January 22, 2013

Vintage clothing sizing 101

Over the years one of the most frequently asked questions that I've received from those who are just starting to get into vintage fashion, or who have begun buying vintage clothing but don't have a lot of experience with it is, how come vintage sizes are a lot bigger than those today? Often followed quickly by, why am I such a larger size in vintage clothing then I am when I buy modern clothes?

These are excellent questions and today this post is going to answer both, as well as to explain a bit of the history behind ladies clothing sizing.

One of the most common misconceptions about vintage sizing - which, for the sake of this post, is going to focus primarily on the sizing applied to garments between the the years of approximately 1930 and 1960 - is that women in the past must have been a lot larger than your average woman today. This simply was not the case at all, and in fact, the average lady today is both taller and wider than than her mid-century counterpoint.

Then, as now, however, women come in all kinds of wonderful shapes and sizes, and there has been clothing designed to (ideally) fit them right off the rack. Ready made, as known as ready-to-wear, clothing, complete with sizes tags, emerged from the industrial revolution as factory began to churn out millions of mass market garments, thus freeing many people from having to choice between either making their own clothing at home or turning to a tailor or seamstress for their garments.

Whereas today's ladies clothing size scale starts as zero or two, depending on the brand, in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, most clothes intended for adult women started their sizing off at eight, ten or twelve, not zero (or, as has even emerged in recent years, “subzero” or “00” sizing).

There was no size zero for adults during this time period, and it is only as the decades have progressed and clothing manufactured gradually lowered the size number applied their garments (wherein keeping the actual measurements of the garments themselves about the same as they'd always been) that single digit clothing sizes became the norm for adult many women.

While there are no hard and fast rules (especially as clothing size numbers continue to drop as measurements remain the same - a practise which is known in the fashion industry as vanity sizing), generally speaking, garments from the 1930s-1950s are sized double plus or minus one or two sizes than what the same garment, manufactured and labelled by a company today, would be. For example, a dress from the 1950s with a size 18 tag would likely fit a woman today who wears a modern size eight or ten.

Case in point, when it comes to modern garments (produced in the last decade), I wear anything from a size a North American 3/4 to a size 8/9, with sizes four on top and six on the bottom being the most common (or, if working off of a small, medium, large, etc scale, an extra small to a large, with small and medium occurring most often in my closet).

With vintage garments from the 1940s and 50s, I typically wear a size 14, 16, or occasionally an 18 (with size 16 being the one which graces the most tags in my vintage wardrobe). Then, as now, even sized garments (12, 14, 16, etc) were more common, but some brands used uneven sizes (9, 11, 13, 15, and so on), especially those targeted towards, petite women, women who wore "half sizes", and plus sized ladies.

As there is almost no consistency between brands when it comes to sizing today (there was some variance in past, too, but not as much as nowadays), your best bet, without a doubt, is to disregard the size number on a vintage tag and instead work off of measurements (this particularly true if you're buying clothing online and thus can't try it on in person first before purchasing).

Believe me when I say that, regardless of if you wear vintage or modern clothing (or a mix of both), one of the best things you can ever do for yourself is to pay little to no attention to tag sizes when it comes to quickly judging if a garment will fit you or not. Such numbers are incredibly arbitrary and should never influence how a person feels about themselves either.

Instead of striving to be a certain size, channel your efforts in to finding garments that truly fit you properly. The best and most important way to do this is to know your measurements. I highly recommend that you periodically measure yourself at various key points on your body and keep a list of those measurements with you when shopping (back in December 2011 I detailed how to do just that in a post called The list of clothing measurements I never leave home without).


1959 colour photo of a mom measuring the hem length on a dress she's making for her daughter (from Miss Retro Modern's Flickr stream)

{Measurements are your best bet when it comes to ensuring that you find the best fitting vintage garment. Do not rely merely on size numbers listed on clothing tags. Image source.}


Any online vintage clothing seller worth their salt should always include key measurements in their listings. Generally, depending on the garment, these will include bust, waist, and hips. Other measurements may include overall length, shoulder to waist length, waist to hemline length, sleeve length, neck circumference, back width, and inseam. If you come across a garment online that doesn't include these measurements, but instead just a size number, be sure to ask the seller to provide details on the actual sizing.

Just as I might wear a vintage size 16 and a modern size six, so too am I different size in the 70s, 80s and sometimes even the 90s, as clothing sizes continued to change throughout those decades (for example, I have 1980s dresses that range in size from 4 to 12, with size ten being the most common for me).

