Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Alexandria mayoral candidate Kerry Donley.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Have you ever wondered why you’re a size 6 in one store and a 10 in another? Or why the size 34 pants you’ve long bought have expanded even though you haven’t shrunk? Variations in clothing sizes from one store to another or one season to the next have long confounded shoppers of all ages and both genders. We explore the history, psychology and technology that goes into setting sizes.
- David Bruner Vice President, [TC]2
- Lynn Boorady Associate Professor of Fashion Technology, Buffalo State College
- Jennifer Baumgartner clinical psychologist; author, 'You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You'; founder, InsideOut
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post sitting in for Kojo.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd coming up this hour, about $200 billion worth of jeans, sweaters, suits and dresses are returned to retailers each year. The number one reason people are bringing them back, they don't fit. No wonder, thanks to so-called vanity sizing. A woman with a 27-inch waist fits in a size eight from one designer and a triple zero from another.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd for men who used to wear small T-shirts but can't find them anymore, you're a medium now even if you didn't gain 20 pounds. All that confusion can take a psychological toll. So how did we get here and is there any hope for a more sensible sizing system?
MR. MARC FISHERHere to discuss this in our studio, Jennifer Baumgartner. She is a clinical psychologist and author of "You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You." She also runs a wardrobe consulting business called InsideOut. And joining us on the line is Lynn Boorady who is an associate professor of Fashion Technology at Buffalo State College and by phone from Raleigh, N.C., David Bruner who is vice president of technology development for (TC) 2, a textile and clothing technology company.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd let's start with you Jennifer Baumgartner. For centuries, people have either made their own clothes or had them custom-cut and then along came this notion that we would have set sizes. When did that happen and what's gone wrong?
DR. JENNIFER BAUMGARTNERWell, you know, I think it has a long history, but I think the biggest issue, where did it go wrong, is this association between our sizes and our worth, that somehow we have this Pavlovian-conditioned response, which is very learned that our size somehow measures who we are, our attractiveness and we will often will go to great lengths to find the smallest size. So that's how it's been played out psychologically in our sizes.
FISHERAnd retailers are aware of that and so they say, okay, you want a smaller size? We'll give you a smaller size.
BAUMGARTNERWell, there's a lot of controversy surrounding vanity sizing. Some people feel that it's simply sizing evolution, that we are becoming bigger as humans so therefore we need to have clothing that reflects a larger size and fits averages. I mean, others say no, that that's simply untrue that this sizing is very much playing on our insecurities.
FISHERYou can join our conversation about clothing sizes and the strange ways in which they are set up by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at email@example.com. And Lynn Boorady, this vanity sizing phenomenon, at least at the accelerated rate we've been seeing in the last years, is something new, but the whole concept of set sizes is actually fairly old, right?
PROF. LYNN BOORADYI could say that for women, set sizing is at least 100 years old. The first sizing came out in terms of the bust measurement for women and for younger people in terms of an age and we've sort of grown from there to the different sizes and what those sizes mean in terms of measurements.
FISHERAnd so initially your size was determined by your bust size and the theory was that everything else followed from there?
BOORADYExactly, that we were perfectly proportionate to one measurement.
FISHERWasn't that obviously wrong from the start?
BOORADYYes. And I think we had problems with that. Women's clothing started with simple objects like aprons, shifts so we weren't looking at anything particularly tailored to the person's body. The more tailoring it needed, the more measurements were needed. But it wasn't until the 1940s that the Mail-Order Association of the United States asked the government to please come up with some sort of a system to help create sizing.
FISHERDavid Bruner, as someone who works in the textile industry, would it not be more logical for everybody involved if there was a standard system and one size meant the same thing across the entire industry? I'm not sure if we have David there. But, well, Lynn maybe you could take that question. Do standards make sense?
BOORADYUm, I'm a proponent not to have standardized sizing only because I think we have so many different shapes and sizes in this country that if we said, okay, all size eight people must be this bust, this waist, this hip, then so many people wouldn't find their sizes. As frustrating as it is now, at least people can find clothes that fit. Each manufacturer has their own sample model size and their own target market and they create their clothing for that particular target market.
FISHERLet's go back to David Bruner who is on the line now from North Carolina. And from the industry perspective, would you rather that this was simplified and everyone, every consumer, could know that size five meant something and size two meant something completely different? Still not there. Okay, we'll come back. Jennifer Baumgartner, when someone doesn't fit into the size that they expected to fit into, the size they'd always associated themselves with, what kind of psychological impact does that have?
