3 Things You Should Know About Vanity Sizing

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 15, 2012

You have three pairs of pants that are three different sizes, and they all fit you perfectly. How can this be?

It’s vanity sizing. "Every designer has their own standard of fit and measurements," says stylist Bridgette Raes, author of Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want. "There isn't a standardized sizing chart anymore because there was never one to begin with."

When you shop for clothes, you may want to keep these three things in mind about vanity sizing.

1. Disregard the Label.

It might be tough, but psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner, PsyD, author of You Are What You Wear, says tofocus on fit by shopping for clothes without looking at the tag size. "Rather look at the actual size and shape of the garment, and cut out the size tag after purchasing the item," she says.

A University of Michigan study found that when a woman thinks she wears a smaller size, she buys more clothing. "What designers and manufacturers started doing was taking what was once their measurements for their size 8, for example, and putting a size 6 label on it instead, knowing that a woman would be more likely to make a purchase," Raes says.

"The problem with this method is that, while it can be psychologically encouraging for the shopper, stores have had to introduce smaller sizes to fit petite women. It's why we're now seeing size XXS."

2. Consider the Cut.

Just like no two thumbprints are alike, neither are any two designers' cuts. A general rule of thumb:

  • European labels are known for cutting slimmer in the hips and wider in the waist.
  • American labels are known for a more generous fitting hip and a smaller waist.
  • "Junior" fits are cut smaller than "Missy" fits.

"The only way not to get hung up on the size you wear is to understand how the fashion industry works and to realize that sizes on a label are essentially useless," Raes says. "Women need to see that when a certain size of clothing doesn't fit them it's not their fault, it's just the cut of the clothing that isn't right for their bodies."

3. There Can Be Differences Within the Same Brand.

Most clothing companies have low- and high-end lines. The low-end financially carries the brand, and the high-end showcases the image and lure of the brand. Designers who have low-to-high-end lines often use vanity sizing in their low-end lines and not their high-end lines.

It's related to a longstanding, warped bias about size. "In our culture, smaller sizes are deemed more attractive and therefore more highly valued," Baumgartner says. "When we have a choice between the same garment in a different numerical size, we are going to prefer the smaller size because of the faulty associations we have with that measure."

The main thing is that you stay true to what fits you and is comfortable, not what the size says on the tag.

Show Sources


Jennifer Baumgartner, PsyD, clinical psychologist; author, You Are What You Wear.

Bridgette Raes, stylist; author, Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want.

Nilufer, Z. Journal of Consumer Psychology, October 2012.

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