As vintage sizing varies so much, not only from decade
to decade, but also country to country and manufacturer to manufacturers,
sellers should always state the bust size the most difficult area to get
a good fit. Buyers are advised to search for vintage clothing under their bust/chest size as almost all websites
state measurements. Individuals need to be fully aware of their
size measurements by measuring themselves with a firm tape measure and by
measuring clothes they already wear with comfort or close fit.
Measuring yourself is the best way to get a proper fit
and can save hours of frustration lusting after a garment you take a
fancy to, but which would split if it looked at your thigh or upper arm! Always
mentally allow 2 to 3 inches additional ease to any bare garment
measurements and your own that you read.
In some situations sellers and buyers will both find stretched and unstretched measurements can be very
useful information as some garments should have a snug fit.
Garment measurement should always be taken after an item has been
laundered. The biggest danger with laundering, is fabric shrinkage
and ending up with a shorter, narrower item.
To measure a garment lay it flat on a firm surface
such as a clean table and use a quality fibreglass tape measure.
Work in either centimetres or inches, but be warned both are best these
days. Europe works in metric; USA works in Imperial and
Britain works in both, because consumers here mostly refuse to drop
inches as a system.
places if they are evident on the garment. Always measure the same
Measure the length
of various parts to make a garment measurement listing.
below the waist)
Neck opening -
varying from round to deep V's. If V or deep curves, measure from side
neck to depth of opening to enable cleavage depth to be noted.
Ties, sashes or belts
length from nape to waist on garment
hemlines on skirts, jackets and coats (circumference)
unusually narrow fitting areas e.g. restrictive Victorian sleeve heads.
You may not choose to use all these measurements in your
sales spiel, but you may prefer to have them ready prepared just in case
prospective buyers email you for the extra information.
You could make a
table which follows this method. You may
not use every section, but it will guide you and prompt you to consider
making your own chart. See my suggested
Quick Check Tables here to
help you make your own specialist chart.
50 years ago if a garment in UK was originally a size 34
it meant that it was a size 34 bust and size 36 hip. A review of
standard sizing was brought in throughout the UK in the sixties.
Dress patterns changed to sizes such as 12, 14, 16 etc. Clothes
which went over a size 42 in the fifties and sixties were usually called
outsize and extra outsize. This sizing was often seen on nightwear
for some years after the introduction of British Standard Sizing.
USA sizing is also different, so whatever country you are from check out
Women were much slimmer in the 1950s
or in earlier periods than now.
would never have seen a larger woman exposing her flesh 50 years ago in the way
that an overweight teen girl might show her belly button stud in
hipsters today with fat plunging over it. If you were fatter than
the ideal you covered the fat up in alternative styles of a tent like
or straight down shift like sack dress.
One reason for trying to keep the weight down was
quite simply that it was very difficult to buy any fashionable garment
over a size UK 14 in the main fashion shops and even then they were cut
very skimpily. Some ranges did go up to a UK 16, but only
very occasionally up to an 18. If they went up to a UK 18
they probably had lost the fashion edge.
An important factor with sizing is the physique.
No one really pumped iron in the UK until late 70s. Going to
the gym to workout was not usual. It was harder to put on weight from
snack food then as Pizza was available in about one place in central
London as I recall. The main snack bar of the era nationwide was Wimpy.
A curry or steak on a Saturday night was the norm rather than deep fried
snack food and the portion size even of a wimpy was much smaller.
Also central heating was getting better, but still not everywhere, so
people burned off more fat and walked more after an evening out.
Taxis were only just taking off in the UK provinces for a night out.
In the UK the masses shopped at (some now defunct)
nationwide chain stores such as C & A, Marks and Spencer, Richards,
Wallis, Debenhams, Etams, Dorothy Perkins, The Cooperative Society,
Neatawear, British Home Stores and Evans Outsizes. Large sizes
were only really available in specialist areas within C & A Modes and
Marks and Spencer (St. Michael) stopped many styles at a UK 14 or UK 16, but did do
a limited range of some clothes to a UK 18. Evans was then
very frumpy and where the
desperate went just to get clothes to cover the body.
Small women often bought from junior departments
within stores and got a cheaper item. Shops like Richards usually
made the bulk of the high fashion range up to a UK size 14. They
would sell some UK 16s in less trendy items and maybe have a limited
number of UK 18s in very neutral items. Nothing above that size would
be available there.
Wallis was a very stylish UK shop 1950-70s and they
always sized generously so that a UK 14 was more generously cut like a
15 or size 16. Wallis actually bought Paris model Toiles and
the rights to a garment pattern. They were the most stylish high street
store of the era and captured the spirit of Paris combined with that of
London giving a sharp edge to garments. Until about 1970 clothes
did not particularly coordinate and you could spend hours just searching
for a top or sweater to truly match a skirt bought in a chain
store. Coordination was more likely in higher priced garments from companies
like Berkertex and Windsmoor.
Department stores existed in every UK city or big town
and they would stock items as boutiques within stores. Companies
like Alexon, Windsmoor, Strelitz (Irish linen clothes), Jaeger, Dannimac,
Weatherall, Aquascutum, Slimma, Polly Peck, Gor-Ray, Escada, Berkertex and Dereta were
recognised good brand names for quality items from dresses, skirts,
separates, suits to coats. Ranges like TopShop, River Island and
Miss Selfridge were young in outlook.
