“I’m not trying those on!” “I’m not wearing size Y.” “Wow, I fit into a size X!” Who says a six (or a four or a ten) is a badge of honor? Then there’s that ridiculous size 0 or 00!! Does that make me a size nothing, or double nothing? Sounds like I’m invisible–or the incredible shrinking woman.
Lots of chatter about size as spring blossoms, with the allure–or horror–of summer clothing just around the corner. Too many women fixate on an arbitrary number to feel good about themselves, whether in terms of size or weight. With all this talk, I remembered that sizing changed, at least in home sewing patterns, in 1967. Intrigued by this vague memory, I did a little digging about the history of clothing sizing.
Standardized sizing first arose in the 1930s, with the growing middle class and availability of assembly line clothing. Prior to that time, most clothing was individually sewn, tailored to fit the wearer. Around 1940, about 15,000 American women were measured, 59 body points in all, as part of a USDA survey. The goal was to standardize sizing for mass produced clothing, for the first large-scale scientific study of women’s body measurements. Marilyn Monroe-esque curvy was the shape of most women at that initial assessment, with pronounced bust and hips and thinner waist. Not unlike an older standard of beauty–think Renaissance painting. Sizing numbers were arbitrarily assigned. Until 1956 a size 12 was for a 30 inch bust. In 1956 sizing changed again, as the average American woman no longer resembled this glamour girl body type. With the rise of Barbie, women looked less and less like her. Size 12 was assigned a 32 inch bust. Beautiful bombshell Marilyn would’ve worn size 16! In mid-1967 the standard changed once again and size 12 became a 34 inch bust. I was not yet twelve years old, but my size dropped from a 14 to a 12. I was thrilled. And I hadn’t had to give up one beloved Twinkie.
Fast forward to today: sizes are firmly anchored in the realm of ˜vanity sizing.” At Anne Klein, J.Jill, Target, and Land’s End, a 34 inch bust is size 4. Size 12 is now a 39 inch bust, and surgical enhancement trends notwithstanding, that’s some change. Store to store, designer to designer; you know where you like to shop: where a smaller size fits. Manufacturers know this and lure you in by labeling ever larger sizes with smaller numbers. In fact, my research this week revealed that the fashion industry resists any effort to standardize sizes, as was done in 1940, fearing loss of a customer if the size she wear gets upsized. Upsized like a value meal? Who would stand for that?
It’s a numbers game. Do you like how you look? Do you feel good? Does this outfit feel like you? Define your style and stick with it and ignore the size, especially if it makes you feel bad about yourself. Quit the second-guessing–feel good at a healthy weight, reasonable to maintain, rather than a weight fueled only by carrots, grapefruit, and seltzer. Every model–on TV, the internet, or those hefty fashion magazines–is air-brushed. Watch The Evolution of Beauty here, if you’ve never seen it or need reminded. And the cultural standard of attractiveness is just that: defined by where you live. Check out The Hidden World of Girls on NPR. In some cultures skinny women are not desirable; they are considered poor and sickly. Curvier, more substantial women represent wealth and health.
Embrace your well-fed, rich look this summer at whatever size and weight. While we’re at it, let’s join forces and bravely bare arms. inspired by the First Lady, who has gone sleeveless where no first lady before has dared venture. No more fear of lunch lady arms!