Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Sewing, Style, Theory | Comments Off on A word about size

Before we get started on size, I want to show you my new favourite video, and it’s all about size.

When I first created the initial outline for the sewing lessons that I plan to write for all the basic pieces of clothing, I went straight from explaining why I think making your own is the bomb-diggity (yeah, I just wrote that) straight into taking measurements and buying patterns. Then I started trying to determine sizes for my own clothing line. I started this by trying to research what other brands have for sizes. What I found was pretty awful. I discovered that there’s no good way to know if you’ll fit into a brand’s size before you check its sizing chart. That means that, if you walk into a new store, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be frustrated with your size. I put several different clothing brands’ sizing charts next to each other so you can see what they all consider to be a “size 8”.

sizingSee the problem? Eight is what used to be considered the most common dress size. Now it’s closer to a 14 or a 16, but that really doesn’t mean anything. The problem I see is that, between these 7 different companies, there are 4 different bust sizes, 5 different waist sizes, and 5 different hip sizes. In fact, out of the seven, there are only two sets of two that match. Sizing is so bad that some saint has developed a website where you put in your measurements, and it will tell you what your size is in all the different brands. Without that, how are you supposed to know what your size really is?

Better yet, how do the companies determine your size?

It’s way more complicated and petty than you could have ever thought. First, there’s the issue of Standard Pattern Sizing. If you’d like to read 159 pages about how that came about, you can check it out here. If you don’t, here’s the short version:

In the 1940s, some men were given a grant to develop a standard size system for women. Originally, they were going to base the sizes solely on chest measurements, kind of like the men’s sizing was at the time. However, a woman’s chest isn’t a great indicator of the rest of her size. Some us have large chests and small bottoms and others have tiny chests and large bottoms. These men determined that the hourglass figure was the “perfect” woman and developed their sizing method from there. It didn’t matter to them that a huge minority of women have an hourglass figure. They just did what they wanted. The majority of our standard pattern measurements have not changed since 1971. These are the sizes that couture garments and wedding dresses are still sold in. When I was trying to determine my own clothing line’s sizing, I actually found a website with all of those measurements, but though I saved the chart, I can’t seem to find it again. I you know one, please let me know. Regardless, these are what are considered the standards for clothing sizing.

standard sizingYou’ll notice that that the measurements above for “size 8” coordinate better with the standard “size 10” than with any other. Why is that? Well, women feel better when they’re a size 8 than a size 10, so clothing manufacturers started created lower sizes than the standards originally called for. Size 4 became size 2 and then size 0 and then size 00. Why? Because if you try on two tops that fit perfectly and one’s a size 10 and one’s a size 12, you’re way more likely to buy the 10 because you think that the number attached to your tag actually means something.

Worse, there are manufacturers who use a “fit model” to determine one of their sizes and grade (alter the pattern) from there. One of the books I read this summer had a anecdote about one of the manufacturers who used a particular woman as the fit model for their size 16, or the largest size their clothing came in. She would come in once a year and they would take her measurements, and their size 16 would change to fit her body.

Seriously, think about how your body changes on a regular basis. You might have gained a few pounds last year and lose some this year. If you were basing a clothing size on your size, would anyone else ever be able to fit into it? No. Your measurements fluctuate widely from day to day and from month to month. If a clothing line is using a fit model, that means that the size is going to change from season to season and year to year.

So, the question is, does your size really matter? When you think about how arbitrarily people create the size charts of your favourite clothing lines, it starts to make less sense.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be talking about taking your measurements and determining what size you are, but I don’t want you to start worrying about the numbers. Like I tell my daughter, your clothes should never be determined by a number, but how they fit you.

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