The Psychology of Sizing

By Sarah Bicknell

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Recently, I went shopping at J. Crew for the first time in a long time.

It had been nearly three years.  With countless job interviews in my near future, it was time to update my wardrobe to something better-suited to the business world.

So, I went to J. Crew, hoping to find the perfect blazers, button-downs and skirts, but instead was left empty-handed and confused.

I walked into the beautifully arranged store and headed straight for a rack of wool pencil skirts.  I sifted through the rack to find my usual size and picked up a coordinating blouse and blazer.

In the fitting room, I tried on the outfit. But when I pulled the skirt on, it practically fell from my hips.  Confused, I called for the attendant to bring me a smaller size — but that, too, didn’t fit.

After going down 3 sizes, I finally found a skirt that fit well.  I knew that I hadn’t gotten any smaller, so why the change?

It’s called vanity sizing, where designers add extra inches of fabric to clothing without changing the number on the tag.  In recent years, clothing manufacturers have skewed the numbers displayed on clothing tags to make women believe that they are skinnier when in reality, they’re the same size.

According to Maria Halkias, business writer at the Dallas Morning News, “The business strategy behind vanity sizing is to generate loyalty, create an aura of exclusivity and to flatter shoppers who care about such things.”

The obsession with skinniness has always been about the number reading on the scale at the gym or the size on a clothing tag.  The fixation of downsizing has taken an absurd course and clothing articles marked “0″ and even “00″ can be found worn on more women than ever.

Sizing is a way for women to evaluate amour-propre and determine their self-worth.  Women are more likely to purchase clothes marked with a smaller number because it gives them a false sense that they are thinner, and in turn, worth more.

“One basic motive that drives human behavior is the motive to feel good about oneself.  Because physical appearance and body size is highly valued in our society, it follows from the biased thinking that we want to see ourselves as physically attractive and thin individuals,” says Dr. Andrea Meltzer, a social psychology professor at SMU.

“Additionally, according to cognitive dissonance theory, we experience tension if our attitudes are inconsistent with our behaviors.  If I believe I am a size 6 but fit into an 8, I may choose to not buy that piece of clothing in order to reduce the tension and anxiety that is produced from having to buy a size that is inconsistent with our beliefs.”

It’s just a simple number, but the clothing industry’s manipulation of sizing messes with all of us.

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