Vanity Sizing, or Why Your Pants May Be Lying to You

Finding a solid pair of jeans is already damn difficult. What can make it groin-grabbingly painful, though, is a phenomenon called “vanity sizing”, where jeans have a few extra inches of fabric around the waist than the number on the tag says.

Are you a 36W at Banana Republic? You’ll probably want to try a 38W in Levi’s or Buffalo jeans. In fact, an article in Esquire found that jeans labeled 36W from 7 different designers varied in actual waistline from 37″ to a headscratching 41″:

What’s causing the madness? Theories abound:

1) Smaller numbers make you feel good – and spend more

Perhaps the most popular explanation tossed around is that designers and retailers have found that people tend to feel better and buy more when they fit into a smaller size. It makes sense intuitively, but there’s a few other plausible causes…

2) Manufacturing variability

As in, it’s stupendously hard to make thousands of units of a jean and have them all be a specified size down to the quarter inch. That said, variation within an inch is one thing, but this doesn’t quite explain a 5″ difference between actual waistline and the number on the tag.

3) Varying styles and fabric

Now we’re cooking with gas. A lot of retailers will tell you that the discrepancy in waistlines is mostly due to different styles and fabric used to create different jeans. Jeans that are designed to sit lower on your hips, for example, are wider to account for your birthin’ hips that are wider than your waist (and also serve no evolutionary purpose).

4) Demographics

Finally, clothing brands are all about catering to a target customer. A chain brand that sells to the mainstream American public may size its waistlines larger than the standard, a brand with a core customer base of businessmen accustomed to wearing tailored suits may run more true to actual size, and a label with a younger, slimmer customer may produce waistlines smaller than standard.

Whatever’s causing the manity sizing, it isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a big reason why we encourage Bombfell members to give us their measurements – because a tape measure, like the honey badger, don’t give a damn.