BAUMGARTNERWell, I think if they already feel uncomfortable or insecure about their bodies, this can certainly amplify those feelings. Another one, there was a recent study done by Taylor and Cooper where if you have a depressed mood and you go and you have a misperception of your body so it impacts mood as well as worsens the mood that you already experience.
BAUMGARTNERBut, you know, there are so many associations with our size and we often go out shopping and when we can't fit into something, we don't say, well, it looks like we need a good tailor. We say, well, we have to lose weight here or, you know, take off a little, take off some inches there rather than looking at it as an external problem rather than an internal one.
FISHERBut do you think people are really fooled when, you know, they go into a store one day and they're a size eight and then they go back some months later and they're a size four? They know that they didn't get thinner and yet it somehow, nonetheless gives us a psychological boost.
BAUMGARTNERAbsolutely. I mean, I think we all could, you know, logically say, yes, I am not all these sizes in one span. I'm not a double zero all the way to a size eight, but certainly it's going to impact where we choose to shop.
FISHERLet's go to Gerald in Annapolis. Gerald, you're on the air.
GERALDOh, thank you, thank you for taking my call. I was under the impression having been in the industry years ago before retiring to here in Annapolis that there were standards that were set by the government for different sizes and they did studies on women's bodies and proportions and therefore developed the sizes that would fit most women in a particular group.
FISHERLynn Boorady, there have been various attempts over the years to develop such standards. What happened to them?
BOORADYWe do have standards. ASTM is a company that has started standardization for women's clothing since 1995 and they update those standards about every five years. The most recent one came out in July, 2011, but these standards are not required to be used by anybody in industry. They just give us a basis of what to look for. And if you want to go back to the history of sizing, we've actually had sizes, standardized sizes since 1941, but they've changed dramatically over the years.
FISHERAnd has that change been driven by this sense that retailers and designers want to use the so-called vanity sizing to give people the impression that they're not larger than they once were? Is that the main motivation or are there other things at work?
BOORADYI felt like that was the main motivation. I think, though, that is certainly there in that the retailers see it. I think for the manufacturers, they really just need to fit the population and the population is getting larger.
FISHERAnd you were part of a project a few years ago called Size USA where I gather thousands of people were scanned and they found several different, very distinct body types for women, yet most design is sort of designed around the hourglass proportions. Is that right?
BOORADYIt is true, but we have seen retailers starting to take it into consideration. So if you go to a certain store or website you can find different fits of clothing particularly in pants where we see a lot of issues. So if I went to one store and it said the Mercer fit, that's referred to as a fit that is eased through the hip or a curvy fit, which is smaller in the waist than the hip. So you see that retailers are actually trying to fit their customers better and giving them some sort of an indication of what kind of a body you should have to fit this particular type of pants.
FISHERYou can join our conversation about clothing sizes at 1-800-433-8850. Give us a call if you see a solution to this clothing size conundrum or if you've ever found yourself confused or frustrated by the way clothes are sized. If you perhaps have struggled to find clothes that fit properly, let us know how you've solved that problem. And let's give David Bruner a try again. David, are you there? Not there, okay, we'll come back.
FISHERAnd Jennifer Baumgartner, in the span of 50 years or so, we've gone from a market where the smallest size available for women was an eight to where it's now a double zero.
BAUMGARTNEREven a triple zero.
FISHEREven a triple zero.
BAUMGARTNEROr extra, extra petite, triple zero.
FISHERWhen people come to you to talk about their anxieties about these kinds of things, do they see the humor in that or it just weighs on them somehow?
BAUMGARTNERSome do, but it can be very painful when they're not only getting those messages in a store, they're getting them in the magazines with their peers. Probably the most disturbing thing about this is that it starts at a very young age. I work with young girls and anywhere from, you know, as early as 11. They have a concept of their size and what size works for them and what size doesn't and that they can't find themselves. Those are the words they use. They can't find themselves in the store.
FISHERLet's hear from Sarah in Washington. Sarah, you're on the air.
SARAHI'd say it's not just clothing that's high fashion or you can find a certain manufacturer and stick with that manufacturer and will work, it doesn't. And something as prosaic as Land's End polo shirts, you can order the same size over the course of years. Of course, they change, but even in the same year, you can order feminine fit or generous fit. Those are different sizes. One of them comes down well below your butt and one of them comes barely to your waist.
