Monday, September 28, 2009


For the first time since sophomore year in high school, I had to purchase pants with a waist size less than 34 inches. I have consistently selected 34 waist for about 10 years.

Sometimes the 34s were loose or tight depending on the label. My current jeans may still just be manufacturer variance so I am not celebrating about a thinning waist just yet. My purchase of loose 33 inch jeans did cause me to wonder about the economics behind why some 34s are bigger and some are smaller. With such an objective measure, the idea of longer and shorter 34 inches seems absurd, but for some reason it is most definitely the case. Why else are there fitting rooms? If you knew a 34 X 30 would fit you perfectly, you would not need to try it on.

My original thought was that in order to gain customer satisfaction and loyalty, they may add some fabric and call 34 inches 33. Who would not want to shop at the place where they fit into 33 inch jeans? However, my friend reminded me of the marginal cost of fabric and if you are adding an extra inch to each pair of jeans, that is going to cost a lot of money.

Later we went to a relatively cheap clothing store where I barely fit into an adult large shirt. I typically wear medium. She said that cheap clothes are often made smaller and with thinner fabric. Apparently the cost saving method is to overstate the size of the clothes.

I just see this whole game theory, inter-temporal model that predicts the equilibrium between cost of fabric and customer loyalty benefit. It is hard to measure the profitability of appealing to customer psychology or how long that would last. It is also hard to know how many cheaters there would be in the game. All the while the social benefits of having a standardized system are dwindling.

Perhaps more experienced shoppers can enlighten me. What would be some other costs or benefits to understating or overstating clothing sizes?


  1. I think costumers enjoy fitting into "smaller size" clothes, so they will pay more money for clothes that state they are a size 4 than they would for a size 8.

    People always make a big deal out of Marilyn Monroe being a size 14. They say that she was a "big curvy girl" and people still thought she was sexy. That makes a lot of today's size 14ers feel great about themselves. The problem is, her measurements were 36-24-36 which would land her in a modern size 6 or so. The numbers have changed in the last 50 years.

  2. Not that I consider myself a "more experienced shopper" by any stretch but maybe the non-standardizes sizes benefits them when fellows like me assume they are standard and will just chill for a while in the dressing room so that wife thinks I actually tried them all on. Then I pick a couple and presto, done shopping. If they end up being too big, I can buy a belt, if they are too small, I just don't wear them and eventually wife makes me buy more. If the jeans company makes belts, it is a win-win for them.

  3. I don't think the "extra fabric expense" exists in the way you do - Manufacturers probably end up using the exact same amount of fabric - they just label all the items differently than they would have. So, I totally understand the appeal of size misnomers! To me it's all benefit with no cost.

  4. I see what you are saying Darlene, that makes sense. The jeans still have to fit the same people, they just might label them differently.