Like most new moms, Erin Correale wants to whip her wardrobe back into shape.Correale has it easier than most. At 38, she’s within 10 pounds of the weight she’s been since her teenage years. But her clothing size isn’t.“I wear a size two in Ann Taylor, a four in Banana Republic, a six in Old Navy, a four at Coldwater Creek and a friend told me about Chico’s, but told me I would have to look at a size zero,” she says. “I never like size zero—it’s encouraging people to be waifs. That doesn’t make me feel good.
”Sizes zero, two, four and six all for one woman? Is Correale lost in the looking glass, growing and shrinking at every turn like Alice, or is there something seriously askew with the sizing of clothing?
It’s no mistake. The American apparel industry has created an intentional system of “Vanity Sizing.” The increasing use of the smaller sizes—a size 12 in 1970 is now in the size four-six-eight range—is meant to make consumers feel better about buying clothing.
Standards—or Lack Thereof When it comes to sizing, there are no universal standards. A woman with a traditional hourglass figure with 36-24-36 measurements can wear anything from a size zero to a size ten, depending on the brand and whether it’s sold at the designer, contemporary, junior, bridge or mass level.The only standard that does exist is to con the buyer into believing she’s smaller. Over time, sizes are getting roomier, allowing women to believe they can still squeeze into a more desirable size two, four, six or even eight.“At this point, sizes are meaningless. They’re more relative than anything else,” Bill Ivers, chief operating officer of MSA Models told YouBeauty. His agency specializes in providing fit models for designers and brands.
“Sizes are not standard by design,” he explained. “It helps brands be unique and offer an edge over the competition. Brands are looking for brand loyalty and if last season you were an eight and this season you’re a size six, that’s a sales tool. We all look to apparel to make us look good, feel comfortable and confident.”
Even celebrities fall victim to the need for vanity sizing.One actress cold-called Robert Verdi, style director at FirstComesFashion.com and a celebrity stylist who regularly works with stars like Eva Longoria and Kathy Griffin, and asked him to wardrobe her for multiple appearances during an awards season.Her publicist said the actress was a size 12, and because they were working on a quick turnaround of less than three weeks, Verdi couldn’t ask designers to make anything custom, so had to rely on pieces designers had in stock.
“We looked at pictures of this woman and I called her publicist back and asked her, is she really a size 12?” he told YouBeauty. “The publicist insisted she was a 12.”When Verdi and his team packed the dresses up for the trip to Los Angeles, “we snuck in some 14s, 16s and even some 18s.”Though Verdi told the actress that everything was a “size 12,” the actress “wasn’t happy,” he said. She ultimately wore several of his picks, but one of the dresses was altered to fit by making it six-to-eight inches shorter. The fabric was then added as a panel on the back of the dress so the “size 12” would fit.