History of women’s sizing pt.2

Continuing from yesterday, I’ve selected 6 other sources of historical sizing. Three sets are derived from drafting books. Three sets come from formal studies, one for which I have the raw data (D-5586, 1993). Again, this is an attempt to examine the history of women’s sizes; official US data are lacking prior to the 1940’s.

The first set is anecdotal and comes from 1917-American Dressmaking Step by Step by Mme. Lydia Trattles Coates. The sizing charts can be found here. You’ll note the bust-waist differencial to be 10″. Below is what I’ve excerpted:

A brief aside; at this stage of my research I found mention of the desireability of 36-26-36. Apparently this ideal preceded us by nearly 90 years!

But all figures are not average. we are not all of us perfect “thirty-sixes.” Some of us are the least bit taller than others. Some of us are inclined to be stout.

My second set of anecdotal data comes from Drafting and Pattern Design, from the Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences from 1924. This text has been reprinted by Lacis and is available here. Now, I realize these data are anecdotal but I’m more inclined to believe it to be more reflective of women’s bodies at the time because this -admitedly mail order- institute had a large pool from which to draw information if only from their students. You’ll note the bust-waist differencial is only 8″ which is markedly different from the data shown from only 7 years previously. The other thing I like about it -lending a degree of credence- is the size breaks. Size breaks are more reflective of how people “grow” from size to size. As I mentioned in my book, as people get larger (or smaller), they become commensurately larger (or smaller), rather than in even increments. These stats show size breaks in both the upper and lower ends of the chart.

Next on my list is Ladies’ Garment Cutting and Making by Morris. As I wrote of this yesterday, I defer from commenting. I republish the charts here to convenience your comparison.

It is not until the 1940’s that we get some “real” data,

15,000 American women participated in a national survey conducted by the National Bureau of Home Economics of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was the first large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements ever recorded. A technician took 59 measurements of each volunteer, who was dressed only in underwear…The results of the study were published in 1941 in USDA Miscellaneous Publication 454, Women’s Measurements for Garment and Pattern Construction.

This is the study that became known as PS 42-70 (pdf). Actually, the correct name is PS 42-702 as this reflects some revisions from 1970. I really wasn’t sure where to put this in the timeline, 1942 or 1970. I decided to stick it into the 1940’s since little changed in 1970. These are the standards as adopted by the National Bureau of Standards (now known as NIST) under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Commerce. You can read an interesting history entitled Standardization of Women’s Clothes on the NIST site. Unrelated to this particular topic, you can download other now withdrawn standards for men and children free.

One final note, this study has been reviled due to what was considered to be sampling errors. Specifically, it was thought that there was a disproportionate number of young anglo women women rather than a broader cross section of the population. I had scanned a sample of the distribution but the print was so small it didn’t come out well. My scan is here if you want to see that. The bust-waist differencial of this study amounts to about 9″ with no size breaks but with a concentration of smaller sizes grouped together in the lower end of the graph (this is good, people get commensurately smaller).

The next data set is anecdotal and comes from Practical Dress Design by Mabel Erwin, 1954. You’ll note that the bust-waist differencial she shows is 8″. The plot lines however are suspect. The sizes are just too neat and tidy with a too-even distribution across sizes.

Next is Pattern Drafting and Grading written by Mayer Rohr, 1968. Again, you’ll note the 8″ bust-waist differencial. His sizes follow a similar pattern to Erwin but he hits the lower end of the scale.

At this point would come an iteration of the PS 42-70 as it was revised in 1970.

Now we come to the “modern age”, or maybe not. Below is some information from ASTM D-5586 which was a study done in 1993 by Ellen Goldsberry from Arizona State (while this study was done in 1993, the designation title is older than the next set in my list but that’s because it was adopted after the D-5585 of 2001 was initially adopted). This is the study for which I have raw data and it reflects the body sizing of women aged 55 and over. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m not a big fan of these results (I could write several posts on the topic) but I’m late in posting today so I have to get something up. I’ll return to a dissection of the problematic factors of this study later.

Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with a sizing chart like I’ve done for all the other sets because I have a non-disclosure with ASTM and can only excerpt limited information. Perhaps I should also mention I’m a voting member of the committee (D-13) so I have to be nice or they’ll kick me out. However, you can buy these standards yourself. See this previous posting for all the ASTM data sets that are likely to interest you. The most salient feature to note here is the bust-waist differencial. It is roughly 4″.

Women age 55+ Misses Sizes, ASTM D-5586 1993 [raw data, sic]

Distribution 15 41 85 183 207 220 217 138 96
Bust 30.66 31.45 32.6 34.18 35.68 37.22 39.13 41.01 43.23
Waist 26.64 27.22 28.4 29.81  31.06  32.57 34.48 36.97 39.32
Hip 35.67 35.51 36.4 37.79 38.92 40.03 41.61 43.46 44.82

From the graph below, it should be apparent what I don’t like. If you don’t see it, don’t worry because I’ll get to it in a later post.

The last sample of this crude sizing survey is what’s known as ASTM D-5585. This is the PS 42-70 but “all grown up”. This set is also available for purchase. Again, I’m limited by what I can excerpt but the sets we’re looking at appear below. You’ll note the bust-waist differencial is roughly 8″.

