what is vanity sizing

Some friends and I were chatting at brunch last Saturday and got on the topic of shopping. A bunch of girls talking about shopping – so typical right? The conversation took an unexpected turn though – it developed into a comparison of clothing size discrepancies between our favorite stores. For example, I’m a size 2 at Banana Republic, a size 4 at Gap and a 6 at Lululemon. Get me into a European designer’s dress (though not happening on a grad student’s budget) and I’m likely a 10.

Vanity sizing

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Over the years, vanity sizing has become common practice amongst many American designers for one reason, it increases consumerism. Happier shoppers with a false sense of skinniness leads to bigger sales. European & high-end designers have largely stuck to the standards but as you can probably tell from your own shopping experiences, fewer and fewer designers are using the standard ASTM (American Society for Testing & Materials) sizes these days.

Because we largely shop by whole sizes rather than waist, bust or inseam measurements, women are certainly more affected by this than men. You can’t really fudge a 32-inch waistline but you can take a Size 8 pair of jeans, sew in a Size 6 label and make some woman’s day. Let’s be honest though, we all know  which stores practice vanity sizing, don’t we? The brands know we know exactly what they’re doing… yet it still works otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it.

It honestly doesn’t matter to me whether I put on a size 2 or a size 200 – I’ll buy it if it fits well, flatters my shape and makes me feel good. I realize that this mustn’t be the norm though but are we okay with being lied to?


  • Does vanity sizing impact whether or not you make a purchase?
  • Do you think it impacts larger women differently than smaller women?

P.S. More interesting reads on vanity sizing via NPR & NY Times and some previous healthy life with style posts.

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  • Even inch sizing for pants can be misleading. Just recently I bought two pairs of jeans while on vacation in Korea. One pair is a 29″ and I need a belt and the others are a 32″ and fit nice and snug. Figure that one out.

    I don’t think I would buy something just because the size was smaller than I expect but it can be a bit demoralizing when you pick up what you think is your regular size and then can’t do up the zip in the change room. When I think I’m an 8 but I have to buy either a 10 or 12 at a particular store it may not make me forgo the purchase but it does ding my ego.

    I wish there was a worldwide universal for shoe sizes as well. I’m a 9.5 in US sizes, a 40/41 in Euro sizes, 7 in the UK, 254 in Korean and they don’t even make my size in Japan (25.5) that I saw. Oy. At least the Korean and Japanese sizes are based on real units of measure (mm and cm).

  • This is a wonderful post! I often experience this when it comes to online shopping. Online shopping used to be more convenient, but now I shy away from it because I’m afraid something won’t fit right. I know I have tops in my closet that range from S-XL. It’s just too hard to keep up!

  • Great post! Never thought much about this, but its so true! Noticed a change when I used to wear a M in juniors but a XS in misses! I was like, what happened?!

  • I’m about 20 lbs overweight (and have been 50 lbs overweight), so although at times I have LOVED vanity sizing, I wonder if it keeps women from realizing their true weight gain. I know in the past, if your pants were tight, you knew right away that you had gained. Now, however, it’s so easy to say “oh, it’s just different sizing”! I know that if I hadn’t been able to wear size 16 jeans (at 200 lbs!) and had to go into plus size stores, I would have been much more motivated to lose the weight.

  • As a larger woman (who has lost 51lbs so far!), I do think it has a different impact on a larger woman as opposed to smaller women. From personal experience, it has helped to continue to motivate me in my weight loss journey (besides the obvious health motivation). I am able to shop in Gap now, whereas in the past their largest sizes didn’t fit (aside from an occasional shirt in an XXL). Now, I can fit into their size 16 pants (depending on the fit) and Large tops. In Old Navy, I have gone from wearing their Women’s Plus clothing, to buying Larges in their Women’s clothing. I know their clothing has a larger fit, but it sure does feel great to buy a Large or Medium (my next purchases for when I lose more weight–it’s a process for sure). It’s also a morale boost when I can go to the Outlets and shop in pretty much any store I want and find something that fits instead of being stuck with the handful of stores that carried Plus Sizes. There are definitely some stores where I’m not there yet, but I also know I’m only about 20lbs or so from their largest sizes. Of course, right now I think it may be making an impact on whether I make a purchase or not, but I’m also holding out on how much I purchase. Replacing a wardrobe is expensive and I’m doing it as I continue to size down :D Lot to be said for Old Navy’s low pricing LOL

  • Great post, Elle! As someone at the other end of the spectrum in terms of vanity sizing, I will say that I struggle with the opposite. Vanity sizing is usually accompanied by an overall shift in the size of all clothes sold at that store, not just the tag. For example, I used to be able to wear a 0 at Express (and we all love work pants that are machine washable, right?). Now I wear a 00 there, but they’re hard to come by and almost never available in the cute patterns. So basically, I’ve been vanity-sized out of shopping there. I know that most people would say it’s a good problem to have, but it is SO infuriating.

  • Really thought-provoking! I was thinking about this the other day when I went shopping, and in the past, it definitely would have made me feel worse about myself if I had to “go up” and few “sizes” in the fitting room. Now, though, I mostly look at the size for a (very) rough estimate and then assess with my eyes. It’s hard not to get attached to the numbers on the label, but especially given how common vanity sizing is, we should definitely pay more attention to how we feel in the clothes!

  • I wear a size 10 or 12, and I would say, no, it doesn’t make me feel better nor am I more willing to buy when I can buy the smaller size at, say, Old Navy, because I know it’s just vanity sizing. I feel better when clothes I already own feel looser, or when I’m wearing clothes that just fit well, period.

    Although, I will agree with Laura – seeing those 2-sizes-up on wedding and bridesmaids dresses can be hard to swallow, even as a a level-headed girl who KNOWS it’s just a label and doesn’t mean anything.

    • So true. I experienced this when I went shopping for my wedding dress as well. If there’s ever a time to vanity size it’s in the wedding & bridesmaid dress department!

  • Oh, I could write a dissertation on this. As a tall, slender woman (who was built thinner in my teen years), it is difficult to NOT get a screwed up body image if you put an ounce of thought into sizing. In the pageant world and modeling underworld, it’s even worse. When you apply for anything, they ask for your dress size. How the heck do I know what my dress size is?! I used to just guess a 2 because I didn’t actually know.

    I always wish our sizes were like men’s because then at least it would be consistent.

  • For those of us that are not a size 2, it does feel better when I can put on an 8 instead of a 10. But I know I’m a 10 in most clothing brands.
    I would never buy something solely because of the number though. Just like you, I would buy the garment that FITS. However, I do think it would be better to go to measurements (like men’s.) That way, we would know it is suitable for length also. I’ve already brought home a pair of jeans that I was really happy with because I was so fixated on the waist, that I didn’t realize their “average length” was 2 inches too short for me. :(