What is vanity sizing and how does dress sizing work?

Dress sizes can vary depending on where you shop, which means you can go a few sizes up or down

There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a piece of clothing in a store – the only one that fits your size – and then trying it on only to find it doesn’t fit.

The zipper doesn’t work, the legs are too tight, or maybe it’s just overwhelming – the label says your size, but something is clearly wrong.

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Because if you go to another store, a similar item of the same size fits perfectly. However, the online order you placed from a popular fast fashion brand needs to be returned because everything is too small.

It’s a common story – but why are sizes so unpredictable? Are Manufacturers Using “Size Inflation” to Boost Sales? Is there such a thing as a standard size? Here’s what you need to know.

Many women find sizing in stores and online outlets unpredictable.

Is there such a thing as a standard size?

There are standards for men’s, women’s and children’s clothing.

The British Standards Institute says that as they are standards they are voluntary and not legislation. The standards are aimed at manufacturers and retailers and relate to how and what dimensions should be measured for clothing,

There is a standard British specification for women’s sizes – BS 3666:1982.

However, it is rarely followed by manufacturers because it only defines the dress size in a limited range in terms of hip and chest measurements.

Meanwhile, the British Fashion and Textile Federation (UKFT) says: “There are no standard sizes in the industry. There is a very good reason for this – the human body is not a standard size.”

Why do sizes vary between different retailers?

Sizing systems vary from country to country and there are different approaches. One of these is ad hoc sizing, which uses a number or code with no apparent connection to the measurement.

This is the type we see most often on our clothing tags, for example 10 or S.

But surely these sizes would be consistent regardless of where you shop? Not really.

Differences arose as a result of different sizing methods between different manufacturers made for different countries.

Demographic change, body shapes and weight have also played a role.

As a result, something known as vanity sizing evolved.

What is vanity sizing?

Also known as size inflation, when clothing in a nominal size increases in size over time but retains the same size number.

It has been described as “the practice of sizing manufactured garments smaller than is actually the case in order to encourage sales”.

And the disparities created by such sizing practices have led to situations where someone might wear a size 12 in one store and a 16 in another, for example.

FashNerd editor Muchaneta Kapfunde told fashionunited.uk: “The worst kept secret has been fashion brands changing their standards to make shoppers feel thinner. This is practically the rise of vanity sizing.”

What impact can such size differences have?

Average heights have changed over the years, with women now being taller and curvier than their counterparts of decades past. Currently, the average dress size for a woman in Britain is 16, while in the 1950s it was 12.

For many, despite knowing they haven’t physically altered or changed shape, not fitting into something marked as your size can be incredibly damaging.

Felicity Hayward, plus-size model and body confidence activist writing for Women’s Health, said: “Ignore the sizing labels — if the size guide in stores hasn’t already been a headache, we now have a thing called vanity sizing, in Stores are reducing the size labels but keeping the same measurements so in return you appear to be a size smaller in their store.”