Misses Sizes, ASTM D-5585 2001

Size 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
Bust 32 33 34 35 36 37.5 39 40.5 42.5 44..5
Waist 24 25 26 27 28 29.5 31 32.5 34.5 36.5
Hip 34.5 35.5 36.5 37.5 38.5 40 41.5 43 45 47

There is one last study -for which I do not have data- known as the Sizing USA study because this falls under the auspices of TC2 rather than ASTM. [climbing up on soap box] It is undeniably the most accurate because the information is a compilation of body scans. This data set is prohibitively expensive -$20,000! The others I mentioned cost $28 or less. Personally, I am outraged over the cost. I am outraged because TC2 got a federal grant to do it, to say nothing of grants from businesses (who were then given tax breaks) yet we can’t afford to buy it. I think it’s outrageous that US tax payers paid for the study but we don’t have access to the data. How fair is that? Then insult to injury, TC2 runs around saying that manufacturers aren’t using the results of their study insinuating that we don’t care about making well fitting apparel. Well, most of the women’s apparel manufacturers out there are really tiny companies with fewer than 20 employees and knowing them as I do, I don’t see how they can pony up that kind of money to buy the information. This is pure politics and US consumers (and small manufacturers) are paying the price of hoarded information. [climbs down from soap box] You may safely surmise that TC2 doesn’t invite me to any cocktail parties. Come to think of it, a lot of people in this business don’t. I tend to say things that are very unpopular. And you thought I only rattled your cages.

Boy, this post was a lot of work. Consider leaving a donation and thanks.

Please refer to the other articles in this series which offer substantive supporting material. Add to the discussion rather than backtracking to topics discussed elsewhere. It is likely that the exceptions you’ve thought of have been dissected in depth. For your convenience, links open in a new window or tab.

The Myth of Vanity Sizing
Fit and Sizing Entropy
Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop
Sizing evolution
Shrinkage and fit
Alternatives in Women’s sizing
Tyranny of tiny sizes?
The history of women’s sizing pt 1
The history of women’s sizing pt 2
The history of women’s sizing pt 3
Sizing is a variety problem
The birth of size 10?
Vanity sizing shoes
Tyranny of tiny sizes pt.2
Vanity sizing: generational edition
Vanity sizing: generational edition pt.2
Vanity sizing: the consumer spending edition


  1. Barb Lake says:

    I believe I helped take measurements for the over 55 age group. As I remember it was someone from Arizona doing a study on older female measurements. She was trying to get the industry to rethink how older bodies are shaped. Volunteers were trained to take measurements with the subject wearing a lycra body suit that went to about the knees. It had a stretch trim stitched to various measuring points that were positioned appropriately on the body. There were over 60 measurements for each subject. We measured nearly 30 women in two locations in Southern Illinois. The local Home Extension Association were the sourse of the volunteers and the subjects. It was great fun but I’m sorry to hear about the questionable results.
    Barb Lake

  2. Karen C. says:

    I, too, am sorry about the questionable results of the over-55 age group survey. One of my instructors here in Sacramento also participated in the study (taking measurements), and since I design for the mature women market, I bought the study and use it in my designs. Well, I’ll just keep trying to perfect my fit, and get as close as I can.

    P.S. KF: tried to make a donation and it wouldn’t work through Paypal. Wanna book instead?

  3. Kathleen says:

    I, too, am sorry about the questionable results of the over-55 age group survey…since I design for the mature women market, I bought the study and use it in my designs.

    You know, it could be just fine for your market when you consider what’s out there in the way of sizing information. It’s certainly better. The beefs I have with it are the grade rules it’d require, there’s something wrong. I do think the results could be cleaned up and smoothed out, something more useable than what’s there now. If I thought I could sell it, I’d do it lol. But who’d want to buy a bunch of grade rules for that particular study?

    P.S. KF: tried to make a donation and it wouldn’t work through Paypal. Wanna book instead?

    I took out the button in the post, I can’t get it to work. The button in the upper right hand corner under the search box seems to be working okay tho. Or sure, I love books off my amazon wish list too. It’s always such a nice surprise to get books in the mail when I’m not expecting anything. It makes me feel special :)

  4. Karen C. says:

    I would buy a bunch of grade rules for that particular study. I’m kinda fanatic about getting it right, because I’m so tired of ill-fitting clothes.

  5. Fit and sizing entropy

    When I said I could write an entire book about why vanity sizing was a myth, I was exaggerating only slightly. What I should have said was I could write an entire book about why clothing fits so poorly and…

  6. Push manufacturing; subverting the fit feedback loop

    “Push” manufacturing can be described as producing an entire line of products without pre-selling and taking orders for it. This means making up a bunch of stuff without knowing if anybody wants it beforehand. In my opinion, push manufacturing is…

  7. anne says:

    Actually, the first large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements was done well before the 1940s, in Australia:

    “In 1926-27, at his instigation, a vast and systematic anthropometrical survey of women’s measurements was made. This was the first of its kind in the world, and as a result, Berlei Limited were able to make garments on a scientific health basis, and this resulted in the invention of the famous Berlei Figure Type Indicator.”


    There’s even a movie about it!

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