In case you didn’t realize, I am a woman. Specifically, I am a woman who likes to wear pants. Most of that has to do with living in a place that’s known more for cold weather than warm weather. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I can do more in pants than a dress without fear of being indecent. Unfortunately, this means I actually have to know my pants size, and that’s perhaps the biggest battle of them all.
Often when I go shopping, I find myself asking “what the hell is an eight? Eight what? Eight cats? Can I fit eight cats in these pants? Or are these pants good for cuddling with eight cats at once?” Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone with eight cats to find the answer to those questions, so I settled for asking the first two. I decided to start with someone who has more experience shopping for women’s pants: my mom. Turns out, my mom is just as clueless about how they determine women’s pants sizes.
This left me with no other option, but to investigate. It turns out that sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940s. Before that, women’s sizes were based off age for children, and bust size for adults. Not exactly the most accurate way to measure clothing. However, manufacturers soon realized that they were losing millions of dollars using this system, and so the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a study in 1939 to create sizing standards. While the sample included 15,000 women who were each measured in 59 different places, the study only focused on white women, which is a problem since studies have since been conducted proving that body types vary by race.
One might think that this would settle it. That the fact that I buy pants that say eight on the tag is a result of some almost 80 year old study. However, I would not be doing my job as a researcher if I didn’t dig deeper; especially when it comes to using information from a study that’s older than most people I know.
It was then that I discovered vanity sizing. Unfortunately, vanity sizing has nothing to do with actual measurements, or even the amount of cats that one can comfortably fit on their lap. In fact, vanity sizing is the complete opposite of helpful. Simply put, vanity sizing is the practice of giving a larger physical size (such as my size 14 Disney costume pants) a smaller nominal size (such as my favorite pair of size 8 jeans).
So what’s the answer then to my original question? Turns out, it doesn’t matter! Women’s pants sizes are pretty much completely made up at this point. So, next time you’re out shopping for some pants, don’t get hung up on the number it says. Instead, go find a comfortable pair of pants that make you feel like you could take over the world, and then go out and do it. Maybe, you’ll be the person who will figure out a sizing system for women’s pants that actually makes sense.