I’m going to keep trying on size fours until I find one that fits


Everybody has noticed by now the phenomenon of vanity sizing, wherein the size numbers printed on the tag shrink over time even though the clothes have stayed the same size. It's a phenomenon of our own doing. People want to remember themselves as the size they were when they were younger, and fashion designers are eager to please. I remember reading an article about this phenomenon a few years ago that quoted a woman searching for a dress as saying, "I'm going to keep trying on size fours until I find one that fits." She was a size four, gosh darn it.

I know people who have to shop in the "Young Misses" section because the clothing in the "Women" section is too big. They haven't gotten any smaller, but the clothes have gotten larger. I used to wear a medium; now I have to get a small, and my bathroom scale will assure you that I'm definitely not getting smaller.

The article suggests that sizes will stabilize thanks to online shopping. In the store, you can try on an article of clothing to see how it really fits; when buying online, you don't have the luxury. The size number had better be accurate or you're going to be returning it. At least that's the theory. I'm just waiting for the madness to end.

Comments (32)
  1. nathan_works says:

    everyone around you is just getting fatter.

    Stop biking, start getting an extra serving of cheese fries or loaded potato-skins at the campus mess hall, and you’ll be picking up the right size in no time.

  2. Scott says:

    The online shoe stores like Zappos have an interesting solution to this.  They tell you whether a particular style is "true to size", or whether it is +1 or -1/2 or whatever.

    OTOH, it’s a bit easier when you only have two dimensions, length and width (and most people don’t care about width.)

  3. James Schend says:

    The most interesting part of the phenom is that actually small women now need sizes smaller than zero. At least I read an article a few months ago that talked about negative sizes in relation to this.

  4. John says:

    It’s like Idiocracy, except with fatness instead of dumbness.

  5. Xepol says:

    [baffled]  I’ve never known a man’s numbered size to be anything except for what it claims to be, because the size is the size in inches.  Women’s numbered sizes are made up, and consequentially do vary dramatically from maker to maker. (Of course, the S/M/L/XL/XXL/etc scheme is TOTALLY made up for everyone so that no size fits anyone right)

    I assumed that Raymond was a male’s name, so either I’m doing that whole "assumed" composite word thing, or I don’t actually see where you are running into the problem (unless you are ignoring size details, like inseam length, neck size etc)

  6. Boris Zakharin says:

    Does this extend to shoe sizes? I have gone down from 11 to 9 in a couple of years. But this makes no sense. People’s feet do not really increase with age as adults, do they? And if they do, why aren’t mine?

  7. Tom says:

    "I have gone down from 11 to 9 in a couple of years."

    My shoe size has gone down from 11 to 9 in the past few years too.  I’m sad to report that the size of my manhood has decreased by a similar percentage in that time.  Since it’s common to relate the size of feet with the size of the manhood I have to conclude that it’s not the shoe labels changing, nor a coincidence, but that feet shrink as you age.

  8. Brian says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has to buy smaller shoes.  It’s been really confusing me.

    I wish they just measured things in inches or meters or something.

  9. Boris Zakharin says:

    Is this a good time to mention I’m 27 years old? Also, though I don’t measure regularly, I do not believe my "manhood" has changed in size any.

    Also, I know that there is a popular misconseption that feet are the only parts of the body to continually grow throughout life (I will ignore hair and nails for this purpose). The reality, appaerntly, is that feet shrink duyring the night, but grow during the day, so measuring in the morning vs evening would show a real difference, hence the myth.

    But do they shrink?

  10. Scott says:

    Men’s jeans usually won’t fit right on women.  Whatever fits their waist, would not fit their hips.  (Unless you know of men’s jeans that has separate hip sizes.)

