Vanity Sizing

When I walked into the Ann Taylor dressing room a couple days ago, I overheard a woman fretting to her husband that the size 2 dress she was trying on made her look dumpy. The woman was probably in her mid-40s and pretty petite—about 5’2 or 5’3 and thin. The dress was a flowered sheath that I thought was adorable, it was just clearly too big.

Me: “I love that dress on you! It’s just too big. Try a size 0.”

Her: “HAHAHAHA I love this girl!”

…I guess she thought I was kidding, because she didn’t try a smaller size but continued to try on different dresses, and lamenting that none of them looked good. A few minutes later, we both walked out wearing the exact same dress.

Her: (teasingly) “See, that’s what it’s supposed to look like! Why does it look like that on her and not me?” 

Me: “What size are you wearing?”

Her: “Size 2”

Me: “So am I. You can see that I’m a lot bigger than you and this size fits me, so you’d take a smaller size. You need a 0 or 00.”

Her: *in shock, says nothing*

Me: “Vanity sizing is really common nowadays. If you’re used to buying clothes 10 or 20 years ago (my diplomatic way of referring to her age), you probably need a size or two or three smaller now.”

With the combination of my stellar logic and obvious visual illustration, the woman was persuaded to try a smaller size and everyone was happy…just kidding! She left the store empty-handed. I guess she still didn’t believe me, despite the fact that she could look in the mirror and see me beside her standing six inches taller and a good 20 pounds heavier.  But she was having none of it.

Anyway, my point is that it’s important not to be stuck on the idea of wearing one particular size. It’s funny because it’s much more common for people to insist they wear a smaller size than they actually do, not larger, but I can see where adults who aren’t really aware of vanity sizing find it impossible that they’d be two sizes smaller when they haven’t lost weight-especially since size zero didn’t even EXIST until pretty recently. I’m definitely guilty of this myself (although for me like most people it’s harder to go ABOVE the size I’m used to!) but this incident is a good reminder that this is a silly attitude. After all, no one’s going to look at you and be impressed because you’re wearing an 8 instead of a 10, nor will they judge you for having the audacity to wear a small when everything else in your closet is large; they’re just going to think “wow, her clothes do/don’t fit.” 

This especially pertinent if you’ve recently lost weight, because you may think you know your size but be totally wrong. Now it’s pretty obvious that you’re wearing the wrong size if you can’t get a pair of pants past your thighs, or if you have enough space in them to practically smuggle a small child. What’s tricky is when a piece of clothing fits, but doesn’t look quite right. In that case, you should try one (or two) size(s) bigger AND one (or two) size(s) smaller. That way you can tell if the skirt is wrinkling because it’s too small and pulling across your thighs, or because it’s too big and there’s excess material. And if neither way looks good, it’s a good tip-off that the item just doesn’t work for you. But don’t assume that until you’ve at least tried on more than one size!

(*Note: I always tell people when I like their outfit in fitting rooms. Or chime in if someone’s openly debating between two things. I figure that a random shopper’s opinion is probably more useful than that of a salesperson who’s trying to make a commission, and I love when I get compliments/feedback so I figure other people like that too. Plus it’s fun to talk to people and hear about how they’re buying a dress for homecoming, looking for the perfect outfit for their son’s wedding, etc. And I used to work in retail so it’s hard to break the habit!)


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