All clothing sizes are not created equal

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Many of us have been in that frustrating situation where you’ve ordered clothes online that don’t even come close to fitting, or not understanding why you wear a size 4 at Forever 21 when you’re a size 8 at Old Navy. For men and women alike, clothing sizes lack the consistency that could improve shoppers’ self-esteem and make online shopping easier.

It can be discouraging to go shopping at a new store only to discover you’ve somehow gone up a few sizes. However, there’s a strong possibility that your size hasn’t changed at all — it’s just the way the particular store decides to measure its sizes.

Mallorie Dunn of clothing brand SmartGlamour — a brand that hand makes sizes XXS to 6XL, as well as offering customization for anyone in between or beyond — made a YouTube video to discuss how most clothes are designed and made. She analyzes how each part of this process affects the way sizes are created and how even just one clothing store can stock two T-shirts in a medium that are in no way the same size.

“Own your body, not your ‘size,'” Dunn said. “Blame society’s stigma, not your ‘size.'”

In a video for Vox, a reporter claims that sizing today is used as a marketing tool. She tries on jeans in the same size in three different stores to prove how different the sizes can be. Stores vary their sizes based on the demographics they’re targeting — for example, if a store only wanted people to weigh a certain amount to be able to buy from their store, they could make their largest size a size only someone who weighs 120 pounds could fit into.

Not only is this annoying, but it can seriously affect shoppers’ self-esteem. For example, if a customer is just overcoming anorexia only to discover they have “gone up a size,” that’s certainly not going to help with their recovery.

In fact, today clothing manufacturers are often using “vanity sizing,” which is the labeling of clothes with sizes smaller than the actual cut of the items. Esquire writer Abram Sauer tested some common brands of men’s slacks a few years ago and found that the actual measurements were often 2 to 3 inches larger than the indicated size. The Old Navy slacks he checked measured 5 inches bigger than their flattering label. Research has shown that smaller size labels increased the self-esteem of their customers. Conversely, larger size labels (for the same actual size clothing) reduced the self-esteem of the customer and, more importantly for brands, that negativity also transferred to the product itself. For example, if a woman tries on a dress from two different brands, she’s more likely to go with the one that’s a smaller size. Vanity sizing is problematic because it still makes self-worth contingent on what size of clothing a shopper wears instead of allowing clothing sizes to be a consistent factual number without as much weight on self esteem.

There are people today who order multiple sizes when shopping online to ensure that one of their choices will fit. Customers return an estimated 40 percent of what they buy online, mostly because of sizing issues, according to TIME magazine. That’s a hassle for shoppers and a costly nightmare for retailers, who now spend billions covering “free” returns. People shouldn’t have to do this. All online stores should have a sizing chart with measurements in an effort to eliminate this problem, but a better fix would come with regulated measurements on sizing so customers could be more confident in their size selection when shopping online and in stores.

Setting a professional standard in the fashion industry for how sizing works would allow consumers to stop playing the mind games of which clothes they think make them look best based on size and to focus on what truly makes them feel good and best complements their body type.