SARAHAnd they're all called the same size. They're completely different sizes. And I order them and whatever size it is, maybe they'll be something that I can wear to be neat. Maybe it'll be something I can wear to be sloppy. I can't tell until it comes. There's absolutely no rational sizing and even within the same company different, Appleseeds and related companies. All are for women of a certain age, let's say, completely different sizes. You can't order even from the same company and expect the size to be even remotely the same from one name brand to another.
SARAHThere's absolutely no rationale and it makes it just difficult to shop in a store. You have to try on so many things to find anything to fit. And if you order by mail, you sort of have to order four different sizes and maybe, it's a crapshoot, one of them might fit. It's not just high fashion. You can't stick with one manufacturer.
FISHERLynn Boorady, you hear that frustration and we've moved from a bricks and mortar economy to one where a significant percentage of clothing is now ordered online, sight unseen in a sense or certainly fit unknown. Wouldn't that or doesn't that act as an incentive for the industry to move toward much more easily understandable standards just to make the online shopping experience easier?
BOORADYAbsolutely. One of the hardest things, we're talking about sizing right now, but let me just go back a second to fit. Fit is different for every single person. One person likes their jeans to fit a little bit tighter. Another person might like their jeans to fit a little bit looser and to be able to quantify that is impossible. So fit is a very difficult thing and it sounds from your caller that the catalogue wasn't doing a very good job on explaining what the fit of this particular blouse was.
BOORADYSo if you bought a size eight in this blouse, it's going to fit this way, but if you buy the same size in this different blouse, it's going to fit you differently.
FISHERAnd Jennifer, when you hear that kind of complaint, does it say something about the clothing industry that it's putting women in this position of having to go through that kind of frustration all the time? I mean, I don't want to be conspiratorial here, but is there some larger meaning to why they operate this way?
BAUMGARTNERI think there's a feedback loop. You know, I just did my own little mini research project this morning and I noticed that on one website, there was an option for modern size, classic size, women's size, international conversion. That was one website. So you can imagine that, you know, when you are shopping and there is this confusion that comes about from these multitude of options and then you add in the pressures, specifically for females to fit and look a certain way, that all is a nice jumbled mess that could possibly, you know, decrease a feeling of attractiveness and go a little deeper and feel, you know, the self esteem is impacted by that. Again, especially young girls are very much a target for this.
FISHERAnd what about for men, Lynn Boorady? Do men fit fewer -- are their fewer body types? Is it a simpler kind of calculus for me?
BOORADYWell, I find it to be a little bit simpler for men only because their actual measurements are on the garment. That doesn't mean that there isn't some sort of vanity sizing taking place with men's as well, being that they can put one waist size on and that actual waist size, if you take a tape measure to it, could be off by as much as four inches. But at least the men have some actual measurements to go by. A 34 waist is an actual measurement, whereas a size 10 dress can mean anything for a woman.
FISHERSo why not adopt that same inch-based system for women?
BOORADYWhat I've heard inside the industry is that no woman wants to see their waist measurement on a pair of pants.
BAUMGARTNERI would just like to add, as far as men are concerned, you know, as men are getting more exposure to the fashion industry, it's more part of a mainstream interest, the pressures are also upon men. And it would be really fascinating to see the impact of sizing on men now that they've been included in this conversation of what a body should look like and what they're supposed to look like as seen on the runway.
FISHERLet's hear from a man. Here's Jim in Washington. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMYes. I found that men's sizes have changed a lot also. Small, medium and large, excuse me, doesn't mean the same as it did years ago and I've solved that problem by shopping in the boys department.
FISHERThere does seem to be, particularly for shorter men, almost a lack of available product. Why do those kinds of gaps exist in the industry when there are clearly consumers out there looking for the product, Lynn?
BOORADYI don't know as much about the men's industry, but to the people I've talked with, is that vanity sizing for men actually went in the opposite direction. Whereas the men don't want to be perceived as smaller, they want to be perceived as larger so that the small man now is supposed to be able to fit into a size medium top. But when I look at those shirts, I mean, the extra larges just look enormous to me even.
FISHERRight, but it is true that often you'll go into a store and the smallest available size for a shirt will be a large.
FISHERWe will come back and talk more about wardrobes and clothing sizes and what to learn a little bit more about why the standards that you might think would exist in stores don't really exist, when we come back, after a short break on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we are talking about the crazy and unpredictable world of clothing sizes with Jennifer Baumgartner and Lynn Boorady. And I want to bring into the conversation now, David Bruner from North Carolina, vice president of technology development for (TC) 2, a textile and clothing technology company. And David, you've heard our conversation thus far and there's a lot of frustration out there about the lack of consistency, the lack of standards. As somebody in the industry, wouldn't it be beneficial to manufacturers and retailers to have a clear unitary system that people could rely on?
