Why there are 20 different size 12s but nothing fits

by Erin on April 3, 2007


ebay item 8305987417

First of all, I have been looking for an excuse to link to Elisa's Bodacious House of Style for a while. I missed my chance during her 'pose-off' with Fred, and I keep checking her store waiting for something to demand to be a post, but have had no luck so far. But now she's scanned the newspaper article above, and so I can post it and credit her. Yay!

Elisa gives the date of the paper she scanned as 1953. Another helpful eBayer (the eBay vintage seller boards are really quite nice, I wish I had more time to hang out there) unknownshopper, added a link to this PDF, "Body Shape Analysis of Hispanic Women in the United States", by Elizabeth Newcomb, which looks very interesting, and includes this information:

Development of Sizing Standard “CS 215-58”

The O’Brien and Shelton study of 1941 did not result in a sizing standard until the 1950s. In 1958, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a new commercial standard known as CS 215-58 based on the 1939 study. This standard used four classifications of women (Misses, Women’s, Half-Sizes, and Juniors), three height groups (Tall, Regular, and Short), a bust measurement, and three hip types (Slender, Average, and Full) to classify sizes (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1958).

The sizes were based on bust measurement, height group, and drop value (difference between hip and bust circumference), and yielded over 20 sizes for use by the apparel industry (Chun-Yoon & Jasper, 1993). However, this standard was only voluntary, meaning that manufacturers did not have to follow it. They could either revise it to fit their needs, use it as it was created, or disregard it entirely. In addition, it was based on the 1939 study by O’Brien and Shelton, and thus suffered from the same inadequacies that the study had. Due to these problems, women of the 1950’s and 1960’s attempted to get around a growing size problem by using corsets and girdles to mold their bodies to the shapes of the clothing produced (Agins, 1994).

Development of Sizing Standard “PS 42-70”

Despite these problems, the next step in the history of sizing standards did not occur until 1971, when the U.S. Department of Commerce released a new voluntary standard, known as PS 42-70. This standard was basically a revision of the previous standard CS 215-58, but did include modifications based on a health survey performed by the National Center for Health Statistics in 1962. This survey indicated that U.S. adults were taller and heavier than they were in 1940. Thus, the bust girth was increased by one grade interval per size code for all figures. Other changes from CS 215-58 included the elimination of “Slender” and “Full” hip options for all figure types as well as the elimination of the “Tall” option in the Juniors’ and Women’ figure types (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1970).

Even with all of these changes to the CS 215-58 standard, the new PS 42-70 standard was still voluntary and based on the 1939 study by O’Brien and Shelton. At this time, still none of the problems with sizing systems had been confronted.

Thanks also to Mary Beth for the pointer to the discussion …

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous April 4, 2007 at 12:08 am

you are correct in saying…NOTHING FITS…this is why i got into fashion design.i’m currently a senior @ Moore College of Art and Design in Philly,PA.i’m so glad to have found this site! i love love love dresses.as we speak i’m working on my senior collection…it is sportswear and swimwear. i will have to send you photos when it is complete! we go from start to finish. design the garment. drape/develope pattern and then construct the garment. (there are a few dresse in the collection)i’ll be visiting your site daily.xo frankie

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Anonymous April 4, 2007 at 4:20 am

I think they may have solved the ‘sizing standard’ dilemna this season by going for the gathered-at-the-front empire waisted (babydoll?) style in spades.Of course there is the side effect of managing to make even those stick-thin model types look like theyre in a ‘delicate condition’…but no pulling, puckering, or bulging in sight!!(of course, it could be I’m just bitter since I resemble a rogue pup tent in one of those voluminous suckers)~k.ps: i quite adore this fluffy dress talk!! more, more! :)

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meep April 4, 2007 at 8:09 am

Here’s an idea: do sizing like men’s. I used to buy men’s jeans (before I got too curvy) because I could buy by waist/inseam.

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Mad Fashionista April 4, 2007 at 8:26 am

Thank you so much for noticing the sizing article! I feel very honored to be noticed by your blog. So much so that I’m holding back on responding as The Fashionista (I can’t be shallow ALL the time!). Keep up the good work!

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Moonwishes April 4, 2007 at 8:49 am

As someone who is 5’10″ and has been since the 1970′s I wonder why they dropped the tall designation. I remember clothes for tall people. Now I have nieces that are in the 6′ range. No wonder they wear such weird combos and what always looks like men’s pants–it’s the only way to cover thoxe long legs.Erin-so glad you are back, I missed your posts last week.

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dawn April 4, 2007 at 9:02 am

When I first read the newspaper article I thought, “no way are they (garment manufacturers) going to do this!” LOL, it really got me. There’s all kinds of promising “mass customization” schemes out there. Personally, I think it’s an oxymoron that will never come to fruition. Every single person is so different. Even thin women have fitting issues. You’ve all seen Jurassic Park, right? Well, fit is like the weather, it goes by chaos theory…there are too many variables to predict.My take, anyway.

