I have a mild addiction and I’m not ashamed of it. From a fiscal standpoint, I probably should be but the heart wants what the heart wants and the heart wants ASOS. Is it weird that I’m on first name basis with the ASOS delivery driver (hey Gary!)?

Perhaps.

Is it strange that I consider the time I was featured on ASOS’ style shout out page ‘#AsSeenOnMe’ as a great personal achievement?

Maybe. I might just give you that one but the extensive range, the cool edits, the diverse models…what’s not to love? However, to my horror last weekend I happened across a new element of my beloved fashion site that had me questioning our love affair. Whilst shopping for summer dresses, I clicked on this pretty, pink and flowy number. I was then greeted with a little blue bubble informing me that based on my previous purchases, I would fit a size 10. Now, this was all well and good until I clicked on an equally cute dress and saw that my recommended size was now a 14. I closed the tab immediately. I’m someone who ranges from a size 10 to 14 but after seeing that 10, the thought of facing the upper echelon of my size range completely put me off this second dress, even though it was slightly more appealing than the first one. The concept behind this phenomenon is called Vanity Sizing. 

Vanity Sizing is the process of purposely mislabelling garments with smaller-than-accurate sizes with the goal of convincing consumers that their bodies are smaller (Ketron & Spears, 2017). 

Since the 1930s, consumers swapped their custom garments for ready-to-wear pieces. This saw the introduction of standardised sizing systems which aimed to provide consistency and clarity in garment size dimensions to clothing manufacturers and consumers alike.  

These days you can be anything from a size 0 to 32, there’s no ‘size six-and-three-quarters’, you must check one box and one box only and that’s where the problem lies. Research shows that most of these sizing systems are based on two or three body dimensions such as chest, hip and waist measurements, which do not accommodate the specific body dimensions of large variations of body shapes and proportions in the population (Ashdown, 1998). Similarly, many garment manufacturers are using outdated systems from the 1940s which don’t account for increased ethnic diversity, changes in health care and other societal shifts that contribute to the increasingly diversified body proportions present in the general population.  

In most cases, manufacturers are not adhering to sizing systems at all. Instead, every manufacturer has their own system and brands use this freedom to give themselves a competitive advantage and this is where Vanity Sizing steps in.

Vanity Sizing is the process of purposely mislabelling garments with smaller-than-accurate sizes with the goal of convincing consumers that their bodies are smaller (Ketron & Spears, 2017). Whilst research has found little evidence of Vanity Sizing in men’s or children’s apparel, for women’s clothing, especially clothing marketed at young women Vanity Sizing is rampant and for one simple reason – it works! Despite a recent increase in the popularity of body positivity, the ‘thin ideal’ still prevails. Placing a smaller size label on a garment with larger measurements satisfies consumers’ psychological need to feel slim (Kasambala et al., 2015). This positive emotional response is then directed towards the brand in question.

It’s a cleaver trick. I’d like to consider myself as a woman comfortable in her own skin but I know for sure that if I’m a size 10 in Mango and a 14 in Topshop, the former will fair higher in my estimates.  Luxury brands are no exception. In fact, studies have revealed that very expensive designer brands measure significantly smaller than lower priced brands for women's apparel (Wan-Ju Iris Franz, 2017). When you buy designer, it appears that you’re not only paying for the prestigious name tag and the arguably superior quality, you’re also paying for your clothes to congratulate you for your recent efforts in the gym and the fact that you ordered a low-fat latte that time last week instead of your usual caramel hot chocolate. Well I’m here to tell you it’s all lies and that those congratulations are undeserved (sorry, not sorry).
 

Manufacturers have been shifting garment size meanings with under-sized labels consistently over time but sometimes things can go a step too far. For example, if I were to ever comfortably fit into a dress size 6, I’d new something fishy was going on, as would be the case for any woman who happened to swiftly exit her size range. If consumers come to suspect the intentional mislabelling of clothes and the presence of Vanity Sizing things can backfire. In fact, research suggests that consumers who recognise gaps or discrepancies between labelled and actual sizes in apparel sizing are more likely to exhibit negative reactions to the product (Ketron & Spears, 2017). In short, Vanity Sizing only works when deception is just about plausible and that kind of trickery doesn’t sit well with me.

At the very least, it’s just plain annoying being a 10 in one place and a 14 in another. It takes some of the joy out of shopping and it can often make online shopping an absolute nightmare. Adhesion to a standard sizing system is entirely voluntary as the published standards by various countries are not mandatory (Ashdown, 2014), so it doesn’t seem that we’ll be seeing change anytime soon. The only genuine action you can take is to pay less attention to size and focus more on things that truly matter like quality, material and style. At the end of the day, the only real numbers that matter aren’t the ones on the label, they’re the ones on the price tag.
 
Have you had an experience with Vanity Sizing? Sound off in the comments!

Author

Shakaila Forbes-Bell is a Fashion Psychologist and writer who has been featured in Marie Claire UK, i-D, Who What Wear, All Walks Beyond the Catwalk, Fashion Bomb Daily, The Voice Newspaper, Gal-Dem, Black Matters US and more.

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