What Sewing Taught Me About Vanity Sizing

When I stumbled upon  an article about vanity sizing a few months back I noticed that a lot of people were upset. They want a standardized sizing method here in the U.S.. They hate the size 0-20+ vanity size clothing. Blah, blah, blah…

I think because I sew I have learned something about vanity sizing. Or at least I have formulated a theory on vanity sizing. I think that designers know that people are so insecure with themselves that if they put the real size on the dress there would probably be a riot. For instance, when I go into a store and decide to buy clothes I can buy the size zero in most items, sometimes the size two and rarely the size four. However, when I make my own clothes I have to cut the size twelve (12) and rarely do I make more than a half inch to an inch of an adjustment to the area for the hips, but usually I take it down two sizes for the bust area, which puts me at a ten (10) for the bust and a 12 for the waist and hips. So without vanity sizing from the designers I take it that would mean I would need a 12 in the store. Now think of the people who walk into the store and buy the “vanity” size 12. If designers put the size as it would be if the customer had bought the pattern, cut it out and made the outfit for themselves, then that would probably be about a size 24. I think designers know that seeing such a jump in clothing size would shock the “vanity” size 12 person into avoiding the stores. If women stop shopping everybody loses money…well, except the consumer who can happily keep their hard earned cash in their pocket.

Of course they could also switch from a basic sizing digit to putting the measurements, but that’s an issue onto itself. Some of the clothes I make want the high hip measurement, which is different than just taking the regular hip measurement. Then there’s the difference in how you can measure the bust area, knowing the inseam, the waist to back length measurement, etc. I mean which measurements are they going to squeeze onto that tag? I know mostly all of my measurements except for the ones I can’t do for myself, like the neck to waist measurement (done from the back), and I don’t know my inseam…mostly because I don’t care. Seriously, I’m short. If the pants look long I can guarantee I’m going to have to take them up. I can buy a pair of pants on sale and still end up paying another twenty to thirty dollars to have alterations if I can’t do those alterations myself. I’m still learning to sew; I’m not a master of the craft yet. I have started making pants and I know I’m going to have to measure my inseam and stop measuring from pants that already fit lengthwise…that would require not being lazy on my part 😉 and a little more finagling with the measuring tape.

Basically, knowing how to sew has made me think about all the possible reasons designers sew those cute little numbers into the back of clothes. Mostly, I think it has more to do with trying to appeal to our egos than anything else. That, of course, is just my opinion. I don’t know any designers so I can’t exactly ask them why we’re still using vanity sizing.



  1. You are exactly right – it’s all about psycology. Way back, women’s sizes used to be based on actual bust measurement number (more like men’s still are measurement numbers), but they found “misses” sizing based on age sold better because of smaller numbers. Those who sew see the biggest difference and probably notice how often the “standard charts” change for mass-produced clothing.

    I’m glad you don’t let sizing manipulate you! =)

    If you are interested, here’s what I wrote about sizing a while back.

  2. I know thousands of designers. I’ve been working in apparel manufacturing for 3 decades and I specialize in sizing. There is no other way to say this… I don’t have time to fret or attempt to curry favor with consumers and their fascination/obsession with numbers on a label -to us it is merely a sorting mechanism in the merchandising mix.

    This is the redux: sizing isn’t personal and it isn’t a psychological plot or ploy. Sizing evolves to the mean in precisely the same way that other objects in your environment are sized up and down only we don’t assign them numbers with attributes people can sticky-tape suppositions, values and seemingly “logical” urban myths to by way of explanation. Doorways and countertops are higher because people are taller overall. Chairs and children’s slides are wider because people’s butts are wider than before. Sizing -not unlike IQ- is not static, it fluctuates and varies with the population. An IQ of 100 will always be average -that is what 100 IQ means, average. It is relational to the mean. Sizing is the same. A medium or size 8/10 will always be the median size of the size spread and strictly incumbent upon the firm’s target customer. As such, a medium at GAP is always going to be significantly larger than a medium Ralph Lauren purple label because the average wealthy person is thinner than the average GAP customer.

    Moreover, the idea that designers are in charge of sizing is consumer-think but sizing is not a designer’s job. It’s graders and pattern makers who do sizing based on customer (retail store mgmt) feedback and direction from the merchandising department. It’s engineering -not art, marketing or psychology. Designers have a tough enough job as it is without assigning them duties and responsibilities they’re not qualified to assume nor have the time to do.

    PS. If you like sewing, check out my sewing tutorials. See the link in the nav bar. Fwiw, the link I’ve pasted in the meta is to the first of 18 or so entries I’ve written about vanity sizing.

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