Study questions the sizing methods in women's apparel

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

The holidays are over. You grazed like Mrs. Claus, and now look something like her too. So what are you going to do?According to a University of North Texas study, women may have a quick fix for those extra pounds before they hit the gym to fit into a certain size — if they’re willing to pay the price.In this study of vanity sizing, a practice in which designers place a label with a smaller size on a larger-size garment, UNT Assistant Professor of Merchandising Tammy Kinley found the differences of actual clothing size to the label to be as large as 13 inches.“And it seems that the more recognized the brand, the bigger difference,” she adds. “So national brands like Ralph Lauren and Jones New York tended to run larger than private labels such as Route 66 and Honors.”She studied the inseams, crotch seams, and waistlines of more than 1,000 different types and brands of women’s pants.The pants with biggest waists and smallest size numbers were typically the more expensive clothing brands, Kinley says. In her study she found that pants costing $100 or more were more likely to have vanity sizing, while pants under $50 were sized more consistently.Kinley’s study focused solely on women’s clothing, but she states that vanity sizing happens in men’s and children’s clothing as well.“Nowadays the size number doesn’t mean much,” she says. “It’s just an arbitrary number.”Kinley adds that designers practice vanity sizing because it creates customer loyalty, makes their patrons feel better and impacts their sales to retailers.“Designers will say they’re designing clothes for a target market. What may be a size eight for one body type may be different for another,” she says.Typically, designers use real models to create a size fit, but since the measurements and dimensions of the models can vary, the definitions of the sizes change as well. Standardized sizing charts exist, but as a rule designers in the garment industry have moved away from using them. These standard sizes were developed in the early 1940s by the government for women in the armed services.The problem is that vanity sizing makes it incredibly difficult for women to shop for clothes without trying out numerous garments to achieve a good fit. And the size labels become completely unreliable when the size numbers become so arbitrary, Kinley says. “Initially this may not seem like much of problem until you look at the high rate of returned items and missed sales retailers see each year as a result of vanity sizing. It reduces their sales significantly,” Kinley says.For consumers, vanity sizing means a long and difficult hunt for a brand that caters to their body type.In her study, Kinley visited numerous stores including Target, J.C. Penney, Talbot’s, Mervyn’s, Foley’s and Dillard’s. Her goal is to use this study as well as others to help develop a more accurate sizing system that focuses more on body types rather than standardized numbers.

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