If you’ve had a hard time finding jeans that fit or figuring out your size, there’s probably a good reason. Experts say it’s probably by design.
ONE CBC Marketplace study reveals that waist size labeling on popular denim brands is rarely accurate. Size experts say misleading marketing — called vanity sizing — is to blame.
Marie-Eve Faust, a 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 – some of the most popular brands.
SEE | Marketplace puts jeans sizes to the test:
The jeans were similar in style and sizes to fit the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada, of a 34-inch waist for women and 38-inch waist for men ages 25-59.
Marketplace found that most waist sizes in inches (the metric by which retailers advertise and label jeans) were at least an inch larger to much more.
‘To flatter your consumer’
Faust, who has published a number of studies on fashion management, sizing and fit, described vanity sizing as a marketing tool commonly used in fashion and not limited to jeans.
“To flatter your consumer, you would label it as 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 figure out what brand is OK,” she said. “But at the same time it flatters you.”
She said when people feel good about the size, they may buy more as a result.
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Clinical psychologist Nina Mafrici, who owns the Toronto Psychology and Wellness Group, said the practice also has a danger to it.
“The problem with vanity sizes and tricking people into thinking they’re a smaller size is really that it associates a size, an objective measure – for example, clothing size or weight on a scale – with the person’s self-esteem,” she said .
And it leads to “low 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 issues like eating disorders.
Men’s and women’s clothing affected
Faust noted that vanity sizes are not limited to women’s fashion.
In it Marketplace test, there were only two pairs of men’s jeans that were true to the size 38 marked on the waist: Lee Athletic Taper Active Stretch and H&M Regular Fit (straight leg). The other men’s marks ranged from one inch to two inches larger than their size guides.
In women’s jeans, all waist sizes were different from what was labeled.
Only the Old Navy Extra Stretch High Rise Curvy OG Straight, marked as a size 14, which on the company’s size guide is a 33.5-inch waist, was smaller with a 33-inch measured waist.
It was the only deviant of the whole lot. Women’s jeans purchased from Old Navy did not fit the pattern for vanity sizes. These were also among the cheapest jeans.
All the others were bigger.
The Lee Relaxed Fit Straight Leg Mid Rise Jeans size 14 is a 33.5-34.5 inch waist on the size guide and Faust found it to be 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 indicated in the size guide.
The Levi’s Premium Wedgie Straight and the Gap Cheeky Straight Sky High were about three inches larger than what the label says.
Abercrombie & Fitch had the largest discrepancy between its label and the actual measurement below Marketplace sample.
Faust was surprised that the women’s Abercrombie & Fitch Curve Love High Rise 90s Relaxed Jean, which was advertised as a size 34, actually measured 40 inches. It is a six inch difference for one of the most expensive pairs at $98.
The company markets its Curve Love jeans as having an extra two inches in the hips and thighs “to help eliminate waist gaps.”
Sarah Muslim, who has a 34-inch waist, modeled the jeans Marketplace tested, said she considers herself curvy and constantly has trouble finding jeans that fit because there is often too much material in the waist.
The Curve Love jeans, she said, were “probably the worst fitting of them all, and they were supposed to be for curvy girls.”
In a statement, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. explained. not why there was such a discrepancy in the waist of Curve Love jeans that Marketplace measured.
However, a spokesperson wrote that “in the detailed size guide online, the numerical size labels on our jeans will not always correlate directly with waist measurements in inches, which is by design. In line with other apparel brands, we do not produce bottoms in inch-by-inch waists. Instead, based on extensive research and fitting sessions, our sizing is designed to fit a range of waistlines.”
The spokesperson also wrote that “many other factors” play into denim sizing, including style, the amount of stretch in the fabric and where the waist is intended to sit.
Muslim urged businesses not only to put size and waist measurement labels on their clothes, but also to ensure that the information is accurate.
The companies react
All companies were asked for their comments on both discrepancies Marketplace uncovered in the goals and for perspectives on vanity size.
Wrangler didn’t answer. Levi Strauss & Co. declined the opportunity to respond.
In a statement, H&M wrote that the company cannot comment on the specific jeans Marketplace purchased, but it works to make sure it’s the right size in all markets.
A Gap Inc. statement for Gap and Old Navy said the company strives to provide consistent sizes, but the design and material can sometimes lead to inconsistency.
Lee was the only company to apologize for the fit discrepancy and also the only one to mention an industry term called “garment tolerance”.
Garment tolerance refers to how much of a difference a company allows in measurements, and Lee wrote that its factories are “allowed a deviation of up to an inch.”
The company also said it is now taking steps to make improvements.
As for vanity sizes, H&M was the only company to respond directly. The company’s statement reads: “Vanity sizing is not something we work with at H&M.” It also said that different items of the same size can be experienced differently depending on factors such as the style of the clothing.
Lack of regulation
Faust said standards were set for some clothing sizes, including women’s clothing, in Canada in 1975, but they are now voluntary. Public Services and Procurement Canada confirmed in a statement that the “Canada Standard System for Sizing Women’s Apparel” was withdrawn in 2012.
Faust said mandatory sizing is needed so customers are not misled or manipulated.
The companies refer to waist measurements in inches or centimeters on their websites or on the jeans themselves, but the numbers are increasingly meaningless, Faust said.
Over the years, due to vanity sizes, companies have had to downsize to the point that some have sizes as small as 0 or 00. Faust noted that numerical sizes starting at 00 can be as inconsistent as those that is marked with waist size.
Abercrombie & Fitch was among the first brands to make size 00 and now has size 000 on its website.
Faust remembers in the 2000s when she and colleagues “were like, ‘oh my god, soon we’re close to zero,’ and we laughed about it.”
Lee and Levi’s both carry a size 00, and H&M has a size 0, which the size guides indicate is a 24-inch waist.
The British Standards Institution once regulated the sizing of body measurements in 1951, and Faust said the Canadian General Standards Board could regulate it now.
But in a statement to marketplace, the state agency indicated that clothing standards were withdrawn and “CGSB does not have 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.”
The retail psychology behind vanity size does not sell with Muslim.
“You just have to embrace your size and get something that makes you feel good,” she said.
Until companies consider changing their practices, Mafrici says, “Do your research. Discover brands that use accurate sizing. Focus on how clothes feel on your body and how you feel in them.”
And she encourages customers to go for “the brands that show size diversity.”