An Extra Large Sized Rant

14 Apr

I promised to start adding a few more posts to my blog besides just specific challenge posts and this is one that I have been thinking about writing for a while. I know that a lot of people out there have written about this but it happens to be a big pet-peeve of mine: vanity sizing.

According Wikipedia (so you know it’s an accurate definition, lol), vanity sizing, also known as size inflation, refers to the phenomenon of ready-to-wear clothing of the same nominal size becoming larger over time. This tends to occur in places where clothing sizes are not standardized.

To give an example that is commonly associated with vanity sizing consider iconic beauty Marilyn Monroe:

The Seven Year Itch, 20th Century Fox, 1955

Although accounts differ, according to her dressmaker Marilyn’s measurements were 35-22-35. She was 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall and weighed around 118 lbs. Back in the 50’s her dress size was around a US size 12 (again, some disagree on the actual number and it seems to range anywhere from size 12 to size 16), today it would be considered around a size 6! That’s quite the difference in sizing standards and shows how much sizing systems have changed over the years!

Over the course of the eight and a half weeks of this experiment I have been hitting up a ton of stores and have been trying on a multitude of garments both for the challenge as well as outside of the challenge (because it’s not cheating just to try other clothing on of course). I’ve known that many stores have been using vanity sizing for quite some time now but it has been bothering me more and more lately because of the frequency of my shopping and my exposure to this trend. Also, I find that some stores are getting much worse to the point that their sizing system is just ridiculous and nothing fits!

Not only are specific sizes being given a lower number or letter by stores but some seem to be phasing out smaller sizes altogether by shifting the label number down but the size of the garments up!

New Yorker

Now just to emphasize here, this rant isn’t against people of any specific size since I believe that beauty isn’t defined by a number on a tag, it’s a rant against clothing manufacturers and their skewed ways of trying to sell more clothing. As you can tell from my pictures I’m far from being a waif (no one has ever said “OMG here comes Mel, quick step aside! Her protruding hip bones may hook and maim you!”) and it’s really disturbing that the clothing in some stores is just made too big now! On top of that shopping just takes longer since there is no consistency in sizes from store to store.

Case in point, about a month ago I was in Smart Set looking for a challenge outfit and I noticed a sales rack with some cute dress pants. After holding up a pair of supposed “size 4” pants that looked enormous I figured I would take a chance and try on a pair of size 0 pants (I still fail to comprehend how something can be a “size nothing”). I tried them, they were still way too big! I mentioned this to the sales associate who apologized for not having any size 00’s…that’s when I just had to laugh. Seriously? If a zero means that something doesn’t exist does a size double zero have that negative number effect where the two zeros cancel out to create a positive number that says someone actually exists?

A few weeks later I had the same experience at the Jacob outlet, I could not for the life of me find a dress that fit! I’ve also noticed this “up-sizing” trend with some clothing at Banana Republic and Club Monaco and many, many other stores that previously had sizes that used to reflect some type of reality. I still think that Old Navy and Bluenotes win the awards for most skewed sizing though, the amount their sizes have increased is just ridiculous!

Now I know that my weight and measurements have stayed relatively constant over the past few months (if anything they may have increased a little…) but I worry sometimes about what I’m going to do in the summer when I up my running schedule and naturally tend to shrink a little. At this rate I may end up with a whole Hello Kitty wardrobe from the kids department, lol!

I think that retailers need to go back to basics and come up with a logical standardized sizing system. I’m all about making people feel better about themselves but vanity sizing should not be the answer. I know that there is a lot of attention these days on the obesity epidemic and I’ve done some reading up on all sides of the debate since my PhD research has a connection with obesity. Yes people are getting larger but just ignoring it by increasing physical clothing sizes and decreasing the defining numbers is just masking the problem. I know that the obesity debate can get very heated and can be controversial and my comments aren’t meant to offend anyone. I just think that people need to be accountable for themselves and they also need support from the environment around them.

For example, sometimes people just don’t notice that they’re putting on weight until they try on an old pair of pants or dress and realize that they’re tight. If this bothers them they may be motivated to look at their lifestyle and make some positive changes by tweaking their diet or excercise routines. On the other hand, if sizes in stores keep going up and these people are shopping for new clothing they may not have any indications to make changes since they are still fitting into their normal size or even a smaller size than before. They may wake up one day discovering that they have put on a lot of weight and never realized it!