  11. ::Wendy:: says:

    it brings a whole new meaning to ‘down-sizing’

  12. poochner says:

    Pretty much everywhere, shoe sizes are based on actual measurements.  The difference is what is being measured–the actual size of foot it’s designed for, the size of the cavity in the shoe, or the size of the form (last) it was manufactured on.  In Metrikistan, these are in milli or centimeters.  In the US, we use the barleycorn (1/3 of an inch).  AFAIK, this is the only current use of the barleycorn in usual commerce.  A men’s size 11 is 11 inches (usually measuring the last), and each size up or down is one barleycorn.

  13. Wolf Logan says:

    I really hate buying clothes, because the indicated size is usually no help in determining whether it will fit me. My arms are particularly long, so I usually end up buying shirts a size too large just so the sleeves will fit (I also have a collection of shirts that I can only wear with the sleeves rolled, since they don’t reach my wrists).

    It’s starting to look like bespoke clothing is the only way to go.

  14. Bob says:

    Xepol: [baffled]  I’ve never known a man’s numbered size to be anything except for what it claims to be, because the size is the size in inches.

    Yes, but the "fit" has changed…jeans used to be tighter, now they are always baggy (which I hate).  If it wasn’t for  the waist-hip ratio I’d try women’s jeans, they have lots more options for fit.

  15. Puckdropper says:

    I ran in to problems years ago with finding furniture that fit my exact needs.  The solution to my problem was simply not to buy, but to build.

    Ever knitted a pair of pants, Raymond?  :-)

  16. mikeb says:

    Hmm, this is bad news for me…  if XL is getting larger and I’m moving up to XXL that must mean I’m growing exponentially (or maybe geometrically!).

    Look out world!

    Then again, none of this matters if I just stay in my bathrobe all day.  All the world’s problems are solved by telecommuting.

  17. Igor Levicki says:

    You see? That happens when you don’t use metric system for dress sizes.

  18. Xepol says:

    Bob -> You are refering to the cut.  Hip hugers, floods, low cut, classic, relaxed fit etc etc etc.  Also a ‘detail’ of size, seen less commonly in men (men’s hip huggers -> <shudder!>), but you can still find the cut you desire if you shop more places than Walmart (they care about cheap, nothing else).  I suppose, in a weird way, that could relate to size, but I would still expect a mens’ 34 to fit someone with a 34" waist with varying degrees of comfort (and baring some weird deformity/medical condition)

    It isn’t like women’s sizes where 4 only means bigger than 3 and smaller than 5, but nothing else about the actual size itself.  One manufacture’s 4 isn’t the same size as another manufacturer’s 4, and season to season or even outfit to outfit, size 4 could easily change for a single manufacturer…

    I would normally say I don’t envy women, but it only happens because they tolerate it as a group, so who do you blame for it in the end?

    Men would just stop buying clothes if they tried that on us! (as a group, individuals may stray from the herd…) – Heck, many men already only buy new clothes due to female insistance or the weather itself. (frostbite hurts when that inseam finally goes!)

  19. Gene says:

    This is my worst problem shopping over the net. People just don’t understand why I no longer bother buying fitted apparel over the net, especially motorcycle gear.

    I tried on a pair of rain boots where the foot part fit my shoe, but the upper was over an inch and a half too small to close around my calf. Even the largest size they had was 1/4" too small.

    And yes, I’ve noticed my shoe size has gotten smaller too.

    I’ve also noticed I’ve tried on 34" long pants, see they’re WAY too f—ing short, measure them and find they’re something like 31" or 32". Plus I’m in between 32" and 34" inseam, and of course they don’t make 33" any more.

  20. Dean Harding says:

    Xepol: I assume it depends where you shop, and what you’re buying. If you buying a business shirt, for example, I’ve only ever seen the sizes mesasured in centimetres (or inches in the U.S.) — and they usually measure the sleeve length separately to the chest size too (which helps when you’re rather tall and thin!).

    But if you’re just buying a $10 t-shirt, you usually only get S/M/L/XL etc.

  21. David Conrad says:

    You need to buy size ‘Extra Medium’, Raymond.

  22. GreaseMonkey says:

    This appears to be the once-in-a-while blog post where the average person blames McDonalds instead of Microsoft.

