Companies Tackle Discrepancies In Women’s Sizing

Whenever I go shopping, I have an experience that I suspect is familiar to most American women: I can never be entirely sure what size clothing to try on.  In some stores I’m a size 2, while in others, I’m a 10.  It makes online shopping a nightmare, and makes me question just what clothing companies want me to think about my size.  Am I supposed to feel better if I’m trying on a 4, despite the fact that I could walk into a store next door and have an 8 fit perfectly?  It makes me long for the relative simplicity of men’s sizing, where inches, rather than nebulous sizes, determine what to try on.

This is an issue that shopping malls and other companies are starting to address, according to an article in the New York Times.  Wild variations in women’s clothing sizes is, however, an old problem.  Whether or not Marilyn Monroe was a size 16 seems to be irrelevant, given that according to findings by Alaina Zulli, a designer focusing on costume history, “A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8…Today, she would wear a 0.”

Over the years, many brands have changed measurements so that women can wear smaller sizes, in a practice known as “vanity sizing.”

Now, companies and shopping malls are starting to try to address the discrepancies in women’s sizes.  The most radical approach is a full-body scan offered by a few malls, which tells women which size to try on in which store.

“For the consumer to go out and navigate which one do I match with is a huge challenge, and causes frustration and returns,” said Tanya Shaw, who is working on one of these fit systems. “So many women tie their self-esteem to the size on the tag.”

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of full-body scans to determine sizes – instead, why not push for more informative labels? 

“It would be nice just to take the pant, look at the label and say, ‘That should fit me,’” said Marie-Eve Faust, the program director of fashion merchandising at Philadelphia University.

And it’s certainly in the retailers’ best interest to address this issue; according to the National Retail Federation, the 8 percent of clothes that are returned each year may be closely related to sizing challenges.  It doesn’t seem like too much to ask that sizes be standard, and that companies stop encouraging an idealized vision of the female body through “vanity sizing,” and instead simply help women find clothes that fit correctly.


Photo from Flickr.

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Anne H.
Anne H.2 years ago

I looked up this article because I am in HK and the sizing is by measurement like most men's sizing in the US, it is wonderful. Also in a store as basic as Giordano the employees are trained to help you with sizing and the guy was spot on (and I'm female).

Get rid of vanity sizing asap and I've heard it will also apply to bra sizes? Really are we so insecure that we just can't own who we are and go on? I think this is just another lie that is contributing to a delusion.

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

Please do. Right now shopping is frustrating and far too time consuming.

Selma A.
Selma A.4 years ago

They should definitely use actual measurements in inches (or metric) to "standardize" sizing, bit still understand that not every woman is 5' 6" and has a "standard" bust to hip ratio. We're all different, yet beautiful, and we shouldn't have to feel bad about it. Bring back in-store seamstresses, at least in te high-end stores!

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Vanity sizing or not, it's about time this gets addressed.

In one brand, I'm one size. In a different brand, I'm another size. I could go from one store to the next, and it's frustrating to have to try on EVERYTHING because I don't know if it will fit. From Guess, to Lee, to Disney, to Land's End, each one is a different size I take. I HATE shopping, and so I'm considering to move to a nudist camp to avoid clothing shopping because I just can't stand having to go through that crap.

Deanne P.
Deanne Perry4 years ago

Looks like we are a bit better off in Australia as our sizes usually relate to measurements.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan4 years ago

They should stop vanity sizing but part of me still feels good if I have a smaller size.

April Thompson
April Thompson4 years ago

Do away with vanity sizing! I hate shopping for clothes- pants never fit me right in the length even in the petite or short sizes!

Lori E.
Lori E.4 years ago

The reason I don't buy clothes from a catalog. I have to try it on first because sizes are so different in each store.

Veronica C.
Veronica C.4 years ago

Absolutely! I can't buy anything anymore without trying it on first. It's also very hard to buy gifts for other people.

Cheryl H.
Cheryl H.4 years ago

I read in a book by Kaz Cooke that you'll wear, say, a 10 at Kmart but if you go to a higher-end store, you'll wear a 14 or 16.