While waiting for a client in Club Monaco last month, I wandered into the women’s clothing section to kill some time. There was a cute little suit jacket on the rack that, upon further inspection, I deemed too large for me.
I looked at the tag for the size.
0. Zero. Size Zero.
Were it 1960, I would be considered a size 14, but at Club Monaco in 2011, I would fit a negative size – a minus 1 or minus 2.
A minus size, a minus size; a size of no sum or consequence. How can I be a negative size?
This terrifies me in a way because I see a negative size as a non-size and as a human, I feel erased; fitting a negative clothing size makes me feel like a non-person. What is this new sizing system and what else are they messing with?
This is a post to explain why your clothes don’t fit you.
To keep things efficient, manufacturers use “average” sizes of a cross-section of people to create patterns for different sizes (small, medium, large, etc.), classified by their height and weight. The measurements (neck measurement for men, chest, waist, hip measurement for women, etc.) are added together and divided by the number of people measured, giving “average” measurements.
But there are lots of interpretations of average and so few of us are actually average-sized, that this is just one of the factors working against us when we walk into a clothing store:
- There is no industry standard for sizing – I have size extra small, small, medium, and an extra-large piece from Chinatown in my closet but my measurements remain static, unchanged;
- Every designer cuts a little or a lot larger or smaller than the next designer, so each line will fit differently (e.g. Tiger of Sweden is a trim cut but Mark’s Work Warehouse has offerings for more robust fellows);
- Some but not all manufacturers buy into “vanity sizes”, whereby a piece of clothing that may truly fit you is called something smaller (you could have an actual 34″ waist measurement but you might wear a 32″ or 33″ vanity-sized pant);
- Each style of garment is going to fit differently on each body – e.g. the rise of the pant will give a larger waist size because it sits at a wider point on the hips.
This causes a great deal of confusion for people who have to wade through an ocean of arbitrary sizing that may or may not hold their own weight. Pun intended.
In the age of political correctness where we’re more sensitive to other’s feelings, business owners and manufacturers have to keep in mind that a compliment in the form of a “smaller (vanity) size” can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I’ve been told by women that wearing a “smaller” size makes them feel better about themselves. I understand what it’s like to be heavy and not feel one’s best (I was pushing 150 lbs at age 22 – about 30 lbs more than I weigh now), so I can see why a size 8 would feel better than a size 12.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the vanity sizing practice began in women’s clothing, but it has seeped into menswear, adopting the name “manity sizing”. This rather dishonest sizing system has become totally out of hand, so I looked at some online research to figure out what this silly sizing system is all about. This is what I found:
“Vanity sizing is the practice of using smaller numbered sizes on bigger clothing patterns… to make customers feel better about themselves and become more inclined to buy,” says one blogger who runs a PR and marketing company. Her opinion has a ring of supply and demand to it.
“It is important for manufacturers to have an idea of what sells because retail sales still have not fully recovered since the recession hit in 2008.”
However, on vanitysizing.com, this suggestion is (rather cuttingly) downplayed. The author of the article has an economics background and suggests that sizing is based on demographics.
“If you sell to lower-income people, your average size is going to be larger than the average size sold to rich people. Boutiques sell pricier clothes that are sized on average, smaller than product in mass merchant stores.”
A very good Esquire style blog describes the confusion with the vanity sizing for men. First, the writer calling the practice
“flattery”, but as we know, flattery can only take you so far. He says he’s got a Russell Crowe build and though he’s enjoyed his manity-sized pants, he’s still perturbed.
“This isn’t the subjective business of mediums, larges and extra-larges — nor is it the murky business of women’s sizes, what with its black-hole size zero. This is science, damnit. Numbers!”
But the numbers don’t add up and because sizing is basically a free-for-all without a standard measurement guide. The illustration below from Esquire shows to what extent we’re being lied to - to the tune of up to 5″.
The waist is the most misunderstood part of a man’s body, I think. When I’m taking my client’s measurements, I explain the waist measurement concept/confusion.
I tell them that if I were a doctor and we were doing an annual physical, I would measure his waist just above his hipbone/through the navel. Most people don’t wear their trousers that high anymore (men did in the 40s) and that means that the point at which his waistband sits is not necessarily where we’ve taken the measurement of the waist – different styles of pants with different rise lengths (the distance from the crotch to the top of the waist) will give different waist measurements at different points on the torso.
An article from The Telegraph reports findings of a study they conducted on men’s waist sizes and found that “[o]verall, 28 out of 50 garments checked were found to be larger than on the label.”
“Shoppers quite reasonably expect 32 inches to mean just that,” said Richard Cope, chief trend analyst at Mintel, a London-based market research company. “They are becoming increasingly frustrated to discover their sizes vary from fashion brand to fashion brand and from item to item.”
Confused yet? You should be.
If clothing manufacturers began vanity sizing to make larger people feel better about themselves as some people maintain, that’s one thing, but I’m seeing this sizing practice as a dangerous denial and health threat.
Vanity sizing is delusional, offering solace in a lie and erasing any guilt from consuming another baker’s dozen, putting people at greater risk of the health problems associated with obesity. As the Esquire blog asks, “why should pants make us feel better about badness at health?”
Obesity is an enormous social and economic problem. Pun intended. Men with larger waists face different and more serious health problems than slim guys – a Stats Can study identified type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, some cancers, and gallbladder disease associated with obesity, as well as “psychological problems, functional limitations and disabilities.”
Have a look at these astounding rates from Statistics Canada‘s study of adult obesity in Canada:
In 2004, nearly one-quarter (23.1%) of adult Canadians, 5.5 million people aged 18 or older, were obese. An additional 36.1% (8.6 million) were overweight.
The 2004 obesity figure was up substantially from 1978/79, when Canada’s obesity rate had been 13.8%.
As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does an individual’s likelihood of reporting high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. (Check your own BMI here.)
Canada’s adult obesity rate is significantly lower than that in the United States: 23.1 % compared with 29.7%. The percentage of Canadians who are overweight or obese has risen dramatically in recent years, mirroring a worldwide phenomenon.
I have to wonder if vanity/ manity/ insanity sizing is really making things better by way of our self-esteem, or if it's plunging us deeper into clothing chaos and confusion and denial about our bodies. To my mind, this sizing practice is a psychological experiment that may give extra space for denial; the man with the 41" waist who's wearing a 36" pant from Old Navy may feel a little dietary freedom because he thinks he's got room n0w: Hey, I can fit into a size 36 for the time being, so I've got room for another coupla Krispy Creme KFC Double Downs - bring it on! Like a temporary sugar rush before the crash, I think that as a society, we're just asking for trouble lying to people about their sizes. Sometimes I ignore sizes altogether and rely on a tape measure where the numbers are hard and they don't tell me any fibs. The point is to be comfortable in clothing that fits us, regardless of what size the marketing department gives.