“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”—Thomas Merton (via asleepylioness)
Still wearing the same size clothes you did in college? Before you congratulate yourself on your fitness and dietary restraint, you should know it’s possible that your clothes simply grew along with you.
Today, clothing manufacturers are often using “vanity sizing,” the labeling of clothes with sizes smaller than the actual cut of the items. So, those size 34 slacks might really be closer to size 36, and perhaps even bigger. Esquire writer Abram Sauer tested some common brands of men’s slacks a few years ago, and found that actual measurements were often 2-3 inches larger than the indicated size. The Old Navy slacks he checked measured 5 inches bigger than their flattering label!
Women have to cope with an even greater variability in sizes – the same woman might wear a size 4 in one brand and a size 10 in another, according to Stephanie Clifford of the New York Times.
So, why do clothing brands do this? It makes shopping for clothes more difficult when manufacturers don’t use the same standards for labeling, and no doubt increases return rates when products don’t fit as expected. The simple answer is that the downsized labels make customers feel good.
A new study that will be published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that smaller size labels increased the self esteem of their customers.
Conversely, larger size labels (for the same actual size clothing) reduced the self-esteem of the customer and, more importantly for brands, that negativity also transferred to the product itself!
Imagine how this might work in the real world. If a consumer was originally a size 8 but has been gradually adding a few pounds, she may be unaware that in a world of standardized, accurate sizes, she would now be better fit by a size 10 dress. In the store, she tries on dresses from two brands, Verum and Dolus. Verum sizes their product the way they always have, with measurements that have been consistent over decades. Dolus, meanwhile, has gradually expanded the measurements for each size to the point where what might have been a size 10 dress years ago (and still is for Verum) is now labeled a size 8.
So, when our hypothetical consumer tries on a size 8 dress from Verum, it’s uncomfortably snug. She finds she has to go up to a size 10 for a good fit. The size 8 Dolum dress fits just fine.
The Self-Esteem Effect
A totally rational consumer wouldn’t care what the size label says – she would worry about the fit and appearance of the product. Indeed, the researchers found that if they bolstered the “appearance self esteem” of the subjects at the start of the experiment, their mood was unaffected by the size label of the product. But, when that boost wasn’t present, the subjects’ self esteem was lowered by the product with the bigger size label and, even more important to marketers, they liked that product less.
So, if our dress shopping consumer keeps finding that only larger sizes from Verum fit her, it’s likely that her perception of that brand will decline. Is it any wonder that so many brands are building a few extra inches into their clothing?
Retailers Win Either Way?
Retailers have to cope with customer complaints of inconsistent sizing, and may have to adjust their inventory planning to reflect each brand’s approach to size labels. But, the study shows, the news isn’t all bad. When subjects had their self esteem lowered by larger size labels, they found a coping mechanism: they engage in “compensatory consumption.” In other words, they bought other products (without sizes) to boost their self-esteem. Even if they were less likely to purchase the clothing item with the larger size label, they might actually spend more on products like makeup and jewelry.
Despite the desire of consumers for honesty and transparency in the marketing process, it seems that they may be willing for brands to fib a little when it comes to telling them what size their clothes are. (One wonders what clothes sizes might look like a few decades from now!)
But there’s an important message for all brands from this research: if you can give your customers a product that makes them feel good about themselves, they will like the product more and you will sell more. Conversely, if your product makes them feel worse, they may well shop for something else.
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“I am willing to put myself through anything. Temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often painful process.”—Diana Nyad. (via shesosouloful)