Tag Archives: vintage pattern sizing

“Size 16 Years.” What Does That Mean?

When you’re looking at vintage magazines, catalogs, or patterns, sometimes you run across an item that says “Sizes 14 to 20 years” or “Size 16 years” — as if all 16 year-olds were the same size! Surprisingly, even magazines that sold patterns by mail, like Delineator and Ladies’ Home Journal, rarely explained pattern sizes in terms of measurements. Often you have to look at an actual pattern envelope to find a chart of size, bust, waist, and hip measurements.

This McCall pattern from the 1930's says Size 18. In the 30s, women would have known that this is a "Misses" pattern, rather than a "Ladies" pattern, and that it was for ages 14 to 20 years.

This McCall pattern from the 1930’s says “Size 18.” But what does that mean?

Back of envelope, McCall #6815.

Back of envelope, McCall #6815.

Here are the “Corresponding Measurements:”

Corresponding Measurements chart from McCall #6815

Corresponding Measurements chart from McCall #6815. McCall, unlike Butterick, did not say “Misses” and “Ladies,” but notice the sizes: 14, 16, 18, then 36, 38, 40, 42. Size 18 and Size 36 both have a 36″ bust.

This particular design was available in both Misses’ (14 to 18 years) and Ladies’ (Bust measurement 36 to 42 inches:)

Enlargement of "Corresponding Measurements" and Sizes chart, McCall #6815

Enlargement of “Corresponding Measurements” and sizes chart, McCall #6815. The only difference given between Size 18 and Size 36 is 1/2 inch in skirt length. There are no waist measurements — a hold-over from the 1920s, when they were irrelevant.

This McCall pattern assumes that, even in those narrow-hipped thirties’ fashions, the average woman would have hips three inches bigger than her bust.

Note that the smallest size, 14, is two inches shorter  (46″) than the 16 and 18 (both 48″ long), and the Ladies’ sizes are mostly 48 1/2″ long. I wonder if size 18 had a shorter “nape to back waist” measurement than size 36, which had the same bust (36″) and hip (39″) measurements; issuing two different patterns for the sake of a 1/2 inch skirt length measurement seems silly.

Every pattern company (and catalog company) had its own version of “Misses” and “Ladies” sizing.

Size and Measurement chart from Ladies' Home Journal pattern #1583, early 1920s.

Size and Measurement chart from Ladies’ Home Journal pattern #1583, for a Ladies’ Dress, very late 1910s or early 1920s.

The Ladies’ Home Journal made all of its Ladies’ patterns the same length regardless of size: “Center-front skirt length from normal waistline is 39 inches.”

This Standard Designer pattern from the 1920’s . . .

Standard Designer pattern #8626, 1920s.

Standard Designer pattern #8626, 1920s. (I love that fabric design!)

. . . assumes that a 15-16 year old girl will be 2 inches shorter than a 17-18 year old, and four inches shorter than a grown woman:

Measurement and size chart from Standard Designer pattern #2826

Measurement and size chart from Standard Designer pattern #8626. Notice the difference in “Skirt Length Finished at Center Front below Normal Waistline;” 28 inches for size 16 Years, and 32 inches for all Ladies.

Pattern sizes were not standardized among companies until the late 1960’s, which is why the dark pink “New Sizing” box on an envelope is sometimes used for dating vintage patterns.

Simplicity pattern #7528, dated 1968. "New Sizing" box at upper left.

Simplicity pattern #7528, dated 1968. “New Sizing” box at upper left.

By the 1960s, the word “Misses” on a pattern meant what “Ladies” or “Women” used to mean:  bust sizes from 34 to 40 inches. (The larger sizes, 42 and 44, had disappeared. )

Size and measurement chart from the back of the envelope for Simplicity #7528, dated 1968.

Size and measurement chart from the back of the envelope for Simplicity #7528, dated 1968. “Juniors” is now the term for smaller, shorter sizes.

