It never fails: tune into a discussion of garment pattern sizes among newbie sewers and be prepared for the lamenting to begin. Yes, you, the experienced garment producer, think to yourself, a size 8 pattern is most assuredly not going to fit you if you wear a size 8 in ready-to-wear. In fact, I understand the depths of your indignance. If you wear a size 8 in most ready-to-wear, you probably wear a size 6 in Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (yes, I’m old enough to truly appreciate them). And, to add insult to injury, you probably wear a size 0 – yes, zero – in Chicos (of course their sizing is a thing onto itself). But here’s the thing – you only wear a size 8 in North America anyway. Rest assured, you’re never going to be able to zip up that size 8 dress off the rack at Harrod’s or, god forbid that you even try, at Galleries LaFayette in Paris. That’s because a size 8 in North America ready-to wear equates to a size 12 in the UK, and generally a European size 42, just maybe a 40 (not a 38 as you might wish). So, where does that leave you in pattern sizing? Probably a size 14.
I have one thing to say to you – the same thing I had to say to myself – get over it. If you really want to be able to get your clothing to fit, ignore the number and go with what works. Let’s back-track for a moment to see if we can understand this.
Did you know that clothing sizes were invented only in the early 1800’s? Before that, there was no need of them. If you were well-to-do enough, your tailor simply made your clothes to measure – all of them. If you were less financially fortunate, you made your own, fitting them to your body, your children’s bodies and the bodies of anyone else who relied on you (the matriarch usually) to provide them with wardrobe.
According to a very interesting article in Time magazine titled, “The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes” (which is worth a read), true sizing as we recognize it today, really began to develop in the 1940’s. Before that, children’s’ clothing, for example, was sized according to age range. Even today you usually buy baby clothes by age: 6-12 months, 18 months etc., as if every child at 12 months weighs the same!
Interestingly, the standard sizing in the US was developed through an extensive survey of some 15,000 women who volunteered to be measured. The fact that they were paid to do this also resulted in the sizing being skewed toward the sizes of those in the lower socio-economic strata of society.
As the authors of the Time article state,
“As American girth increased, so did egos…And thus began the practice of vanity sizing. Over the decades, government size guidelines were heeded 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.”
Oh vanity sizing! I remember being in a dressing room in the Gap several years ago. I was well aware that the Gap had changed their sizing, especially since I was comfortable in their size 6 jeans. Next door to me were several young women also trying on jeans. Suddenly I heard a screech: “OMG! I’ve lost weight! The size 10 fits!” Sorry, kid. You’ll really have to measure yourself and/or get on the scales to find that out if that’s true. Which is where we begin the search for the perfect fit in sewing patterns. Measuring.
There really is a knack to this measuring stuff. And then if you’re using an off-the-shelf pattern which many (most?) home sewers do, there’s the matter of finding out that you don’t really fit perfectly into any of their sizes. And it’s worth noting that in the sewing world, the notion of vanity sizing hasn’t really taken hold to the same extent, but there is no doubt about it, it’s there.
I stumbled upon this sizing chart from a 1948 Vogue sewing manual…
So, what size would you have worn in 1948? And here’s their chart today…
And not really fitting any of them perfectly? So goes the world. My answer was to seek out a way to make a personal moulage, from which I’ll create a personal block, or sloper – terms that I hadn’t even heard of six months ago.
So, I’ve embarked on a new course to learn to draft my own perfectly fitted patterns. It all begins with perfect measuring, and thankfully, I have a wonderful husband whose perfectionism borders on the mystical – a terrific trait in your measuring partner. I began there, then proceeded to the session on beginning to draft. I’ll let you know how it goes!
Time Article cited: http://time.com/3532014/women-clothing-sizes-history/