In the UK, Next, Oui Set, Principles, Monsoon and
Accessorize, Kookai, Karen Millen, Hobbs and Oasis
are all post 1980 names. River Island was the updated
replacement for the well know shops called Chelsea Girl which sounded
passé. Other sources of clothing were the catalogue
companies as diverse as Empire Stores, Kays. John Myers, Grattans and
Oxendales. In the 50s and 70s Lane Bryant larger sizes were also
available by catalogue.
Sizes were cut smaller then too and so a vintage 12 is
not the same as a UK or USA or European Community 12 of 2003. Today buyers list sizes as plus
sizes or queen size if they measure larger. If 50s they
probably have labels like extra extra outsize inside them. For the
same reason of lack of fashion variety women in the plus range either
made their own clothes or had them hand crafted or custom made.
Corsetry was popular for this reason alone and no women went without a
More than 100 years ago Mrs. Lena H. Bryant created the full-fashion
market. As a widow in the late 1800s, she pawned a pair of diamond
earrings to buy a sewing machine so that she could make dresses to
support her family. Responding to a full-figured customer’s request for
something both pretty and practical for entertaining, she sparked a
fashion revolution with her design. Generations of her family built her
business into a what became "Lane Bryant". She used to say that you
should never ask women to conform their figures to fashion but rather
bring fashion to the figure. Inspired by that idea, Lena's great
grandson, Michael Kaplan, founded Fashion to Figure to bring fashion to
women's figures - and offer the next generation of plus sized clothing.
I am less
familiar with USA names, but I am reliably informed by two of my forum
members that early in the 1900's in the USA, both Sears and Montgomery
Ward had mail order catalogues with their lines of clothing for men,
women and children. American sizes have always been more generous
than UK sizes and are often one to two sizes larger for the relevant
Independent mail-order firms included Baldwin's famous
for 'The Double Service House Dress', the Pillow Shoe Company and 'Vici
Kid O'Sullivanized Pillow Shoes'; The Stanley Rogers Company who
specialised in women's clothes and furs; Martha Lane Adams who also sold
women and children's clothes and shoes, and Bedell's who concentrated on
women's clothes. There was also the Bellas Hess catalogue.
Between 1915 and the early 1970's most US clothing was
made in the States, but was merchandised either through the big
catalogue companies or chains like Hudson's, Macy's or Wanamakers.
Consequently, one manufacturer might produce the same dress, in a
cheaper fabric, but in a limited selection of colours for Sears under
their house name and a more deluxe version for Saks with their label.
Catalogue reprints and inexpensive women's magazines
of the late teens and early twenties include the names Phillipsborn's, a
Chicago house that for a while tried to rival Sears. The company
was typical in putting it's own label on the goods it sold. Their
women's lingerie was marketed under the name 'Everdainty,' shoes as 'Flexo-kid,'
'Kromide,' and 'Nature-Tread,'. Work clothes were marketed as 'Onormade',
and men's suits as 'Morsnap.'
Bobbie Brooks, White Stag and Villager's were popular
USA preppy brands in the 1960's and 70's. By the 80s those same
preppies were often wearing clothes from a wonderful chain called Alcott
and Andrews which targeted the upscale businesswoman. Talbots was
popular with the same women.
There were also some dressmakers that, though
regional, are very collectible today. An example would be the
Triocchi sisters from Providence, Rhode Island. There is a book
available on their work titled, From Paris to Providence: Fashion, Art,
and the Triocchi Dressmakers' Shop, 1915 - 1947.
Another reference on regional dress makers is A
Separate Sphere, Dressmakers in Cincinnati's Golden Age 1877 - 1922.
It features a number of dressmakers from that area as well as pieces
from several area department stores. Some of these dressmakers
were both prolific and talented.
designer names to look out for include Liberty, Lucile, Lelong, Callot
Soeurs, Poiret, Worth, Fortuny, Lanvin, Doeuillet, Redfern, Patou,
Paquin, Delauney, Chanel, Fath, Gres, Mainbocher, Givenchy,
Valentino, Molyneux, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Pucci, Balenciaga, Maggy
Rouff, Hartnell, Amies, Vionnet, Schiaparelli, Madame Carven, Manuel
Pertegaz, Balmain, Hermes, Hattie Carnegie and Pauline Trigere.
In addition buyers are interested in pieces by film designer Edith
Head and any items with beading by Lesage.
collectible vintage and retro, include labels such as Kenzo, Jean Muir,
Ossie Clark, Mary Quant, Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood.
N.B. Some garments
such as the beautiful jacket from used
in the header above, have more flexibility in sizing being looser in cut. Image
in the header is courtesy of
My special thanks to C. Shiveley and S.E.Simmons for
the paragraph of information on USA everyday garment names in the
C20th. (Page Date 18 Feb 2005)
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
Fashion-Era.com can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or
indirectly. This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.
Before you write to me for costume/fashion help or information please, please consult the extensive sitemap which lists all our pages. If you still cannot find the answer after searching the site, then before you email me, please consider if you are prepared to make a donation to the website.
Donations Reader's donations help this site flourish, in particular donations encourage me to write more articles on fashion history as well as current trends. PayPal
allows anyone with a credit card to donate easily and securely. You may donate any sum you feel appropriate.