Fashion Designers Use ‘Vanity Sizing’ To Get More Money

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Clarissa Almaraz is one frustrated shopper. The 30-year-old Dallas resident says having four kids changed her shape, and with it, her clothing size.

“At one store I’m a six, and the other I’m a 12,” said Almaraz.

Most women can relate to her confusion over clothing sizes.  Tammy Kinley, an associate professor of merchandising at the University of North Texas has been studying the phenomenon for years.

“Every manufacturer has a fit model,” explained Kinley.  “They size to the fit model and then scale up and down to get different sizes from that.  That’s why we get lots of variation.”

Professor Kinley has done significant research on “vanity sizing.”  That’s when clothing designers for the most expensive brands label larger sizes with smaller numbers.

“Smaller sizes make us feel better. That is a fact,” said Kinley. “I think women are very willing to spent money for a size number we like.”

The same woman with a 30 to 31 inch waist and 41 inch hips fits into 3 different sizes depending on the brand.  In Guess, she’d need a size 9, at The Limited she’d take a size 10, and at New York and Company or Kenneth Cole she’d wear a size 12.

“I just wish it were consistent,” said Alvarez.  But Professor Kinley says vanity sizing is meant to flatter women, not frustrate them.

“It does make us feel good to be in a smaller number.”

Professor Kinley’s research shows that one number that matters more than the rest, and that’s a woman’s age. After age 40, women are much less likely to be influenced by the number on the label.

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  • Kristy M.

    As a ready-to-wear retail professional with over 25 years of experience, I can assure you that the retail industry is not out to rip anybody off. If that was the case the retail industry would have ceased to exist a long time ago. Ultimately, every retailer’s goal is to make a profit but not at the expense of customer trust and loyalty. Retailer’s can’t survive without their customers. It’s not in our best interest to alienate them.

    As a merchant, my number one priority is to give the customer what she wants, when she wants it, the way she wants it. There is no ulterior motive or trickery involved. When a customer walks into my store my job is to readily indentify her buying motive and fulfill her needs to the best of my ability. Am I going to try to sell her as much as I possibly can? Absolutely. But it’s the customer who makes the final buying decision. No one is twisting her arm making her spend money she doesn’t have. In fact, the average salesperson can relate to customers who don’t have a lot of money to spend because in most cases neither do they. Sellers know that every dollar counts on both sides of the cash register these days. We are sensitive to the fact that buyers are having to cut back. When it comes to fashion, retailers know how to stretch a buck better than anyone and we are here to share the wealth of our knowledge. We want our customer to get the best deal because we know she’ll come back and shop with us again and again.

    These buyer-beware stories are hardly factual. They’re not even rooted in reality. If the media made an effort to tell the other side of the story I think everyone would be surprised by what they would find. Most retailers are doing any and everything they can to keep their jobs and their doors open. We are scrambling to come up with new ways to keep the customer engaged by creating promotions and in-store events that will entice customers to continue to shop. The pressure is on and everyday we are asked to do more with less.

    It used to be that a retailer’s biggest concern was the competition. Now we find ourselves being impacted by the media, politics, and Wall Street like never before. News stories like this don’t help and they don’t help the economy either. You’re merely adding fuel to the fire by creating more buyer uncertainty. Why be a part of the problem when you could be a part of the solution?

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