Vanity Sizing, Your Measurements & Clothing Sizes

I hate vanity sizing.

Vanity sizing seems to be running rampant, more so now than ever. It’s what causes clothing sizes to vary greatly between stores and brands, and is the single biggest frustration among women I know when it comes to shopping.  Gone are the days you can walk into a store, snag something off the rack, and know it will fit you properly.  Now you have to go in and try everything on to make sure it fits, and you may be a small in one store, and in the next you can’t even get a small top over your shoulders.  And pants?  Don’t even get me started!

What can we do about it?

Well, unfortunately, not too much. Though I suppose if you really wanted you could start making your own clothes, or thrifting and refashioning/tailoring what you buy (if necessary), but that requires a lot of time and money (especially if you have a tailor do the work for you instead of DIYing it).  And not everyone can afford that.

We could write letters, sign petitions, and picket stores known for rampant vanity sizing, but designers won’t listen.  They don’t have to. There will still be women who buy their clothes; there are women out there who love vanity sizing.  I mean, let’s face it… if you’re a 6 somewhere, and a 0 somewhere else, that 0 is going to make you feel darn good, and you may buy it simply because of that.  That will always exist.

Start by knowing your measurements.

It’s becoming more and more important for women to know their measurements, instead of just knowing their dress size. After all, if you’re a 2 at one store, a 4 in another, a 0 somewhere else, and a 6 in yet another brand, what size are you actually?  The New York Times posted an article on how clothing sizes vary between brands (even, sometimes, between the same brand) and it’s a really interesting read that shows that vanity sizing really does exist across the board.

It’s important to know your bust, waist, and hip measurements. These numbers are more important than dress size in the sense that they are what determine what size garment you should buy.  Often, it’s the only way of knowing what size you are, and knowing your numbers can help take the guesswork out of ordering online.

Being measured isn’t something to be embarrassed about.

You can get measured at nearly any tailor… all you have to do is ask. You can also measure yourself.  But you have to make sure you do it right, otherwise, it won’t matter.  One of the best “how do I measure myself” articles comes from California photographer Pat Yuen and can be found at his blog here.  It is, however, much easier to get measured than to measure yourself, especially if you’re unfamiliar with how it’s done.

Stop worrying about sizes.

There’s no need to be hung up on what size you are. In fact, on your next shopping trip, try to ignore sizes all together, and just try on what looks like it may fit.  It will be hard at first, and may mean a little more trying on.  But largely, a lot of the sizing can be ignored.If you like a top, and usually wear a small, but they’re out, try the medium.  It might work on you.  Heck, try the large, and see if it looks cute as an oversized top.  By worrying less about sizes, you’ll find your options are broader.

I’ve started doing this, especially while thrifting, and while it can be a bit of a let down sometimes, it’s actually made my life easier.  I know try on what I like, and what looks like it might fit, and worry less about sizes.  Does it mean I’m disappointed sometimes?  Sure does.  But if I just stuck to shopping the 4 rack, I’d have missed out on the fantastic size 6 dress I have on right now, which fits like it was made for me (even my husband noticed how beautiful the fit is).

Size doesn’t matter. - "I love that top on you. It's totally a 6, right?" said no one ever.

I was going to go through my closet and show you some examples of the variance in sizes I have. But I’ve decided against it.  Why?  Because when’s the last time anyone came up to you and said, “that’s a cute dress… what size is it?” or “I love that skirt, is it a 6?” or “that top looks fantastic on you, it must be a large”?  Never (unless you were in a sorority and the goal was to borrow said cute item, but let’s not go there).

Size is not what people care about. People care about how something looks.  It’s all about the cut, the pattern, the overall styling, and most importantly, the fit.  If something looks great, that’s what matters.  Not the size.

Focus on fit, not size.

Stop getting hung up on sizes and start looking at how things fit you. If that means that you have to start cutting the size tags out of your clothing, then by all means do it. But stop worrying about what size something is.  You’re the only one who will know anyway, unless you go around flaunting the size of whatever it is you’re wearing.

If you’re hung up on size, and wearing clothes that don’t fit you right because of it, what you’re wearing isn’t going to look good no matter how cute it was on the hanger.  No one is ever going to complement the muffin top that too-tight skirt gives you, or tell you how cute your cameltoe is in those pants.  Trust me.

Ill-fitting clothes can make you look heavier.

Both too-small and too-big clothes can work against you. Too-small clothes can both cause and highlight bulges.  Instead of wearing something that’s too small, size up and make sure it fits you properly.  You’ll look instantly thinner, because your clothes won’t be clinging to any imperfections you naturally have (or those caused by clothes that are too tight).

Along the same vein, wearing clothes that are too big can make you look heaver as well.  Too-big clothes add bulk, and in most cases, this can be really unflattering, especially if the added bulk is in areas you already are a little heavier.  For example, I’m pear-shaped, and adding bulky items around my hips makes them look even wider, and is always a bad thing for me.