Measurements are always what matter most. A label could say size 739, if it wanted to, and if it fit me comfortably and was flattering, I'd happily buy that garment. I do not put any stock into tag sizes and never let a bigger tag size determine how I feel about myself, so long as I'm presently happy with my weight (and even if, for whatever reason, I'm not, I still try not to let sizing bring me down at all).

Once you know your measurements, you'll likely figure out that there's a small range of one to three vintage sizes that work well for you (for example, if you're very svelte, you may wear a vintage size 8, 10 or 12, whereas most ladies will likely wear larger sizes, ranging from 12 to 22 or higher) and that you'll naturally gravitate towards these sizes (just as you would with modern sizes) when shopping for vintage clothes, whether online or in person.

Another point to keep in mind about vintage clothing sizes is that some companies produced different size ranges that were based off of different measurements. For example, throughout the mid-twentieth century, Sears often released the same garment in one or more of its most common size ranges: Juniors (designed for the slender teenage figure), Misses (average adult sizes), Half sizes (designed for women who were 5'3" and under and/or were of average height but fell between two even numbered clothing sizes), and Women's sizes (designed for plus sized gals).

For the most part, you really don't need to pay much attention to such terms, as they usually accompanied a size number as well. The one notable exception to this would be Women's sizes, which didn't progressively continue on from Misses sizes, as plus sizes do from smaller/average sizes today. Instead they often started at 38 and went up indefinitely from there (with 38 or 40 to 50 or 52 being a somewhat common size range). Again though, please don't worry about these numbers! You'll be using your own measurements when you shop for vintage garments and will simply be trying to find clothes that are as close as possible to those.

For those who may be curious, the following is a list - copied directly from the pages of a 1955 Sears catalog - that details the measurements, in inches, for the brand's Misses size range:


Size 10: 32.5 bust, 24.5 waist, 34 hips

Size 12: 34 bust, 25.5 waist, 36 hips

Size 14: 35.5 bust, 27 waist, 38 hips

Size 16: 37 bust, 28.5 waist, 40 hips

Size 18: 39 bust, 30.5 waist, 42 hips

Size 20: 41 bust, 32.5 waist, 44 hips


There is such an incredible variation in sizing between modern clothing manufacturers, that there's little use in showing you a similar size chart from one of today's brands. That isn't to say that each brand doesn't (in theory) stick to set of measurements across all of the garments they produce, many do, I just mean that this set of measurements is not shared universally between all clothing manufacturers. I suspect that just about everyone reading this post is familiar with how, when shopping for modern clothes, you can be one size in certain brand and a very different size in another (this is true almost no matter where in the world you buy your modern clothing from these days).

Vintage clothing sizes do not have to be a mystery at all, nor should someone ever feel deterred from wearing a vintage garment because the label says a size that it much bigger than the modern size they wear. One only has to hold up a size 16 dress from the 1950s to know that it's not a big garment in the slightest. In all likelihood, it will best fit a modern women who wears anything from a (North American) size four to a size eight or ten, depending on her personal measurements. But truly, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to converting vintage sizes to modern ones or vice versa, and so once more, I must stress the importance of working off of your measurements.

These can certainly change over time to due to fluctuations in weight, but if you have a 38" bust today, you're likely going to fit into a garment with a 38" or 40" bust (assuming the seller measured the garment accurately), it's as simple, easy, and even fun as that. Once you know your measurements and have a decent idea of which vintage sizes fit you best, you can set about shopping for yesteryear clothing with much, much more easy and enjoyment.

Instead of flipping through a rack of garments that all have sizes such as 14, 16, 18, and 20 and thinking (erroneously) that they're all too big for you, you can instead (assuming one of those corresponds to your measurements) reach for your size and try it on in person, or buy it online (so long as the measurements stated in the listing will work for your body).

I may have touched on this point before in a past post, but it warrants bringing up again and is a very topical example to cap this post off with. It's often said that Marilyn Monroe, who was indeed famous for her va-va-voom curves, wore anything from a size 12 to 16. People often then rush to hold her up as a shinning beckon of plus sized beauty and body type because of this.

However, such folks are misguided because while Marilyn did in fact wear such sizes, they were vintage size 12s, 14s and 16s, not modern ones. If they were modern ones, she would fall into the lower end of the plus size scale, but again, they’re vintage sizes, which are equivalent to much smaller numbers today. As many of our own do, over the years Miss Monroe's weight fluctuated, but generally speaking, if she was alive (and the same size as she was back then) today, Marilyn would wear anything from a modern size 2 to a size 8 or even a 10, just depending on where she was buying her clothes.

