Vanity sizing — the industry term that refers to the fact that many, mostly American clothing companies have made pants, shirts and dresses larger while keeping old size designations (it's widely known among vintage shoppers that yesterday's size 10's and 12's are a "modern" size 8) — is incredibly frustrating for shoppers. And these days, as online shopping proliferates, it's even more annoying than having to grab extra sizes en route to the dressing room. I can videochat on a phone the size of a deck of cards while standing in the Caribbean Sea via invisible WiFi signals to my boyfriend who is walking through snow in NYC (think of the sheer quantity of technology that enabled that to happen), but we can't get a consistent sizing system for our clothes? 

This strikes me as a failure of the industry to adjust to modern people's needs (and surely feeds into the distrust and negative opinion most people have about the people who are in the business of fashion). And while the vanity sizing issue wasn't always that big of a deal — it was well known that the Gap and its associated companies tended to be more generous with their sizing, even in the late '90s — by 2013, it has just gotten ridiculous. 

Case in point: Me. When I shop at boutiques in NYC or from smaller, independent designers, I am usually a size large, unless it's a very roomy top, and then sometimes I'm a medium (I'm pear-shaped, so smaller on top). Of course there is always going to be variability when it comes to the cut of the piece of clothing and your particular body type. That makes sense. But at this point, I'm a size small at Old Navy, the Gap or Banana Republic, even in dresses, and even when they are more body-conscious. I guess the idea is that I'm supposed to feel so good about fitting into a size small that I will buy the clothing? I don't know the rationale, but I know I'm not a small person; I'm OK with that, and it's confusing to keep in mind exactly what the sizing is at the various stores and how they differ when I want to order online. 

We had this down at one point: I almost always fit into size 10 vintage clothing almost perfectly, so more consistent sizing been a reality from the recent past. And if the sizing is frustrating to me, in my relatively regular body (I'm a little pear-shaped, I'm just a bit taller than the average American woman), what about those who have less typical bodies? The answer is that they are (justifiably) way more annoyed than I am. 

This ridiculous vanity sizing also fails to address a real issue: the lack of cute, affordable and modern clothing for plus-sized women and men. It's as if, by vanity sizing everything to be a size or two bigger, large fashion chains figured that they could then totally ignore all the people bigger than a size large or extra-large (and many companies don't sell anything larger than a large). So now we are in the annoying situation of having both confusing clothing sizes and not enough options for plus-sized (and petite) folks. 

It's almost as if the fashion industry wanted to make buying clothing really frustrating and annoying on purpose, so we would buy fewer clothes. I'm guessing that's not the case, but it seems that way when we are all out there, shopping for a new dress to wear to a friend's wedding. Why can't we have a fairly uniform sizing system? It would be great for women's clothing to be sized more like men's, too, with inseams and waist measurements so that petite and tall, pear-shaped and apple-shaped women could get pants and skirts that are closer to their body dimensions. And why can't most clothes be available into plus-sizes? 

Have you been annoyed by vanity sizing? Do you order multiple sizes online, then have to go to the trouble of returning what doesn't work because you never know what's going to fit? 

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

The problem with vanity sizing
The variability in clothing sizes is frustrating, wasteful and erodes consumer confidence.