Now this may not bother some people and again beauty comes in all sizes but I think that just shifting sizing upwards is an unhealthy trend. If we as a society are concerned about obesity then we need to stop this size distortion and face our reality head on! Does the number on an article of clothing garner an emotional reaction from some people? Of course! But it should not define them or their worth and I think that’s where the real problem lies. We need to start accepting ourselves and the reality of our sizes and shapes. Clothing manufacturers can support this by coming up with a system that translates across the board as much as possible and at the same time make clothing available for people of all sizes on both ends of the spectrum and in-between.

Just my two cents 😮

28 Responses to “An Extra Large Sized Rant”

  1. Erin April 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    I have to say, I don’t think this vanity sizing applies to skinny jeans, as I have never been able to fit in them, or, as I mentioned to Mel in person, Jacob (perhaps Jacob outlet is different, or I have gained considerable weight I’m not noticing).

    I also wonder about the responsibility we’re putting onto clothing manufacturers for making us see our own weight gain. I think it’s important for everyone to stay critical about consumer goods. Those low in fat foods that contain tons of sodium; the ‘organic’ or ‘green’ labels that have more to do with technicalities in certification than anything else; ‘buying’ a Health Check symbol; or claiming something is ‘made in Canada’ as long as it is assembled in Canada.

    We have to think about our role in asking tough questions about the things we buy. Companies are not going to become less interested in profit making in the near future, and so we can’t depend on them to tell us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (so help us, God). We need to start thinking for ourselves and not buying into flashy marketing schemes. On that note, if I barely fit into my regular sized Jacob pants, maybe I do need to take a good look in the mirror…

    • thespendthriftexperiment April 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

      Skinny jeans are a whole different story! I have never been able to find a pair that didn’t either have a) a massive waist but fit my legs, or b) a waist that fit but legs that cut off my circulation!

      I agree with you about Jacob vs the Jacob outlet. Jacob seems to have clothing that is smaller than the outlet but I do recall a few times where dresses there haven’t fit me. I haven’t shopped at the actual store in a long time though since most of the bargains are found at the outlet. I think though that I am still shocked that other stores like Club Monaco and Banana Republic have jumped on this upsizing bandwagon.

      It’s true that not all of the responsibility should fall on the manufacturers because as you said profit is paramount to them but I think that they should bear some responsibility for deceptive practices. It makes me think of calorie counts on food packaging. Could you imagine if companies started upsizing their food (well, even more than they already have) and posted lower calorie counts than are actually found in the foods? Thankfully we have regulations and inspections that prevent this from happening but just like we all need to eat we all need to wear clothing (unless we all decide to live in nudist colonies…I’d rather not go there, lol). I know that it’s a bit different since the normal consumer can’t scientifically measure the calories in their food but they can use a measuring tape to track their measurements but how many people actually do that on a regular basis?

      Also, I think that emotion plays into this whole issue and continues to feed it. Would you rather go into a store and come to the realization that you’ve gained weight or would you rather have your ego stroked by thinking that you fit into a smaller size (albeit artificially smaller)? It’s much easier to turn a blind eye and want to believe the smaller number. It makes me wonder how many of these manufacturers marketing firms have a psychologist on staff…

  2. wendy April 15, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    PS …I also have noticed this trend, in MY wardrobe….which by the way keeps getting a little bigger but the sizes get smaller, what’s with that and exactly what is my size?? how do you know what your ‘real’ size is??

    • thespendthriftexperiment April 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

      I know, it’s so confusing! I think that the only way to really keep track is with a measuring tape and keeping an eye on the scale. It’s funny because some fitness experts always say pay attention to the way your clothes fit but if you don’t know what the real size of them is in the first place then how do you know?!

  3. Stylepint April 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    I know the feeling of being a “non-size.” I know I’m small, but does that mean I have to shop in the kids section where my size is supposedly correlated to my age? If so, I’m only 12/14. LOL.

    Size inflation is an unfortunate by-product of our age to reflect the “average” consumer but it sucks for those who don’t fit into that scale. I find myself in 0/00 or less…and it’s so disappointing.

