Sewing Pattern Sizing History

The history of sizing for women’s clothing is interesting, indeed. I knew this favorite book of mine contained a great pattern sizing history, so as a follow-up to last week’s survey of WW2 Fashion, today’s blog post will review these informative facts.

In italics are my comments and questions.  Otherwise, the info is from this great book.

The book:  Fit for Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto gives the very very best review of this topic.  The information I share here, along with the images, comes from that book published by Palmer/Pletsch, pages 11-17.  In my opinion, if you sew garments, you NEED this book!  When ordering, my recommendation is to go with the spiral version.  If you buy the bound version, take it to Kinkos and get it spiralized for easy use.  Of course – easy to find at Amazon.  

Fit for Real People Book Cover

This great book sums it up with these words in the sidebar from page 13: 

“Today’s size 12 was yesterday’s size 16 – two sizes smaller.  The 1940’s size 10 is a 2 today – four sizes smaller. “

See so much revealed in this image from the book, page 13: Isn’t it interesting that the evolution to using numbers for sizes originally came from age.  Think of baby’s and children’s clothing even today.

Sizing Summary of Changes

Pattern Sizes Changed Four Times before 1972

Further enlightenment on the size changes is revealed on page 15 in the book.  I clearly remember when, in my early years of sewing, when the sizing changed.  Do you?  At least for those of us who sew, we can generally trust pattern measurement charts to remain the same and not constantly change according to manufacturer’s whims and status sizing.  Since 1972, the sizing has remained the same.

Interesting Changes Between 1967 and 1972

The book further ads these changes:

  • “Bustline lowered 5/8″.  Think softer bra styles – or no-bra youth” and look/craze.
  • “Back waist lengthed 5/8″ to accommodate more rounded backs.” Gee – that should probably really be changed for those of us bent over sewing machines, and heads forward on the computer and on our phones!  
  • “1” added to the waist measurement.  We gave up the girdle.”

And…for what it’s worth, here’s there astute conclusion regarding sizing on ready-made clothing.  But, I imagine you probably have already figured this out.  Generally, I also feel that the more you pay for something, the smaller size you are!  I kept a pair of pink size 8 pants in my wardrobe for quite awhile, as they made this size 12-14 body quite svelte as I wore them! 

Current Pattern Sizing

For the record, here is what we work with these days.  

Ready-to-Wear Sizing

The authors sum it up:  “Ready-to-wear fit is what each manufacturer wants it to be at any given time.”

I remember that I did a pretty thorough Blog Post on pattern History back in 2015.  Click HERE to read.

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1 Response

  1. Karen Johnston says:

    This is so interesting! Having sewed for a lifetime I am very aware of the vanity in sizing … I haven’t changed a measurement for myself since 1960 but have changed pattern size 3 times and ready to wear is a total nightmare … depends which clothing category your shopping in … size truly is only a number on a tag … it’s the measurements that matter …

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