Column: vanity sizing

It’s the holiday season, and you – my dear student – are you buying a party dress to a ritzy Christmas party at the Chateau Laurier. You love shopping – you’re excited, and you want to find something that makes you feel good.


It’s easier to sell clothes when they make someone feel good.
It’s that simple.
Vanity sizing is the growing practice of shrinking dress sizes in order to appeal to a consumer’s ego. Vanity sizing started as early as the 1920s. Back then, sizing standards were generally always based on bust, waist and hip measurements and sizes ranged anywhere from a 14 to 56, give or take a few inches.


Over the last century, sizes slowly started getting smaller and smaller until 1981 when Calvin Klein introduced the first ever size 2.


What would have been a size 14 fifty years ago would be a size 0 by today’s standards.


There is a sizing standard chart that is available for manufacturers to follow, but not following these standards gives manufacturers the freedom to appeal to any kind of demographic they want. This means they can decide to run their sizes as big or as small as they would like.

“Companies like the idea of the ideal human body being in their clothes and no one else, they think it helps with their reputation and makes them desirable,” said Brooke Veerbeek, a fashion arts graduate from Humber College who has also worked in several retail stores sees this happen everywhere.


“My opinion on vanity sizing is negative,” Veerbeek said, “women shouldn’t be led to believe that they’re smaller than they are and made to believe they’ve lost weight when they’ve only entered a store who does generous sizing.”


The iconic Marilyn Monroe in her prime wore a dress size between 12 and 16, which is roughly the average American size by today’s standards. That is a modern day size 14.


To a lot of women, it feels good to know that their bodies are somehow comparable to that of someone as envied and beautiful as Marilyn Monroe. However, this isn’t entirely true. By today’s standards, Monroe would have truly been a size 6 to 8. This is a prime example of how a number on a tag can affect a person’s perception of themselves and base their worth entirely on a size.


Aside from the ego, how low can sizes go? There is already a size 00, meaning there is a size that suggests, “double nothing”. There is a size that suggests that a person is less than nothing, that has people striving to take up less space in the world.

According to vital signs Canada, there are currently more obese people in the world than undernourished. Until the obesity epidemic is fully addressed, it’s easy to assume that sizes will only continue to grow. But at what point are we simply glorifying an unhealthy lifestyle and accommodating a dangerous weight?


“I think it’s just from going into stores and expecting to be disappointed. When I worked at [a store], women would be practically awestruck that we went up to size 16. Many size 12 women were surprised to have so many options.”

On the contrary, there are manufacturers who shrink their sizes to attract certain consumers. Abercrombie and Fitch, who also own Hollister, run their sizes particularly small because those are the sort of people they are trying to attract. This can also be wildly unhealthy because it promotes the regularity of a different kind of unhealthy lifestyle.

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” said Abercrombie CEO, Mike Jeffries during an interview.


The proof is there, vanity sizing works. Through personal search, people find the stores and the sizes that, at the end of the day, make them feel good about themselves. Manufacturers and designers know it works too. They can’t change the size of the population, but they can change the sizing standards of their clothing, and people are going to continue cashing in for a smaller sized peace of mind.


In the case of vanity sizing, ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it feels good to be misled blindly, because lets face it, at some point that little number mattered to every woman everywhere.


The denial is what keeps consumers coming back for more, eluding them to believe that they fit into an ideal society has implemented on them, whether that means growing or shrinking their waistlines.


Does that number change your worth to yourself?