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dress size standards in UK and US - date established?

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Fashion - Ask Questions Get Answers' started by Hattysattic, May 13, 2005.

  1. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member


    i am just wondering if anyone knows when the standard (ish) british dress size of 8, 10, 12 etc. labels were introduced?
    did they replace the old bust/hip measurement labels, or go alongside them for a while?

    also if anyone knows when they began using the 8,10,12 sizing in the US it would be really helpful.

    i have a lovely top that i am almost 99% sure is late 30's or early 40's (although am always open to suggestions!), but has a size 14 label where i would expect a bust measurement. typically there are no other labels!... here it is, sorry for lack of underwear on mannequin but these are preliminary snaps :) ;





    on the last pic you can see the tiny '14' label on the right hand side of the pic.. it's only about a size uk6/8 modern size, and quite heavy silk satin. machine stitched with french (? enclosed) seams.

  2. Hi Harriet.

    I don't know when the number instead of bust size was established, but i do know that it is not consistent. You will see sizes like 36, 40 etc on some "better" for lack of a better term sweaters to this very day. Nightgowns also don't always follow any specific cut off year.

    A 14 in the 50s anyway because of the changes in the sizing scale would be, depending on how you are built, be more comparable to a 4/6 US today. I know the british sizes were also used, and i am not 100% sure on consistency, in the 40s as well.

  3. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    thanks chris - this is something i feel i should (or possibly did!) know!

    i will endeavour to find out. the top is from a british estate clearance but i suppose it could easily have been acquired from overseas at the time somehow.

    so i reckon date wise it's most likely early 40's - aside from the labelling issue do you think from the design that i'm right to say that, rather than 30's?
    i know the details are hard to pick up but it's a covered button front, smocked shoulders and a high, wrap over waist that ties through the side.

    i feel like it's ages since i tried to list anything but i am really trying to get to work this week!;)
  4. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest


    Try this for clues:
    <a href="


    US not UK, but I remember the commonplace being repeated that the UK sizing was done during or just after rationing - late 40s?

  5. However, the new ready-made clothing often fit poorly. Each manufacturer created its own unique and sometimes arbitrary sizing system based on inaccurate body data or no body data at all. Garments of widely different dimensions were frequently labeled the same size by different manufacturers. This situation resulted in additional costs for alterations and large volumes of returned merchandise. This, in turn, increased costs for the consumer of ready-to-wear clothing.

    In 1937, the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepared to conduct a study of women's body measurements for the purpose of creating a sizing system which the entire industry could follow.

    I could have sworn i saw that kind of numerical sizing on during and pre war 40s things, and maybe i did, and it is just that it wasn't "standardized" and everyone used their own system maker to maker.

    I know the next big review after postwar happened in the late 60s
  6. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    thanks you two - that's excellent! (and :hiya: back lin!)
    i will try and research it further if i can find the time and write it down somewhere! i knew i had had that type of sizing in a lot of US garments from the 40's onwards, but had thought maybe us brits took a while longer to catch on.
    i am thoroughly useless when it comes to searching t'internet today, do you know i looked for nearly an hour to no avail... :BAGUSE: so grateful as always!:wub:
  7. Don't worry Harriet. I don't think its the sorta thing where there is a special phrase to type in and something comes up. there is no snappy, short and sweet searchable phrase for it
  8. Noir*Boudoir

    Noir*Boudoir Guest

    Recently, I spotted a top 'bust' size (38) in a European sweater that, because of the labelling, really *had* to be circa 1939-40. Which puzzled me no end. And those generic bust size labels do turn up in the occasional 40s shirt...

    But the plain lower numbers are a lot more puzzling. It's funny, because shoes *did* have numbers assigned before this time, didn't they?

    I'd ask my mum, but she'd come back with her annoying generic answer to all my early-clothes questions 'I made them all for myself, I don't remember what the shops did...'
    Maybe she'd have insight on how the British Vogue patterns were labelled though... I'll ask.

    Incidentally, I'm pretty sure that the US sizing, starting at a size 10 (pretty small) and proceeding upwards, was much the same as British c. 1950, which is the earliest I've got a pattern catalogue for. It was only later that US re-sizing made the two diverge completely. Now, of course, British sizing would be catching up with the US, if only the US sizing weren't 'upscaling' just as enthusiastically.