Go through your closet and purge ill-fitting stuff.

And while you’re at it, if you must, cut the sizes out. And from now on, when you shop, concentrate less on what size things are, and more on what fits you properly and looks amazing.  No one is going to care about the size… all that matters is how you look in it!

*For the record, I feel like bra and underwear sizes are decently consistent.  Plus, when I find a bra that fits, I tend to buy a few, because it’s always a pain in the ass finding bras that actually fit.  Same goes for shoes… shoe sizes are fairly standard. So don’t ignore sizing when it comes to those things.

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25 comments for “Vanity Sizing, Your Measurements & Clothing Sizes

  1. Sue
    July 26, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    How true! I have to admit to really warming to the shop assistant in a local shop who said “Small?” when I picked up a coat that I liked. I responded with “No. I think Medium”. I decided that Medium wasn’t suitable if I wanted to wear thicker tops underneath in winter, so eventually bought it in Large. Would I have bought anything if she had said “Large?” when I picked it up? I’d like to think so, but….

    We have a lovely story about my Auntie Chris going into Marks and Spencer to complain that their bra sizes were getting smaller. The unfortunate male assistant in Customer Services dared to suggest that their sizing hadn’t changed and maybe she was a bit bigger? “How dare you!” she said before sweeping out of the shop.

  2. July 26, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    I think trying stuff on and thinking about how you want to wear it is important too, and something I didn’t touch on. I tend to buy coats bigger now too, for exactly the same reason. Better, I think, to spend a little extra time trying on sizes to make sure you have the right fit instead of just buying the size you think you should, or the size that makes you feel good. If anything, it prevents you from wasting money on something you never wear because it doesn’t fit right and is uncomfortable.

    That’s too funny about your Auntie Chris!! Sounds like something my grandma would have done! Thanks for sharing that little tidbit 🙂

  3. Bre Dale
    July 26, 2012 at 2:20 PM

    These are all such excellent points and is something I really understand better now. After losing so much weight and now being pregnant- size is just a # and not something to feel bad about. I now embrace my body and dress it how it likes! It’s ok that I can wear b/t a 10-16 often times, no biggie!

  4. July 26, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    I never knew that it was called ‘vanity sizing’ but I definitely noticed that sizes vary greatly! For example, at Old Navy I’m a s/m but most everywhere else I am a l/xl. And don’t even get me started on jeans sizes!!!

  5. July 26, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    Yeah, it’s getting pretty hard to buy anything these days without a lot of effort, and I truly *despise* trying on clothes. On the other hand . . . I’ve spent the past year and a half working on losing some of the weight I put on in the past 20 years. Does it make me shallow that I realistically think I’m probably going to end up a size 10 (in most places) when I know good and well this same size body was a 14 two decades ago? 🙂

  6. July 26, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    I absolutely LOATHE jeans shopping. Usually I go to a place like TJ Maxx or Marshalls, where they have a variety of sizes, brands, and styles to choose from. Then I can try on pair after pair in size after size until I find the right fit… though usually it takes weeks or months to find the right pair. And I’ve found I have to try them all on anyway, even after I find a style, fit and size that works for me… because different fabrics can mean a totally different fit! RAWR! I’m frustrated just thinking about it!! LOL

  7. July 26, 2012 at 2:48 PM

    I think at some point, women generally understand vanity sizing, and get what I’m saying in this post. Most of us do, anyway. I know a few who don’t.

  8. July 26, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    Not shallow at all. In some stores, I’m a 0 now (I recently lost 2″ off my hips), and it made me feel DARN good! I think to some degree, we all like feeling that good about ourselves.

    But forget that… you’re going to be back to the same size body you were 20 years ago. That’s FANTASTIC!! :high five: You GO, girl!!

  9. July 26, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    Oh I hate vanity sizing! Especially when it comes to ordering clothes online – they will say fits generously but not give measurements and that could mean anything! I wish there was just a universal sizing chart and we could all stick with it!

  10. July 26, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    I know, right? A lot of guys I know can’t grasp vanity sizing, because most men’s clothes fit the same regardless of the brand. They know that if they’re a 34×36 jean at GAP, they’re a 34×36 in Levi’s. Though I have noticed that now, with all the fits available to men, it’s not as easy for them any more. A 34×36 bootcut jean may fit different than a classic cut in the same size.

    And I can’t lie… every time my husband has a little harder time finding something that fit rights, I do a little “haha now you know how I feel” dance inside my head.

  11. July 26, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    You just know my problem, don’t you? I can’t find anybody to measure me in addition to that too

  12. July 26, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    If there are any dry cleaners in your area that do alterations, they should be able to measure you. Give them a ring and see if they’ll do it.

  13. mel
    July 26, 2012 at 3:48 PM

    That is fantastic girl! You go. I am a size 2 from a size 10 (about 8 years ago). But you know what, I don’t give a damn about my size- what matters most is how I feel!

