The Psychology of Shopping. Vanity sizing: Crazy, But We’ll Pay More if the Label Says “Size 4”

March 26, 2008 • Shopping


It’s official, we women are crazy. Just take a look at our closets. Which of us does not have at least 3 different sizes cohabitating in our walk-ins at any one time?

Yesterday’s Colorado Springs Gazette had an interesting article that called us all…out of the closet. For most women, lower is better when talking about clothes, but you can’t  let a numbers game fool you. By now we are all well aware that the true size of her clothing largely depends on the brand.

Women’s fashion has always had its own rules, and the rule when it comes to sizing clothes is this: Things aren’t always as they seem. One brand’s 12 might be another brand’s 8. It’s impossible to buy all one size any more.

This "vanity sizing" – putting smaller numbers on bigger clothes – is to help us Americans deal with the fact that we are getting larger. Yes, as American waistlines have grown, companies have realized women will spend more money for a smaller number. The sizing rule of thumb: the more you spend, the smaller number you’ll wear.

Shopping is an emotional experience for women, and marketing firms have caught on, says Cheryl Locke, fashion journalism coordinator for the School of Fashion at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

"I think it has to do with feeling beautiful — feeling magically transformed by what you’re wearing," Locke says.

Some brands have even revamped their entire sizing system. Chico’s did away with the traditional 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 concept from the start in lieu of one that sizes clothing from 0 to 3.

Companies know they can hook a customer with a smaller size, which is why the fashion industry has lagged to return to standard sizing.

To see vanity sizing in action, just take a look back at the sizing of yore. Marilyn Monroe, whose voluptuous body required a size 16 in the ’50s, was actually more of a 6/8 by today’s standards, Laur says. Generally speaking, clothing sized in the 1950s can be cut in half for an idea of today’s mainstream sizing.

In an attempt to get back to more standardized sizing, the Textile Clothing Technology Corp. invented a body scanner to collect measurements that could help devise a uniform scale. "Size USA," a 2003 study conducted by the company, scanned 6,310 American women and found that the average waist size varied between 32.6 and 37.4 inches, depending on age and race.

Couture clothing has stayed more consistent with sizing — largely because the number is just as important as the tag. It’s hard to find designer brands above a size 8, Locke says. Even XL pants from Italian designer Roberto Cavalli are vanity sized at 30 ½ at the waist — the equivalent of a Banana Republic 12.

"High fashion does become scary for people who aren’t a certain size," Locke says. "That’s why I think companies like Liz Claiborne, Target and Gap — they continue to inflate their sizes — then the American woman is comfortable shopping there. It’s a very psychological phenomenon."

Source: The Seattle Times


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