  9. I know! if they change the sizing in the US again, I am going to fall right off the charts and into the abyss (or never buy another modern stitch of clothing again) Now it doesn't damage british psyches to be a size 8/10 instead of the same thing with a size 4 or 6 sticker on it, so why should it over here? But i do find that the waist to hip ratios work out a bit better in british sizing than US in skirts for me. (size 3 jeans in the junior dept is a 30" waist - come on now! ) . I rather be a 8 or 10 in the UK than a 0 here.
    It is just too confusing.

    Somewhere between 1988 and 1993 I lost 4 sizes, and i hadn't lost a pound..in fact i think i gained! Thank goodness i gained a little weight because then what would have become of me!

    When size "0" and better yet, sizes invented with no number attachment came on the scene.....there are some makers that have the regular 2-18 or so and then 1x, 2x etc... but they tack on the size "SP" on teh smaller end because there is just no number left. And its not on the S/M/L/XL sizing paradigm because you will see the same item in all the number sizes and then there is SP (small petite) or just P, when it has nothing really to do with the petite section or petite sizing.

    (but then again, i am considered a "short" not a true "petite". thanks a lot size wizards).

    I recall now, when shopping with my mom in the mid 80s, after she had my sister she had a large weight gain. There was no 1x, 2x, there was size 20,24,26 ,28, etc, in the "W" women's section if i remember correctly.

    My head is spinning!
  10. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    <i>Somewhere between 1988 and 1993 I lost 4 sizes, and i hadn't lost a pound..</i>

    Me too, between 1993 and 2004 - if anything, I've gained half an inch or so around the waist, yet I'm buying 6s and 8s from some stores that should know better, instead of the 10s and 12s that were standard when I was 18. Now that's a wholesale switch to US sizes of, say 5-6 years ago.

    They can use whatever numbers they want, but I think it's a crying shame that women are kept in ignorance of these fluctuations, and are just buying blindly in the dark most of the time. Same with bras (don't get me started on bra sizing :flaming: )

    The size '0' thing is frankly ridiculous and not a little sinister. I've never been able to understand how the X sizes work, since as far as I know, we don't have them here (it just goes 22, 24 etc.).

    I wish manufacturers would just print a list of the *measurements* they use, and just forget about the sizes now...

  11. Yeah, don't get me started on bras either!

    I really really think that a lot of sizing here is psychological. I remember reading that the Gap on purpose tweaked their sizing. If a woman wears a size 10/12 lets say...I forget what that is in the UK....but maybe a 14/16? anyway, if they can go to the GAP and fit into an 8 they say "wow...i am an EIGHT...I LOVE this place" and they buy. One of my friends was sucked in by that, but she also realized what they were doing, but she felt pretty good fitting into an 8 instead of a 10 or 12. It's all market research :( Make the lighting in the fitting rooms more flattering and tweak the sizes and you have people that will buy out the store.

    Now this is really pathetic...feel free to laugh and point at me...but i called up a catalog once and asked them about "flat measurements of the garment". Am i a freak or what? The following the measurements doesn't work because they use measures of the person plus add a lot of inches for fit...so a 32" inch bust = 38" so do you order by the chart or do you make up your own formula based on how you conjecture them to really measure??

  12. bug12oz

    bug12oz Registered Guest

    You are right about the GAP doing that.
    I know that Express/Limited does that too.

    One of the main reasons I hate to shop b/c I am a different size at each store.
  13. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    i have to admit that i bought a tiny tape measure that goes on my keyring, and although i initially bought it for use when buying vintage i do use it in modern clothing shops too.
    i will never buy anything modern online again (or that i couldn't try on first)that isn't listed in inch measurements, i decided that last week after buying a pair of (modern -golddigga brand) size 12 turn-up jeans as my trousers are all bell bottoms and they don't really work too well with my bicycle.. anyway, i expected them to be a bit loose as i'm a 10/12 in most places but when they arrived i couldn't even get them over my (childbearing) hips!

    so for me 2005 bad, 1950 good:spin, and dress sizes are irrelevant.. i just look for waist 27, hips free! (but like you all say, bust sizes are just a whole different kettle of fish..)

    i suppose the answer is that i shouldn't have hoped to be able to use size labels as a dating tool when they are (and always have been) a bit random to say the least :duh:
  14. BarbaraVilliers

    BarbaraVilliers Registered Guest

    personally I have given up on relying on sizing. My tapemeasure goes everywhere with me including Harrods LOL where I raised eyebrows by measuring the hips of La Perla panties. As for bra sizing!!! Duh what a joke, I wear between a 32 FF and 32 G but according to various confusing sources I could be between a 36D and a 32 H. Having a small frame I tend to ignore them and go by what actually fits. Has anyone noticed that the length of trousers is getting shorter?. I have an inside leg of approx 32 inches. I have long legs for my height and many legs are above my ankle bones. The clothes manufacturers are getting sloppy and shoddy. I think most sizing in Great Britain was introduced in the fifties as clothes were strictly rationed during the 40's and introducing sizes such as 10 then would not have been thought viable.
  15. noir_boudoir

    noir_boudoir Registered Guest

    Hi Louise!

