The birth of size 10?

As I mentioned before, I have this Disher book from 1947 called American Factory Production of Women’s Clothing that I suspect is  the first operations book ever published and it so delights me that I can never pick and choose just which delectables to republish. I can only imagine it’d be a series of engineering vignettes. Oh what fun. Eric says it’s the best $10 he ever spent, providing me with endless amusement.

Seriously, one thing I’d meant to publish was a partial discussion of sizing therein. Previously, a size 10 was the smallest size there was. Was this an arbitrary designation? Say it isn’t so. Is it possible that the size 10 was arbitrary, becoming the stock size owing to its inculcation as the “first” size?

Being quarrelsome as I am, it occurred to me that size 6’s or 8’s in Disher’s day could have been equivalent to today’s 0’s and 2’s and potentially inciting the same level of antagonism. In other words, what is commonly perceived to be “vanity sizing” by the average consumer [notwithstanding of course, all of my discourse to the contrary, having firmly routed that urban myth in these parts]. But still, imagine how those in Disher’s day would react to a size 6 or 8. If the 10 (the first size) in 1947 could be the reasonable starting point of sizing, I can assure you that if you think you wear a size 10 today and you believe the vanity sizing myth, then your size 10 is likewise, a construct of the same. So there.

Here are the dimensions of Disher’s size 10:

  • Bust 32.5″
  • Waist 25″
  • Hips 35″

Apparently, the size 10 of 1947 is the size 2 of today. Also discounted, partially, are those who’ve claimed sizing was hour-glassed in the forties; the bust to waist differential being 7.5″ rather than 10″. However, there did seem to be the 10″ pattern holding true between waist and hip which isn’t so true today. A lot of women were wearing girdles in those days. Also interesting was the discussion of height:

Despite the several heights, 5’5″ to 5’8″, covered by the different length version of the same form, 66% of garments sold required alteration.

My, I would certainly think so! The average woman today is shorter than that. I can only imagine how much shorter they were sixty years ago. And people say we size poorly today? Maybe we’ve improved more than one would think.

The grading discussion was also different. Mentioned was that the grade between sizes (all numbered in those days) was 1.5″ in all sizes except 10-12, the latter being 1″. Interesting. Today, between numbered sizes, a 1″ grade is traditional in mid range sizes with a 1.5″ grade in outsizes and a .75″ grade at the lower end.

Apparently, sizing wasn’t so hunky dory in the late forties and early fifties either. Controversies abounded. Due to retailer’s complaints of excessively tall garments, a new scale was devised, the so-called “Brief” sizes. It seems even that scale (long relegated to the dustbin of sizing history) was insufficient. Also devised were scales called Precision size, Tween size, Miniature Miss, Diminutive, Short Cuts, Happy Mediums, Mid-size, Average Size, Petti-size, and last but not least, P.A.T (Perfect American Type). My my my.

Sizing numbers were quite complex. Consider these: 12A-20A, 10D-20D, 10S-20S, A.A.12-A.A.20, AH8-AH18, 12B-18B and 10+ to 20+. Very confusing. I suppose it’s not much of a mystery why these size scales don’t still exist today. In spite of diminished consumer sizing satisfaction, I don’t think these would be anymore popular today. Contrary to what we’ve imagined, things could be worse. Indeed, they arguably were.

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

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  1. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Well, as many probably already know, sizing for home sewing patterns is different than RTW. It was different back then than now, too. For example, several patterns I have from the ’60s and ’70s have size 14-16 bust 34-36. A new pattern says sizes 14 and 16 have bust measurements 36 and 38, respectively, and bust 34 is a size 12. So there is a 1 size difference there.

    Maybe I have to go back and read some of the stuff about sizing, but if size 10 is the 2 of today, I don’t understand why the numbers were changed.

  2. Jessica says:

    My grandmother’s wedding dress was a 1940’s size 10. It was designed to fit with a few inches of ease, and the actual dress measures about 31″ in the bust and 21″ in the waist. This seems smaller than a size 0 would be today, actually. My grandmother was 5’7″ tall, for reference, so not diminutive even if she was slender and small-boned.

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