If you’ve been having trouble finding jeans that fit or figuring out your size, there’s probably a good reason for that. Experts say it’s probably by design.
A CBC Marketplace Research shows that waist size labels on popular denim brands are rarely accurate. Estimation experts say deceptive 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 reviewed jeans purchased from Levi’s, H&M, Gap, Lee, Wrangler, Old Navy, and Abercrombie & Fitch — some of the most popular brands.
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The jeans were similar in style and size, fitting the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada, of a 34-inch waist for women and a 38-inch waist for men ages 25-59.
marketplace found that most waist sizes in inches (the yardstick by which retailers advertise and label the jeans) were larger by at least an inch 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 widely 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, which makes it difficult for people to shop with confidence and ease.
“It’s very hard for women to figure out which brand is okay,” she said. “But at the same time it flatters you.”
She said that when people feel good about the size, they may buy more as a result.
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Clinical psychologist Nina Mafric, owner of Toronto Psychology and Wellness Group, said this practice also carries a danger.
“The problem with vanity measurements and with fooling people into believing they’re a smaller size is that it actually connects a size, an objective measure — say, clothing size or weight on a scale — to the person’s self-worth. person,” she said.
And that leads to “low body image or low self-esteem and can contribute to eating disorders.”
Mafric said she and her staff are seeing more clients than ever who are younger and have serious health problems, such as eating disorders.
Men’s and women’s clothing affected
Faust noted that vanity sizing is not limited to women’s fashion.
In the marketplace test, there were only two pairs of men’s jeans that were true to the size 38 labeled on the waist: Lee Athletic Taper Active Stretch and H&M Regular Fit (straight leg). The other men’s brands ranged from one to two inches larger than their size chart.
For women’s jeans, all waist sizes were different than stated on the label.
Only Old Navy Extra Stretch High Rise Curvy OG Straight, labeled as a size 14, which according to the company’s size chart is a 33.5-inch waist, was smaller at a measured 33-inch waist.
It was the only outlier of the entire party. The women’s jeans purchased at Old Navy did not fit the makeup sizing pattern. These were also among the least expensive pair of jeans.
All others were bigger.
Lee Relaxed Fit Straight Leg Mid Rise jeans size 14 is a 33.5-34.5 inch waist on the size chart and Faust found it was off by half an inch to 1.5 inches.
Some women’s sizes deviate
Wrangler High Rise True Straight Fit and H&M Straight Regular Waist jeans were about two inches larger than what was listed in the size chart.
Levi’s Premium Wedgie Straight and Gap Cheeky Straight Sky High were about four inches taller than what’s on the label.
Abercrombie & Fitch had the largest discrepancy between the label and the actual measurement during the marketplace to test.
Faust was surprised that the Women’s Abercrombie & Fitch Curve Love High Rise 90s Relaxed Jean, which was advertised as a size 34, was actually 40 inches when measured. That’s one 6 inches difference for one of the most expensive pairs at $98.
The company markets its Curve Love jeans with an extra two inches in the hips and thighs “to help eliminate the waist gap.”
Sarah Muslim, who has a 34 inch waist and modeled the jeans marketplace tested, said she considers herself curvy and constantly struggles to find jeans that fit because they often have too much fabric at the waist.
The Curve Love jeans, she said, were “probably the worst fitting of them all and they should be for curvy girls.”
In a statement, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. not explained why there was such a discrepancy in the waistline of the Curve Love jeans that marketplace measured.
However, a spokesperson wrote that “in the detailed size chart online, the numerical size labels of our jeans are not always directly related to the waist measurement in inches, which is inherent to the design. In line with other clothing brands, we do not produce inch-by-inch pants. inch waist increments. Instead, based on extensive research and fit sessions, our sizing is meant to fit a range of waistlines.”
The spokesperson also wrote that “many other factors” come into play when sizing denim, including style, the amount of stretch in the fabric and where the waist is supposed to sit.
Muslim urged companies not only to label their clothing with size and waist information, but also to ensure that the information is accurate.
The companies respond
All companies were asked to comment on both discrepancies marketplace discovered in the measurements and for perspectives on vanity sizing.
Wrangler did not respond. Levi Strauss & Co. declined the opportunity to respond.
In a statement, H&M writes that the company cannot comment on the specific pair of jeans marketplace 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 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 “clothing tolerance.”
Garment tolerance refers to how much difference a company allows in measurements, and Lee wrote that his factories are “allowed to have a variance of up to an inch”.
The company also said it is now taking steps to make improvements.
In terms of sizing, 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 may be perceived differently depending on factors such as the style of the clothing.
Lack of regulation
Faust said standards were established in Canada in 1975 for certain clothing sizes, including women’s clothing, but 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 regulations are needed so that customers are not misled or manipulated.
The companies refer to waist size in inches or centimeters on their websites or on the jeans themselves, but the numbers are increasingly meaningless, Faust said.
Over the years, because of vanity sizing, companies have had to reduce sizing to the point that some have sizes as small as 0 or 00. Faust noted that numerical sizes starting at 00 can be just as inconsistent as those with waist size.
Abercrombie & Fitch was one of the first brands to make size 00 and now has size 000 on its website.
Faust recalls in the 2000s when she and colleagues, “We were like ‘oh my god, soon we’ll be almost zero,’ and we laughed about it.”
Lee and Levi’s both have a size 00 and H&M has a size 0, which according to the size chart is a 24 inch waist.
The British Standards Institution once regulated body sizing in 1951, and Faust said the Canadian General Standards Board could now regulate it.
But in a statement to Marketplace, the government agency indicated that dress standards have been withdrawn and “CGSB has no expertise in this area.”
The statement suggested that “public or private organizations interested in developing a new national standard can contact the CGSB to obtain information about the development process.”
The retail psychology of vanity measurement doesn’t sell with Muslims.
“You just have to embrace your size and buy something that makes you feel good,” she said.
Until companies consider changing their practices, Mafric 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 shoppers to “go to those brands that demonstrate size diversity.”