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New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued


Waist length, and your particular fit issues

Even though my last post covered tips for allowing ease in vintage clothing without stretch, there are still more points to be made. If you've ever tried on a vintage dress that ought to fit your waist judging by the stated measurements, but it was too tight, you have probably experienced a length problem. Remember how I wrote that back waist length would be important? For a fitted (not intentionally bloused or full) bodice, having your back waist length coincide well with the dress is vital.

This 80s shirt dress from Big Yellow Taxi Vintage features blousing that could add to the back waist length.
I recently saw a vintage size chart that declared 5'6" tall, and since so many of us are now taller, lengths can be a factor.

Melody of Tangerine Boutique suggests that you take into account whatever fit issues you have with modern clothing, and pay close attention to the corresponding measurement in vintage clothing. I have slightly broad shoulders and, from years of playing the horn, I have a relatively wide rib cage. You can be sure I ask for the under-bust measurement of any really fitted dress!

60s cheongsam or qi pao, a style of dress with fit galore. Notice that Viva Vintage Clothing rightfully gives lots and lots of measurements!

Next: Alterations, foundations and other ways to achieve a more
ideal fit

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New Year's resolution: Wear vintage, stage 3 continued


Understanding vintage sizes, ease to allow for a good fit

A further word about vintage sizes. Sometimes you see an item with a size and believe this must have something to do with your current size. Vintage sizes do not coincide with modern sizes. Nor are they predictable as compared with other items from the same era. In her study of advertisements in Vogue magazine from 1922-99, Alaina Zulli found a great deal of irregularity, with a generally decreasing size number through the decades, due to so-called vanity sizing.

As summarized in the New York Times (“One Size Fits Nobody: Seeking a Steady 4 or a 10”):
A woman with a 32-inch bust would have worn a Size 14 in Sears’s 1937 catalog. By 1967, she would have worn an 8, Ms. Zulli found. Today, she would wear a zero.
Again, fit is all about measurements, not stated sizes.

Now that you have some knowledge of your measurements and sizing, are you eager to find that perfect Mad Men dress, something fitted from the 50s to early 60s? I'm eager to help you!

50s sheath dress from Personal Pursuits
A 1950s to early 60s dress is almost always designed to highlight an hourglass shape, with a relatively fitted waist, and a waist seam that doesn't usually have any stretch. With all vintage clothing you need to focus on the measurement that is the most fitted, and in this era, that measurement would most likely be the waist.

You now know your waist measure, and what you need to be able to enjoy yourself in your vintage dress is a little extra space.

I asked my colleagues at the Vintage Fashion Guild what they would recommend in the way of extra space. Nicole of Circa Vintage Clothing recommended allowing 1"-2" extra at the waist, smaller on the smaller end of sizes, larger on the larger end. Anne of Vintage Baubles recommends that since one moves more through the hips—walking, sitting, bending, etc.—you would want more room there. She sent me to this fantastic ease chart.

Amber of The Vintage Vortex made a great point: “I think if I were wearing a much older item than 1950s I would want more ease for myself as thread and fabric deterioration would be a factor...I think that the age of the garment should also play a part in determining ease.” Jody of Couture Allure Vintage Fashion added that fabrics are a factor in ease; taffetas, satins, and loosely woven fabrics are challenging because if a dress is too tight, the seams will get stressed and there will be pulling along vertical seams. I plan to discuss fabric and how it matters in your choices in more detail later.

Remember the style of the item makes a difference in fit. What if the dress is fitted and strapless? Hollis of Past Perfect Vintage cautions that if such a dress is not tight, it won't stay up! I believe that we can tolerate a closer fit for a more formal (and briefer!) engagement.

50s formal from Vintage Devotion
Although I've been talking about purchasing a classic fitted sheath dress, every era has a variety of styles and fits, and the ease will vary with the cut of the garment, and, as my colleagues pointed out, its age and fabric. 




Looking online you may notice that you end up spotting the waist measure you want, and the bust and hip measures look too big. Still, no matter what era of clothing you fancy, you have to start with the measurement that is tightest, and then...go to the next stage!

Next: Waist length, and your particular fit issues

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Women's vintage clothing: determining size



Fit is always a bit of a challenge when buying clothing—new or vintage—online. For help taking the mystery out of buying vintage clothing, I've developed some basic information.

Top tip: Check the measurements of the vintage garment you're interested in against something that fits you well and is of as similar a design as possible.

I give size estimates (always the letter size and sometimes U.S. numerical sizes) and my estimates are based on an average of a handful of catalogs and websites...I hope these are good estimates to help pinpoint the fit. I have the experience of putting on a lot of vintage garments, and so I have a first-hand idea of how an item might fit. This is the chart I look at to predict sizes:



One thing's for sure, fashion has dictated different fits through the years. For instance, a 1950s dress generally has a small waist relative to the bust and hip measurements, as compared to many other decades.



I usually estimate the size based on the most fitted dimension. In many cases it is the waist, but often it is the hip, the bust, or even the shoulder width! It sometimes helps to be friends with a person who can do alterations.

A few details about my fit estimates:

I measure the garments flat but don't just go from side to side. I try to take into account the contour, especially at the bust, which can make the measure larger than the side-to-side measurement.

With most regular-fit blouses I estimate the size based on the wearer being about 4" smaller at the bust than the blouse. This goes down a little toward smaller sizes, and up a little toward larger sizes.


With knits, I try to think how the item would look best worn. In some cases I really see stretching the knit as being "the look," in other cases I think the knit should flow more loosely.

With shoes, I lay the measuring tape flat on the insole of the shoe if at all possible. The length is toe to heel, the width is at the widest part of the ball of the foot. Remember this is the widest part on the insole, the leather or other material is wider at the center of the shoe.

With coats, I try to envision how much might be worn underneath and often give a wider range of sizes because so often coats are more free or loose in cut.


With pants and swimwear, I give every possible measure I can think of because I know these are the trickiest to fit accurately.


Always feel free to ask for further measurements, guidance regarding the size, or anything else!

(Modified from my nearly decade-old eBay About Me page.)

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