More
    HomeFashionThe size of women's clothing has changed over the past fifty years,...

    The size of women’s clothing has changed over the past fifty years, from Marilyn Monroe’s time to the Mad Men era

    Published on

    spot_img
    woman walking on seaside while holding woven bag
    Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

    In the world of women’s clothing, a 4 is a 2 is a 6. Everything is relative — unless, of course, you’re shopping in Brandy Melville’s teen-“friendly” SoHo store, where the only size is small. (“One-size” reads labels that don’t even bother with the usual “fits all” addendum.)

    a person posing for a picture
    Photo by Lance Reis on Unsplash

    One of the most infuriating American pastimes occurs within the confines of a dressing room. But where do these seemingly arbitrary sizes come from?

    woman in yellow tracksuit standing on basketball court side
    Photo by Dom Hill on Unsplash

    “True sizing standards didn’t develop until the 1940’s,” says Lynn Boorady, fashion and textile technology chair and associate professor at Buffalo State University. “Before then sizes for young ladies and children were all based on age — so a size 16 would be for a 16-year-old — and for women it was about bust measurement.”

    woman standing in front of wall
    Photo by Aiony Haust on Unsplash

    The origins of women’s clothing sizing date back to the 1940s, when the Department of Agriculture surveyed the sizes of approximately 15,000 women to create a standard sizing system. The survey was inspired by the fact that US manufacturers estimate they lose $100,000 a year due to a lack of fixed dimensions.

    woman wearing black off-shoulder top with left hand under chin during daytime
    Photo by Caique Nascimento on Unsplash

    Researchers Ruth O’Brien and William Shelton measured the women at 59 different places and came up with a set of measurements that used to be based on age and bust size measured.

    woman sitting next to window
    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

    However, this system proved problematic, as it assumed that women of the same bust size had the same body proportions and height. The booming catalog industry mainly used the system, which catered to rural customers with limited access to stores.

    woman in black off-shoulder shirt sitting on brown wooden stairs
    Photo by Jon Ly on Unsplash

    In the late 1940s, the Mail-Order Association of America, representing catalog businesses such as Sears Roebuck, sought assistance from the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) to revise the sizing system.

    a woman with long hair wearing a sweater
    Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

    They used the measurements of women who had served in the Air Force, some of the fittest people in the country, to create a new standard that was published in 1958 as “Commercial Standard (CS) 215-58”.

    a woman in a pink dress holding a cat
    Photo by Reba Spike on Unsplash

    The 1958 standard was more varied than what you’ll see in stores today, but it was still largely arbitrary. For example, a woman who had a 34-inch bust and a 25-inch waist, much like Marilyn Monroe, was considered to be a US size 12 (equivalent to a UK 16).

    3 women sitting on red carpet
    Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

    However, today a size 12 would fit a woman with a 39-inch bust and a 32-inch waist. This shows how much clothing sizes have changed over the past 50 years.

    six women leaning on white wall
    Photo by Clarke Sanders on Unsplash

    One of the reasons for this change is that people today are generally larger than they were in the past, due to factors such as nutrition, health, and lifestyle.

    a woman holding a bird
    Photo by Danijel Škabić on Unsplash

    Another reason is that some brands apply “vanity sizing”, where they label clothes smaller than they are to make customers feel better about their size. This creates confusion and inconsistency among different brands and retailers, making it hard for women to find clothes that fit them well.

    woman in black and white stripe long sleeve shirt sitting on brown wicker chair
    Photo by Amani Nation on Unsplash

    The Washington Post created a chart using data from the American Society of Testing and Materials, which shows how sizes based on the same measurements have changed over the past 50 years. The chart reveals that “a size 8 dress of 1958 doesn’t even have a modern-day equivalent — the waist and bust measurements of a Mad Men-era 8 come in smaller than today’s size 00”.

    woman sitting on floor tiles inside building
    Photo by Daniel Monteiro on Unsplash

    The lack of a universal sizing standard for women’s clothing has been a source of frustration and dissatisfaction for many consumers, who have to spend more time and money to find clothes that suit them.

    women's blue denim shorts
    Photo by Calvin Lupiya on Unsplash

    Some advocates have called for a more accurate and inclusive sizing system that reflects the diversity of women’s bodies and preferences. Until then, women will have to rely on their measurements and trial and error to find their perfect fit.

    Relevant articles:
    Women’s Clothing Sizes: When We Started Measuring Them | Time
    Chart shows shocking change in women’s sizes – Good Housekeeping
    Your Dressing Room Frustrations Have Just Been Validated – E! Online
    The Origins of Clothing Sizes – Seamwork

    Latest articles

    FN Five-seveN MRD: A New Era in Precision Handguns

    The FN Five-seveN has stood out in the modern firearms landscape for years, known...

    Raytheon’s Breakthrough: Achieving Milestones in the HALO Program

    The United States Navy is enhancing its offensive prowess and strategic vision by developing...

    Significance of Reagan Test Site in US Hypersonic Weapon Testing

    The US Air Force has garnered attention with the successful trial of a prototype...

    The B-21 Raider of the U.S. Air Force Prepares for Deployment Despite Production Hurdles and Hypersonic Competition

    The B-21 Raider, the United States Air Force's new stealth bomber, is edging closer...

    More like this

    FN Five-seveN MRD: A New Era in Precision Handguns

    The FN Five-seveN has stood out in the modern firearms landscape for years, known...

    Raytheon’s Breakthrough: Achieving Milestones in the HALO Program

    The United States Navy is enhancing its offensive prowess and strategic vision by developing...

    Significance of Reagan Test Site in US Hypersonic Weapon Testing

    The US Air Force has garnered attention with the successful trial of a prototype...