The Perfect Larger-Size Vintage You’ve Been Waiting For

by Erin on July 16, 2007

Orla Dress

I get quite a few emails from people who are a modern size 14 or 16 and can't find anything vintage they like in their size. "Be patient," I tell them (which is horrible of me, because no one EVER likes to be told "be patient"). "Keep checking eBay, your perfect dress will turn up eventually."

So if you were one of those emailers and you don't bid on this dress (B46), I don't want to hear any more whining from you, young lady. This dress is about as perfect as you'll ever see, and I can't believe Holly's actually selling it (she's lost some weight and it doesn't fit her any longer … of course, if I had this dress hanging in my closet, I'd be tempted to slam back the malteds until it fit me again, too, so I understand).

I don't know where to start with what I love about this dress. The Orla Kiely-ish print? The scallops along the side? The buttons? It's so hard to decide … did I mention that it has a pocket? And that it's lined in red?

If this fits you, you should jump at it, because I will bet you will wear it to pieces (and probably, if you're anything like me, hold on the pieces for years in the fashion equivalent of a reliquary, or like a jar of ashes on the mantel). It's just that kind of dress.

The auction ends Wednesday, so hop to it!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy July 16, 2007 at 10:07 am

Fabulous dress! Makes me want to buy it and take it in to fit me! Don’t you wonder who made it, where it has been all these years? Hmmm…time for a secret life of dresses entry? hint hint


The Momma Chronicles July 16, 2007 at 11:05 am

I’d love to find vintage dresses in my size (a smidge or two bigger than anything available) and I couldn’t sew a dress to save my life. I console myself with vintage aprons, part of my daily uniform. And usually, one size fits all. Happy happy!


Ladygrande (Texas Marie) July 16, 2007 at 11:13 am

It is quite lovely .. and reminds me of the lovely day dresses my mom used to wear. And the buttons! Oh, my, the buttons! And lined in red?!!


Wayne July 16, 2007 at 11:34 am

She looks a little wooden…..


Cynthia July 16, 2007 at 11:48 am

my favorite part is all I have to do is show up at the site and someone else has done all the legwork on finding me the perfect vintage dress.


Housefrau July 16, 2007 at 1:39 pm

Since I don’t sew (I am just a sewing peeping jane), maybe I am missing something. How are the sizes for patterns determined, and why are they always so different from the sizes on ready-made clothes? I often see “size 14” on the patterns you post, Erin, even though the bust-size seems to indicate that the dress size is smaller than a size 14 dress one would find in a store. Or is it just that the correlation between the size-number and actual size has changed drastically over the years? And is bust size the main way to determine the size of a pattern? Is there a standard ratio between bust and waist size in patterns?Anyone care to illuminate this issue for those of us who are ignorant?


Marge, Born Too Late Vintage July 16, 2007 at 1:53 pm

There are plenty of other places to buy large size vintage other than Ebay. There are lots of other websites that cater to women who know what they are looking for and can’t find it on Ebay. Holly’s dress is lovely and I’m sure it will find a great home.


The Slapdash Sewist July 16, 2007 at 3:21 pm

Housefrau, patterns have been adopting “size inflation” much more slowly than ready to wear, though it’s definitely seen in patterns. I made a vintage 1940s bathing suit recently and I was a size 16, while in modern patterns I’m around a size 10. In ready-to-wear I range from 2-4 in adults and around a 5 in juniors.The ratio between bust to waist is varies by company and designer, but the proverbial 36-24-36 (graded up and down for other sizes) is about standard for proportions.I don’t quite understand the concept of using only bust measurement to determine what size you are in vintage, but that is the definitely the prevailing method. Maybe the confining girdles and other undergarments of the day made it possible, if not comfortable, to have “perfectly” sized hips in proportion to your bust.