    I'm beginning to think that getting that mini-tape measure might be my next move...

    The bra-sizing situation is a complete debacle - it's as if even the bra manufacturers have totally forgotten that the numbers are supposed to relate to measurements.

    And the fact that the measuring methods advocated by the major providers (hang your heads in shame, Marks and Spencer!) turn everyone into an ill-fitted 34C or 36C kills me...

    Popped back in to post these comments from Fashion Era
    which characteristically goes off on a bit of a tangent. I'm guessing Fashion-Era's Pauline knows what she's talking about, but alas, the basis for this summary is as mysterious as any other reference to sizing standardization I've seen.

    Sizing in vintage is a minefield.

    50 years ago if a garment in UK was originally a size 34 it meant that it was a size 34 bust and size 36 hip. A review of standard sizing was brought in throughout the UK in the sixties. Dress patterns changed to sizes such as 12, 14, 16 etc. Clothes which went over a size 42 in the fifties and sixties were usually called outsize and extra outsize. This sizing was often seen on nightwear for some years after the introduction of British Standard Sizing. USA sizing is also different, so whatever country you are from check out sizing thoroughly.

    Women were much slimmer in the 1950s or in earlier periods than now. You would never have seen a larger woman exposing her flesh 50 years ago in the way that an overweight teen girl might show her belly button stud in hipsters today with fat plunging over it. If you were fatter than the ideal you covered the fat up in alternative styles of a tent like or straight down shift like sack dress.

    One reason for trying to keep the weight down was quite simply that it was very difficult to buy any fashionable garment over a size UK 14 in the main fashion shops and even then they were cut very skimpily. Some ranges did go up to a UK 16, but only very occasionally up to an 18. If they went up to a UK 18 they probably had lost the fashion edge.

    An important factor with sizing is the physique. No one really pumped iron in the UK until late 70s. Going to the gym to workout was not usual. It was harder to put on weight from snack food then as Pizza was available in about one place in central London as I recall. The main snack bar of the era nationwide was Wimpy. A curry or steak on a Saturday night was the norm rather than deep fried snack food and the portion size even of a wimpy was much smaller. Also central heating was getting better, but still not everywhere, so people burned off more fat and walked more after an evening out. Taxis were only just taking off in the UK provinces for a night out.

    In the UK the masses shopped at (some now defunct) nationwide chain stores such as C and A, Marks and Spencer, Richards, Wallis, Debenhams, Etams, Dorothy Perkins, The Cooperative Society, Neatawear, British Home Stores and Evans Outsizes. Large sizes were only really available in specialist areas within C and A Modes and Evans. Marks and Spencer (St. Michael) stopped many styles at a UK 14 or UK 16, but did do a limited range of some clothes to a UK 18. Evans was then very frumpy and where the desperate went just to get clothes to cover the body.

    Small women often bought from junior departments within stores and got a cheaper item. Shops like Richards usually made the bulk of the high fashion range up to a UK size 14. They would sell some UK 16s in less trendy items and maybe have a limited number of UK 18s in very neutral items. Nothing above that size would be available there.

    Wallis was a very stylish UK shop 1950-70s and they always sized generously so that a UK 14 was more generously cut like a 15 or size 16. Wallis actually bought Paris model Toiles and the rights to a garment pattern. They were the most stylish high street store of the era and captured the spirit of Paris combined with that of London giving a sharp edge to garments. Until about 1970 clothes did not particularly coordinate and you could spend hours just searching for a top or sweater to truly match a skirt bought in a chain store. Coordination was more likely in higher priced garments from companies like Berkertex and Windsmoor.

