The following dramatization is based on real events.
Woman enters store. Woman spots shirt. Woman checks sizes. Woman identifies shirt of her size. Woman takes shirt to dressing room. Woman finds shirt to be too large. Woman feels elated, then confused.
This scenario could happen to you. Perhaps it already has. This series of events is something that goes on periodically in the world of clothing retail, and it's a bit of a mixed blessing. It's called size inflation.
That's right, folks. You thought you were an 8? Guess again! Now you're a 6! Always been a medium? Now you're a small! Hooray, you say as you leave the dressing room to find the item in your new and improved size.
Now I won't name names, but I have experienced size inflation recently at a number of popular retailers. And I'll admit, when I bought my first skirt in a 6, I experienced tiny, temporary glee. Maybe I had lost weight? Or the yoga was paying off? And even though I hadn't changed a bit, and rationally I knew that, some deeply-buried emotional corner of my brain felt good. I would even venture to say that it influenced my purchase decision. "I like this skirt because it's a 6," a tiny voice said. So I can only imagine why stores shift their sizes. They are in hot pursuit of the magic moment when women realize, "Good god, I'm a smaller size!" That's right ladies, you too are a smaller size.
Except, of course, you're not. Your body is the same today as it was yesterday. Perhaps you've been a happy size 10 for years. You are accustomed to your size 10, and it makes shopping easier. So now, when you find that in some stores you are a 10, while in others you're an 8 and in still others a 6, well that's just confusing. With each new store, you have to bring at least two or three sizes into the dressing room. Your old standard is no longer standard.
So why would retailers put us through this trouble? Well, size inflation in clothing coincides neatly with size inflation at food establishments. It's right alongside the Super Size menus, the Big Gulps, the entrees at Cheesecake Factory. As meal portions grow, everything else grows too.
And so, not wanting to be "the only store where I'm still a 10," each retailer periodically updates its sizing structure so that women feel better about buying there. They keep up with the Gaps, if you will. And it tends to work out quite nicely - the women who have grown keep the same size, while the women who have not, go down.
But this is crazy! While other companies adjust according to reality, such as Tupperware making larger lunch containers or airlines adding wider seats, clothing stores are simply shifting these arbitrary numbers called sizes! While it's clever from a psychological perspective, it's also denying reality. It's changing the macro so we don't feel the micro. It's keeping that woman from noticing her own changes.
I recently purchased my first-ever extra small top from Banana Republic. I may be on the thin side, but still. There is no way I am an extra small in this world. I didn't feel any joy this time - just annoyance. After trying both a medium and a small, I felt strange when I finally took the extra small and it fit. "If I am an extra small," I thought, "what size does Jessica wear?" (My little sister is far more narrow than me). And who is wearing the mediums that I used to buy? The whole experience was slightly disconcerting.
Depending on which way you look at it, they've made the clothes bigger, or the sizes smaller. It's like currency inflation, and I get it. You follow the trends, and you make adjustments. But I wish there was another way. Because this practice affects women in a fundamental manner. You are messing with our perceptions of ourselves, and prolonging our inevitable facing of facts. It feels artificial because it is artificial.
I think retailers should get together and slow the size inflation cycle. Just add numbers on at the top. Integrate more of the plus sizes into the main lines. It would be a pretty inclusive strategy, and as long as everybody was in agreement, nobody would get hurt. Maybe this is unrealistic, but it's not impossible. Surely retailers would prefer not to go through costly resizings every few years!
People make a big deal over the fact that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12. Oh, how our standards for beauty have changed, we say. But was she told that her dress was a 4, to make her feel better? I doubt it. There's a reason some members of the industry call this practice "vanity sizing" - we are more vain than ever, and more ready to equate thinness with beauty. Size inflation is just one part of this unhealthy cycle. I'd love to see it end.