scormeny July 16, 2007 at 3:33 pm

This is for Housefrau, regarding clothes sizes.It is wonderful for home sewers that the pattern industry in the United States has set a standard for sizing patterns — it means that as a sewer, once you’ve taken measurements and have translated those measurements into a size, then you can buy more or less any pattern you see that is printed since the 1950s or so, without having to re-check your measurements.BUT, the fashion garment industry has not followed the same logic or the same practice. Therefore, since the 1950s, a size 10 in the clothes you buy at the store has, in general, gotten much bigger than it used to be. Lots of people say it’s because the average vanity and size-consciousness of women buyers means they’ll pay more if it says size 10 than if it says size 16. And, of course, as Americans have gotten bigger, those vanity-sized size 10s have gotten bigger too. Buying vintage clothes usually means you have to go by measurements, which are absolute, not by “size,” which is arbitrary.Maybe someday the sewing pattern industry will go back and re-configure the body-measurements-to-size ratio, but I doubt it. I think it’s great that our Dress a Day gal and many eBay sellers include both the marked size and the bust and waist sizes of garments and patterns they sell and review; the measurements are always what will tell you if a garment fits, not the “size.”Butterick has a pretty good article on the topic with some notes on bust sizing. I think that bust and waist are the minimum measurements I’d want to see before purchasing a fairly fitted top or dress, and hips as well on a dress if the skirt area is fitted; bust only if it’s less fitted (since that’s where it’s likely to be tightest) is fine. Of course, I say that as a “DD” cup — the bust is always going to be the hardest-fit area for me. For a close-to-couture fit in a garment you were buying online, you’d also want to know the shoulder-to-shoulder width, the armpit depth and the around-the-upper-arm measurements, I believe.


scormeny July 16, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Oops, here’s the Butterick article link:


Theresa July 16, 2007 at 3:56 pm

It’s a beauty and in my size! Alas, it’s already at $51.90, definitely out my purse size! It’s nice to see a larger sized dress featured. All those itty bitty dresses were making me feel FAT!


Anonymous July 16, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Regarding the bust measurement–I can’t remember if I read this on the Butterick site or if I just figured it out from reading that site. The main reason that you use a bust measurement is because that is the hardest place to do adjustments or alterations. I’ve done adjustments and alterations on hips and waist fairly well (annoying but do-able) but doing the bust is a pain. It’s hard to make sure you don’t get the bullet bra look, etc. Another thing is that the bust is a lot closer to adult eye level. You really want the fit to look best where it’s closest–even if you’d rather not have people staring there–they will look at least once while they are talking to you. ; )jen


Retro Attic July 16, 2007 at 9:25 pm

This IS the perfect dress!


standgale July 16, 2007 at 9:59 pm

regarding the sizing discussion, I don’t understand how Butterick can have an article saying “take your measurements, find out what Butterick size you are and you can always buy what fits you” when I have to go between 1 and 3 sizes down from what my measurements say to get something that fits me. The pattern say my hip measurements make me a size 18. I make a size 16 skirt or trousers because I don’t want to be size 18 and I am 14-16 ready-to-wear (in NZ) so it seems silly. The skirt/trousers is too big and I take more off the side seams. And then, it fits. If I measure the pattern pieces and ignore all the sizing info I get around this rigmarole. It’s completely illogical and incomprehensible. I made a close fitting bustier-type bodice recently and I had to go down one size from her measurements to get it to fit – don’t tell me they put ease in a strapless top? Otherwise the bust-waist-hip ratio was perfect, just all over the same amount too big. I’ve only sewn 3-4 dozen items of clothing in the last couple of years, so I don’t think I’m doing it wrong.


Joni July 16, 2007 at 11:06 pm

Yes, but don’t the different pattern companies seem to fit you differently? I’ve made Simplicity dresses in size 8 and been swimming in them… and when I tried a Butterick in the same size, I had to bum a serger so that I could make the seams really really skinny in order for it to fit. Am I the only one that’s had this problem?And I’m with Marie on the pattern sizes being too big. If I went by my bust measurements I’d be sewing patterns in size 14 or 16, I think. But I wear an 8/10 in RTW and that’s what seems to fit me in homesewn clothes as well. I’ve learned that the only surefire way to guarantee fit is to make a muslin.


