Take a number: A small history of clothing sizes

Pick a size, any size!

So one thing I really struggled with when starting my business was determining what my size chart would be. Because sometimes I wear a size 3, or a 4 or a 6, and sometimes when I'm sewing, I wear a 14. I'm 5'10” and while slender, you don't grow to be 5'10” without some girth.

Logically, (and assuming we're keeping the current 0-20+ system) I'm sure I should wear something closer to a 14 and save the single digit sizes for petite women.

Otherwise we're seriously looking at negative sizes. But there's also the emotional (and societal) attachment to smaller sizes and impact on self-worth and a whole host of things that can be tied to that number...

Ranting didn't get me any closer to having my own size chart. So I thought about who I wanted to reach- a broad range of women in different shapes and sizes. And especially some with unique fit challenges. I finally blended together the size charts of several companies I respect, and I feel pretty happy about where I've landed (check it out here).

But it makes you wonder how we got here, right? To a point where everyone wears like 4 different sizes and dreads jean shopping because of 14 pairs you have to try on to find one that fit. If you're lucky! I knew about vanity sizing, but I started to wonder what else was going on.

Turns out it's only been in the last 150 years that all garments foreverandeveramen stopped being made individually for folks by tailors. Men's sizes started standardizing during the Civil War (1860s), when uniforms were being mass produced (their sizes have the added bonus of being tied to actual measurements, think waist/inseam, etc.).

Women's clothing wasn't mass produced until into the Industrial Revolution. Around the 1920s catalogs became super popular and that's really when women started buying ready-made clothing. But it didn't really fit very well (hmm... Sounds familiar...)

Wikipedia says it's because they tried to just use the bust measurement to guess at the rest of the body (like how men's chest measurements are pretty good predictors of the rest of their proportions. But there's a lot more diversity in women's proportions. :))

{Image source}

I remember reading in an issue of Threads that at some point, girls' sizes used to be associated with their ages (but now I can't find the magazine... I'm ashamed at how many dust bunnies I found looking. Will update this post when it's finally unearthed...:))

So there have been efforts to standardize sizes by the government in the 1930s and 1960s (after ladies stopped wearing corsets, their waists changed- shocking- and clothing stopped fitting again...), but Americans are also taller and heavier than they were in back then, so sizing just continues to be a wily thing!

More recently, private companies have even tried to standardize sizing. But vanity sizing is so profitable and so companies are resistant to standardized sizing- there's no competitive edge if you wear a size 6 at every store...

So it doesn't look like there will be any changes to our sizing anytime soon. But there is a company that will invite you to step into their body scanner, which takes 200,000 measurements, then spits out a list of which styles at which stores in which sizes will be a pretty good match. Amazing!

And then there's me. With a tape measure, or a piece of string or ribbon, or something you don't stretch (even a laptop cord!), you can measure your hips and be pretty darn certain you'll get whatever size Upitees will make your heart sing.

If you have any questions, please let me know!

And stay tuned as I further develop my size chart... I've got big dreams for adding body types into the sizing mix, so you might wear a 6 pear or a 10 apple. :)  

Can't wait to go there with you! What are your thoughts? Please comment below- I'd love to hear about where you find the perfect fit or what your frustrations are. Are you a secret (or not-so-secret) scholar of fashion history or clothing sizes? Does anything above resonate with you?  I look forward to seeing you in the comments :)


Sources for this post that aren't linked above:

2 Responses


June 06, 2016

Right, Luci? There’s a map of locations where the scanners exist here: http://www.me-ality.com/locations I’m half-tempted to just go and check the closest one out, because it’s so intriguing (and there are no prices on their website…)!


June 06, 2016

Wow! That body scanner sounds awesome, even if it does sound expensive. Think of all the time saved trying on items just desperately looking for that perfect size. sigh

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May 18, 2012


Size Chart