By the same token, so too will your vintage size(s) differ from your modern ones. It would be virtually impossible for anyone who wears a size 16 in modern clothing to comfortably fit into a vintage size 16 and vice versa. You're not looking to match like to like, you're trying to find garments that fit you properly, and a list of your measurements is the key to making that happen.

So go out there, measurements in hand, and have a blast knowing that your vintage size is not the same as your modern one, and that such is exactly the same for everyone else on the planet! Fit, not size, is what truly counts, no matter if you're shopping for modern clothing or filling your wardrobe with nothing but vintage garments.

68 comments:

  1. such a wonderfully clear post - thanks lady x

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  2. Great blog Jessica! People shouldnt squeeze themselves in clothes which or too small. A good fit is much more flattering and make look slimmer.

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  3. This is GREAT! I get a ton of questions from buyers about "well... what size is this, exactly?". I send back a lengthy reply about measuring, how I measure and how sizing varies and so on and so on. I'll be adding a link to this FAB explanation of yours from now on. Simply wonderful and useful piece!
    Cheers,
    L A
    http://ravishing-ruby.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thank you very much! I'm delighted and very touched to know that this post will be of help to you and your customers. It really is one of the most frequent subjects that I get asked about, and I can just imagine how often you must hear questions as an actual vintage seller.

      ♥ Jessica

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    2. I have been shopping on eBay a lot in the past few years and I have seen the brand St. John the suits are as fabulous and timeless as Chanel in my opinion. Are you familiar with the Vintage St. John knit dresses by Marie Gray? I am not sure how vintage they are and I am worried about purchasing one and it being too small. I read your article on Vintage sizing but this dress is a size 6 (my typical size) but it does not give measurements and there i no way of contacting this seller. I would appreciate any advice? Best Regards, Jessica.... jessica.b.brunelle@gmail.com

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    3. Do you have any advice on sizing variations on Vintage St. John Dresses and Suits?
      I really want to purchase this particular Vintage St. John knit dress by Marie Gray on eBay in a size 6 (my normal size) but I am worried it may be too small and there is no way of contacting the seller (who does not offer returns by the way). Thank you for your article! Best Regards,
      Jessica

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    4. Hi Jessica, thank you for both of your comments. The St. John clothing brand was launched back in 1962 or '63 (I've seen both years cited) by Robert and Marie Gray. They've always placed and emphasis on suits, knitwear, and other office appropriate attire and are still in business to this day.

      If the size listed is a six, it could be just that, however if we're talking a 1970s, 80s, or often even 90s "6" that is usually not the same as a modern day size 6 and could be smaller than a 2015 size 6. How much so, is hard to say, especially if you aren't sure what decade the suit hails from.

      If you can get the key measurements for a piece (and assuming, they're accurate) and compare them to your body's and/or those of a garment that fits you well, you should be on the right track. Is it not possible to message the eBay seller and ask them for the measurements (bust, waist, hips, sleeve length, total garment length, etc)?

      Honestly, if a seller isn't allowing you to contact them and they don't offer returns, I would proceed with the utmost of caution in dealing with them. Those are two huge red flags in my books and I'd be leery of any seller who had both in place, plus who hadn't clearly stated the garment's measurements in their listing. Even if the suit is a good deal, you could potentially be walking into a problematic situation there, so please proceed with caution. I'd had to see you - or anyone else - get burned by an unscrupulous eBay seller.

      Thanks again & please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions. I'm always here to be of help however I can.

      ♥ Jessica

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  4. I learned from my vintage Sears catalogs that I'm a size 16. Once you know your measurements, it's smooth sailing in the vintage world.

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  5. Great post Jessica! I always wondered why sizes were so large in vintage clothes. Whenever I buy clothes I always try it on especially when it comes to shoes. Ive had great luck finding vintage slips and nightgowns but clothes not so much. If it fits in the bust it's too short in the torso. I didn't figure out until my late teens early 20's that I had a long torso so a lot of my vintage clothes didn't fit me well.

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  6. This is all so very true. I don't let labels deter me either, and go for actual measurement sizing. Although, the reason I first got into vintage a while back, was because after my body fully matured, I could barely fit into modern made clothing (I have an 11 inch difference between my waist and hips). Anything I tried on, even being a modern size 2 or XS, would make me look like a sausage because I'd have no definition in the waist at all (especially with pants! I'd have to fit the hips, and then get massive gapping at the waist)!
    Vintage sizes I feel, were more proportioned to my body type (basically, I have a vintage figure), as modern sizes have a smaller waist to hip ratio. Kind of unfortunate, as there are some modern pieces of clothing I like, but can't fit into!