Misses’ Sizes for Butterick in the Nineteen Twenties

In the 1920s, Butterick sized its Misses’ patterns from 15 to 20 years, and Ladies’ patterns from 33″ (or 34″) bust to 44″ or larger. From comparing many pattern descriptions in Delineator, I’ve gleaned that Butterick’s Misses’ patterns used the following bust measurements in the 1920’s :

Butterick’s 15 years = 32″ bust

Butterick’s 16 years = 33″ bust

Butterick’s 17 years = 34″ bust

Butterick’s 18 years = 35″ bust

Butterick’s 19 years = 36″ bust

Butterick’s 20 years = 37″ bust

What’s more, Butterick often used the phrase “for misses 15 to 20 years, also small women,” which made me wonder,

“What was the difference between a Miss with a 34 inch bust, and a Lady with a 34 inch bust?”

You have probably already deduced that skirt length has something to do with it, but I got my first hint from the Ordering page of the 1917 Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog. [Women’s and Children’s Fashions of 1917:  The Complete Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, from Dover Books.]

Perry, Dame & Co. catalog, 1917:  "How to Order Your Right Size." p. 146.

Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog, 1917: “How to Order Your Right Sizes.” p. 146.

Like Butterick, Perry Dame & Company distinguished between Misses’ and Women’s sizes. And, like Butterick, Perry, Dame also added the phrase “and smaller women” to some of its listings for Misses.

These dresses are for “Women:”

Women's Stylish Dresses, Perry, Dame & Co. catalog for 1917.

Women’s Stylish Dresses, Perry, Dame & Co. Catalog for 1917.  “Sizes: 32 to 46 bust measure.”

Like Butterick and other pattern companies, Perry, Dame & Company sold Women’s dresses by bust measurement — “32 to 46” in this case.

These dresses are for “Misses and Small Women:”

1917 Perry, Dame catalog; dresses for Misses and Small Women.l

1917 Perry, Dame Catalog, p. 28; dresses for Misses (14 to 20 years) and Small Women.

All the dresses on this page are sized “14 to 20 years.”

Text of Dresses for Misses and Small Women, p. 28, Perry, Dame catalog.

Text of Dresses for Misses and Small Women, p. 28, Perry, Dame Catalog.

For the costumer, knowing whether a dress was meant to be worn by a teenager or an older woman is very important. However, it’s clear that it is the size range, not the style, that marks these dresses as suitable to Misses, since they are also appropriate for Small Women.

These Perry, Dame skirts are also offered in both Women’s and Misses’ sizes:

Women's and Misses Skirts, Perry, Dame catalog 1917, p. 51

Women’s and Misses Skirts, Perry, Dame Catalog 1917, p. 51 [“Wash” or “tub” means “washable.”]

The catalog assigns different numbers to this skirt, depending on whether it is in Misses' or Women's sizes. p.51

The catalog assigns different numbers to this skirt, depending on whether it is in Women’s Sizes or “Misses’ and Small Women’s Sizes.” p.51

A woman with a waist between 22 and 28 inches would order either skirt #5A32 or #5A62, depending on the length she needed. Women’s lengths ranged from 36 to 43 inches. Misses’ and Small Women’s lengths ran from 33 to 35 inches, a considerable difference — 6 or 7 inches — if you had a 28″ waist.

Deduction:  Misses Are Shorter Than Ladies

Women's Dress Sizes vs. Misses' Dress Sizes,  Perry, Dame Catalog, 1917. Exerpted from page 146

Women’s Dress Sizes vs. Misses’ Dress Sizes; Perry, Dame Catalog, 1917. Exerpted from page 146. All Women’s dresses have a 40″ skirt length measurement. All Misses’ dresses are shorter.

Each company had its own size and measurement ideas, but the common assumption seems to be that women with a larger bust measurement will also be taller — which is not necessarily true.  In fact, in the nineteen twenties and thirties (and later), older women — women born before the end of the 19th century — were more likely to be short, because of a less nutritious diet during childhood. (Many families lived on bread and soup for several months each year.) And most older women are aware of our tendency to burn fewer calories and to put on weight after menopause. Lynn, at American Age Fashion, has been following the question of patterns and ready-to-wear suited to the needs of the short and rotund. You can follow her research by starting with “Hunting for Half Sizes” (Lynn has made this into a multi-part series. Just search her site for “half sizes.”)