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Anonymous April 4, 2007 at 9:15 am

It’s been ages since I bought something other than knits off the rack. I have no idea what size(s) I would wear. And I don’t really care to find out. =)People at my work often comment on how stylish I am. I don’t think I’m that stylish–standard skirts, blouses, the occasional pair of slacks. But everything I wear FITS. It makes a world of difference.–Lydia

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Anonymous April 4, 2007 at 9:58 am

I am the upside down triangle, with bust being larger that hips. I have given up finding a RTW dress to buy that fits. I just bought a tankini with a size 14D top and size 12 bottom. Thank God I can sew! However I always seem to want to do battle with complex patterns. My last project (also a learning experience and a pleasant 6 hours spent) was a bias skirt with an asymmetrical hem and an asymmetrical yoke. I wrestled with the fit of this pattern, but in the end, the pattern won. A few yards of periwinkle blue linen wasted.Thinking about buying the book Sew What! Skirts. Has anyone made their own skirt pattern as shown in the book?

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Theresa April 4, 2007 at 10:38 am

Oh- yeah, I tried to make a skirt pattern from Sew What! Skirts. Dismal – DISMAL failure. BUT — it could be me and not the books fault. I could send you the pattern making directions.

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The Muttering Chef (Kristen) April 4, 2007 at 10:56 am

I went to a store the other day that had pants in lengths -get this- average, short, and extra short. No talls in sight. I’m not all that tall, but I have long legs and pants are such a struggle. After I’ve made the 15 dresses and skirts on my list, I’m going to tackle pants.

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Thoughts on Life and Millinery. April 4, 2007 at 10:58 am

It is so sad that half sized clothing is rarely available anywhere now. The half sized address the very typical thickening of the waist in older women, that does not also mean an overall weight gain; arms and legs and hips stay slender. The Women’s sized clothing are designed for women who are larger overall.Don’t get me started on the lack of TALL clothing. I routinely go to petite sections and LOUDLY ask where the TALL section is to be found. When told there is no tall section, I repeat the answerer LOUDLY and express my dismay, wave my credit cards about (sometimes slapping an Erin form “I would have bought” form on the counter) and if I am feeling especially dramatic, break into tears about how much I need a swim suit, or formal gown that fits. When my six foot tall daughter is with me, we can really put on a show!

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Ginger April 4, 2007 at 12:16 pm

This bit in the quoted article caught my eye:Due to these problems, women of the 1950s and 1960s attempted to get around a growing size problem by using corsets and girdles to mold their bodies to the shapes of the clothing produced (Agins, 1994).Paraphrase: “Women abruptly began wearing girdles and corsets in the 1950s and 1960s because of inadequate sizing standards.”What?!Undergarments like girdles and corsets had been standard wear for women for hundreds of years. Girdles certainly didn’t arise in the 1920s because of sizing. They’ve always been worn to give a specific shape to a woman’s body and accordingly, to varying degrees, reduce waist or hipe size. But that’s been to conform to a fashion ideal – not the garment industry’s ready-to-wear sizing! The garment industry is following fashion.I wear vintage clothing (1930s-1950s) fairly often, and I always have a girdle on. For some outfits, like the sweater set I’m wearing today, a girdle is good for shaping my bulges. :D For a few, I do need the inch or so it takes off my waistline. For everything, though, I simply like the stability it gives my figure. No rolls, no squidgy-ness. If I wanted to wear the straighter fashions of the 1920s or 1960s I’d need the girdle even more, but that’s simply because fashion dictates a straight figure.The quote might be a context issue, but I don’t have much hope. It’s too sweeping a statement and gives a very untrue impression of shapewear to someone who’s just reading it. I’m curious to know if that assertion comes directly from Agins, whoever he is.

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Susan April 4, 2007 at 8:25 pm

I really need to sew my own clothes – I’m sick of trying to find clothes to fit – if I buy a pair of 12 pants, they swim around my waist, which is more like a size 8. I wear a size 10 top – it makes it very difficult to find dresses that fit, let me tell you!

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trenabdesigns April 5, 2007 at 8:30 am

How lovely would it be to choose bust/hip sizes in RTW! Of course, nobody is as flat-chested as me so it still wouldn’t me do any good. I’ll echo all who say thank goodness I can sew! I hope you are recovering from your vacation, Erin! Sounds like your family had a blast.

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Anonymous April 6, 2007 at 11:58 am

Thanks Theresa for the offer, I have just ordered the book, though.

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john April 6, 2007 at 6:56 pm

and this problem is not just with women’s clothing-an XL in a man’s shirt can be as big as a XXL or as small as a L-and I have a closet full to prove this-

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Anonymous November 30, 2007 at 12:14 am

I hate having to find extended size misses tall clothing! Plus size clothing just isn’t cut right for me– maybe if I liked having extra fabric in the seat, and even more extra in the waist (I’m a perfect hourglass), but I don’t. And I’m not that tall, but those sizes just fit better over a long torso and broad shoulders. Plus otherwise I find myself glaring at that inch of uncovered ankle. I would also like to see shirts sold based on boob size. Then there is the issue of finding decent clothes that fit that are also affordable. I’m finding myself nipping in things here and there, taping the blouses with fashion tape, etc. I need to learn how to be my own tailor.

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