The New Size “000” and What Vanity Sizing Really Means

J.Crew recently began stocking a new size: XXXS or 000 and people are pretty upset about it (this is an understatement. The Internet has basically been flipping out all week,) J.Crew’s official statement is that their new triple-zero size is a response to market demand from Asia (particularly Hong Kong) where there’s a plethora of 23-inch-waisted customers, many of whom are, according to J.Crew, just too tiny-boned to fit into the retailer’s once-smallest size: 00. People come in all shapes and sizes, that’s cool, and if that’s what J.Crew is trying to accommodate, awesome for them. HOWEVER, the preppy-classic clothing company selling 000-size jeans has been accused by many of straight-up “vanity sizing.” Record scratch. Say what? What IS vanity sizing and why does it piss people off so much? Field guide to the rescue! Let’s do this thing.

So what is “vanity sizing” exactly?

Vanity sizing is a marketing ploy wherein clothes are deliberately mislabeled so that customers are tricked into believing they are wearing a smaller size. For example, if a woman’s waist size is REALLY a 27, she might try on a pair of jeans that are LABELLED 27 but are actually 29, and believe that she has to go down to a size 25, which fit perfectly because they are also mislabeled and are actually a size 27. So our imaginary shopper THINKS she’s dropped a size in jeans when in reality she’s the same size she’s always been.

Why does it even exist?   

In a culture where we are encouraged to be as slim as possible, we treat going a size down as a major victory and going a size up as a crushing defeat, and retailers KNOW this just like they know that if they trick a customer into believing she’s a smaller size in said retailer’s jeans, they’ll foster good will with that customer and she’ll keep coming back to that store because she likes seeing herself as that smaller size.

Who’s doing it?

There are, according to industry experts, plenty of culprits out there. A 2011 New York Times article found a women who was a size 8-10 at Marc Jacobs, but a “triple zero” at Chicos, and another who was a size zero at Ann Taylor and a size 6 at American Eagle. Who’s right? It’s hard to say.

“Standardized size charts exist, but designers often take liberties to create their own smaller scale, regardless of how illogical the numbers are,” Tammy Kinley, PhD, associate professor of merchandising at the University of North Texas, told Cosmopolitan last year. In a study she conducted, she measured 1,000 pairs of size 4 jeans from different brands and discovered they actually varied in size by about 8 1/2 inches. That’s a HUGE difference and big problem.

But why is it a problem?

Well, first of all, it’s false advertising, if you’re saying that the pair of jeans I’m holding in my hand have a 27 inch waist, I better be able to pull out my measuring tape and find exactly that many inches. I’m aware that companies are constantly bending the truth in the quest to get my business. But outright lying to me? That’s some shady shade. It also just makes it really hard to buy a decent pair of jeans that fits with all the confusing sizing differences.

Furthermore, vanity sizing reinforces putting personal value and self-worth issues on your size. Even if no one ever sees the tag on the inside of your clothes (and probably no one will, because when was the last time someone reached into the back of your pants to check out your jeans size? Never, I hope!) we have been conditioned to believe all the BS of “One size down, GOOD, one size up, LEAVE THIS PLACE FOREVER AND LET YOUR FACE NEVER BE SEEN IN THIS LAND AGAIN” and it’s manipulation of the highest order for retailers to play into those doubts and fears.

Lastly (but certainly not least-ly), vanity sizing REALLY brings out the skinny shaming sides of people. In an LA Times piece about J.Crew’s new 000, a reporter pitches the following idea:

Maybe what we need is some social scrawny-shaming, the way some people practice fat-shaming now. Tweet the very thin and very famous pictures of food or order a prepaid pizza to be delivered to their homes.

No, no, no. No fat-shaming, no skinny-shaming, no shaming period. We really have to figure out a way to make girls feel great about the size their body naturally (and healthily) wants to be, whatever size waist that is, and shaming is not how we get that job done. That said, vanity sizing is also NOT how we get that job done, it basically seems to serve the sole purpose of messing with our minds and giving us all a big old headache.

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