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6 retailers notorious for vanity sizing—and how to shop them

It's not you, it's the clothing.

sitting man modeling t-shirt and shirt, man and woman modeling pullover hoodies Credit: Old Navy

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Not all clothing sizes are created equal. Annoyingly, a medium T-shirt you might buy from Forever 21 may not fit as well as one you bought from H&M. That’s because fashion retailers don’t have standardized sizes. Still, most people have an idea what size they expect to see on the tag, so that’s where most of us start when we go shopping.

However, as you may have noticed, many brands deliberately skew their sizes, based on the idea that people might feel better if the tag on the clothing says a size (or two or three) smaller than they wear in other brands. This is called vanity sizing. Less commonly, sizing can go the other way, where a larger size fits like a smaller one elsewhere, but this typically relates to brands from European or Asian countries versus American ones. And it all means that measurements and fabric cuts at one retailer or brand can be completely different from that of another—and even between styles from the same brand.

When in doubt (and especially when shopping online), your best bet is to refer to size charts and use a tape measure. Some clothing retailers, like Zara (listed here), as well as The North Face and Asos, offer a service on their websites called Fit Analytics, which uses algorithms that analyze your measurements to find you the best fit at a given retailer.

While it’s difficult to provide strict rules to clothing sizes at many popular retailers, there are a few stores that are notorious for wonky sizing. The sizing tips here—based on the reputation and user reviews—may help simplify online shopping at six popular retailers, like Old Navy and Loft.

1. H&M

HM
Credit: H&M

H&M has a reputation for its tight-fitting clothes.

For years, H&M customers have voiced their frustrations via social media about the Swedish retailer's skewed sizing, with clothes that run on the smaller side, i.e., you usually wear a women’s size 6 and have to buy an 8 or a 10 at H&M. So in 2018, H&M announced it would tweak its current sizing charts to incorporate larger sizing, specifically for women’s clothing. A garment marked as a size 12, for example, would now fit like a size 10 (in other words, vanity sizing). Nevertheless, H&M’s size offerings still feel all over the place when it comes to its clothing.

What size do I wear at H&M?

In women’s sizes: According to reviewers, bottoms at H&M—including skirts, pants, and shorts—are generally on the smaller side (e.g., a size 6 will fit like a 4 or a 2). However, tank tops, T-shirts, and blouses at H&M can be either true to size or on the larger side. If you see the words “relaxed,” “oversized,” or “resort” in a product description, it will probably run big, so you may want to size down for a closer fit. Sweaters, cardigans, and blazers also vary by style (ribbed, knit, cropped, sleeveless, etc.), but tend to run small.

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In men’s sizes: Tops are inconsistent. T-shirts and crewnecks are usually true to size, if not larger than you’d expect. But jackets, blazers, and cardigans often fall on the smaller side, as do any tops described as “premium,” “muscle fit,” or “slim fit." Suits are tricky—they tend to be smaller than other retailers but you may want to consult user reviews on individual pieces. Just like for women, men's bottoms—such as joggers, shorts, and jeans—also run small.

Shop H&M

2. Old Navy

oldnavy
Credit: Old Navy

Old Navy's clothes are often oversized—and not necessarily in a good way.

Old Navy is known for being one of the worst offenders of wonky sizing, with most pieces for both men and women fitting larger than expected based on the size tag. The brand has allegedly gotten better as of late, however, but the general recommendation from shoppers remains: Go true to size, or size down, depending on the item.

What size do I wear at Old Navy?

In women’s sizes: When shopping for tops, basics like T-shirts and tank tops are usually true to size but blouses and any piece with the word “loose” in the product description run big. Dresses are also often larger. For bottoms, jeans and pants are generally true to size but shorts are typically baggy or in-between sizes. User reviews are helpful in this area.

In men’s sizes: Shirts and T-shirts fit true to size. Tank tops, however, are sometimes tighter in the chest, so check user reviews depending on the style (especially if words like “slim fit” show up). Bottoms are true to size. Any garments with “flex” in the description offer more room and stretchability, so you can likely size down on these unless you prefer the looser fit.

In gender-neutral sizes: Tops are usually loose and longer in length, with more room in the chest. Expect a boxier fit. Some bottoms are actually men’s sizes, which is noted in the “fit & size” tab on the product details page. Go true to size for a regular fit or size up for a looser one.

