Why are Men’s Pant Sizes Different from Women’s?

  by  ...love Maegan
  by  …love Maegan

Because of his short stature, the Weasel needs to get his pants custom made. It’s a good thing that he knows a great tailor with experience in weasels.  But for those of us who can shop in the major retail clothing outlets for our pants, there is a universal size chart – or so we think. Let’s first take a look at the men’s section.

Men’s Pant Sizes: What is a 34×32?

Men’s size charts are the more straightforward of the bunch as they are meant to directly correlate to specific body measurements. Men’s pants are sized by two numbers: The first represents a measurement of the man’s waist while the second refers to a measurement of his inseam or legs. In the United States, these two measurements are in inches, with the average American male pant size being 34×32 (34 inch waist with a 32 inch inseam). This two-part measurement system ensures that men of all shapes and sizes can find pants that fit. It’s logical and easy to understand, and certainly gives the impression of standardization.

Women’s pant sizes on the other hand, pose much more of a challenge right off the hanger.

Women’s Pant Sizes: What is a size 8?

While men’s pant sizes supposedly correspond to body measurements, women’s sizes are meant to be an extrapolation of a ratio to measurements.  That is to say that at one point in time, there existed a ratio developed from bodily measurements that was used to standardize the original female numerical clothing sizes 2, 4, 6, 8, etc. The relationships between those ratios and measurements in terms of pant size, however, have long since lost their meaning.

The initial change from a waist by inseam measurement in the female size chart was a deliberate one. With the introduction of standardized sizing, salesmen and marketers quickly discovered that when a size 25 was called a size 8, they sold more pants. Women seemingly preferred the size charts that didn’t reveal their actual measurements, and it likely didn’t hurt that the numbers were much smaller to boot. Go figure.

But today, to the dismay of many women, women’s clothing sizes have become even more arbitrary.

These days, a woman might find that a pant size 6 in one store of brand fits perfectly, while for another pair of pants at different retailer, the size 8 fits just right. Disregarding the importance of the cut and fit of a pair of pants to a woman’s figure (a variable we won’t discuss at length here), there can be an unmistakable difference in actual proportions among clothing items that profess to be the same numerical size. This discrepancy is due to the controversy that is vanity sizing.

Vanity Sizing

Vanity sizing is also known as size inflation, and it gives a name to the tendency of clothing of the same numerical size to get physically larger with time. For instance, the proportions and measurements of clothing that used to classify a size 14, may now be equivalent to an off-the-rack size 8.  It is believed that size inconsistencies in ready-to-wear clothing began as early as 1937, but these disparities have dramatically increased over time and with patterns that allude more to size inflation than minor adjustments or mistakes. To that end, some make the compelling argument that this vanity sizing is deliberate and an attempt at marketing to women’s desire to feel thin as the American population grows larger.

Manity Sizing

But this practice is no longer limited to the women’s section.  Enter what has playfully been called “manity sizing.” With men’s straightforward sizing, you might assume that such male vanity sizing would be nearly impossible. But it has been reported that while the inseam measurements on men’s pant sizes tend to be fairly accurate, the nominal size of the waist may in fact be narrower than its actual measurement by up to an inch and a half! So much for straightforward.

Though we might be tempted to simply refer you to our favorite tailor to avoid the confusion, the best advice we’ve heard yet is to simply ignore the size and shop for your figure. And leave enough time to try a bunch of pants on in the dressing room…

For an interesting article on vanity sizing, check out Newsweek.

A body scan that assists shoppers in finding the best sizes for their body measurements? Count us in.


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