In the July/August 2006 issue of Amuze Magazine, I originally published this article, “Vanity Sizing”, which opened a whole can of thought worms when I re-read it.  Let’s begin with the original article (part 1), and then address the worms (part 2):

You hear it everywhere – What size do you wear?  I’m a size 4.  And you?  I’m a 2.  And you?  Double zero.  Double zero?  Then there’s a happy nod in confirmation that yes, that celebrity just admitted to wearing something that not only doesn’t exist, it double doesn’t exist.

How is this possible?  If Hollywood is any indication, you might think it was because we’re shrinking, but actually it’s because the clothes are growing.  It’s a practice known in the industry as “vanity sizing”.  The fashion industry has re-sized (yes, re-sized) their clothes so women think they are wearing a smaller size.  “Across the country, at stores like DKNY French Connection, Old Navy and J. Crew, retailers are giving relatively large clothing a lower, more flattering size label.”

One size does not fit all...
One size does not fit all…

Dr. Roberta Gruber, head of design and merchandising at Drexel University, said this change in clothes labeling is “in a bid to keep pace with expanding American waistlines.  It’s a psychological thing:  If you offer women a size 4 they can fit into instead of a size 6, or a 6 instead of an 8, then the chances are they will buy that garment.”

In fact, vanity sizing is becoming such a popular practice that some clothes are now labeled “size 0”, and even smaller sizes are labeled the aforementioned “double 0”.

“I imagine in 10 years time we’ll have negative sizes for clothes,” Gruber jokes.

Rebecca, a petite San Antonian, agrees with the unrealism of fashion sizing nowadays, and confirms it’s not just in the larger clothing sizes.  “I used to be a size 3-5, and now I wear a size 14-16 from the boys’ and girls’ sections!”  This equates to the current 0 and 00 adult sizes.

Doreen, owner of a taller, slimmer bod, says:  “I’m a size 8 at Target and when I go over to New York & Co., I’m a size 4.”  That works if a woman is beginning at the right store, but what if she starts at the size 4 store and ends up at the size 8 one?  That could be devastating for her self-confidence!

Apparently, this dastardly deception (okay, maybe it’s not that bad) has been going on for decades.  A size “12 in the ‘50s would be a 6 today”, says Meryle Epstein, 42, from the Art Institute of Phoenix.  Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12.  Men everywhere (and also many women) thought she was just lovely.

“There just isn’t any standardization in sizes,” says Ann Siner, founder and owner of the resale clothing store My Sister’s Closet, in Phoenix.  At least in women’s clothing, that’s true.  Men’s clothing has had standardized measurements since Civil War times that are still in use today.  “I’m really jealous,” says Siner, who also owns two men’s resale shops.  “If a men’s suit says 42 regular and a guy knows he’s that, he can just pick it up and he’s done shopping.”


Is a change in tag labels really such a big deal if it makes us feel better about ourselves in the end?  Yes, says the website “FabFit for Women”.  “In short, the manufacturers that are using the vanity sizing system are perpetuating society’s unrealistic standards for thinness which is compounding the problems with eating disorders and women’s negative body images.”

Well, that’s pretty straightforward.  And it is ongoing.  So why has the fashion industry been tricking us?  To sell more clothing?  Yes.  To make women feel better about themselves?  Yes and no.  We might feel better one day because we think we’re wearing a smaller size in one name brand, but we certainly don’t feel better on the other day when we go to another name brand or store and have only our “real” size to choose from.

What could have motivated such a trend?  What could have possibly created the idea that women are so vain that once they found a store with their previously labeled size 10 clothing now labeled a size 6, they would continue to frequent that establishment more often than others?

One reason is vanity…i.e. the term “vanity sizing”.  Another reason is commerce…supply and demand.  Another reason is our own insecurities, doubts, lagging self-images – especially when comparing ourselves to half-naked Victoria’s Secret models.  The notion we women should gnaw on is whether we feel we have to look good to feel good, or if it’s the other way around.  And if it’s the other way around, how can we do more of that?

Men wear their size thirty-something inch jeans because the jeans make them not naked and that’s good enough for them, regardless of the number on the waist.

So, although certain stores deny that vanity sizing is going on at all, be aware, ladies, be very aware…it’s out there and it’s not going away.  Be careful where you shop.  On any given day, you could be a size “normal”!

In part 2, we look at what is “normal” and why normal is perfect!