Vintage is Accurate
Lately, when shopping for clothes you may notice a significant difference in sizing. Why is that? I've often found myself going from store to store trying on multipe sizes and never actually knowing what size I really am. For many of us, this can leave us feeling insecure about our size and makes the whole process of trying on clothes miserable.
I've worked in the retail industry for over 10 years and can tell you that clothing sizing has changed -- and rather drastically. Even though sizing guidelines vary from maufacturer to manfucatuer, it just feels as though there is no acurate way of telling what size you really are.
Interestingly, a number of online retailers and suscribtion companies tend to ask customers what size they are based on the size that they wear from another company. Take for example Zara. You might wear a size 6 in jeans from Zara, but a size 2 in jeans from the Gap. So why is that? Again, it mostly stems from the manfucaturer.
Vintage clothing is a different story. Measurements from clothing from the 1930's-1970's seems to paint a very different picture. In fact, it is more accurate because measurements were taken for nearly every part of the body to ensure that the garment fit accordingly. You can still find that today in clothing that is hand-made or custom-made, but even so, the accuracy of measurments found in vintage clothing is quite remarkable.
Prior to mass production, clothes were relatively hand-made. Many women only owned a few items of clothing that would be worn accordingly. Nowadays our wardrobes have definitely expanded, but think about the simplicity of having only a few dresses to choose from on a daily basis!
As demand grew, production sped-up. Manufacturers began to use machines to meet the demands of the consumer, which led us to the current standard of machine manufactured clothing and apparel.
Never Judge a Garment
When looking at a vintage piece of clothing never try and size it up. Instead, think about how it was worn and even the way it was worn. Some dress materials have more stretch than you think, especially from the 60's and 70's where polyster, nylon, and spandex were popular. Similar to how we go about trying on clothes now, if you see something you like you should go ahead and give it a try. If you are still cautious, then my next suggestion will ease any doubts you might have!
If you really want to know the best way to know what your size is-- even for today's standards-- find yourself a tape measure and string, or preferably a seamstress tape measure (you can find these at any craft store). With your tape measure you are going to measure 3 basic spots - bust, waist, and hips. To measure your bust, place the tape/string right below the "ladies" (that's what I like to call them) and bring the tape/string around. You will notice that your bust size should align with what your bra band size is. To measure your waist, take the tape/string and place it above your navel and once again bring it around. Finally, to measure your hips, place the tape/string just below your navel along the hip bone and circle the tape/string around yourself again.
Here is an example of my measurements: I'm 5'2 ,maybe 5'3 on a good day and around 115lbs
If you are feeling unsure, you can reference Youtube videos or have a tailor/seamstress take your measurements (I had my seasmtress show me how to do it properly)
Knowing your meausurements should ease any uncertainy you may have about trying on a vintage piece or purchasing a vintage piece.
Now that you are aware of your measurments, when shopping at a vintage store in-person or online you will have a better idea if that garment will fit, but don't be afraid to try it if it's something you like. Many times, I've tried items that look rather small and with a little handy work from my seamstress it was an easy fix or if you have the skills to fix it yourself make it a little DIY project (I'm learning how to sew and it's been very helpful with repairing vintage pieces)
A good vintage shop will do the leg work for you and list the bust, waist, hips and sometimes even dress length, sleeve-length, etc. However, some will only mark small, medium, large, or extra-large. Like I mentioned before, do not be discouraged to try anything on. The shops that take the time to list the measurements on their garments will reassure you no doubt, but take a gamble if it's something you like--local seamstresses will appreciate the business!
If the garment is marked the standard small, medium, large, or extra-large you can also measure it yourself. When purchasing online, simply ask the seller to provide you with a list of measurements. In person, see if the store has a tape measure or you can be like me and bring a tape measure with you -- it can be a vintage shopper's best friend!
When I measure clothes, I like to lay them on a flat surface either on a table or the floor. I measure it the same way I would measure it on myself noting where the bust, waist, and hips would fall. You can simply measure across the front of the garment and then double it to get the result (i.e. bust 15" across equals 30" bust all around).
All Sizes Matter
Keep in mind, all of our bodies are beautiful! Even though the industry likes to continue to push "certain" body type norms, there is NO norm. My favorite example is Marilyn Monroe. A true icon of beauty, the girl had curves. She was not a size 0 -- she was not even a size 6. And she didn't have to be! Flaunt and accentuate your body the way you want to! Not all vintage clothing is small, even though it seems like it is. Having a good eye, patience, and shopping at the right places will lead you to find some incredible pieces.