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.
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.
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
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.
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.
don’t have measurements on hand, here are a few helpful tips on
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.
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 Yesstyle.com.
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.
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.