The Perils of Vanity Sizing

Natasha Franks explores the implications of vanity sizing in the clothing industry and compares the mentality behind the differences in sizing for men and women. 


A woman struggles to state her dress size, particularly in designer clothing brands. At a Victoria Beckham boutique, she may be a Size 12; at Alice & Olivia, perhaps a Size 6; at Aidan Mattox, a Size 2. The sizes are not standardised, relying instead on arbitrary units that ascend and descend based on the whims of the designer. Already women’s sizes lack much logic: Can anyone truly be a Size 0? But the inconsistent definition of these sizes further confuses an already exhausted portion of the population.

Women are conditioned to yearn for smaller sizes, to strive for the “ideal” zero. Retailers attempt to cater to this desire with vanity sizing. By their logic, if a brand allows a woman to claim Size 0, she will buy from that brand more often. Often, women attempt to squeeze themselves into clothing that is too small, a result of the stigma attached to larger sizes (many of which are not even produced by high end designers). The insecurities fostered by the media, and the mockery associated with plus-sized clothing, further encourages the success of vanity sizing.

To compare, men’s clothing sizes lack any implications of beauty or self-worth. Dress shirts and jackets are described using measurements - inches, centimetres. There is no place for bias or exaggeration here; a man is what he is, not what a designer declares him to be. What, exactly, stands in the way of women’s clothing following a similar system?

The fashion world instills a pathological need within women to be small. It shares this attitude with many other worlds: The business world and the political world both want small voices, women who will not instigate or speak out of turn. Vanity sizing is a symptom of a larger, societal problem, in which women are required to be small both physically and verbally.

Lily Myers’ spoken word poem “Shrinking Women” exemplifies that latter point. “You have been taught to grow out, I have been taught to grow in.” Ignore the numbers, and buy whatever fits.