February 22, 2016

Vintage sizes

In reactions to my previous post (which I also mentioned on Facebook) some people seemed to be a bit surprised about the size of the pattern. Which was for a bust circumference of 112 cm. 
Obviously, this was one of Bella magazine's larger sizes but not one which was unusual. In every magazine, Bella included patterns in a whole range of sizes, with ladies' designs usually starting at 88 cm (although 86 and even 84 are sometimes used in features for teenage girls) and going up to 122 or 124. This didn't mean you could get every pattern in every size, oh no. The vast majority of Bella designs was included on the tracing sheet in one size and available through mail order in three sizes (including the one already provided). 
Bella's sizing is all based on bust size. In fact, the magazine doesn't include any sizing charts. And the choice of sizes is a bit erratic as well. The three sizes in which a pattern is offered are normally apart by 6 cm (instead of the more usual 4) but on the same page, you may find patterns starting at 88, 90 and 92 cm. 
I plan to try and make a simple dress in the size closest to mine soon. That should give me a bit of an idea about the proportions. 

In Bella, with sizing based on bust measurement and no charts for the other sizes, it is a bit difficult to get an idea about whether or not the sizing changes. And added to that, I only have Bella magazines from the 1940's and 50's so I am not expecting a lot of change in those.
The magazine I have most of, Marion, does include very simple sizing charts and uses the same style of sizes as, among many others, Burdastyle and Knipmode magazines today: 36, 38, 40...
So, in Marion it is possible to chart size inflation in the Netherlands over the past 65 years.

This is an issue from 1953


dames   =   ladies
meisjes   =   girls
jongens   =   boys
heren   =   gentlemen

bovenwijdte   =   bust measurement
taillewijdte   =   waist measurement
heupwijdte   =   hip measurement
tot. lengte   =   total length (an often used but rather useless addition to sizing charts because this refers to the total length of a dress for that size)
boordwijdte   =   neckband size (for men's shirts)

The smallest ladies' size used is 38, with a bust size of 88 cm. Bust-to-waist ratio creeps up at the bottom end of the chart with 2 cm per size while the waist-to-hip difference is a stable 30 cm up to size 48 and decreases after that. 
There is a size 36 but it is the same as the size for girls aged 14-16 and mostly seems less curvy than the 38. Same waist size, smaller bust. Unfortunately there is no information about the hip size but I don't think I have seen any 1950's Marion designs in that size with narrow skirts so maybe that doesn't matter.

So, on to 1965

Here, 36 has been promoted to ladies' size but keeps the same bust and waist measurement as before, with a hip size of 92 cm. The waist of size 38 has become 2 cm bigger but all other sizes have remained the same. And we have also gained a size at the top end of the chart: 54. And I have to say it now really strikes how much the waist size increases per size after size 46. I suppose that is realistic because the average figure tends to be different in plus sizes than in standard sizes but it is far away from the rather linear grading I am used to for sizes 36 to 44.

And this is 1970, just 5 years later.

There is another new smallest size, 34, with measurement only just under those of 36. Personally, I don't understand why anyone drafting patterns would bother with a size which is only 2 cm narrower. You could make that from your size 36 pattern by increasing your seam allowances on the side seams by 0.5 cm. The other ladies' sizes have remained the same.
In girl's sizing there is a significant change: "Total length" now refers to the height of the child. I guess this was made necessary by the huge variation of skirt lengths fashionable in around 1970. These new length sizes may look familiar to Dutch readers: They are the children's sizes we are used to now.

I know Marion magazine was still around in 1990 because my mother used to have a subscription back then. However, the most recent issues in my collection are from the early 1970's. 

So, to give you some later comparison, I am including the sizing chart of Knipmode magazine (which was Marion's main competitor in the 90's):

The bust measurement per size has not significantly changed for most sizes (only for the smallest 3 really) but the waists are bigger. At least, for the standard sizes. Because that is what stands out most to me: Knipmode uses linear grading so the waist sizes for the largest sizes are smaller than in 1970 (note that there is a new largest size: 56).

I suppose this explains why I never feel like the "size 0" debate really applies here. Yes, dress sizes have changed in the Netherlands as well but the differences between different RTW brands and different pattern companies can be as large as those between modern and vintage (especially if you wear, say, a size 42). 


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  2. I've been following this topic in the US, and am now wondering about Canadian and South American sizing.
    I'll follow up later.

  3. So now I want to somehow borrow your pattern because its the correct size and I'm still learning how to draft significantly up and down, but I love vintage.
    Personally, I love your style!

    1. Hi Chris, if the pattern you want to borrow is the one in my previous post (for bust 112 cm), than you can. The drawing shows you how to draw the pattern and tells you how many centimeters to go up or down for each detail. It does not require any pattern making skills although you really should make a toile to find out how the fit would work for you.