September 6, 2010

Size tags are evil

Who never claims sizes are evil? And I don't believe it is only when we have to go and pick a larger size than expected...
I hardly ever shop or use normal patterns, so I tend to forget about this particular issue. However, I do sometimes buy second hand/vintage clothes. I usually don't look at the size on the label. I concentrate instead on material and shape/style or refashion potential.
In my previous post I, and some of you, already mentioned how different fashion eras champion different shapes and ideas of fit. This is an issue you definately come across when shopping second hand.

I bought this silk ladies' shirt for 1 euro several weeks ago. According to it's own size tag, it's a size S and it was made in China. I think, based on the style and that rather generous size (it's on my old dummy here, which is larger in the bust than I am. I still have to find some legs for Mary) that this is an 1980's garment. I like the Chinese knot detail of the closure and thought I might try to wear it as is. But I haven't yet. Even belted, it just feels too bulky. I'm thinking of re-setting the sleeve to narrow the shoulder but it might need yet more work. It's lovely smooth, light and soft silk, so it would be worth the effort.

This shirt is also silk and I bought it today at the same market stall. This material is less finely woven, resulting in a shirt which feels smooth and has a cotton-like hand. According to it's size tag, this shirt is a size 40 and made in "W.-Germany". I'm not sure how to date it. The fact that it was made in West-Germany means it has to be pre-1990, of that I am sure. Although it's undarted, it seems too closely fitted for an 80's shirt. On the inside, both shirts are finished with the same 3-thread serging. The style of the collar doesn't look recent.
And, crucially: size 40??
German sizes are the same as Dutch size and if this shirt was in a shop today, it might make quite a few women comment on the evils of sizing. It's a bit wide on me, but fits about right at the shoulder. Usually, a size 36 will fit me at the shoulder.

I should really do a proper post about RTW sizing, size-inflation etc., some day soon. But I have to think on that a bit longer... For now, I'm just curious about your ideas about the dates on my shirts, your tales of strange sizing and, if you feel particularly helpful, any tips on what to do with shirt number 1.


  1. For one euro you could take a chance, I would completely recut it and try something new. North American sizing has gone nuts, something to do with this obsession with being extra thin, I hear some people now wear a size 00 (zero zero) even a size 2 is deemed to large!

  2. I, too, would totally recut the first shirt---take off the collar and try to turn it into a fitted, round-collared, cap-sleeved blouse, probably with front and back darts (though the pocket might get in the way); something that would go a bit better with the "oriental" feel of the closure.

    I'd probably guess 80s for the second shirt as well (not everything was super-huge)... but I'm North American so my sense of what was in style when is probably a few years' off Europe's at the best of times. :)

  3. Hm, you might be right about the second shirt, tanitisis. The overall shape is similar.
    As far as recutting goes, it would be a good idea but that pocket will become a problem. I once took the pocket off a huge 80's (also second hand at 1 euro) black silk shirt and found out that no matter what I did, the needle holes would still show and there was some very obvious discolouration. Hence my dilemma with this one.

  4. There's no rhyme nor reason to RTW sizing, sometimes I think they just pluck a figure out of the air, even though European sizing ie (24, 36 etc) is supposed to be standardised. Here in Australia the standard sizes used to be 6, 8, 10, 12 etc, I used to be a 12, but now I'm nearly always a 10 or even an 8 (and I haven't actually changed in body size!) A lot of the labels here now just say S, M, and L. I think there's no substitute for trying it on...

  5. I think re-setting the shoulder is a good place to start for shirt #1. Something about it makes me think of Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Becall in a dress shirt with a wide-waisted trouser or wide-waisted pencil skirt. Blousey around the top, fitted through the waist, and smooth lines to the hem. Does that make sense?

    I think shirt #2 might be closer to early 1960's based on the collar.

  6. Two lovely finds. I hope you find a way to tailor the top blouse to make it fit you, those closures are fabulous.

    The second blouse doesn't look 80s to me either, but not too far off with the 3 thread overlock. The collar on that one is a keeper. Perhaps just making the sleeves smaller and taking in the side seams would work. And of course a dart or two to fit your mid section. A pencil skirt and your all Mad Men'd out.