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    1. Hi sweet gal, thank you very much for your comment and for sharing with me (us) about your sizing. I have a relatively proportionate body (hour glass with just the slightest bit of pear shape, as my hips are a little bigger than my bust), yet (and I'm sure my short stature plays into this) I have much better luck overall with vintage garments, too. I can try on a hundred modern dresses to find one that fits just right, yet nearly always have great luck with any 40s or 50s (and often even 1980s does 40s/50s) dress I buy. Clearly you and I need to find ourselves a time machine and go shopping 65 years ago! :)

      ♥ Jessica

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  7. Amazing read and so helpful for those ladies just starting out buying vintage! I have to say when I first started to look around for vintage clothes I was confused with the sizing as well, especially when you keep hearing that Marilyn Monroe sizing story you told. It was not until I actually tried to squeeze my body into a size 12 that everything clicked and I realized I had gotten it all wrong. I now have my sizing on file for online shopping and it has saved me a world of grief.

    I have shared your post online as I think this was a very helpful read and very well written and I know that some of my friends could use these tips.

    Thanks Jessica :)

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    1. Thank you so much, my dear, I sincerely appreciate both your comment and that you shared this post online. By all means, feel free to post a link to where you mentioned it.


      Huge thanks & oodles of hugs,
      ♥ Jessica

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  8. I absolutely loved this post! Very helpful! =)

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  9. What a fabulous post, Jessica! I really need to do one of these myself. Recently, when I went thrifting, I saw several size 12s, 14s, and 16s that were VINTAGE sizes and therefore belonged on the part of the rack that was home to about size 8 or 10. Of course, the people who run the store don't know that, but I did :-)

    One of the best things you can do is know your measurements and even bring a measuring tape with you when you shop. And I never pay attention to the size it may say on a vintage piece anymore - it is all about the measurements for me. That's what people need to really concentrate on and stop worrying about what the tag reads.

    Oh and don't get me started on that Marilyn Monroe deal - she was tiny! Granted, she had a FABULOUS figure and is certainly more womanly in her shape than most stars of today, but the sizing was so different. In the early '50s she was around a modern day size 4. And that quote where she says "If people tell you that you aren't beautiful e cause you're not a size 0..." She never said that! There was no size zero back then! Ugh, that annoys me every single time I see it LOL.

    Okay, end rant.

    Lovely post, my dear. I am sure you explained this well and helped many a person!

    -Holly

    Veronica Vintage

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    1. Hi sweet Holly, that's not a rant at all - it's a great comment and I very much appreciate it. I know the quote you mean and have seen it many times, too, always shaking my head in disbelief that anyone would actually think MM had said that a time when size zero didn't even exist. There are a lot of quotes attributed to famous folks online who did not actually say them and this is a prime example for sure.

      I completely agree, unless I'm using my smallest purses, I always have a (pink) tape measure with me - it has come in handy more times than I can count over the years.

      Thanks again, dear gal, and always feel free to share as much or as little as you'd like in your comments here.

      ♥ Jessica

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  10. I have to really pay close attention to my waist measurement because it fluctuates constantly, especially when I eat the whole bag of M&Ms. lol

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  11. Thanks for this post! Shopping online for vintage clothing can be very frustrating indeed! I always go by the actual measurements and not the size on the tag. Best to always try things on first if you have that option. And you're right, most sellers will list actual measurements.
    According to the 1955 Sears catalog, I'm between a vintage size 12 and size 14. However when I went shopping for a bridesmaid dress at David's Bridal last year the dress that fit was a size 2! How's that for a sizing difference! :)
    -Emily

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  12. What a wonderful post filled with knowledge for a newbie in the vintage lifestyle. I stressed out a lot at first that these high sizes were just too much for me. Especially since I just dropped from a sz 20 to 14 in 2010.

    A sz 20 in vintage would be about a sz 14 in today's standards and we just have to remember they're only numbers. Besides, if you don't tell anyone, how are they going to know?? ;-)

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    1. Thank you very much, dear Sean. Congrats on dropping from a size 20 to a 14, that is such a commendable achievement! I think you're seriously beautiful and look great at your current size. So true, I don't mind discussing the clothing sizes I wear publicly, but would be a little less quick to broadcast my exact measurements or weight for all the world to see. ;)

      ♥ Jessica

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  13. Fabulous post Jessica! Very informative :) Thank you!

