Home » History in Fashion: Women’s Clothing Sizes

History in Fashion: Women’s Clothing Sizes

In the world of women’s clothing, a 4 is a 2. Everything is relative — unless, of course, you’re shopping in SoHo, where some stores are deemed having only size — small.

One of the most frustrating American pastimes occurs within the confines of a dressing room. But where do these seemingly random sizes come from? Sit down, unbutton your pants and enjoy a quick history of the women’s clothing measurement system. True sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940’s. Before then sizes for young ladies and children were all based on age — so a size 16 would be for a 16-year-old — and for women it was all about bust measurement.

To purchase clothing, people did not always walk into a store, grab their size off the rack and try it on. Prior to the American Civil War and the industrial revolution, the vast majority of clothes were made at home, either by a tailor or by themselves. Numerous measurements were taken and the clothes were made specifically to fit the individual who would wear them—  hence the term, “ready-to-wear.” The technological innovations of the industrial revolution, along with the supply of uniforms demanded by the Civil War, led to changes in the way clothing was produced. These changes eventually led to the system of standard sizes we know today.

Due to a flawed system in a measurement study in the 1930s, a new study on women’s sizes was conducted in the late 1940s. The goal was to to reanalyze the sizing — often using the measurements of women who had served in the air force, some of the most fit people in the country — creating a 1958 standard that was random to say the least. Sizes ranged from 8 to 38 with height indications of tall (T), regular (R), and short (S), and a plus or minus sign when referring to girth.

There was no size zero, like we see today in stores.

As American’s waists increased, so did our egos. And thus began the practice of vanity sizing. Over the decades, government size guidelines were given careful attention to less and less, items of clothing began getting marked with lower numbers and eventually, in 1983, the Department of Commerce withdrew its commercial women’s clothing size standard altogether.

We went from size 16 being a model in the ’40s to 12 in the ’60s. Marilyn Monroe was a 12 in the ’60s, which would now be a size 6.

Now, stores often size based on their own preferences, which can make for frustrating online shopping experiences — unless you already know your exact size.

But are we doomed to a future of sizing confusion? Maybe not. With advancement in new technologies- which might be welcoming a new era of customized clothing. Body measurements are so advanced now— with 3-D scanning aka 3D printing and digital changing rooms — We may be able to find better options for better fitting clothing.

More Fashion Fabula

The Modern Romantic

Counter Clockwise from left to right: ‘Joey’ Tassel Loafer, Sheer Greek Key Knit Skirt, Topshop Suede Jacket,‘Cupcakes for Breakfast’ Tee

Editors’ Picks: Summer Jumpsuit

Splendid Nautical Stripe Jumpsuit This lightweight jumpsuit epitomizes quintessential high-seas style. Steve Madden ‘Aintso’ Strappy Leather Toe Ring Sandal Classic and summery toe-ring style sandal

The Evolution of Festival Fashion

Music festivals are nothing new, but the popularity of events like Coachella and Bonnaroo has grown even larger in recent years. The alternative, countercultural spirit

Home Decor: How to Hang Wall Art

In addition to furniture, wall art can have a big impact on a room’s decor. Whether you’re hanging many different pictures or one statement piece

3 Key Warm Weather Fabrics

The return of double-digit temperatures doesn’t necessarily mean stripping away all your clothes. While it’s tempting to reduce your wardrobe to shorts, tanks and flip

How to Dress Vintage

Vintage hunting can be just as intimidating as it is rewarding. Aside from the self-curating aspect, the experience is not that much different from your

A Guide to BB Creams

Women are known to be the masters of multitasking, and putting on our makeup is no exception. We rush to put it on when we’re

Weekend Closet: Pretty Pastels!

Tommy Hilfiger Women’s Naree Two Piece Flats from Macy’s, $69- Trendy, yet chic. The Naree two-piece flats by Tommy Hilfiger fit in just about everywhere.

Editor’s Picks: White Out

From left to right: Topshop Crochet Overlay Dress, Dior Mono Eyeshawdow, MAC Eye Kohl, Matt Bernson Slide Sandal, MARC BY MARC JACOBS Cross Body Bag

ACNE Studios Weekend Look

Counter clockwise from left to right Acne Studios Jeans, Superga Sneakers, rag & bone Fedora, Acne Studios Jean Jacket, Acne Studios Aviators

5 Stylish Hiking Boots

Urban appropriation of practical clothing is nothing new. From plaid shirts to cosy cable-knit sweaters, women have long harbored a subconscious desire to wear things

How to Wear Earth Toned Workwear

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EARTH DAY TO WORK WITH A NATURAL COLOR PALATE Discussions of color – and adding color into one’s wardrobe –

History of the Female Suit

The female suit symbolizes a triumph of contradiction, between sexy and modest, masculine and feminine – and has been considered a symbol of sophistication and

5 Summer Tops You Can Wear to Work

5/16/2016 Dress codes for work are already challenging enough and with rising temperatures it may seem almost impossible to dress appropriate. While in the colder

The Ultimate Denim Shop

Finding the perfect pair of jeans can be quite the challenge. Sometimes the path to perfection can be a bumpy one, since denim shopping tends

Spread the Word