10 Facts About Vanity Sizing

6 min read
Clothing Label

Here, we examine what vanity sizing is, why and by whom it’s used, how it affects you, and what you can do about it.

10. What is Vanity Sizing?

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Simply put, vanity sizing is when brands manipulate the size of clothes, particularly women’s clothing, so that they’re actually larger than what their label says. For example, a pair of pants labeled “size 12” might actually be a size 16. To complicate things even further, different designers define sizes differently. This is why you can find the same size jeans at three different stores and they each fit you a little differently.

Prior to vanity sizing, the National Bureau of Standards maintained official sizing standards for women’s clothing. The standard was based on 15,000 women interviewed previously and a group of women who’d served during World War II. Unfortunately, this “standard” wasn’t representative of all women, so, in the early 80s, the government ditched the standard and left it up to manufacturers to define sizes.

9. Which Brands Use Vanity Sizing?

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According to a 2017 study by Wan-Ju Iris Franz, luxury brands are the primary users of vanity sizing. But, brands like LOFT, American Eagle, Gap and J.Crew are also guilty. Speaking of J.Crew, the brand came under fire some years ago for adding pants size 000 to its line. Critics took to social media and accused the retailer of going too far and being insensitive to young women with body image issues. Others were happy to see the addition of size 000 pants because the retailer typically sells clothing sizes that run larger than other apparel stores.

8. Why Do Brands Use It?

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Simply put, the deflated labels make customers feel good. People want to feel slim, so if you slap smaller sizes on larger items, you give the customer what they want. And, if you have a happy, satisfied customer, you end up with a repeat customer. On the other hand, when a customer finds that she’s only able to fit larger sizes at a certain retailer, her perception of the retailer will decline. The bottom line is that it’s all about the retailer’s bottom line. Which brings us to the next fact…

7. It’s Profitable

Cash Register
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Research has shown that smaller sizes make women feel better about themselves. And, the better they feel, the more they’re willing to pay for a dress or pair of jeans. This can especially be seen when you compare the labeling in stores like Abercrombie and Fitch (size 4) to stores like JCPenney (size 9 for the same item), which is less expensive. But, get this: retailers come out on top either way. According to Forbes, when consumers are upset by larger size labels, they engage in a coping mechanism called “compensatory consumption.” What this means is that even when a woman can only fit larger sizes at a specific retailer, she’ll purchase other products (without sizes) to boost her self-esteem. This might include jewelry and/or cosmetics.

6. It Can Positively Affect Self-Esteem

I Love Me
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Speaking of boosting self-esteem, research shows that vanity sizing can positively influence self-esteem. According to five studies published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, increased self-esteem is related to smaller sizes. On the flip side of that, “larger sizes result in negative evaluations of clothing,” the studies read.

Vanity sizing works even in our imaginations. In a study conducted by Nilüfer Aydinoğlua and Aradhna Krishna, participants were told to picture themselves fitting into clothing that was smaller than their actual size. According to the study’s results, vanity sizing enhances positive thinking and boosts self-confidence, particularly in those with low self-esteem.

5. It’s Bad for Your Health

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While vanity sizing can provide a much needed boost in self-confidence, it keeps you from knowing your true measurements–and, that can be detrimental to your health! Specifically because we know that there are certain disease risks associated with being overweight. And, with vanity sizing, it’s possible to gradually put on a few pounds without even knowing it because as Americans grow, that is, as we become more and more obese, retailers make sure our clothes grow along with us. Which, in turn, can decrease a person’s motivation to lose weight.

Another way vanity sizing is bad for your health is when retailers scale down clothing to ridiculous sizes, like J. Crew’s size 000 pants. “It’s incredibly rare that somebody is going to be that thin without doing things that are damaging to get there,” Dr. Kristine Madsen, a pediatrician and an Associate Professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, told San Francisco Chronicle.

4. It Makes Shopping Difficult

Unhappy Shopper
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It would be nice if we could go to any store we wanted and get the same size clothing. But, thanks to vanity sizing, that’s nearly impossible. It sucks to have your heart set on those cute pants you grabbed off the rack, only to get in the dressing room and find they don’t fit. And, don’t get me started on online shopping. Thanks to vanity sizing, this experience can be nightmarish. Think about it. How many times have you had to return something you purchased online that you thought was your size, but when it arrived in the mail, it didn’t quite fit the way you expected?

TIP: Since sizes vary by brand, make sure you know your measurements before shopping.

3. Men Are Affected, Too

Man In Blue Blazer
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Most victims of vanity sizing are women, but men are affected by it too. According to Bustle.com, American Eagle is the number one culprit when it comes to vanity sizing for menswear.

Interestingly enough, 2010 data from the CDC showed that the average American man was 5 feet 9 inches, weighed close to 200 pounds, and had a waist size of nearly 40 inches. Yet, the top-selling pants size for men was a 34. “Of the guys who actually have a waist close to the average (between, say, 38 to 40 inches), the highest percentage buy size 34 pants (close to 55 percent), followed by size 36 (about 35 percent). Only a very small percentage buy size 38,” Edward Gribbin, president of the clothing size and fit consulting firm Alvanon, told NPR via email.

2. It’s Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Here To Stay
Source: Wikimedia Commons By Pax Ahimsa Gethen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

According to a 2009 article published by Cosmopolitan, vanity sizing is here to stay. That’s because, as we mentioned earlier, we actually like vanity sizing. It makes us feel good about ourselves. And, retailers know they can manipulate customers into paying extra to feel that way. After all, that’s what advertising is all about–tapping into our emotions to get us to buy solutions to our problems. In this case, it’s solutions to low self-esteem, insecurity, and body image issues.

1. …But, There is a Temporary Solution

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Even though vanity sizing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, there are ways around it. For example, you can download Rackery, a free app that helps you find the best-fitting clothes online from leading brands and retailers. You simply answer a few questions about yourself and provide your measurements, and Rackery will suggest brands that fit you the best. It does so by using “advanced algorithms to match your body measurements with clothes made for those measurements.”

Another option is to seek the help of a clothing rental service like Le Tote that uses an algorithm to deliver fashions from Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Kate Spade and others to your front door. Here’s how it works: The first thing you’ll need to do is take your own measurements, which you must provide to Le Tote so they can send you clothing that’ll fit you just right. Next, you browse their selection and style recommendations and choose what items you want shipped to you, which, by the way, arrives in a tote. Next, you wear the items in your tote as many times as you’d like. Then, return the items or keep them for 50 percent off the retail price. Now, doesn’t that make online shopping so much easier?


Don’t get caught up in size. It doesn’t make you who you are. Instead, focus on your health and finding clothes you feel comfortable wearing. Thanks for reading!