    Katy

    http://vintagewife.co.uk

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  14. Such a fountain of wise information Jessica-really enjoyed your post! And I love what you said-fit is what is imp and not size. I think we get caught up on size and it messes with our heads. When I was in MO last yr I bought like 15 cardis and they ranged from size small to large even though I wear a large normally but bc of the maker and cut the size varied. I love this post!! xox

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    1. Hi sweet Bunny, thank you very much. I'm delighted to know that you enjoyed this post and that you can relate firsthand to how wildly sizing varies between brands.

      Just last week (on Monday) my mom and I were shopping a Value Village 50% off sale, and I bought a number of tops (no bottoms, save for two pairs of pj pants), sweaters and cardigans, and they range in size from extra small to medium (and there have been other times when large could have easily been in that mix, too, just depending on the brands). I truly don't care what the tag says, fit is what counts, and all the items I bought fit well, so I'm a happy camper indeed. :)

      ♥ Jessica

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  15. Excellent post, and like others have said I'm glad you dispelled the whole "but Marilyn wore a 14!" silliness! I wish manufacturers would do away with vanity sizing, I mean honestly a size zero? Ridiculous.

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    1. Thank you very much, dear Betsy! I know, as a size zero does seem like it should be an oxymoron - how can you have "zero" of a size? I know it's just a very, very small size of garment, but I've seen some brands now that even have what they're calling "double zero" or "extra zero", which is just getting silly, if you ask me. As both my mom and grandma have said before, "we didn't have size zero in my day", and I don't think we should nowadays either. IMO, modern ladies sizing should be done based more on measurements, as it often is with menswear.

      ♥ Jessica

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    2. I am a size 0 or double zero or xxs and am petite (vivien leigh sized with slightly larger hips. but have at least a D cup bust but xtetrmely narrow back and waist of 20.. I love victorian clothes and children's clothes.(but not velour and glitter lol.but I also have a rare genetic disorder called ehlers danlos it comes with excrutiating chronic pain..so i would never wish it on even the rudest "envious" woman.I HATE that we have a zero. I hate magazines try to tough it as a normal achievement. I look "normal" and not unhealthy. but I REALLY hate double zero. It makes me feel like if there are zero ' out there our sizing says a double zero is "less than nothing"!I truly wish we would return to vintage sizing. I've worn vintage for a long time
      Just please, all you beautiful people (and you ALL are, enjoy your health and mobility and remember when you see a slender person, we aren't all anorexic or have cancer, but we don't all have "perfect "lives either.dress in what fits and you will be beautiful.take care of yourself and you will feel better. Try to ignore all this "lifestyle marketing madness" xoxo

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    3. Thank you very much for sharing your feelings on the topic of size zeros with us, lovely lady. I'm a longtime (multiple) chronic illness fighter myself and know full well (on both sides of the coin) how frustrating it can be to have your health play so heavily into your body's shape and/or size. With all my heart, I'm sorry that you're in constant severe chronic pain (I am as well) and also that you size zeros make you feel that way. I get that entirely. Sizing is so arbitrary and a number that ultimately means nothing (because of that fact), but it must be difficult for many to look at a tag and see "zero" or "double zero".

      I'm of the mind that all (at least adult) clothing, for women and men alike, should be sold with measurements in inches (or cm, depending on the country) that they they should be 100% factual (aka, no vanity sizing there, as sometimes happens with garments sized in this way). If such was the case universally, there literally could not be a size zero by default, as no one measures "0" on any part of their body.

      Please always remember that you are gorgeous, strong, inspirational and not in any way, shape or form defined by what size clothing you wear. You are your heart, your mind, your soul, your struggles, your stories, what you give to the world, and how life your life, not the digit(s) on your clothing labels.

      Many hugs & immense understanding,
      ♥ Jessica

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  16. Great tips! I just ordered a gorgeous 1940's print dress the other day and one cannot stress enough how important measurements are when ordering vintage. Luckily, I worked in the bridal business for years and know the body well, so my purchase fit perfectly! YES! Excited to wear it out dancing soon! ;-)
    Jamie
    http://chatterblossom.blogspot.com/

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  17. Good advice. I know many women who are confused about the changes in sizes. For me, my proportions are so odd and my overall size is so large that size matters less than shape and material (e.g., stretchy/not). As you recommend, I disregard sizing altogether and use measurements/try-ons to check on fit.

