Women's Clothing Size Chart by Brand
Women's Clothing Size Chart by Brand

Vanity sizing = planned obsolescence

Vanity sizing is the fashion industry’s particular take on planned obsolescence, especially for women’s clothing. By incrementally expanding the measurements keyed to each size, people will continually wear smaller and smaller sizes as the year’s progress (assuming the people stay the same size). This means that if you were a size 8 last season, by next season you may not have lost a pound or toned an ab, but you will miraculously fit into a size 6 because the size 6 will now have the dimensions that the size 8 had last season. People, and women in particular, seem to get a feel-good bump out of wearing smaller sizes and will therefore buy more items in the new smaller size than they would have if their size hadn’t changed.

Goldilocks and the three dresses

Vanity sizing turns us all into Goldilocks. And you know what? I don’t care which fairy tale character is being dragged out to describe the situation of femininity today, neither I nor anyone else is trying to be a fairy tale character (exception granted to Kate Middleton). No more Cinderella, no Alice in Wonderland (falling through a looking glass is no fun at all, even if lawn bowling with flamingos and evil queens makes a good spectator sport), and Goldilocks spent most of that story lonely, frustrated, and displeased.

The chart above uses empirical evidence to *prove* that shopping will surely frustrate all women. I don’t know if men have the same problem, though I would imagine they are somewhat better off because their sizes are not just keyed to measurements, they ARE measurements. A 30×32 pair of pants is supposedly the same from one brand to the next. Maybe that’s true in mens clothes. As you can see above, women’s dress sizes certainly do not adhere to any agreed upon standard. A size 8 has a huge range of variability. However, even when women’s clothes do use measurements to describe their sizes – like jeans, which are sized not by the 0,2,4,6,8 system but by the waist measurement – a size 26 in one brand is not the same as a size 26 in the next brand. I learned that the hard way last week. And yes, I can hear fashion designers pointing out that different cuts fit differently – some are meant to be loose, others slim fitting. Maybe I’m just not fashion-aware and I’m mistaking fit differences for vanity sizing when any true fashionista would see that there is simply a different fit implied by each cut. Well. Here’s what I have to say to that: if the jeans are supposed to be 26″ in the waist, they better be 26″ in the waist. The rest of them can fit like jeggings or flare like early 1970’s bell bottoms or, heck, they can poof out like MC Hammer pants. But the waist needs to be 26″ if it is sold as a size 26″.

The graphic

This graphic is great for three reasons:

1. These folks did their homework. There are many brands represented here, from fashion labels like Marc Jacobs and Dolce and Gabbana to more affordable clothing from Old Navy and the Gap (which I always thought was the worst offender in the vanity sizing race to the biggest clothing labeled with the smallest sizes). The sheer volume of the comparison is extremely helpful.

2. The small inset of a woman’s hourglass torso acts like a site plan to the more detailed drawing. I love this. Perhaps that’s because my first drawings were architectural in nature and I like the orienting function of the relatively small overview.

3. They included three measurements – bust, waist, and hip – all three are critical to a good fit. And not all brands feel the same way about the ideal ratio of bust to waist to hip. I don’t buy button down shirts because what fits in the waist never fits in the bust.

Overall, this graphic confirms my angry fears that one day I will not be able to buy anything off the rack. Both my svelte best friend and my advisor (males) struggle to find off-the-shelf items that fit well. The smallest sizes are often too big to fit well and when they aren’t too big, they sell out very quickly. My advisor occasionally wears a shirt he inherited from his grandmother when she died. It’s a nice way to remember his grandma but it also fits better than many of his other options.

Letter to fashion world

Dear fashion world:

Please continue to make clothing for small people. And please find a way for women who are small to wear something other than ‘0’ or ’00’. Psychologically, it is bad to be called a zero; being a double zero is worse. Zeros don’t count for anything. Most people want to count for something. And since women’s identities and dress sizes are far too often conflated, wearing a size zero is like being a zero. That is an existentially dubious position to occupy.

Also, I realize that people might be inclined to buy clothing if it is a smaller size – they feel gratified that they have lost weight and are happy to buy new, ‘smaller’ clothes – but if you keep slowly enlarging the dimensions on all of the sizes, there won’t be clothing left for the small people. And at some point, losing the market share from the smaller people will trump the market share gained by getting slightly larger people to buy a little more simply because whatever they are buying is a smaller size than they thought they were. I think the solution is to put a lock on the smallest sizes and only muck around with the larger sizes – add more sizes to the top if Americans need more accommodations on that end.

Please stop expanding the dimensions of the smallest sizes. Small people need clothes that fit well, too.

– Not a zero


Clifford, Stephanie. (April 24, 2011) One Size Fits Nobody: Seeking a Steady 4 or a 10 [Graphic] in the New York Times, Business Day Section.