  14. July 26, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Exactly! Size doesn’t matter at all! As long as you look good and feel good in what you’re wearing, that’s what counts!

  15. July 26, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    Thanks for this! I totally like reading someone who says size doesn’t matter! I also have a closet full of stuff that I REALLY need to get rid of! Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  16. July 26, 2012 at 7:44 PM

    My pleasure! 🙂

  17. July 26, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    This is what I need to do, I wear a 6 most of the time but have recently found a few darling sundresses that FIT me that are a 10…it bugged me a lot. But it doesn’t but me when I can wear a 4..I just have to remember that its Sizing right?

  18. July 26, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    No doubt!!

  19. Kathleen
    July 28, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    Where you shop matters a great deal. TJM gets discounted merchandise (it wasn’t sold at department stores for a reason with specs being out of tolerance as just one reason).

    It used to be that sticking to brands that seemed to target your fitting profile was what worked but that has sadly gone by the wayside, particularly with companies that manufacture off shore. The best solution is to shop independent stores (long story) who sell domestically made smaller brands. Sure you will pay more. Good fit costs a great deal to get right.

  20. July 30, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    Yes, where you shop does matter a bit. The biggest problem I’ve had with shopping at places like TJ Maxx is that what they have available in one size, may not be available in another. So the pair that might fit great if it were a size bigger? They very likely won’t have it. Can be quite frustrating.

    Good fit does cost a great deal. Even tailoring clothes to properly fit is pricey. But for some items, it’s totally worth it!

  21. Christin
    August 2, 2012 at 9:34 PM

    ugh!! Sooo true!! Who cares what the number says! If it fits and looks good that’s all that matters! When will women stop caring what the number on their tag says?!

  22. August 3, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    No idea, but it’s quite liberating when you do!

  23. BRadley
    April 15, 2015 at 2:01 AM

    As a guy…in 2015…I have to chime in somewhere. It may as well be here. I’m not lean and mean, but I’m not obese either. I’m about 20 pounds heavier than I’d like to be. That said, over the last 3 to 4 years I’ve been noticing this happening more and more in men’s clothing.

    Of course, like most guys, I used to just grab my usual size and buy it. I can’t do that anymore. I know my measurements and keep up with them because I want comfortable and well-fitting clothes, not tags to make me feel better about myself. If my clothes started feeling a little tighter, which has only happened a couple of times, I knew it was time to size up.

    Pants and jeans are sized all over the board now (no, not smaller) no matter what the measurements on the tags say. While the inseams have stayed true, I’ve been finding the waist sizes are typically about 4 inches larger and sometimes even up to 6 inches larger than what the tag states. I’ve learned my lesson with pants. I have to try on every single pair now. I’m finding that I can fit into some pants that are marked 4 to 6 inches smaller than what the tag states. That’s a little ridiculous especially when we’re talking about actual measurements in inches. And sometimes, there’s so much extra room in the butt and thighs, even in pants that actually fit in the waist, I’d swear the manufacturers are trying to make the point that men look good in full-figured mom jeans…or that there are actually some men that need pants that are cut to fit women. Hmmm, well…

    Shirts are getting a little ridiculous too. In most shirts, dressy button shirts, polos and even t-shirts, they’re now a size up from what the used to be and sometimes two sizes up. I made the mistake just recently of not trying on some t-shirts. They were just cheap summer shirts. What does it matter? Well, it mattered a lot. The larges turned out to fit more like XXL and I looked like I was wearing a muumuu. I had to return them all because there’s no way I’m going to wear that crud even to go grocery shopping. So, now in some brands of shirts I’m finding I’m down to a medium and sometimes even XS.

    That doesn’t flatter me. It just annoys me. In my 30s, I’m having to learn a whole new way to shop for clothes. Not the “trying on” part. I’ve always had to do that really. I’m having to play this little game illusion/delusion when I’d rather not have to.

  24. April 15, 2015 at 11:07 AM

    Thank you so much for taking the time to point this out! It’s something my husband has noticed lately as well… there’s no more just walking into a store, pulling a pair of jeans off the rack, and buying them for guys either! With various cuts in pants (boot cut, straight leg, and slim fit, to name a few) and tops (like slim cut, fitted, and sport cut) it’s not that easy any more. And sizes like small, medium, and large are just as across the board for you guys as they are in women’s clothes now. You have to spend almost as much time as us women trying shit on and figuring out what works for your body type.

    I’m right there with you with having no desire to play the game/illusion/delusion. While “one size fits all” is definitely not the answer, some sort of regularity or standards would certainly help.

    That said, I bought my first pair of “fuck it, I’ll get them taken in” pants at Savers last night. They’re 8’s and they fit great everywhere but the waist, and for the money, I couldn’t pass ’em up. I’ll take $200 pants for $5 plus the cost of alterations! Maybe that’s just the solution… at least in terms of thrifting. Buy what you like and have it fixed to fit.

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