Thursday, 5 May 2011

Dress Sizes - Who Needs 'Em?

So I was hanging out with Paris Hilton, eating chocolate biscuits, when we started discussing the huge differences in vintage sewing patterns through the ages. Paris agreed with me that it's an interesting insight into the changing ideals of the feminine shape.

For example, take this pattern from my collection from the 1930's:

The difference of 5" between the bust and hips suggests a boyish figure was the ideal. The waist isn't even mentioned - I suppose it wasn't important!

Then, in the 40's, the waist appears, and the bust is larger with smaller hips:

In the 50's, we get more curvaceous:

The waist is a full 8" smaller than the bust - 2" smaller than the previous decade -  and the hip size is almost the same as the bust. Even though (according to studies) women's waists were naturally smaller in proportion to the rest of their bodies, it was totally accepted to wear girdles and other foundation wear on a daily basis. In fact, it was expected - there's a scene in 'Anatomy of a Murder', where Jimmy Stewart is trying to make Lee Remick a convincing, virginal witness, rather than the 'loose' woman she appears to be. The best way to achieve this? He tells her to 'wear a girdle, especially a girdle'. Enough said.

Then, the 1960's - the measurements are similar to the 50's, but the styles certainly aren't:

My mother was in her 20's in the 60's, and loved the liberation of fashion at this time. She wasn't a naturally curvaceous bombshell type, and suited the boyish fashions of the 60's. For her, it was a relief to not have to suppress her waist with a girdle, or to pad her bust, just to fit into clothes.

Today, on the rare occasion I buy clothes, I'm usually a UK 10-12, but then it depends on the designer/manufacturer. In the 1930's, I'm a size 18; in the 50's, a size 16; in both cases I would need to alter sections to make it fit comfortably. (If you really want to get into it, I'm a 42 in Italy, a 40 in France, and a 38 in Germany) These sizes really don't mean anything, yet through my work, I've seen first hand how women will walk away from a gorgeous outfit just because they don't want to wear a larger size. Why are we so hung up on numbers that seem to be chosen at random? Why can't we just refer to measurements, like they do in menswear and lingerie?

Anyway, I don't really have a point, other than just make sure your clothes fit you well, and who cares about numbers.

And what does Paris think? She would have an opinion, but she lost interest and is too busy trying to make the measuring tape into an accessory:


  1. Love the picture of you and Paris!
    This is really interesting to see the changes in sizing and body image over the years. When I sometimes stumble across a vintage pair or 70's jeans that say size 14, now they are more like an 8/10. Crazy!!

  2. Paris eats cake!! I never would have beived it! Great post! It is truly astounding how different shops have widly differing measurments for the same 'dress size'. I'm with you, I think womens sizing should be like mens, just be told the meaurements would certainly make sense and save time!!

  3. I second Psycho Sue's emotion - this post TOTALLY ROCKS!

    Why oh why do we care about the stupid arbitrary numbers???

    Sarah xxx


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