MR. DAVID BRUNERI think that they've concluded that it's to their benefit not to have that consistency from a marketing perspective. They certainly have all the information on the consumers in the country, you know, over the last 10 years with all the new data that's come out. And over 60 retailers and brands have accessed these sizing survey data's that have been done since it came out in 2003. So they know what the consumers look like and they know their sizes but the indication we get is they see it as a marketing advantage to have their unique sizing for their specific demographic they're targeting in. And part of that can include vanity sizing.
FISHERAnd, Jennifer, if that's a benefit to the retailer, there's nonetheless the sense of frustration among consumers. Is it simply the retailers are saying, well, they have to buy clothing? They're going to come to us anyway, even if they're confused.
BAUMGARTNERWell, I mean, I think it works. I worked in a store once where there were three different lines at the same designer, same item. And I worked in the women's department, and women would buy the nominally smaller size just so they could have that be their size. And you see it all the time.
FISHERAnd then not wear the clothing?
BAUMGARTNERSo if there are three different lines and there are different sizes for each line, so let's say a size two is a size two in one line, it's a size six in another line, it's a size eight, they will buy the item that is a size two, even if they have to spend more money, even if it's not quite as nice of a fit, just so they could have that size two in the closet. That's very important. That's why, I think, cutting off size tags is a great exercise for people after they bring clothes into the closet, but they don't need to see that.
FISHERWould it make sense to even to cut off -- how about a store that would cut off the size tags? Would that appeal to people?
BAUMGARTNERI think it might be chaotic, but it might actually work.
FISHERIt might. Let's go to Alan in Annapolis. Alan, you're on the air.
ALANHello, good afternoon gentlemen. Let me just tell you briefly about something, an idea I had at least 20 years ago. I'm an engineer and I figure this whole question of women sizes was for the birds. So I just came up with the idea that, well, let's stand a lady on a rotating platform and we'll run a vertical scanner and when we're all done, we'll have a unique dataset for that individual and we'll put it in a credit card type form and she can go to any store, plug it in and see if she's got something close.
ALANAnd I thought it was pretty smart engineering solution. But when I bounced the idea off of numerous ladies that I knew, they said oh, that's no fun. We like to try it on, just to see what it looks like even if we don't fit. So I think your marketing people know more about this then the engineering. And just to finish off, I would like to find, within the industries, some form of color coding based upon RGB, red green blue, standards, if it exists. Over to you.
FISHERHuh, interesting. David Bruner, there actually is increasing use of scanners for sizing, is that right?
BRUNERThat's true. Our company is one manufacturer of such scanners. We have over 200 of them worldwide. Half of those are outside the U.S., half are in the U.S. But people are still not familiar with them because that's still not a huge number, but we have scanners in retail stores all across the country. And one of the...
FISHERAnd are these like the ones that you would use in the airport security line?
BRUNERNo. They're completely safe. They're completely private. They're little booths that sit right in the changing room area. So it's no different experience then going into the changing room and trying on clothes. You're back there anyway. But they're based on safe white light. It's more like a digital photo booth, if you've seen the photo booths in the mall. It's a digital photo booth and it creates a super high accurate 3D model of your body in just six seconds and you can predict sizes. And our biggest market is actually custom clothes. And so people can get a garment without a size, completely customized to their body shape.
FISHERSo that makes perfect sense to use that to create custom clothes. But how is it helpful for buying clothes off the rack?
BRUNERWell, because you can analyze somebody's shape from the data and make a size and shape recommendations. And because you can integrate the data from every retailers specification, even if they're different, you can tell them what the right size would be for them in that particular brand. And so it sort of eliminates the need for having consistent sizing, provided you have the machine in place.
FISHERLynn Boorady, there's a certain amount of fantasy involved in the shopping experience and certainly, at least, retailers perceive that women are more inclined to engage in that sort of fantasy then men are. So do you think that many women would simply reject the idea of the scanner because it's an overly scientific solution to a problem where they really would rather explore the store and try on lots of different things?
BOORADYWell, I've been using the body scanner, in research, for a number of years. And most people who don't like to be body scanned because they don't particularly like their body and they don't want it to be scanned. They don't want to see an image of that which is very sad and Dr. Baumgartner could probably talk more to that then I can. But it is a very useful tool. It's a wonderful tool to help predict sizes. I see it as not eliminated the social aspect, but perhaps, you know, helping guide you toward the right clothes to try on.
