I went shopping today and I accidentally tried on a pair of size 6 DKNY jeans. I say accidentally, because I never would have intentionally picked a size 6 off the shelf, that not being my size. But, here’s the weird thing: they fit.
There is absolutely no way I am a size 6, not unless the definition of “size 6” has changed. When I first left the US in 1999, I was 18 years old, twenty pounds lighter than I am now, and a size 6. Ten pounds of weight gain is supposedly equivalent to moving up one dress size, so that should make me a size 10 today.
And that is the size I thought I was. After all, I usually fit a European size 40 or a UK size 12, which is equivalent to a US size 10. But there I was in he dressing room, second guessing my calculations. I even went and tried on another size 6 in another style, just to double check… perhaps there was a manufacturing error with that one pair? Nope: the other pair fit, too.
What was going on here? As soon as I got home, I researched it online and was relieved to find that I had not lost my marbles (or my butt). It turns out what I experienced is due to a well-documented phenomenon called “Vanity Sizing,” in which the clothing industry manipulates sizes – which used to be more standardized – to increase sales. Not surprisingly, women tend to feel better about themselves when they fit into a smaller size, and that increased self-esteem translates into increased sales for the clothing brand. No matter if it’s not a “real” size 6, she bought the jeans, didn’t she? (I didn’t, for the record, buy that size 6 pair… marketers, you can’t fool me!)
The clothing industry has finally learned the mirror image of the lesson the condom industry has known for years: don’t label any condom a size “small,” because no man is ever going to buy it. Call the regular size condom “large” and call the large size condom “XL” or “MAXX.” Yes man, you have a big penis, buy our condoms. Yes woman, you have a small butt, buy our size 6 jeans. And everyone lives obliviously and happily ever after. Until they read about “size inflation” in the Economist, which shows them in cold hard graphs how many inches have been added their “size 6” (and their waist) over the years.
To make matters worse, it seems that size inflation has not been consistent across stores and brands, so your size is changing all the time depending on where you are shopping (a website named What Size Am I? has even been developed to try and overcome the problem).
Another off-shot of size inflation is the creation of size zero (0) and even size double zero (00), both of which just sound so wrong. There has even been a campaign against the fashion industry’s use of models of that size, called “Say No to Size Zero.” Perhaps it should be more accurately called, “Say No to Size Zero, Because Size Four is No More.”