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Size does matter!

“Smaller size labels evoke positive self-related mental imagery. Consumers imagine themselves positively (thinner) with a vanity-sized size-6 pant versus a size-8 pant,” write authors Nilüfer Aydinoglu and Aradhna Krishna, Professor of Marketing, University of Michigan. Published in Journal of Consumer Psychology (October 2012), their report, Imagining Thin: Why Vanity Sizing Works demonstrates, “This helps sell clothes -- women prefer small size clothing labels to large ones.” We discovered boutiques here have laid the snare too.


Sancheti’s cowl neck asymmetrical hemline dress fits sizes and accounts for many figure flaws.

It’s an old trick
In the early 20th Century, in the West, women’s clothing was sized according to the bust measurement. But the 1920s saw the birth of a “Misses” line, designed for teenagers with, understandably, a smaller bust-waist-hip ratio. Over the next decade, retailers noticed a steady decline in the sales of “Women’s clothing” as women across age groups showed an obvious preference for the “Misses” line. Naturally, retailers had to stock up accordingly, but there was one big problem: Women were still as voluptuous as ever. So, “Manufacturers changed the proportions of ‘Misses’ clothing to fit the most common figure type,” according to Gotham Patterns Research and Design in Historical Costume, thus introducing, “vanity-sizing”, a system of labelling clothes so as to appeal to the egos of shoppers. “The main reason brands do this is to make customers feel good about themselves and, more to the point, about the brand,” says Roger Dooley, author of 2011 book Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, “If a woman finds that one brand’s size-8 fits her while in another brand the size-8 is too tight, she may conclude that the first brand is better designed because buying the second brand’s dress would force her to face the fact that she has gained weight,” the book states.

Shruti Sancheti
This breezy anti-fit asymmetrical hemline dress by Shruti Sancheti, which is ideal for about three sizes

Shape up and swipe the card
“In retail, the size range is very wide -- from double zeros, sizes can go up to over twenty so that’s where they have an opportunity to play around with the numbers,” says designer Shruti Sancheti, who’s not a fan of deceptive sizing. “Some of my designs aren’t figure-hugging and so can fit women across three sizes,” she adds, calling this facet, “the beauty of kurtas -- they are very forgiving garments, even for men.”  But personal stylist and wardrobe consultant Khushnaz Turner, Founder, Stylish Solutions says many Indian labels also resort to the number-trick. “I’m a size two, but if I could get into a size zero, I’d be delighted,” she admits, telling us that it’s not hard to see how this would play on the psyche of figure-conscious shoppers and translate into more sales, “Today, every brand has its own sizes. There’s no standard, so it’s crucial to try on each garment before you buy it.”


Roger Dooley, (left) his book, Brainfluence

But armed with a measuring tape, this reporter found that even within a brand, you could find varying options per size. At Mango, for instance, of three pairs of size-26 (USA: 4) ‘slim-fit’ jeans we checked, one measured 26 inches around the waist, another, 30 inches and the third, 32 inches, while of two spaghetti-strapped tops, both labelled ‘M’ and hung up on the same line, one measured 44 inches and the other 38 inches (at the chest). Shop at multiple brands and it gets even more confusing. T-shirts that measure 38 inches at the chest are labelled ‘M’ at Tommy Hilfiger, but ‘Large’ at Calvin Klein and Giordano. 

Niskha Lulla, designer
Niskha Lulla, designer

It doesn’t get less complicated for men. According to chest measurements of men’s T-shirts that salespersons at these stores were kind enough to jot down for us, an ‘S’ T-shirt at Giordano measures 35 inches, Jack and Jones’ S=38 inches, Calvin Klein’s S=39 inches and at Tommy Hilfiger a ‘Small’ T-shirt measures 41 inches, the same as a ‘Large’ Giordano T-shirt. So, you could go from being a Large to a Small in the same day, without a minute of gym-time. Isn’t that worth every paisa of that Rs 1,999.99?

…But it’s confusing
While you can try on clothes at a boutique, size inconsistencies must pose a hurdle for online shoppers. Are size charts posted on such websites enough to bolster customer confidence? “Sizing is as heterogeneous as brands,” admits Mukul Bafana, co-founder of online fashion retail website, Jabong.com which retails over 1,000 brands, “This is why we have a 30-day return policy on most products. Our courier offers to wait while shoppers try on the garment and the same can be returned immediately if the customer is less than completely satisfied.” Besides, Bafana’s company plans to introduce a 2D measuring tool to quell ambiguity: “Shoppers can measure their best-fitting garments and reserve these measurements online as a reference guide. By cross-checking these numbers, they’ll be more confident of their purchases,” he reveals. Bafana believes that size disparity across brands isn’t deliberate but a consequence that garments are now manufactured in different geographical regions, with different specifications.

Mukul Bafana, Co-founder, Jabong.com
Mukul Bafana, Co-founder, Jabong.com

Cut from a different cloth
Designer Nishka Lulla argues that sizing may depend on the cut of the outfit. “Today, most brands offer a loose or relaxed fit and a snug fit,” says Lulla who is sceptical about the selling-power of a deceptive sizing policy. “However flattered I may feel were I to fit into a smaller size, I doubt this alone would tempt me to return to the same store,” she reasons, “It depends on the product.”

Though apparel designer 
Ken Ferns understands how fitting into smaller sizes can make shoppers feel good, he too believes, “Ultimately it’s the fit, not the tag that matters. The number or letter on the label is your little secret -- no one is going to peek at it.” It’s true of course; next time, we’ll give it more thought once we stop jumping for joy in our new USA: 4 jeans.

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