Vanity Sizing

Vanity sizing is what retailers do to target their clothing sizes to a specific part of the market. Have you ever wondered why you go into Topshop and the Size 12 seems tiny, yet you pop over to New Look only to find that a Size 12 fits you perfectly? That, my friends is vanity sizing and it’s a topic I have felt very passionate about (I wrote my 6,000 word dissertation at Uni on it lol) for as long as I’ve been a fully formed woman.

Vanity Sizing

I was reading back on my posts from when I first started this blog and saw that I’d touched on the subject (the post was called Finding Clothes that Fit) but hadn’t delved further into it – and what better time to do so than now?!

With the post-Christmas sales inevitably coming up, I’m sure many of us are going to be heading out to the high street, picking up loads of stuff to try on in the changing rooms and wondering whether we’d eaten one too many mince pies because the size you’d wear in one store isn’t the same as what you’d wear in another. But fear not fellow bargain hunters! This may well be a case of vanity sizing and I’m going to be discussing how this may not be you getting bigger/smaller, it’s not in your head and retailers are playing on shopping habits to their advantage.

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Back in the day (before we millennials were born anyway), clothes sizes were made to a standardised set of measurements with fashion designers using Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting measurements (at universities and colleges across the UK this is what we’re all taught to abide by). Over the last couple of decades (I believe predominantly in the U.K. & US) retailers have been tweaking their sizes to reflect that of their target market. Measurements for sizes have increased meaning that a UK size 12 in 1987 would have been a hell of a lot smaller than a size 12 in 2017. Not only have they increased, they’re all varied across stores.

With our ever-growing population that is more diverse and multi-cultured than it was 30 years ago, our shapes and sizes have changed a hell of a lot – so it’s inevitable that our clothes sizings have too.

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So why is this an issue? There’s a danger in vanity sizing to our mental and physical health. It can affect our physical health in that some of us are blissfully unaware of being underweight or overweight when our stores are providing us with clothes which we believe to be a certain healthy/desirable size, when it doesn’t reflect our true size. It can affect our mental health in that we feel disheartened or traumatised when we normally wear a size 10 in New Look, but have to go up a size or two when we go on into Zara.

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So why use vanity sizing at all? Retailers have clocked on to the fact that when a woman goes into a store, thinking she’s a size 14, if they’ve increased the measurements of their sizes, she’s more likely to buy a pair of jeans if they’re labelled as a size 12 as it makes her feel better about herself – like she’s lost weight or is smaller than she initially thought. And in reverse – if a retailer wants to target their clothing towards a smaller shape/size, then they will make their measurements smaller than other stores to eliminate the customers that they don’t want showcasing their clothes.

I’m only scraping the surface here as there are so many elements to this topic, but for ease of reading, I’ve put together a chart showing standard waist measurements of a size 12 woman from some of our top UK high street retailers which demonstrates the point I’m trying to make – for reference, in Winifed Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting books, the standard waist measurement of a size 12 woman is 26.5 inches. I’ve also linked each site’s sizing charts for you to check out yourself;

Retailer Waist Measurement (inches)
Topshop 28
New Look 29
M&S 29.5
Zara 32.5
H&M 31.5
Miss Selfridge 30
Dorothy Perkins 29

In 2001, there was a study carried out on both men and women in the UK where body scanners took measurements from 11,000 people called SizeUK, a study like this hadn’t been carried out since the 1950’s before they had the technology to body scan  (my old lecturer from Uni actually worked on the project which was carried out by the Department of Trade and Industry, leading British retailers and academics).

As of 2016, this data was being used by 17 retailers (please feel free to check my source here where you can see some of the data which came from the study), but there isn’t a standardised chart for retailers to abide to – which in my humble opinion should change.

I did a little bit of digging on the UK Government website in their petition section to see whether this had already been put to them for action, only to find that it had been rejected in April 2017 with the following reason stated for rejection “It’s about something that the UK Government or Parliament is not responsible for. This petition seems to be calling on high street stores, not the Government or Parliament, to take action”. You can check out the petition here.

But shouldn’t our government have the power to implement a law which retailers should abide to? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and whether I should give it a go and start up another petition!