Have you a measuring tape? And a list of your measurements?
This is not a cue to start worrying about how much your waist size (etc.) might have increased, just a reality check. In this case, reality is the key to enjoying vintage — looking and feeling really fantastic in it.
The fit bit
You need to know your measurements—not your modern size—to purchase vintage clothing. Heck, you need to know your measurements to buy modern clothing too, with modern sizes all over the place! As a vintage seller I do try to give an approximate modern U.S. size, but the only true way to tell if something will fit is by comparing your measurements with the garment’s measurements. All vintage clothing you might purchase online must have the piece’s dimensions (or don’t hesitate to ask the seller for them!).
There is a pretty comprehensive list of measurements and how to take them on wikiHow.
Then you need to figure out the extra room needed to move and breathe in the item. This is the ease.
If you have some garments that fit just perfectly and are in the cut of an item you are considering purchasing online, you can compare the size of the online item to your perfect piece. That is handy information, but I must say, we don’t all have the perfect-fitting 1950s sheath dress lying around.
I have written in the past about fit and vintage, and if you feel you need some priming on the subject, please do have a look at these.
- This post gives information about the vintage sizing numbers vs. measurements; a bit about ease; and some great fit tips from my colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild.
- Here is a post that discusses waist length and a few other specific fit issues.
- In this post I discuss vintage underpinnings and how our mothers and grandmothers got the fit bit down.
If you haven’t already seen the point in taking a tailored garment to be better fitted on you by someone who is an expert at alterations (or doing the altering yourself if you possess the skills), then now is the time to start. Wearing nothing but modern, skimpy stretch knits is a cop out, and not a very flattering one at that. But an ill-fitted vintage piece, no matter how wonderful its quality, is not very flattering either.
Your alterations person needs to have a clear sense of how the item would best fit, which may take having a knowledge of fashion history. Make sure you ask to have inseams and hems left uncut so that they can be restored if wanted or needed. Be in the habit of purchasing items that are either just the right size for you, or big enough in the most fitted dimension to be altered to fit you in other dimensions.
You may want to keep a list of the measurements that work best for you in certain items, for instance:
- The bust, shoulder width, waist, hip, back waist length and overall length of a woven-fabric dress
- The waist, hip, back and front rise, inseam, leg circumference and outer leg length of pants
- The length and width of the inside of a pair of shoes and your best heel heights
One last word: Please don’t buy into the rumor that vintage clothing is all tiny. Among many myths, this one is probably the most prevalent. I have seen vintage clothing in every size imaginable, even if your size (whatever it may be) is not the most common, believe me it is out there. I think the myth comes from the fact that vintage clothing is OOAK and you really do need to keep your eyes out for items you love in your size.
But you know what? It’s fun—and so worth it!
Next time: Your ideas, tips and photos
See the previous posts in this series:
Part II Pin your style
Part III Be bold
Part IV Mix it up
Part V Get off to a good start