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Chic Weekly an on-line Fashion & Sewing Magazine.


a new article every Monday about Sewing & Fashion

Article 37 - March 07, 2011
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What Is in a Size:

American Clothing Manufacturers and Vanity Sizing

For new sewers, pattern sizing can be confusing. This is because pattern sizing in no way reflects retail sizing.

By Jessica Lynn Harris


     It is often said that Marilyn Monroe wore a size sixteen. What is less often said is that in Monroe’s generation a size sixteen was significantly different than that of today. That the American sizing standards have changed through the ages to reflect expanding waistlines is not a comforting fact. Even more distressing than inflated sizes is that there are no consistent size standards from one store to the next. A size five dress may fit a girl perfectly at one store, while an eight at another. This lack of agreement between manufacturers can make shopping for the perfect outfit with the perfect fit difficult. While slight variation is necessary, my unchanging measurements have proven to fit into a range of no less than four sizes.  

     Part of the reason for size inconsistency is size inflation, also known as vanity sizing. Because there is no industry regulated standards for sizing in the United States, companies can size as they see fit (no pun intended). The same is true for Australia. And marketing research has indicated that customers are more likely to purchase clothing if the size is smaller, allowing customers to feel less self-conscious about their appearances.[1] The recent invention of size zero (and now subzero) is attributed to this. It’s not that people are smaller. It’s that sizes are larger and size zero has been added to the spectrum to fit petite, small framed women, particularly in Asian markets. [2] Size inflation is less of a phenomena in men’s clothing, where sizing is usually standardized by measurements.

     Once upon a time (the 1940s and ‘50s) the American Society for Testing and Materials did create a standard sizing chart, which was used until the Department of Commerce withdrew standards in 1983[3] when increasing plus sizes made the chart irrelevant to average customers. As reported by Newsweek, Jim Lovejoy of SizeUSA Survey noted that the average American woman should be wearing a size sixteen (that is, Monroe’s sixteen) but instead wears a ten or twelve.

     For new sewers, pattern sizing can be confusing as well. This is because pattern sizing in no way reflects retail sizing. For a long time, I had thought that this was due to the fact that pattern sizing had remained consistent over time. However, upon scouting ebay for 1950s swing jackets and women’s trousers, I recently realized this is not entirely true. In contemporary patterns, I measure to a misses/petite eight. In vintage patterns, I measure to a misses/petite ten. A far cry from the difference between a ten and sixteen, but a difference still.

     Perhaps the best advice is that size doesn’t matter. It may be nice to wear a garment in a size or two lower than expected, but this doesn’t mean the piece is right for you. Instead, choose clothing by the fit and how well the cut compliments your silhouette.  Instead of taking several sizes of each garment you hope to purchase into the dressing room, bring your measurements (bust, waist, hip, and rise) and measuring tape with you when shopping. Then, measure the garments to weed out the nos before fitting.

     If you don’t have measurements on hand, here are a few helpful tips on American sizes:

1.              Petite sizing starts for those 5’3” and under, while tall sizing starts for those at 5’7”. Plus sizes are those larger than misses 18. It is important for petite, tall, and plus size women to shop within these sizes instead of the average misses to correctly fit pockets, waistlines, hemlines, and collars.

2.              For petite women with low budgets who can’t fit into inflated misses twos and zeros, try purchasing vintage at inexpensive secondhand shops like Goodwill and the Salvation Army or shop online at Asian wholesale fashion sites, like 

3.              In general, size inflation is related to demographic; clothing marketed for casual wear (as opposed to professional) and to lower incomes show greater inflation. For example Gap Inc. consists of Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy. However, only Gap and Old Navy are purported to engage in vanity sizing. Most complaints about vanity sizing relate to Gap, Old Navy, Express, Target, Liz Claiborne, H& M, and French Connection.[4]

4.              If you are purchasing patterns for dressmaking do not base your size on your retail size. Instead, check your measurements against the measurements provided on the pattern envelope, usually located on the flap.


[1] This is idea is expanded upon in the article Flattery Gets Designers Everywhere by Jennifer D’Angelo. July 15 2002. Fox News.,2933,57672,00.html

[2] Faith-Based Sizing by Susan Schrobsdorff. Oct. 18 2006. Newsweek.

[3] Vanity Sizing: We’ll pay more to take a size 4 by Melissa Cassutt. March 24 2008.

[4] This article exposes several of shops of Vanity Sizing: Revealed: the jeans that tell a sizable lie by Abul Taher. April 15 2007. The Sunday Times.



Chic Weekly: on-line Fashion & Sewing Magazine
Founder & Publisher: Judi Harris
Editor in Chief: Jessica Lynn Harris
Art & Photo Editor: Andrew DiMaio
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copyright 2010-2011 Love To Sew Studio
Article 37 March 07, 2011




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