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  18. Excellent post! It seems like sizes are always changing a size 12 is not the size it was in the 80s either. I think they just keep increasing the inches to size to make women feel better:)

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  19. Yes l often hear ladies saying Marilyn was a 16, not realising a 16 then was much smaller than today. Also some repro companies use vintage sizing too!

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  20. I love this post! Vintage and overseas sizes are all over the place and I sometimes have a hard time figuring out what sizes to buy in today's clothes let alone vintage items. I quite like when a vintage item has, at the very least, a bust and/or waist measurement on the tag so I can get some idea of whether it's going to fit me.

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  21. Vintage sizing is always tricky- especially if your proportions aren't balanced. My waist measurements are always way too big compared to my bust and hips

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  22. Great post, thanks for sharing! xx Shauna

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  23. Hear hear! I have absolutely NO idea what my modern size is - half the time even the stores' own measurement guides don't match up to the actual garments (I go by the measurement guide and find the thing is too big - that's how in denial most people are about their own size, that shops have to make things too big for their stated size!)

    And re the Marilyn thing, that always bugs me - like, c'mon people, have you actually LOOKED at her?! I've seen her clothes in real life, and the was SMALL! True she was a bit larger at some points from the late 50s, but she was still most definitely not plus size by any measure.

    Princesspincurls above actually made a good point about vintage sizing, which is the proportions: most women back then had a classic pear shape even without the assistance of a girdle, but the modern silhouette tends to be thicker in the waist. My problem is usually higher up - there's plenty of vintage in my waist size, but the bust is often too small. Then again I seem to make most of my own clothes now - I can't remember the last time I actually bought a vintage dress!

    xx Charlotte
    Tuppence Ha'penny Vintage

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    1. Hi Charlotte, thank you very much for your wonderful comment. I agree 100% about the MM thing, and always find myself puzzled as well over how anyone could look at her and think she was a modern size 14 or 16.

      I'm an hourglass with a wee bit of pear (slightly larger hips than bust), so vintage fashions usually fit me a lot better than modern ones, especially if (as I usually do) I wear them with vintage or repro underpinning, which can further help ensure vintage clothing fits the way it was intended to 50-70+ years ago.


      ♥ Jessica

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  24. Thanks for this informative post! I've always felt puzzled by this.

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  25. This was so great, Jessica! I love all the historical bits just as much as the practicality of the information. I haven't dabbled much into vintage clothing (other than hats) but I am looking forward! xx

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    1. Thank you very much, dear Tova. I adore your vintage hat offerings (I'm forever adding them to my etsy wish list) and hope you'll let me know if you delve into offering garments in the future, too.


      Many thanks again,
      ♥ Jessica

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  26. this is really a great post darling. unfortunately there are really a lot of women who get depressed when they have to take a size bigger than usually... i think that´s stupid, it´s only a number and only the fit is important, but it´s really a sensitive topic and problem for some women, i noticed that, as i´m working in a lingerie shop...
    kiss,mary

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    1. Hi sweet Mary Lou, thank you very much for your comment. Indeed, sizing is an issue that some women are troubled by. It's terribly sad, I think, that anyone would let their self-esteem or self-worth be defined by something as trivial as a clothing tag size, but I completely understand the psychology behind it (especially in this day and age when we're so often told by the media that "smaller/thinner is better). If a woman is healthy and at least relatively happy with her weight, it shouldn't matter whether the number on her tag says 4 or 400, but things are rarely that cut and dry when it comes to how one sees themselves and their size.

      ♥ Jessica

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  27. oh yes...so true..you write it so well too! oh how lovely it would be today if one could say 'I'll take a size 6 thanks' and know that it would fit! I've learned the hard way never ever to leave a shop with a garment unless I try it on! But sometimes we're just not in the mood for all that undressing are we....

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  28. You're worth your weight in gold! I always wondered - people made such a big deal about Marilyn being a size 12 or 16. Is that in modern sizing or vintage?

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    1. You're so sweet, thank you very much Kathleen. Marilyn's sizing was 100% vintage. Her weight fluctuated a bit over the years, but generally speaking, if she was alive and wore the same sizes today, depending on her weight and the brands she was wearing, she'd probably be a (modern) size 2 to 8.

      Thank you again - that compliment will have me smiling all day,
      ♥ Jessica

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  29. Great post. As you note, the main thing is KNOW YOUR MEASUREMENTS, rather than trying to convert vintage sizing to modern, unless you are making clothing from vintage patterns, in which case, you will have to do some converting :).

