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False Reflection Clothing Designers Pull A Number On Us By Cutting Slack On Sizes

Barbara Brotman Chicago Tribune

It is a month after New Year’s. Are you ready to restore your exercise bicycle to its rightful role as a clothes hanger?

Go right ahead, for there is fantastic news for those tempted to abandon resolutions to lose weight only weeks after making them: You can drop several clothing sizes with no dieting and no exercise.

All you do is wait - not for your body to get smaller, but for clothing sizes to get bigger.

Which is exactly what they are doing. A kind of ego-boosting size inflation has been cropping up in women’s clothing stores as designers follow their baby boomer customers into middle-age spread and cut us some slack - literally.

This is how it works: I own a pair of Gap jeans I bought some 12 years ago. They are a size 9/10 and fit fine.

But I also own a pair of Gap jeans I bought last year. Lo and behold, with no change in weight and despite some unfortunate childbearing-related rearrangement of the figure furniture, I have magically become a size 6!

Wasn’t that easy?

You say you don’t want to wait a decade? No sweat. Just switch to a more euphemistically inclined store or designer.

Observe: Appetite whetted by my falsely gained size 6, I headed to Banana Republic and tried on jeans there. Voila! I was a size 4.

Greedy now, I headed to a department store, where I donned a pair of Linda Allard/Ellen Tracy pants. Size 2! Yes! Other women have noticed the same illusory but delightful trend.

“I love it,” said Marge Malarney, a lobbyist from East Lansing, Mich., shopping in Chicago at generous Banana Republic.

“I come in here and, my god, I can go down a size. I think, ‘Maybe I can have dessert after all.”’

“I am totally into it,” said Allison Wolf, director of communications for the American Apparel Manufacturers Association.

“I’m thinking, ‘Yeah! I’ve had two children, and I can wear tiny, tiny sizes I could never even look at!”’

One hesitates to throw a wet towel on a perfectly good fantasy. But could it be that manufacturers are trying to flatter us into buying?

It could.

Chicago designer Richard Dayhoff explained that women are getting larger - the average size is now a 12 - but don’t want to admit it by buying larger sizes.

That leaves the industry with a marketing problem, he said: “How do you sell fashion to make people feel like they’re smaller?”

With a little sleight-of-hand, it turns out. “We sized our clothes bigger,” Dayhoff said.

It’s easy to do; there is no industry-wide size standard. Each designer or manufacturer bases sizing on a size 8 “fit model,” Wolf said, but she can have whatever measurements the designer or manufacturer specifies.

Dayhoff’s fit model is more like a size 10. The Gap Inc. would not fess up to vanity sizing at its Gap or Banana Republic stores, citing proprietary information. But I measured my Gap jeans’ waistbands; the band on the old 9/10 is a mere -inch larger than that of the new 6.

Do we resent the subterfuge? We love it.

“A lot of ladies go, ‘I can’t believe I’m a small!”’ Dayhoff reported.

Women’s affection for complimentary sizes is such that The Forgotten Woman large-size clothing stores replaced the 14 through 24 women’s size designations with its own, more palatable 1 through 6.

“It was a psychological boost,” said Carole Crevar-Stockard, vice president of marketing and director of stores.

Vanity sizing is a mutually satisfactory shell game. The conned know we are being conned and are happy to play along.

We should be above size obsession, of course, but since most of us aren’t, why not indulge in a little cognitive dissonance if it makes us happy?

Is there a size 0?

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