If you’ve had trouble finding jeans that fit or determining your size, there’s probably a good reason for that. Experts say it’s probably by design.
A Radio-Canada market survey reveals waistline labeling on popular denim brands is rarely accurate. Sizing experts say misleading marketing — called vanity sizing — is to blame.
Marie-Eve Faust, professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal in the department of strategy, social and environmental responsibility, measured and evaluated jeans purchased from Levi’s, H&M, Gap, Lee, Wrangler, Old Navy and Abercrombie & Fitch, including some of the most popular brands.
WATCH | Marketplace tests the size of jeans:
The jeans were similar in style and size to match the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada, of a waist circumference of 34 inches for women and 38 inches for men aged 25 to 59.
Market found that most sizes in inches (the measurement by which retailers advertise and label jeans) were larger by at least an inch to well over.
“To flatter your consumer”
Faust, who has published a number of studies on fashion management, sizing and fit, described vanity sizing as a commonly used marketing tool in fashion and not limited to jeans.
“To flatter your consumer, you would label it a size smaller than it is,” she said, making it difficult for people to shop with confidence and ease.
“It’s very difficult for women to know which brand is OK,” she said. “But at the same time, it flatters you.”
She said when people feel good about the size, they can buy more accordingly.
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Clinical psychologist Nina Mafrici, owner of the Toronto Psychology and Wellness Group, said the practice is also dangerous.
“The problem with vanity size and with tricking people into thinking they’re a size smaller is really that it relates a size, an objective measurement – for example clothing size or the weight on a scale – with the person’s self-esteem,” she said.
And it leads to “poor body image or low self-esteem and can contribute to eating disorders.”
Mafrici said she and her staff are seeing more clients than ever who are younger and have serious health conditions like eating disorders.
Clothing for men and women concerned
Faust noted that vanity height is not limited to women’s fashion.
In the Market In the test, there were only two pairs of men’s jeans true to the size 38 indicated on the waistband: Lee Athletic Taper Active Stretch and H&M Regular Fit (straight leg). Other brands for men ranged an inch to two inches larger than their size guides.
In women’s jeans, all sizes were different from what was indicated on the label.
Only Old Navy Extra Stretch High Rise Curvy OG Straight, labeled as a size 14, which on the company’s size guide is 33.5 inches, was smaller at a measured 33 inches.
This was the only outlier of the entire batch. Women’s jeans purchased from Old Navy did not fit the vanity size model. These were also among the cheapest jeans.
All the others were bigger.
The Lee Relaxed Fit Straight Leg Mid Rise size 14 jeans are a 33.5 to 34.5 inch size on the size guide and Faust found it to be off by half an inch to 1.5 inches.
Some women’s sizes are way off
The Wrangler High Rise True Straight Fit and H&M Straight Regular Waist jeans were about two inches above what was listed on the size guide.
Levi’s Premium Wedgie Straight and Gap Cheeky Straight Sky High were about three inches larger than what is on the label.
Abercrombie & Fitch had the biggest discrepancy between its label and the actual measurement during the Market test.
Faust was surprised that the Abercrombie & Fitch Curve Love High Rise 90s Women’s Relaxed Jean, which was advertised as a size 34, was actually 40 inches when measured. It’s a six-inch difference for one of the more expensive pairs at $98.
The company markets its Curve Love jeans as having two extra inches in the hips and thighs “to help eliminate the waist gap.”
Sarah Muslim, who has a 34-inch waist and modeled the jeans Market tested, said she considers herself plump and constantly struggles to find jeans that fit because there is often too much material in the waistband.
The Curve Love jeans, she said, were “probably the least fitted of them all and they’re supposed to be for curvy girls.”
In a statement, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. did not explain why there was such a discrepancy in the size of the Curve Love jeans which Market measure.
However, a spokesperson wrote that “in the detailed online size guide, our jeans’ numerical size tags will not always correlate directly to the inch waist measurement, which is by design. Consistent with other clothing brands, we do not produce bottoms in inch-by-inch sizing increments.Instead, based on extensive research and fitting sessions, our sizing is intended to fit a range of sizes.
The spokesperson also wrote that “many other factors” go into denim sizing, including style, the amount of stretch in the fabric, and where the waist is supposed to sit.
Muslim urged companies to not only put labels with sizing and sizing information on their clothes, but also to make sure the information is accurate.
All companies were asked to comment on the discrepancies Market discovered in the measurements and for the outlook on vanity sizing.
Wrangler did not respond. Levi Strauss & Co. declined the opportunity to respond.
In a statement, H&M wrote that the company could not comment on the specific jeans. Market bought, but it works to make sure it’s the right size in every market.
A statement from Gap Inc. for Gap and Old Navy says the company strives to provide consistent sizing, but design and materials can sometimes lead to inconsistencies.
Lee was the only company to apologize for the difference in fit and also the only one to mention an industry term called “dress tolerance”.
Clothing tolerance refers to the difference a company allows in measurements, and Lee wrote that its factories “are allowed up to an inch deviation.”
The company also said it was now taking steps to make improvements.
When it comes to vanity sizes, H&M was the only company to respond directly. The company statement reads: “Vanity size is not something we work with at H&M.” He also said that different items of the same size can be experienced differently depending on factors such as clothing style.
Lack of regulation
Faust said standards were established for certain clothing sizes, including women’s clothing, in Canada in 1975, but are now voluntary. Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed in a statement that the “Canadian Size Standards System for Women’s Clothing” was retired in 2012.
Faust said mandatory sizing regulations are needed so customers aren’t misled or manipulated.
Companies refer to size in inches or centimeters on their websites or on the jeans themselves, but the numbers are becoming less meaningful, Faust said.
Over the years, due to the size of the vanity, companies have had to reduce the size to the point that some have sizes as small as 0 or 00. Faust noted that numeric sizes that start at 00 can be just as inconsistent than those labeled by waist size. .
Abercrombie & Fitch was among the first brands to manufacture size 00 and now offers size 000 on its website.
Faust recalls back in the 2000s when she and her co-workers, “were like, ‘oh my God, soon we’re going to be close to zero,’ and we were laughing about it.”
Lee and Levi’s both wear size 00 and H&M has size 0, which according to size guides corresponds to a 24-inch waist.
The British Standards Institution once regulated body size in 1951, and Faust said the Canadian General Standards Board may regulate it now.
But in a statement to Marketplace, the government agency said dress standards have been withdrawn and “the CGSB has no expertise in this area.”
The statement suggested that “public or private organizations interested in developing a new national standard may contact the CGSB for information on the development process.”
Vanity size retail psychology does not sell with Muslim.
“You should just accept your size and get something that makes you feel good,” she said.
Mafrici says until companies consider changing their practices: “Do your research. Find out which brands use accurate sizing. Focus on how the clothes feel on your body and how you feel in them. “
And she encourages buyers to turn to “those brands that show size diversity”.