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3. Free People

freepeople
Credit: Free People

Bohemian clothing retailer Free People offers looser fits.

Bohemian lifestyle company Free People is famous for its looser styles of clothing, sold in women's sizes. The company’s apparel is slouchy in nature, with both tops and bottoms designed to have excess fabrics drape off the body. Naturally, this causes some sizing issues for people wanting a flowy look, but not a frumpy one.

What size do I wear at Free People?

Because Free People’s cuts are overly generous, go true to size for the standard bohemian look with most tops, or size down for a less flowy look, minding bust. Tops with scooped or rounded necklines and dropped sleeves allow for more bagginess. Length varies depending on style. Dresses, however, differ from typical sizing for tops. Common complaints with ill-fitting dresses typically involve pieces running on the smaller side or tightness around the bust.

Bottoms are all over the place. Top-rated jeans, shorts, and pants seem to fit true to size. However, bottoms that aren’t bestsellers or don't have a lot of reviews are mixed, with some being overly large and some overly small. Consult user reviews on specific jeans to size up or down accordingly.

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4. Loft

Loft
Credit: Loft

Loft's clothing typically runs big.

Loft, which also sells clothing in women’s sizes only, has a reputation for its vanity sizing, as documented in numerous Reddit threads. Most of the items found in Loft’s stock offer a generous amount of room, regardless if the size is XXS or XXL. (The fact that XXS exists there is indicative of that, because many retailers offer XS as their smallest size.) When shopping at the retailer, the general consensus is to size down.

What size do I wear at Loft?

Loft tops fit larger and wider, with boxier cuts, than other retailers on this list. For most T-shirts, shirts, sweaters, and blouses, order a size down from your typical size. Bottoms are inconsistent, but also tend to fit on the roomy side. Pants and jeans run large, so size down accordingly. It should be noted that some items available in a “slim” silhouette are oftentimes still more generous than expected. Skirts are usually true to size, if not (yes) larger. The only exception according to reviewers? Loft shorts are sometimes smaller or true to size.

Shop Loft

5. Forever 21

Forever21
Credit: Forever 21

This mall retailer is guilty of inconsistent sizing.

According to reviewers, it’s tough to find items that fit just right at popular fast-fashion retailer Forever 21, as its sizing is all over the place. Not only that, due to how often the company cycles through clothing styles, it’s difficult to find user reviews on some pieces. Worse, size charts don’t offer particular measurements for any sole garment. The consensus, however, is that its clothing runs small, especially in women’s sizes (likely owing to the fact that it appeals to younger folks who wear juniors’ sizes, which are cut smaller).

What size do I wear at Forever 21?

In women’s sizes: When shopping for T-shirts, shirts, and dresses, the advice from shoppers is to size up if you’re looking for more room. Most tops and dresses fit tighter to start with and are likely to shrink in the wash. On the other hand, jackets and outerwear run true to size or larger. Rompers and jumpsuits tend to be true to size, but reviewers frequently critique them as being short in length. Jeans, shorts, and pants run small or true to size.

In men’s sizes: Tops, including graphic T-shirts, tank tops, and sweaters, are usually true to size or larger. Bottoms vary, but most jeans, shorts, and pants run small. Weirdly enough, shoppers say sizing for men's bottoms can even vary by color.

Shop Forever 21

6. Zara

Zara
Credit: Zara

Zara's clothes are tighter and more snug than other retailers on this list.

At Spanish retailer Zara, shoppers say many clothes fit small. Thankfully, it’s one of the apparel companies that uses Fit Analytics to help you filter out clothing based on the fit you're looking for. Note that Zara does not offer sizing beyond XL for men sizes, or XXL for women sizes.

What size do I wear at Zara?

In women’s sizes: Tops—like jackets, T-shirts, blouses, sweaters, and shirts—are usually true to size. Bottoms are where things get inconsistent, but they tend to be on the smaller side. Size up for most jeans, pants, shorts, and skirts.

In men’s sizes: Tops skew on the smaller side. Expect T-shirts, shirts, and jackets to fit tightly across the chest. Bottoms in sizes S to XL are on the smaller side as well, so it’s best to size up from your normal size. However, bottoms in numerical sizes—based on waist and inseam measurements—are typically true to size.

Shop Zara

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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