Fashion as an industry can be pretty vain. It’s all about appearance: dressing a certain way, styling your hair in a particular fashion, even being a specific size, all matter in the world of fashion. Recently, there is a trend that makes clothing itself just as vain as the industry.
Called “vanity sizing,” this trend applies smaller size labels to garments with larger measurements, all in an attempt to make shoppers feel good when they slip into a smaller size. As a result, not only is the standard sizing system rendered useless, according to TIME, it is also making it much harder for both men and women to find clothing that fits. For example, TIME shared that a women’s size six pair of jeans can “vary in the waistband by as much as 6 inches,” thus making the hunt to find your “true” size a futile endeavor.
The problem did not start recently. In fact, vanity sizing has been an emerging issue ever since the current sizing system was put into place in 1958 — a system that Who What Wear says came about after the U.S. government failed in trying to create a women’s sizing method based on measurements, which ultimately left us with the current strategy that uses arbitrary (and meaningless) numbers. Although the Washington Post says this sizing method was updated in 1970, the sizing wasn’t representative to begin with, not taking into account women of color. By 1983, the Post reports, “the government ditched the standard completely. Manufacturers were left to define sizes as they saw fit.”
This resulted in drastic changes in sizing and absolutely zero consistency across designers, brands or stores. Consider waist measurements and their corresponding sizes. The Post found that in 1958, a size eight meant a 24-inch waist measurement. By 2001, that waist measurement increased by three inches — and still constituted a size eight garment. That same size eight grew to a nearly 30-inch waist measurement by 2011. Women’s sizes like 0 and 00 didn’t even exist until 2011, showing the need to invent new sizes upon which to place these shifting measurements.
And the problem is not unique to women’s clothing either. As Forbes points out, just because men’s clothing (such as pants) typically are labeled by waist and length measurements, that doesn’t mean that they are accurate. Citing research in Esquire, men’s pants measurements were “often two to three inches larger than the indicated size,” according to Forbes, with Old Navy jeans specifically measuring in at five inches larger than the size label indicated.
So what can be done about vanity sizing? Not much, unfortunately. However, there are steps you can take as a shopper to ensure that you not only find a proper fit, but also maintain your self confidence no matter how often your size fluctuates.
First, whenever you go shopping — whether in a brick and mortar store or online — do your research ahead of time. This means find out your own measurements, reading product reviews and studying brand-specific size charts. This will help give you an idea of what size to try on or order and hopefully reduce the chances of purchasing an ill-fitting product.
Second, remember that sizing is arbitrary. You can be one size in your favorite store and then go to another and wear two sizes smaller or two sizes larger. What you need to remember is to pay more attention to the fit of the clothing and pay less attention to the number on the label.
Most importantly, do not take clothing sizes personally. You are not defined by the numeric size of the jeans you wear, nor are you made more or less of a person by the size dress you wear. Yes, looking good in what you’re wearing matters, but what matters most is feeling comfortable and confident in your own skin, regardless of what size you happen to wear.