FISHERAnd, Jennifer Baumgartner, there are, in this country with the ever increasing rates of obesity, there's more and more concern about, particularly among women, about finding clothing that is attractive and fits. So do you see a relationship between this increasing incidence of obesity and the vanity sizing, the sort of psychology behind the vanity sizing phenomenon?
BAUMGARTNERWell, I think it finally allows someone who maybe felt that she was being ignored in the stores, can go to a store and find a measurement that she feels satisfied with. That, although you know, for instance, here's an example. Chico's is a store that uses, I think, it's size zero through three. And of course, they aren't really zero's and three's, but...
FISHERThat's their whole range, just zero's through three's?
BAUMGARTNERYes. And so you can imagine being able to go to a store and wearing a size that you may never have been able to wear and you're associating, you know, success with a lower size. That's going to be an experience for you that will feel like you can finally wear that.
FISHERI mean, I can see where someone may feel comforted by that. Is it really helpful or does it in some way encourage more obesity in a way?
BAUMGARTNERWell, you know, it's kind of coming back to this understanding of the body scanner, which is interesting, which is an honesty with the perception -- the actual body versus the perception of the body. And body scanners are actually used to show what the body truly looks like. And this could be a wonderful tool, whether you see your body as larger then it is in cases of, you know, anorexia or bulimia or any kind of eating disorder. But then also with an obesity, knowing that you may not have acknowledged that your body is larger than it is and seeing this on a scan may kind of help you get connected with what the body actually looks like.
FISHERLet's go to Anna in Silver Spring. Anna, you're on the air.
ANNAOh, thank you, thank you for taking my call. I would like to address quality control issues. I want to agree with the caller that called previously about ordering clothing, same item and getting different sizes in that item. And I had gone to a store, tried on a pair of slacks that fit me, believe it or not, perfectly. I was very excited. So my next act is to order the same, same style, same clothes, same brand, different colors so I have them all, get the clothing and no pair fits the same. But I started to determine, after I sent them back and tried again, was clothing made in China was fitting different then clothing made in Romania or Honduras or India. And that would be the same style, same brand, same fabric. And I'm done.
ANNAThank you. I'm sorry, I'm little nervous.
FISHERThat's all right. David Bruner, are their significant international differences in sizing and obviously there are different systems of measurement. But are there very different body types that have to be accounted for as well?
BRUNERWell, what I have found regarding the callers problem is that, many of the larger brands and retailers do have good control over their sourcing worldwide and there's a lot of work that goes into quality control. But there are other brands, medium and some even large, that literally don't have a lot of control on that sort of process. And it's sort of separate from this specification aspect of sizing but it's really a manufacturing and quality control issue. And I hear about those kinds of concerns all the time. And I think not only do you find, if you look carefully, specific brands that fit your shape and size and your vanity needs, but he overtime you'll probably find different brands and retailers that have better consistency in their manufacturing process and their sourcing.
FISHERDavid Bruner is vice president of technology development for (TC) 2, a tactile company in North Carolina. And Lynn Boorady is associate professor of fashion technology at Buffalo State College. Lynn, have other countries dealt with this issue in a smarter way? Are there places where standard clothing sizes really have more meaning?
BOORADYWell, yeah, there is standardized sizing in different countries. Let's take Japan, for instance. Japan does have standardized sizing. But the people who live in Japan are typically Japanese, if I can be so obvious.
BOORADYWhat we have here in the United States is the proverbial melting pot. We don't have a single shape body here in the United States. We've got people from all different cultures, all different backgrounds. And we want to create one size for them all, I think that would be very difficult.
FISHERAnd, Jennifer Baumgartner, author of "You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You," as a physiologist, you are deeply involved with people who have issues about their body, you mentioned eating disorders earlier on. Are there connections between the way we present ourselves to the world, the clothing we choose to wear and those kinds of deeper psychological issues? Do people actually find -- is there a therapeutic value to this endless search for the right size or is it mainly a matter of friction and frustration?
BAUMGARTNERNo, I think it could absolutely indicate something deeper, a dissatisfaction, never being able to find the right garment. Is it really that you can't find the right garment or is it that you're dissatisfied about your body in that garment? There are all these cultural indicators when trying on clothing and knowing what the body should look like, how the clothes should fit. You know, and I believe that often your dress behaviors are internally motivated.
