Menswear Meets Vanity Sizing: Popular Apparel Brands Offer Inconsistent Sizes

By , dealnews Copy Editor

As a woman, one of my least favorite things to do is wear pants; I'm more of a dress- and skirt-wearing lady. But I do own one pair of jeans ... that I spent three months looking for. Between finding the right size waist, length, cut, and wash, I was trying on a new pair of jeans almost every day.

In fitting rooms of frustration, I have tried to understand why is it so difficult to dress one's lower half in slacks. The fact is, vanity sizing has long-affected women's wear so much so that sizing from store-to-store and brand-to-brand doesn't measure up consistently to any scale. I have long-envied the dude who can pick up any pair of jeans, check the back label, and be done. W36 L36. Perfect. Right?

Turns out clothing manufacturers aren't leaving men out of this self-esteem boosting / piercing trend. According to Esquire's The Style Blog, a men's waistline tag reading 36" can vary in actual girth from 37" (which they consider honest) to a whopping 41" (straight up dishonest).

Not only do these measurements confuse one's self-image, but they make it especially difficult to shop online for clothing. Even if you keep a measuring tape on hand so you can be honest about your dimensions, chances are you'll still run into problems with specific brands if they're fudging the numbers. Abram Sauer at Esquire discovered that H&M's dress pants are mostly true to size (37" for a pair that claimed to be 36"), while Calvin Klein, Alfani, Gap, and Haggar offer breathing room of up to 3". The biggest offenders of vanity sizing are Dockers and Old Navy, whose 36" waist actually measures 39.5" and 41", respectively.

So what does this mean for your online clothing shopping? If you consistently wear a size 36" at Old Navy, and that fits you fine, great. But when you go to buy a nicer pair of dress pants, perhaps from Calvin Klein, don't expect a 36" to cut it. The process of finding what does work for a new brand is largely trial and error, so avoid buying styles that can't be returned. With a little bit of patience (and a swallowing of one's pride), you can overcome the tribulations of inconsistent sizing. And considering how many apparel deals you can find at any given moment online, it's well worth the effort.

Front page photo credit: Daily Mail

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
That was me playing devil's advocate, though... vanity sizing is extremely annoying, and because of it, it's near impossible for me to buy certain items online.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
If I weren't personally aware of vanity sizing, I might get excited at the notion of being able to go down a size. It might even encourage me to actually buy the clothes that I'm trying on.
I bought a pair of pants in my size and I look like I'm waiting for a flood. Numerous brands fit me perfect but this name brand pair is too short! A few months ago, Dealnews listed some shoes for a very good price, I ordered my size, they arrived a size too small. The merchant wanted ME to pay return shipping. I argued that since all my other shoe brands are that size and fit me, that their product was defective and they paid the shipping.I don't understand the vanity thing. Unless you're wearing pants with the size printed on a tag you don't remove (ie: Levis), why would you care if your 38's are labeled 36? It just makes it harder to find a pair of pants that fit.I like buying stuff on line but if I have to add the hassle and cost of returns I may need to rethink my clothes shopping strategy.
WOW ! That sucks !! That explains why I have always (over 40 years ) been a 32 inseam. Ordered several new pairs of wranglers on line and had to pay some one to remove 2 inchs!