    • thespendthriftexperiment April 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

      It’s so frustrating but as you said it just reflects the current state of our society. I also find it a little disturbing that some of the kids sizes are so large now, it’s quite sad when some of the clothing in the childrens department is loose on an adult!

  4. Plami April 21, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    Very interesting and in-depth article! I really enjoyed reading it!Thanks for writing this post!


  5. jesse.anne.o April 22, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Seriously. I don’t whine about it because as a small/0-4, I know I have enough privilege, but when I pick up a 0 and there is NO smaller, and it’s still too large, I have no options. (And this has happened at the infamous-for-this Old Navy *and* Zara.)

    If most places weren’t also phasing out their petite lines, I’d have less to worry about. As is, I’m just considering having everything tailored to fit, which is expensive.

    • thespendthriftexperiment April 24, 2011 at 10:38 am #

      I hear you! There used to be so many more petite options available but now they seem to be disappearing. I get annoyed with even having to pay to hem pants so I can’t imagine having to pay to get everything tailored! I really hope that it doesn’t get to that point.

  6. Cynthia April 23, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Huh. I’m nearly 5’8″, large framed, and mostly wear a standard size 12. A couple of years ago, I got my weight down about 10 pounds lower than it is now — basically to what I wore in high school, 25 years ago. I was a size 10 in high school, and when I got down to that weight again recently, I was a size 10. So at the upper end of the “Misses” size spectrum, clothes have hardly changed at all. Don’t know what’s going on down there in the tiny sizes. Maybe because we’re already in the double-digit “ghetto of shame” and we’re not competing to be the tiniest (I mean seriously, no amount of weight loss is going to change my bones) the retailers don’t feel like they have to meddle with the sizes to make us feel “better”?

  7. Jane April 23, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I do own at least two pairs of children’s pants that fit–black capris and corduroys. But I don’t notice the same issue with vanity sizing in shirts. That may be because of my body shape. I have 38DDs that often push me into the plus-sizes.

  8. Debbie Baker Burns April 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    I had never before considered the negative implications of vanity sizing. Thanks for making me think about this in a new way. Very interesting post.

  9. Elaine April 25, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Great rant on an interesting topic. I hope to be as eloquent in my comment
    I think the sizing distortion is entirely fueled by marketing just to stroke our self-consciousness into buying. It’s frustrating that an agreed on measurement for a size isn’t universal, especially when big companies own multiple brands.
    I wonder what this size distortion is like in other countries as well. In China and Japan, ladies are generally tinier than American counterparts. I’d expect a shirt that would be labelled medium in the US would be labelled XL in Japan. Size is based on relative measurements so I can see how it’s difficult to have uniformity. Still it’s so much easier to buy shoes which doesn’t have rampant inflation like clothes.

  10. Malvina April 25, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    so true! Due to a slow, incremental lifestyle changes I’ve lost sizes over the past decade. Objectively, I can see it in the mirror when I try on clothing that I’ve had for years, so I know that I’ve shrunk. However, if I compare my size in high school (16, verging on 18) with my current size (8-10), I really can’t believe that I’ve dropped 4 or 5 sizes. Compared to what the scale says, it just defies imagination. It’s such a bizarre and confusing system! I wish I had a standardized system to measure my achievements (or that I had thought to use a measuring tape way back when).

  11. poet April 26, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    My problem exactly: Vintage clothing from the 70s and early 80s fits me at a size 8 (or 7, I’ve seen a tag with that number), today’s clothing sold in the US is sometimes too large even at a 2 (0 has so far always fit me). Yes, they should make a wide range of sizes to fit every body, but no, they should not change the numbering every few years. It doesn’t serve to make anyone feel better anyway as long as we as a society continue to be obsessed with an ideal of thin-ness…

  12. Fashion Limbo April 28, 2011 at 6:16 am #

    This is so wrong, yet we talk about it and it keeps happening. I was in Zara two days ago, picked up 2 trousers to try on. One of them size EU34 (uk6, US2) that was too big (!!!!!!!!!!) already VERY wrong as I have good hips and my bottom is always making me go for at least a size bigger. Then the second pair of trousers, marked in S,M,L (small, medium, and so on) got size S which was too small, so had to try in an M that fitted ok. What is wrong with this picture???! absolute madness


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