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  30. When I tried to make a pair of vintage shorts with a pattern from the 1950's, I realized that vintage and modern sizing varies tremendously. It was smooth sailing until it came to the waist. I know now that I need to pay closer attention to the sizing, especially when sewing something vintage.

    Ivy

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  31. You always have the most interesting posts! I've noticed the same thing with Nordic vintage sizes, it's just impossible to try to deduce anything about the size of the garment by just looking at the tag. Luckily I now know a bit about (at least Finnish) vintage sizes, so it's easier to see right away if I have even a chance of fitting inside that lovely dress or blouse at a flea market or second hand shop. :)

    Oh, and welcome to Facebook! Hope you enjoy your time there. :)

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  32. This is a very interesting post !
    In France, vintage sizes are not the same too !
    I have a lot of dresses from 50s in 42 or 44 and they fit perfectly. But I am a 39/38 in modern size. It really depends on the era!

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  33. Great post! This is of course (as a long time vintage wearing gal) not news to me, but you write so well. I'm sure anyone who is new to the vintage world and intimidated by sizing will find this post very helpful

    Lisa.

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    1. Thank you very much, dear Lisa. That's my hope for sure. It can easy after years (or even decades for some people) of wearing, living and breathing vintage all the time to forget that there are always newcomers to our world, and I like to write posts like this sometimes geared especially towards those folks.

      Thanks again & have a beautiful Sunday,
      ♥ Jessica

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  34. In general I never bother about the size tag, it is how it looks when you wear it. In fact you look bigger if you try to fool yourself by squezing yourself into a smaller size. Fantastic post. :)

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    1. That is so, so true! I worked in retail fashion for a while many, many years ago and saw that exact same thing happen time and time again first hand (with both men and women). Thank you for raising that point, Sanne.

      ♥ Jessica

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  35. I had a friend who was trained as a seamstress and she told me that originally clothes were all designed on the same mannequins/dressforms in the US (in the big cities where clothing was designed and made in the 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s). Every dressmaker made a size 16 the same unless it was custom fit. Then came the "model muse" and the clothes were then designed to the model (think Twiggy and the like). Then the sizes started to vary from designer to designer, shop to shop.

    Also, some of the modern mass manufacturing techniques cause variations in sizing. A good example is low-end jeans. They stack the fabric for the jeans up to 25 high. We all know if you try to cut a couple pieces of fabric at the same time, they tend to slide causing the bottom piece to be a bit larger than the top piece. Imagine a stack of denim 25 high? This is why jeans from low-end shops vary so dramatically. Higher-end manufacturers don't allow as much variation but it takes longer to make the same number of jeans so they become more expensive. Does that make sense?

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  36. Hi Ana, that makes complete sense. I'm a paper crafter more than a sewer myself, and the same thing applies often if you try to cut through a stack with multiple sheets of paper or cardstock.

    I really appreciate your sharing these terrific points, thank you very much.

    ♥ Jessica

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  37. Hi Jessica, I recently purchased a lovely vintage polka dot dress at a local thrift shop. My intent was to place the dress on the vintage dress form in my studio to add a little pizazz to my creative nook. The dress was a size 14 and, by size tag alone, I judged the dress to be too large for me. Once I got the dress home and took a closer look, it seemed the dress might just fit me. Absolutely, the size 14 vintage fit my size 6 modern frame to a T. What a lovely surprise. So I went searching online, and found this blog post on vintage versus modern sizing. Thank you so much!

    I have enjoyed a lovely visit to your blog. I am a photographer and a quilter and your blog is a welcome inspiration. I hope to write a blog post regarding my vintage dress in the coming month, and I'll be sure to link to your blog for the full and complete story on vintage sizes. I'll stop by and visit again soon.

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    1. Hi Donna, thank you very much for your great comment. I'm really delighted that you found my blog and that this post proved to be helpful to you on the vintage sizing front. I'm usually a modern 4/6 on top and a 6/8 on the bottom, and find that a 1940s/50s size 16 fits me best, but I've certainly fit into plenty of 14s with no troubles either. There is so much mystery behind clothing sizes and how they came to be, as well as why the numbers got smaller of the years, and it seems the further back in time you, the fuzziest the beginnings of this numbered sizing system become, but hopefully this post can at least help the difference between sizes 55 to 80 years ago and the race for teeny, tiny vanity driven sizes of today.

