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!
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.
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