BAUMGARTNERAnd if you can look at, you know, faulty dress behaviors, those that don't quite work, it can often indicate something deeper going on and vice versa. If you wear something that can make you feel good, if you feel a little depressed, you can put on that wonderful, you know, pair of jeans that actually fits you and it makes you feel a little better.
FISHERIs that something you would actually prescribe to a patient?
BAUMGARTNERYes. I think, you know, there have been plenty of studies to back this up, that not only are you improving the external feedback you get from others by wearing something that looks a little better, nicer, but certainly it's going to pick up your mood as well when you use clothing as one of many tools in a tool kit to improve the mood.
FISHERLet's go to Laura in Washington. Laura, you're on the air.
LAURAHi, thank you for taking my call. I'm actually calling on behalf of my husband who is very frustrated because he has size 35, 32 in pants and we can hardly find any. We bought some from Brooks Brothers and that's the only shop that he can buy his pants. But they are quite expensive. And why is that? It's amazing that it goes, like, from 32 to 34 and then 36. And there is nothing in between.
FISHERDavid Bruner, is that simply a matter of more people existing in one size than another or are there other factors involved?
BRUNERIt ties into something that Dr. Boorady said is that we have such a great diversity of size and shape in this country, to have every single size that would fit say 90 percent of the population in your store would take twice as much square footage as they use, so they have to very carefully pick the number of sizes of each product that they display in the store because space is expensive, and they're doing that based what sizes sell the most. And so it's just unfortunate for the caller that her husband is in one of those sizes that's probably a smaller percentage of the population, or what I think is happening is many people who are 35 just are resigned to being a 34 or a 36.
FISHERAnd make adjustments and so on, or go to the tailor which seems to be increasingly necessary, even in a world where, you know, you're supposedly getting your choice when you go to the store. Lynn Boorady, is there -- there are some retailers that still label larger clothing for preteen boys as husky, or label similarly large clothing for girls as plus sizes. Does it surprise you that those labels persist in this day and age, and how does that affect children?
BOORADYI'm really surprised that it's still in this day and age. I've actually seen a pretty plus as one of the ones for the young girls, which I, again, I'm not -- Dr. Baumgartner really is more into the psychological, but the husky to me denotes something that the boys desire, whereas pretty plus, I don't know any girls who desire to be plus.
FISHERDr. Baumgartner, is there -- have you heard are there impacts that this has on children when they're sort of branded from the very beginning as different in size?
BAUMGARTNERYeah. I mean, they can often go through dangerous means to change their size. One of the most disturbing encounters I had was in a dressing room at Limited Too. A very small girl, she was probably about nine years old and she said that she was very fat because she fit into, you know, a regular size, and that she wanted to starve herself and exercise so she could fit into a smaller size, and again, very young, and this happens quite a bit, so it's disturbing that these children are impacted so greatly by just the size, the number.
FISHERAnd do you think there would be any advantage in creating an incentive whereby people had to pay more for larger sizes, you're buy more product, more cloth goes into the product. Is there any psychological or policy advantage that could result from moving to that kind of a model?
BAUMGARTNERWell, you know, there's also -- it could be a shaming model that if you have to pay more for a larger size, it's almost like a feeling of humiliation or shame that you would have to do that. So not only do you have to buy a size that you're unhappy with, but now you have to pay extra for it.
FISHERSo you think it would have primarily deleterious...
BAUMGARTNERIt might work from, you know, logically yes, it might work, but for psychologically, you know, it's gonna -- I would imagine it would kind of induce a feeling of shame and being humiliated.
FISHERThere was a study in the United Kingdom last year that found that 75 percent of women suffer from something called Changing Room Rage or CRR, which can cause them to lose their temper with salespeople or affect their self confidence. Lynn Boorady, is that really a problem? I mean, is the frustration that women feel over this such that there really is much in the way of pushback against retailers or designers?
BOORADYI think there is a lot of anger out there and rage, and particularly frustration maybe because it is. You go shopping for a pair of pants and you try on 20 pairs of pants to see if something fits you. Nobody should have to go through that. It's very difficult, and most people do find a brand that fits them and sticks with them, or as the one caller said, you find a pair of pants that you like and you try to buy every color in the same size because you don't know when you're going to be able to find a well-fitted pair of pants again.
FISHERMore of your calls and experiences with finding the right clothing size when we come back from a short break. I'm Marc Fisher, and you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we are talking about clothing size craziness, and let's go right to the phones. Here's Marsha in Washington. You're on the air.
