Why retailers change clothing sizes

I posted part two of Why retailers change clothing sizes over on VanitySizing.com which explains how sizing likely evolved at retail and all the interelated complexities and dependencies. The first entry was content I sent to a reporter from a national radio program who was collecting information for a story on sizing and obesity. That story has not aired, it may have been dropped. Considering the flurry of interest generated by the NYT story over the past two days, they’re probably regretting it.

Speaking of the NYT story, that reporter has become a veritable “authority” on sizing claiming on The Today Show (can’t find the link now) that sizing was standardized by the Civil War -leaving the erstwhile implication that we’ve fallen down on the job since. Hmm. [Considering my apparent boundless obsession with the subject, it is odd I didn’t get that memo.] It is true the first attempts of a men’s sizing study was taken circa the early 1860’s (courtesy of Wampen) and likewise true that the Union’s uniforms were most likely drafted according to proportionate scales (it’s still on the back of your L-square, it’s that old) and order by quantities based on specifications (as all manufactured uniforms must be) but standardized sizing across the board? I think not. But I digress.

I meant to tell you of other content on the Vanity Sizing site. There’s quite a lot of skepticism with respect to research in The phlogistonists of vanity sizing. Phlogiston theory was a new concept I learned. It refers to research about a non-existent element, hence it’s utter appropriateness when used to describe vanity sizing. I had wanted to explore the related concept of Russell’s teapot but that will have to wait for another day. My central point being, if vanity sizing existed, it would have left artifacts in its wake, namely, all manner of instruction directed at manufacturers on how to do it more effectively. If we detail minutia of plant, process and procedure, one would justifiably surmise that easily locating documentation of so common a practice -minimally mercenary service providers who’d help you do it- but no, there’s nothing in the vast repertoire -or middens if you prefer -of institutional knowledge.

There’s another entry explaining that yes, expensive designer clothes are sized smaller than mass market apparel. Imagine that, the polar opposite of what is claimed. And there’s another entry about the downsides of culling one’s research on sizing courtesy of Google. Obviously, my hobby of disproving a negative is time consuming -if you wonder what I’ve been up to when not posting here. For all I know, you’re glad of the respite. I am amusing myself by finding images of mythical creatures to load with each entry.

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7 comments

  1. ChristineB says:

    I tripped over the story on NYT and my first thought was, “Hmmmm…bet Kathleen’s got something to say about it,” and of course I had to race…er…, click, over here and see for myself.

    Looking forward to those pictures of mythical creatures… :-)

  2. P. says:

    Thanks for pointing this article out. Would it be feasible if clothes sold on-line were marketed with the dimensions of the finished items? Then, for instance, if you know you you like the feel of a blouse with 44 inches of fabric around you at the bustline, you could order with a greater chance of getting something that fits.

  3. SarahM says:

    Hi. Going to school in Troy, NY, I remember learning about standardized sizing developing during the Civil War. I googled and came up with this info:

    By 1850 New York State had achieved its rank as the Empire State in industry. According to the census of that year, its manufactured products amounted in value to 23 per cent of the goods produced by the Nation. One third of the patents granted were issued to New Yorkers, most of them representing improvements on existing machines, which had not yet become standardized. In this mid-century period the factory system superseded handcraft and domestic production. Corporate organization invited investment capital, resulting in the separation of ownership and management and a sharper division between employer and employee. Workers organized for bargaining purposes and employers counterorganized to advance their interests. The industrialists became a powerful social and political group. The Civil War stimulated improvement and expansion in every field of production. The exportation of foodstuffs increased sixfold; the textile industry expanded rapidly. Elmira turned out large quantities of cloth for uniforms; Rochester filled huge orders for military boots and shoes. The Remington plant in Ilion and the arsenal in Watervliet manufactured arms and ammunition; Troy iron mills produced the plates for the Monitor; the Union Cavalry rode to victory on Henry Burden’s machine-made horseshoes. Out of the experience gained in the production of uniforms and equipment for soldiers came the adoption of a system of standard sizes, which made possible the large-scale production of ready-made clothes.

    Here is the link to the site: http://madeinatlantis.com/new_york/new_york_industry.htm
    I am not familiar with this site, but I do remember learning this “back in the day.” I’ll see if I can find some other information to back it up.

  4. dosfashionistas says:

    to p. This is exactly what I do in my online selling. All my listings give the basic measurements of the garment…Bust, Hip, and Length for the tops, Waist, Hip, and Inseam for pants, etc. Not a perfect system by any means, but I get few returns for fit.

  5. Matthew Pius says:

    While some form of standardized sizing may have been in use during the Civil War, I don’t think that the concept reached the general public from many decades after the fact. Standardized sizing is essential for mass production. However, the majority of clothing (especially women’s clothing) was not made by mass production until the earlier part of the 20th c. I recall reading a description somewhere of the “Ladies’ Mile” in Manhattan at the end of the 19th c. It was a stretch of Broadway (similar to 5th Ave and its department stores today). There were milliner’s and glovers and shoemakers and clothiers – sellers of cloth, not clothes – because one would buy the cloth and either sew it oneself or take it to one’s dressmaker. But RTW clothes were still not a common item.

    BTW, Kathleen, I’m sure you’ve seen this picture for your file of mythical creatures: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_Spaghetti_Monster
    but how about this one (from an usual source): http://godecookery.com/cocken/cocken.htm

  6. Debbie Soles says:

    “Would it be feasible if clothes sold on-line were marketed with the dimensions of the finished items?”

    P; QVC does this on every article of clothing they sell. After giving the basic clothing information there is more detailed finished garment measurements provided by clicking on ‘click here’. Even with providing that excellent information it still amazes me when I read the reviews, I always wonder if any of those gals who buy actually bother to pay attention to that information. I’m always amazed at some women and their inability to use a tape measure. I don’t buy clothes from QVC because I make all mine, and my body type isn’t in favor..tall and thin with a 25″ overarm sleeve length and a 36″ inseam. I love that extra finished garment measurement info when wanting to copy something, that’s my ulterior motive.

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