    Department stores existed in every UK city or big town and they would stock items as boutiques within stores. Companies like Alexon, Windsmoor, Strelitz (Irish linen clothes), Jaeger, Dannimac, Weatherall, Aquascutum, Slimma, Polly Peck, Gor-Ray, Escada, Berkertex and Dereta were recognised good brand names for quality items from dresses, skirts, separates, suits to coats. Ranges like TopShop, River Island and Miss Selfridge were young in outlook.

    In the UK, Next, Oui Set, Principles, Monsoon and Accessorize, Kookai, Karen Millen, Hobbs and Oasis are all post 1980 names. River Island was the updated replacement for the well know shops called Chelsea Girl which sounded passé. Other sources of clothing were the catalogue companies as diverse as Empire Stores, Kays. John Myers, Grattans and Oxendales. In the 50s and 70s Lane Bryant larger sizes were also available by catalogue.

    Sizes were cut smaller then too and so a vintage 12 is not the same as a UK or USA or European Community 12 of 2003. Today buyers list sizes as plus sizes or queen size if they measure larger. If 50s they probably have labels like extra extra outsize inside them. For the same reason of lack of fashion variety women in the plus range either made their own clothes or had them hand crafted or custom made. Corsetry was popular for this reason alone and no women went without a girdle.
  16. It is true about people didn't sit around in front of the tv 24 hours a day back then, but if you were above the norm because you were very tall or were indeed above regular sizes that you probably learned to make your own clothing real fast.

    As for bra sizing!!! Duh what a joke[i/]

    Well, I can only order bras online because i am a 30 band size, sometimes 28 so they only give one strange looks when asking for it.

    I would be happy if trouser legs got shorter for petite sizes, because the last time i tried on petite sized jeans, the legs were TOO LONG. all my jeans (okay, lets be honest here, "all" is 2 out of 3 pairs because if i find something that fits i wear it forever) are frayed on the back of the cuff because they aren't long enough to really hem them up but if i don't have shoes on, i step on them with my heels. I finally found a pair that were "Short" instead of petite and the length and the hips worked but the darn waist was too big!

    All i can say is thank goodness there is vintage, because i would be up the creek.
  17. pastperfect2

    pastperfect2 Alumni +

    Back to the top - I don't think I have ever seen this type of sz tag on 30s garments. Actually, I don't think I have seen size tags of any kind on 30s dresses at all. I can't remember seeing these on early 40s either. And usually in the 50s, it's different type tag in the US - paper with almost a typed number.

    Now I have seen a fair number of bust size tags like this on teens blouses and 20s and 30s nightwear,

    Now this blouse sure looks 30s/40s, but remember there was a very accurate revival of this style in the 70s. I certainly have been fooled by it.

  18. Hattysattic

    Hattysattic VFG Member

    hi hollis! (and hello and thank you louise!)

    that's why i am so confused - the lady aged 92 in about 1980, and everything had been put in a suitcase by her niece (i have the suitcase too!) when they were clearing the house, and was untouched until now as she (the niece) is preparing to move to a retirement home.
    i just wondered what such an old lady would have done buying that top in the 70's, if she was in her late 80's at the time..not that i think there is anything wrong with older ladies wearing fantastic clothing!

    is there anything else i can look for to date the top? there are no closures other than the buttoned front.
  19. BarbaraVilliers

    BarbaraVilliers Registered Guest

    hi Harriet
    how about checking the fabric? if it feels remotely polyester then defintely a seventies garment I would think. Maybe she was an adventurous older lady.
    Todays shops I despair of. I pointblank refuse to shop in the high street. Back in the seventies there were many nice little boutiques to buy from. Fortunately my husband indulges me and I have a few Joseph items. Even Ronit Zilkha has dropped their standards. Their clothes used to be superb. Most modern shops show appalling lack of style and immagination. I asked for trousers in Hobbs that were not back, cream or grey and was told that they didn't sell other colours. Leg length is a problem. I'm 5Ft 1 Inch tall with a 32 inside leg I have a short torso.With my measurements I have a problem getting anything to fit 40-24-38. Now I like my figure. I never diet and exercise lightly. No way am I going to nibble a lettuce leaf lol. But the sight of bulging stomachs and midriff tops yuck!I also loathe the latest so called womens jeans all dowdy with straightish legs and no cut. I prefer wide legged jeans. I must say I dislike this seasons boho look and won't be buying many non vintage clothes lol
  20. Hmmm....what about colors? Thinking in the mindset of the 70s category, you have your brown background, and hints of mustard and rusty burnt orange here, and the green with white....which is a prime color palatte seen in the very very late 60s and the 70s.

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