The topic about sizing has been haunting me for more than a week now. The other day, I had to go on a pair of famous retail stores in Milan to try on clothes as an interesting attempt to understand fashion production better. My mission was to spot the differences between each piece I decided to try on in different sizes, supposing that clothing is made with a ½’’ of error tolerance. After a long wait at the fitting rooms and after the struggle of fighting with tangled hangers, I was very surprised to find out that although some pieces fit me perfectly okay at the size “I’m supposed to be”, some pieces at my size couldn’t fit me at all, them being too big or way too small. This really got me thinking about “vanity sizing” — does it really exist, or is it just another fashion myth?
So, in general, what is the definition of vanity sizing in the fashion industry? It’s a phenomenon and controversial topic that has been going around for years now, and basically, it’s about labeling pieces at smaller sizes than they actually are. Some say this is the brands’ strategy to encourage sales and some say it has a terrible effect on people’s self-esteem and body image. Although I partly agree with both types of opinions, the idea of vanity sizing doesn’t actually bother me and there are plenty of reasons on why the phenomenon might just be another myth built upon psychological perceptions on fashion production and body image, rather than the actual objective view that sizes are supposed to change in time as fashion keeps evolving.
Now, to begin understanding why vanity sizing might just be another emotional opinion in the industry, all it takes is just to take a look back in history. Sizing has always been a frustrating topic. Before the 1950’s though, there wasn’t a way to know what size, for instance, a woman was, because during that time everything was custom-made. Everybody had access to having their clothes made, but not only that, also women were supposed to know how to make clothes from scratch, and so you might say that everything fit perfectly to everyone at that time. That completely changed when the Great Depression happened. Everybody was a victim of the financial turmoil and so it is obvious that people weren’t able to buy food, let alone fabric to make clothes; and so the “standardization” began. Taking advantage of the industrial boom, mass production of clothes and catalogs began to become a trend and so the National Institute of Standards and Technology (back then with another name), which was born in the late 1940’s. Clothing began to confuse people as they first started being labeled from 8 to 38, and even have additional labels such as height with T (tall), R (regular) and S (short) and girth (+ or -). The problem with these standards though, was that they were not representing the entire American population, and so from then, sizes became an issue for everyone working in fashion production, and “vanity sizing” seems to be just another term that we’re using for this generation to represent how we think brands are trying to mess with our heads.
So, is the term “vanity sizing” misled by consumers? What about body image? I’m not going to lie. Fashion has been pled guilty of having set some standards in their consumers. You might have heard that thinner is better and how much this has affected millions of women and men that follow trends or compare themselves to models on magazines because they think they’re supposed to look that way. But if you look at sizing with a more objective perspective, the topic has nothing to do with the self-esteem of a person, let alone something to do with vanity. Humans are never going to be standardized and that’s a fact, but the reason why sizes have changed through time is simply that humans, of course, have been evolving through time. The truth is, manufacturers of clothes couldn’t care less about a single individual’s body image and how to affect it. Whenever they are handed the designs and patterns of the clothes they’re supposed to produce, they only think about two things: demographics and target consumer. Every brand has a different type of consumer and that is recorded regularly and the sizing scale will inevitably change over time, depending on what type of client buys it.
Finally, is vanity sizing a myth, or not? I would have to go with myth. The only problem lying right now in the hands of manufacturers of the fashion industry is related poor fitting. Especially now where everything’s gone digital and it has been become more common to buy clothes online, it has been recorded that consumers return 40% of what they bought and that is a huge cost issue for brands. It’s hilarious to know that technology companies are practically streamlining every corner of the fashion industry, but brands still can’t find a way to bring up clothes that fit. The debate over sizing and buying clothes online will definitely be something I will enjoy talking about in the future, I’m just glad that now I understand why fitting room lines are so damn long.