      I really appreciate your comment and look forward to connecting with you here again anytime.

      ♥ Jessica

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  38. Middle ages could outfits made from sumptuous textiles ended up being earmarked with regard to people of the nobility along with the prosperous service provider instruction. Ladies inside peasant instruction have been restricted to rough textiles as well as less difficult types andrew.

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  39. I'm 5"2 and my measurements are 37-27-37.5.. what would that make me? My bust is far too big for a vintage size 14-16 but the waist and hips fit.. lol

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  40. My measurements are 37-27-37.5

    I should be a vintage size 14 but the bust is too small.

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    1. Hi Coco, thank you for your messages and question about your sizing. I would suggest going up to a vintage size 16 or even 18, if needed, and then having the garments taken in at the waist or elsewhere if needed so as to best fit you (either done by yourself, if you're a sewer, or by a professional seamstress). You may find, too, that separates work better for you with genuine vintage pieces than dresses. This way you can be, say, a 14 on the bottom and a 16 or 18 on the top. A lot of modern vintage reproduction and vintage style dresses have measurements that are more in keeping with the average 21st century figure(s) and those may be a great option for you as well.

      Best of luck!
      ♥ Jessica

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  41. There is such an incredible variation in sizing between modern clothing manufacturers and yes this is true.. thank for thisvisit here

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    1. There truly is and I don't even really let it phase me any more - though I do hate it when a company states their measurements as being one thing and then in reality, they're another. I run into that both with vintage repro and modern clothing brands sometimes and it's rather frustrating.

      ♥ Jessica

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  42. I wear a size 8 or 10 in vintage clothing. And I have kinda given up on modern clothing. Just tired of the damn low rise BS. You know? Can't stand it. Plus modern stuff id made like crap.

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    1. I fully and completely understand. Even if I didn't wear vintage styles, I know that my look would be off-the-beaten path and yet deeply classic at the same time. I've never felt a pull to follow trends, nor to buy tons of inferior quality modern clothing/accessories and that wouldn't change even if I was looking more the 21st century part.

      Thank you for your comment. Have a great autumn!

      ♥ Jessica

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  43. Hi, great information, thank you. I have a question regarding a vintage jumpsuit brand Mango's by Allan James with a tag label of size 12 and measurements taken flat listed as: shoulder to shoulder 18", bust 23.5", waist 19", hips 25", shoulder to crotch 32.5", inseam 28.5", rise 13". The listing (eBay) indicates the measurements to be approximate and vintage is typically smaller than modern. I messaged to confirm the measurements and was assured the information was accurate.
    Are you familiar with this brand of clothing and they're typical sizing applied to today standards?
    I would have thought a vintage size 12 to be smaller than these measurements.
    Thank you
    Heather

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    1. Hi Heather, thank you very much for your detailed comment and for seeking my impute on vintage sizing. My understanding is that Mango's By Allen James launched (and may have only existed for a little while during) the early 1990s, but as it's not a very famous brand, I haven't heard too much about it and don't believe I have any personal experience with this brand.

      Clothing size numbers (e.g., 2, 12, 20, etc) are essentially arbitrary and should only be used, at best, as a gentle guiding hand when buying vintage (or new) clothing. Accurate measurements matter far more and are your best indicator of if a garment is apt to fit you, especially if you can't try the item on in person.

      I'd recommend measuring a similar (if you have one) garment that fits you well and seeing how it compares to the measurements that you shared with me. If they're similar and you believe the listing to be accurate, then there's a decent chance the item will work for you.

      To address you last point, sizing has continued (with many brands at least) to get larger in the last 25 years for sure, but 1990s sizing is usually closer to the number-to-measurement ratio used today than that of, say, the 1940s or 50s, so if you were (and I don't suggest that you do) going off that point alone, a 90s garment would most likely be closer to a modern (2016) size and could even be about that same in the case of some brands.

      I hope that helps and welcome any follow up questions that you may have.

      ♥ Jessica

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  44. Great article! As a seamstress I'd like to point out one aspect of measuring a vintage garment and comparing it to your own measurements. You need to add what's called "wearing ease" to you measurement. For example, if you have a 34 inch bust, the actual garment should measure around 35 -36 inches depending on how snug it should look (think evening sheath versus shirtwaist). If it's exactly your measurement you won't be able to move in it.

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    1. Terrific tip! Thank you very much for bringing up that important sizing element, as well as for your visit to my blog.

      Have a beautiful spring (or fall, if you're south of the equator),
      ♥ Jessica

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