MARSHAHi. My name is Marsha. I'm calling from Washington D.C., and I'm actually -- I'm an architect and I'm also a very frustrated consumer. There were two issues I wanted to bring up. One was I wanted to take issue with what one of the panelists was saying about Chicos. I have designed many Chicos' stores and their stores are actually getting smaller and smaller because of what the other gentleman said about the cost of retail space per square foot. But zero to three is really not a trend to make women feel better about their bodies, but it is a way to pack more merchandise into the store because there's a range of sizes because of the indecisions and variations in women's bodies.
MARSHAThe second issue I was going to bring up was from my personal experience as a consumer, I just lost 40 pounds and I'm very proud of that, except that when I go shopping I don't know where or how to shop. The size ranges go from a ten to a 16. I leave a store feeling psychologically battered and traumatized, and feel like I have made no progress, and feel absolutely awful about myself. So people -- I'm 5 foot 11, people tell me I look striking, I look stunning, blah, blah, blah. I don't believe any of it.
MARSHAAt age 55 I'm starting to notice in myself little signs of eating disorders. I'm eating ice instead of eating food, and it is a, you know, I thought it would be a fun experience to go shopping after losing 40 pounds, you know. There was a 10 pounds for every size. I don't know where that is, because in some stores I am in a 16 and in some stores I'm in a 10.
FISHEROkay. Let's hear from -- let's give...
MARSHASo I would love to hear the psychological and the consumer views on all of that.
FISHERSure. Jennifer Baumgartner.
BAUMGARTNERWell, just to address the Chicos, you know, it may not be something that's deliberately done for vanity sizing, but certainly many consumers, many of whom I work with, are impacted by that. They actually enjoy shopping at Chicos because of the sizing. As far as your own issue, you know, you are not alone, and I hope that this show teaches you that you are not alone in your frustration and feeling that, you know, no matter how hard you try, not matter, you know, the goals that you accomplish that you can't find yourself in the stores.
BAUMGARTNERSo if you can go into the store with that understanding that you are not alone in this struggle, and be an informed consumer that often these sizes are not standardized, that rather than feeling that there's something wrong with you, there might be something wrong with the sizing. And then finally, you know, if you find that you are kind of engaging in eating disorder behavior whether it be caloric restriction, being sure to talk to someone before that catches up with you. It can happen very quickly and very quietly, so making sure that you are able to talk to someone before it goes any further.
FISHERThanks for the call, Marsha. Here's Lisa in Washington. Lisa, you're on the air.
LISAHi, thanks for taking my call. I'm a little nervous here. I'm from D.C. and I really appreciate the perspective that you've covered so far, and just wanted to kind of chime in, especially after the last caller. She is just amazing because I know that we all need to get clothes and go shopping and everything, but just that the last sentence that the panelist -- I'm sorry, I forgot your name -- had just mentioned, only peripherally, but I think it really needs to be highlighted that it's definitely the -- it's the stores that can't find the right people, okay?
LISAI know they're making profits and all that stuff, but right, rather than like beating yourself up and going in and having some store and what they have there determine whether you're going to feel good or bad about yourself, like as somebody who has to gain weight, I just wanted to say offering the perspective from the non-obese perspective, some people think that would be really fun, but it's not fun at all, because if you have rational issues to work on, and all you see in the store is zero zero, the idea that you really are supposed to gain weight to be a healthy personal is totally erased from what you see in the stores.
LISASo then that's when you have to kind of lighten up and be like, you know, screw that zero zero, I'm going up to the twos and fours and I'm gonna keep gaining weight so that I can fit into one of these clothings. So, you know, God bless the caller before me and that we have to find a lot of different ways to figure out who we are rather than having the store saying that. And then some of the stores...
LISA...do get the message, and they end up providing -- the end up finding us and tailoring it to what real people need.
BAUMGARTNERWell, yeah. I mean, just, again, being an informed consumer. Going to the store knowing that you may not find your size in the store, and that doesn't mean that you're the wrong size. I think that's why so many stores now offer in-house tailors and the alterations are free if you buy a full-priced item. So they're there because they know that you may not fit into the clothing, and you need to know when you walk into the store that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. So keeping that in mind before you even walk in that mall.
FISHERJennifer Baumgartner is a clinic psychologist and author of "You Are What You Wear." She also runs a wardrobe consulting business. Let's go to Erik in Washington. You're on the air. Erik, are you there? Erik's not there. Let's try Tom in Alexandria. Tom? Also not there. Okay. Here's Nicole in Olney.
