factor in highlighting the issue of retail outlets using vanity sizing. Recently, H&M received criticism from consumers when a Facebook post went viral detailing one woman’s difficulty trying to find jeans in her usual size. Social media allows us to hold retail outlets to higher standards and provides with US with a platform to voice our concerns and criticism. However, unless governments hold retail outlet she to account and implements  a law that ensures retailers conform to standard sizes, the issue of vanity sizing isn’t going to be solved.

As we move into a new era of fashion and body image, vanity sizing for ready-to-wear clothing needs to be amended. While fashion insiders and  body image activists are aware of the issue, knowledge of vanity sizing needs to become widespread in order to make a change.

 

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Ryan O'Neill