Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vanity, thy name is Retail!

I suppose I should be writing some kind of year-end summary, or talking about my hopes for the new year, but I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions. If you're going to decide to do something, you should decide to do it any time of the year. (And then, if you're like me, put it off for the next few months. Procrastination: it isn't just for New Year's!)

No, I feel like griping, and a recent trip to the after-holiday sales gave me just the subject: that strange phenomenon known as "vanity sizing." If you're a woman and you've been shopping more than a few years, I'm sure you've experienced this strange transformation in women's sizes. Sizes have gradually gotten smaller and smaller as American women have grown larger and larger. Twenty years ago, when I was fifteen pounds lighter, I usually wore a size 10 trouser. Occasionally I might find an 8 that fit, and one really nice pair of pants I bought was a 6, but I was pretty sure: I was a size 10. Several years passed, and extra pounds accumulated here and there, but strangely enough, I was still a size 10. Until a few years ago, when half the 10s I tried on became too loose. Okay, that's fine. So now I'm a 10-maybe-8; it's a guessing game deciding what size of what brand to take into the fitting room, but I found a few favorite brands and that made it easier.

Well, last weekend I headed for a different department store than usual, and saw some nice cords on sale. I picked up an 8 and a 10 and headed for the dressing room. I swam in the 10s; fine, 8 it is. When I tried them on, though, the waist was still kinda loose. Really, the next size down wouldn't be right, would it? They wouldn't have gotten that silly; it was probably just the cut of the trouser. (I often have problems with waistlines, as the "here and there" those pounds travel to is usually my big butt.) So I changed back into my clothes, found a size 6, and went back into the fitting room. And what do you know? They fit, and rather easily.

Come on, is this really a size 6 butt? I think not.

What really irritates me, besides the constant guessing and the traipsing back and forth between rack and fitting room, is the idea that I'll think, "Omigod! I fit into a size 6! I must buy these pants!"* Half the places I shop never have sufficient fitting rooms anyway, so my shopping experience usually includes puzzling over sizes, waiting in line, not finding the right fit, heading back to the rack, and then waiting some more. Are retailers hoping I'll be so exasperated by the second go-round that I'll just buy the last thing I try on, no matter how it fits?

It would be so much simpler if women's pants were sized like men's: waist and inseam, measured in inches so that the sizes don't change. When I go shopping with TSU, we know exactly what to look for (although we rarely find it, since he is apparently abnormally fit for the mature American male). No wasting time in the dressing room trying three sizes of the same item for the men! Although on second thought, I think I'll pass on wearing my waist size on a label on my waistband, like they put with men's jeans. I'll just look forward to wearing a size 0 in 2035, when I'm twenty pounds heavier than I am today.

*Because really, the thought process is more, "Omigod! Dark purple fuzzy corduroys! They're so fuzzy! And so purple! I must have them!"


  1. I agree (!) it'd be so much simpler to buy women's pants by waist measure and inseam but these days... well, even that is an exercise in futility. I did a survey on my site and was appalled that so many (younger) women didn't even know where their waist was, pointing to a few inches above hips.

    Btw, "vanity" sizing would be better described as sizing inflation. A size 10 was never intended to be static, fixed to absolute measures. A size 10 (upon which all other sizes are based) was intended to be the mid point range of the MEDIAN apparel buyer of a *given demography*. Iow, your average shopper at Gap is significantly heavier than the average shopper at Neiman's (wealthy people are thinner) so what is termed "vanity" doesn't hold because if you're going to flatter anyone, it'd be at higher price points. If anything, expensive designer fashions run truer to size. I won't bore you with the whole litany but you may find my vanity-sizing-is-a-myth series interesting.

  2. Oh, I'm sure sizing inflation is a major factor in the changes. After all, the average woman is not only rounder, but much taller than a couple generations ago. I'm thankful shoe manufacturers have recognized this, or else I'd have trouble finding size 9.5 shoes. Sewing pattern sizes haven't changed at all; if I make a pair of trousers, I use size 14.

    But I sincerely doubt that the average American woman has changed so much in the past five years as to merit a shift where a size 10 should now be a size 6. And I really don't care what retailers' reasoning is, I just wish they'd stop it. Or put in more changing rooms.