Anonymous July 17, 2007 at 12:49 am

Once I made the mistake of using the “finished garment” measurement chart to chose my pattern size instead of the “body measurement” chart. That resulted in a huge blouse. Another time I tried to use my RTW size and I couldn’t get the garment on! Most pattern companies have both charts but there is at least one company (can’t remember which) that only prints their body chart in their catalogs and they print the finished garment chart on their patterns. I haven’t done a lot of sewing in the last few years and the stuff I’ve made wasn’t too fitted so I don’t know how the patterns are fitting lately. Other than those mistakes I’ve always had pretty good luck.


Ladyschweig July 17, 2007 at 8:09 am

Ugh. Ease is an issue that has not made sense to me in all my 36 years!For some reason I can adjust fit and ease in my knitting much more easily which is odd as I have only knit for 3.5 years.That all said, lovely dress! This is a dress that says “I love your curves!”


Housefrau July 17, 2007 at 11:26 am

Wow, everyboy, thanks for the info and discussion on sizing. I didn’t realize there were so many factors to consider. This further cements my belief that the best way to dress is to staple a tablecloth around one’s body and call it a day. :)


scormeny July 17, 2007 at 4:37 pm

Have any of you sewers ever made yourself a sloper? If you buy the McCall’s Palmer/Pletsch patterns, the instructions come with an enormous amount of information and guidance on fitting a pattern to your specific body type. I took a class where we made slacks from McCall’s 3740 and it was very illuminating (and the pants I made fit great). I recommend the Palmer/Pletsch patterns if you think you want to get your garment sewing to the next level. Among other things, once you’ve got a good set of slopers made, you can mix and match parts of it to create your own patterns that you know will look smokin’ on you.As to the observation that patterns often sew up “too big” — isn’t that so much better than “too small”! You can almost always add to the seam allowance, you can rarely reduce it.No doubt about it, sewing to fit takes time and patience — that’s probably why the Duro has been such a popular pattern, as it is quite forgiving and doesn’t require much adjustment to look right.Sloper article Palmer/Pletsch patterns


Nicki C. July 17, 2007 at 11:24 pm

I came across this and had to show you…. must check this out. Its a dress made out of paper flyers :)


saidee July 18, 2007 at 3:44 am

There’s wearing ease and design ease; vogue patterns used to include in their descriptions close-fitted, fitted, semi-fitted, loose-fitted, very loose fitting, etc., and each term had a specific meaning translated to inches of ease. A bustier should have no ease or maybe even slightly negative ease; a bathing suit would have quite a bit of negative ease. Negative ease is in style now for those young enough to get away with it…To understand how you like your clothes to fit, if you are making a blouse, put on a similar garment you have that you like and pull or pinch the excess fabric out one each side of your body until the blouse is skin tight. Now look at the excess fabric and measure it. Don’t forget that it is doubled on each side. The result is your preferred ease for that style garment. Now you know how much ease to allow beyond your body measurements when you sew the same type blouse.The pattern companies are much more standardized than RTW ever dreamed of being, but that is changing. Even those of us who have been sewing for a long time need to check the catalog descriptions carefully for notes about fit because not all pattern lines w/in a pattern company use the same fitting rubric. The new Connie Crawford patterns for Butterick are even based on RTW sizing, which is a complete departure from what used to be the norm for the Big 4. It’s measure, measure, measure, and make a muslin before you cut into your precious vintage Darth Vader fabric!


scormeny July 19, 2007 at 1:48 pm

Amen, Saidee, and thanks for that (possibly chilling) news about the Connie Crawford line.


Cherie July 19, 2007 at 7:17 pm

Having been a thrifter, costumer, and now larger sized vintage pattern collector, I actually have a decent collection of ACTUAL Vintage Plus sized dresses from late 40’s to early 70’s. I’m even going to be selling a few!Right now the couple I have for sale are here:


Rebecca July 21, 2007 at 7:23 pm

Should any of you dear DADers be in Lancaster, PA, I can highly recommend Zap Inc. on Queen Street. (They are locally famous for supplying the costumes for the Austin Powers movies.)I shop there frequently and come across dress after generously sized dress. Really!


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