top of page

Fashion and body image: vanity sizing or insanity sizing

In recent years the fashion industry has been slowly inching towards greater inclusivity and representation. Stores are finally providing for those of us blessed with long legs, under 5ft 3″ or graced with curves like Beyoncé. However, we still face the impossible (and what should be simple) task of finding clothing stores with standard sizes.

It’s happened to us all. You’re stood in the fitting room with a pair of size 8 jeans, the size that you have depended on all your life. But when you try them on, they’re gaping around the waist. What follows is utter confusion as you begin to wonder how on earth you managed to miraculously lose seven pounds in the space of a day.

What is vanity sizing?

Enter vanity sizing, where designers add extra inches of fabric to clothing without changing the number on the tag. Yes…really.

Sizing has changed a lot since the first standardised women’s guidelines were published in 1958. What used to be a UK size 12 in the 50’s has creeped its way down to becoming a size 8 today. But why has this happened?

One reason is that brands have opted for their own set of rules throughout the years. Having their own guidelines means they can cater their sizing depending on who they think their customer is. Which would explain why size tags are infuriatingly inconsistent with each shop we waltz into.

This phenomenon has made it virtually impossible for women to even know what their size is. With a size 8 being just as meaningless as a size 12 during a shopping spree today, customers experience endless confusion.

Not only that, but it can leave women with a whole load of unrealistic expectations about their own bodies. By adjusting the standards, customers feel a newfound sense of confidence with their ‘slimmer’ figure. And who wouldn’t want to wear a smaller size right? But the problem here is that it’s just a marketing tool.

Ultimately, customers are manipulated into believing that they’re wearing a smaller size than they normally would leaving them wanting more. And what’s worse, most of us don’t even know about it. Vanity sizing is simply just adding fuel to the fire in terms of misinformation about weight and is quite frankly, an exploitation of customers psychology.

The problem with vanity sizing

Vanity sizing can not only knock your confidence, but it can also deeply impact your mind and your bank account.

Downsized labels provide consumers with a surge of validation from seeing a smaller size. In turn, people tend to buy more from the store because they feel good about themselves. This leads to many people becoming attached to those stores whose sizing makes them feel an increased sense of self-worth.

On the flip side, larger labels tend to reduce the self-esteem of shoppers meaning that they like the product less. So, what do brands do to keep hold of their precious reputation? They keep the numerical value the same whilst adding inches to the waistband.

We become so used to sizing down that when the time comes and we have to size up, our heightened self-esteem comes crumbling down. It can make us, the oblivious consumer, feel like our weight is out of control when the reality is, retailers just can’t get a hold on sizing.

However, uncertainty begins to lurk as our emotional response to weight outweighs any logical explanation we might have. Our weight becomes an obsession and we start to attribute an enormous importance to the size we wear. Along with the immense pressure to drop the pounds, we become fixated on the way we look.

So, whilst society is making progress in body positivity, vanity sizing is constantly reinforcing the idea that we need to wear a size 6 to be valued. It’s clear to see that retailers are playing to our insecurities. Consequently, burdening women with the unhealthy habit of questioning their bodies.

One size fits no one

It all boils down to one fact – women prefer to buy clothing that is labelled with a smaller size as a way to boost their confidence. But this needs to end. It’s time for retailer to recognise and respect the diversity of our bodies.

Universal sizing appears to be a common-sense solution but when you think about it, it’s not fool proof. Women’s silhouettes vary so much, and we often have no idea of our true shape or size. This makes it impossible to for retailers to get it right, and leaves us right back at the start.

Maybe ‘one size fits all’ is the answer. But the problem here is that one size isn’t going to fit everyone and especially not in the way that is expected. What fits as an oversized cardigan on one person is a tight-fitting cropped cardigan on another. This means that consumers can never be truly satisfied with the fit of their clothing.

Even new start-ups are playing around with 3D scanners. They are taking customer’s individual body measurements and creating clothes made to fit like a glove. Nevertheless, this method is way too inefficient and unrealistic when you consider supplying for the mass market.

Feeling good in the skin you’re in

Realistically, there is no answer to creating a truly inclusive and transparent sizing guideline. Especially not one that is going to take all of the factors that make us who we are, into consideration.

The size we wear should not dictate our mood, something that should be kept in mind as we’re searching for our next LBD or stepping onto the scales. Moreover, just because you wear a bigger size doesn’t mean that you are less worthy as a human. And with vanity sizing thrown into the mix, it doesn’t even mean you have a bigger body.

Even though it is difficult, we must remember that those numbers are simply a guide in helping us to find clothes. It is time to stop idealising size 0 as the epitome of beautiful. Each and every one of us is different and that is what should dictate our perception of beauty, not the numbers printed onto the labels of our clothes. The most important thing is that we feel good in our own skin.


bottom of page