NICOLEHi. I am also a lady who probably is a little bit larger and has a little bit of a hard time finding sizes, but I would rather be realistic as to this is what size I am, and maybe I should be a little bit smaller, not because that's what the industry is pointing me towards, but as a health issue, as an...
FISHERAnd we've lost Nicole there. David Bruner, you're hearing this frustration that people are expressing about the industry. Do you think this is sort of par for the course, or have things changed for the worse in the disconnect between retailers and consumers?
BRUNERWell, I think it has gotten worse, and it's gotten worse because the size of the population has gotten bigger over time, and it continues to grow, and with that size increase, average weight increase, we get additional shape variation. And so it's very difficult for the retailers to fit a significant percentage of the population, and one of the things unique sizing does for the retailer is, if these ladies who I'm very sympathetic with, and I completely understand what they're saying and believe that they're experiencing what they're saying, is once they find the size, and if they're okay with the number that's on the tag at a particular retailer, they will come back there again and again and again, because they found something that works.
BRUNERAnd so that's a perspective from the retailer as to why they want to have their unique sizing, but the reality is, there is no way a retailer in a store can carry all the sizes, and I would suggest some of the listeners to check out the websites of some of their favorite brands because there's usually a significantly broader sizing availability on the website then there can be stocked in the store.
FISHERLynn Boorady, as you look across the range of history on this issue, is there -- are we at a time now -- we talked so much in this era about customer empowerment, about what technology is allowing us to do. Is this a valley or a hilltop in terms of the ability of consumers to get what they want and need?
BOORADYI think we're more at the hilltop. I see that even though there is wider variation in sizes now then there ever has been before, we also have more manufacturers and different retailers to meet the needs of that wide variety of people. The hard thing is though is finding your size, and I really do feel with the caller who lost the weight because she's shopping at all new places now, and she has to, you know, forge through that adventure in finding her size and what fits her at this point in her life.
FISHERAnd Jennifer Baumgartner, you mentioned while we were off the air that there's actually technology that will help people sort of the gain the upper hand against the retailers.
BAUMGARTNERYeah. I believe there is a product or an application where you are able to enter measurements, body measurements, and through entering that measurements system you can find clothes that fit properly.
FISHERAnd here's an email from Marcy. She says, "In contrast with the crazy sizing of women's clothes, wedding dresses are sized in the polar opposite way. The sample size at a store is labeled size eight, but in reality is closer to a four, so a normally sized 10 bride to be would need to order a size 14. Go figure." What's the psychological motivation on the part of the wedding dress retailers?
BAUMGARTNERWell, I think it just is merely just, you know, lack of standardization. Often the higher end designer clothing is usually larger, so if you're buying a wedding dress, it can be couture our higher end, you will have to usually increase your size.
FISHERAnd David Bruner, as you look at where the industry is heading and new technology, will this disconnect between consumer and retailer get better in the years to come? Are there technological solutions? You mentioned the scanner earlier. Anything else that's in the offing that could help?
BRUNERYes. I think there's a number of new technologies that are coming into play. Body scanners are getting less and less expensive, and you'll see them in more and more retail stores. There's very low cost scanners which, if you look at the Kinect device on kid's Xboxes, that's actually a scanner, and people are starting to develop applications to where you can effectively scan -- and our company is one of them -- to effectively scan yourself at home. Not super accurate like booth scanners, but within an inch or so, and develop applications which can help you get the right size, both in the store and online. And I think over the coming not so many years, you'll see a big explosion in these sorts of applications.
FISHERDavid Bruner is vice president of technology and development for (TC) 2 in North Carolina. Lynn Boorady is an associate professor of fashion technology at Buffalo State College, and Jennifer Baumgartner is a clinical psychologist and author of "You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You." She joined us here in the studio.
FISHER"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burney, with help from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
Over the past 40 years, the field of behavioral economics has emerged to explain why humans make irrational decisions. We talk with one of the pioneers of the field to find out what’s behind the choices we make, and how we can use this knowledge for good.
An exhibit opening this week at the Newseum explores how the media reported the country’s first televised war.
A pair of children staying in the D.C. General Hospital homeless shelter recently tested positive for lead. While it remains unclear whether they were exposed at the shelter, this news comes on the heels of revelations about the role lead paint exposure had in the life of Freddie Gray, the young man who recently died after a violent interaction with Baltimore police. We find out why the problem of exposure persists and what strides have been made in cleaning up homes over the last few decades.