    At least my Windows 2000 doesn’t get renamed to Windows 1998. (I dual-boot, by the way.)

  23. Mikkin says:

    I appreciate the optimism, but I am afraid the theory is wrong. If remote shopping had any ability to stop the madness then catalog shopping would have achieved it long before online shopping came along. Resistance is futile.

  24. kbiel says:

    Women’s sizes have always been a vanity issue. Why do you think they have such an idiotic and non-standard size scale in the first place? What exactly is a size 1 or size 4 in pants? When I see my wife shopping for pants, it floors me just how much trouble she has to go through to get something that fits right (her length to waste ratio is a bit higher than the "standard woman", whatever that is). It would seem that most women don’t want to know or admit to their waist size. I’ve suggested to my wife that she buy jeans in the men’s department so that she can get the exact waist and length that she needs, but she claims that men’s jeans "don’t fit right".  [*shrug*]

  25. Andrew R says:

    The market responds to consumer demand.  Nothing more.  If consumers do stupid things, the market panders to stupid people.

    I buy all clothes (not including socks) based on my waist/chest/arm/leg size only.  If the article of clothing doesn’t have a SI-convertible size on it (eg. inches/cms), I cannot purchase it.  This makes purchasing both easier and more rewarding.

    The clothes I end up with tend to be of high quality since the manufacturer has not had to resort to pandering in order to move merchandise.  What’s more, I can safely buy virtually anything sight unseen and know it will at least fit by size (if not by style).

  26. Miles says:

    This is not only limited to women.  I’m tall and not fat.  By which I mean, I am 6’5" 195 lbs with a 33" waist.  I’m in great shape.  Even MEDIUM shirts are too big and baggy for my frame.  I have to wear SMALL!!!  At 195 lbs!  I bet you are already wondering how I find long sleeve shirts.  I don’t.  Manufacturers don’t make "small-tall" sizes.

  27. Worf says:

    Ugh, yeah I hate this. Do I buy a S or an M? If it goes over other clothes, should I go to an L instead?

    Good thing I kinda like military flight suits. They at least have a common set of sizes that make it really easy to see where you are, and figuring out what your next size is easy.

    If it comes to that… "Just look for the fighter pilot in the next cube".

  28. michaele says:

    women who are shopping in the misses section are either a) way smaller than your average size 0 (and I know a few), or b) shopping in the wrong stores to begin with.  Trust me, there are plenty of teeny, tiny articles of women’s clothing out there for the picking.

  29. Rob says:

    I want to know where Miles gets a size small shirt that fits someone who is 6’5". I’m 6’4" 205 (and dropping) and mediums tend to wear on me like some teenage girls belly shirt.

    I find as the size gets smaller, while fitting closer around, it also starts to be shorter in length.

    As for long sleeves, I am with you Miles, it’s a nightmare, my arm span is 6’6".

    I always say that the problem with big and tall stores is that you have to be big AND tall, you can’t just be tall.

  30. BritAm says:

    <b>It isn’t like women’s sizes where 4 only means bigger than 3 and smaller than 5, but nothing else about the actual size itself.</b>

    Don’t be so sure about even that.

    <b>One manufacture’s 4 isn’t the same size as another manufacturer’s 4, and season to season or even outfit to outfit, size 4 could easily change for a single manufacturer…</b>

    One of my wife’s friends described working for a garment manufacturer, years ago.  The workers were doing piece work with specific targets for the numbers of garments they were to produce.  If they ran out of tags, they’d use whatever they had to hand ’til the runners brought up a new supply.  Accuracy of the size tags was of secondary importance when the target had to be met.

  31. Cooney says:

    So, when they go down from 0, is that negative or 00, 000, etc?

    They could always go with, you know, real measurements – hips, waist, bust, trunk length, height. Some of my friends from HS did shop in the junior miss secion – they were 5’2" and 120 on down to 5’0", 95 lbs.

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