I’ve also noticed that, in the 1920’s, younger women were not necessarily shorter; but they wore shorter skirts than older women. To some extent, the 1920’s styles which seem most attractive to us today are the ones initially worn by Misses and teens.

Two Ladies' patterns and a Misses' pattern, Dec. 1925. Butterick fashions from Delineator magazine.

Two Ladies’ patterns, left, and a Misses’ pattern, Dec. 1925. Butterick fashions from Delineator magazine. The Miss is showing a lot more leg.

(Teens had been called “flappers” as early as the 1910’s.) You can see more Misses’ styles for 1925 by clicking here.



Filed under 1900s to 1920s, 1920s, 1920s-1930s, 1930s, Resources for Costumers, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes

1920s Styles for Larger Women, Part 1

For Bust Measurement 33 to 48 Inches

For Bust Measurement 36 to 48 Inches

1920s Patterns with Bust Measurement 44 Inches or More

In spite of the long, narrow figures in 1920s fashion illustrations, twenties dress patterns were usually available in bust sizes 33 to 44 inches – the equivalent of a modern size 22. Butterick routinely issued patterns even larger than 44.  The gorgeous evening dress above, pictured in gold metallic brocade, is sized 36 to 48. More about it later….

Body Measurements from a Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

This chart is on the back of a pattern envelope from 1927:

Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

Butterick Pattern Envelope, 1927

A woman with a 32″ bust was expected to have 35″ hips; a 38″ bust had 40 ½” hips; and a size 44 was assumed to have 47 ½” hips – and the pattern mentions “outlet seams” which can add another inch and  a half if necessary.

Surplice Styles Flattering to Larger Women

As you can imagine, 1920s fashions which drew a horizontal line across the widest part of a woman’s body were not necessarily flattering — especially to a woman with 49″ hips. With that in mind, the editors of Delineator Magazine often recommended a surplice line dress for larger women. 1929 jan p 26 surplice“There is no line more flattering to mature figures than the surplice closing, especially when it is softened by a scalloped and frilled lingerie collar. The straight skirt is gathered to a girdle that ties snugly….Designed for [bust] 34 to 48.”

The ‘surplice line’ meant that there was a design line, often the front closing, that ran diagonally from one shoulder to the opposite hip. Draped fabric falling from that point – as in the gold evening gown, #1187 below – carries the eye down, rather than across the body.

Two 1926 Evening Gowns for Size 48 Bust Patterns 1195, 1187 together

1926 dec p 47 #1195 for 48 bustFrock #1195: Draperies that develop wing-like properties in motion fly from the shoulder and hip of a Paris evening gown. The frock that composes itself entirely of Georgette, lace, or crépe de chine is the most useful kind of evening dress. In this particular frock the bloused body is sewed to a one-piece slip and the lower edge of the tunic [sic] is straight….For women 32 to 48 bust. [Controlling the blouson top by attaching the sheer outer layer to a slip makes the dress much easier to wear. The slip – with its straight hem – is visible below the asymmetrical hem of the dress. Such a slip would be made in a color to match the dress, and the silk used for the slip might also bind the neckline.]

1926 dec #1187 fits 36 to 48 bust

Gown #1187: “Uneven lies the hem of the Paris gown intended for formal day or evening use. The long V line of the surplice closing, the tight drapery at the hip and the free drapery at the side have reducing properties. The gown itself is in one-piece style and so is the separate slip. An extra slip with sleeves for afternoon, make[s] two gowns. Size 36 will need 2 5/8 yards of metallic brocade 40 inches wide. Designed for women 36 to 48 bust.” [The version illustrated is an evening gown. An under-dress ‘slip’ with a higher neckline and sleeves, often of sheer fabric trimmed with the dress fabric, would make it modest enough for afternoon tea dances, etc.]

Mature Elegance in a Surplice Evening Gown1929 feb p 89 lucky ad middle aged woman

Elsie de Wolfe, Noted Interior Decorator (and about 63 years old at the time of this February ad) wears an evening dress very similar to Butterick #1187 in an advertisement for Lucky Strike Cigarettes, 1929. She is quoted as saying, “I recommend a Lucky instead of a sweet… an excellent substitute when your appetite craves a sweet but your figure must be considered.” [The ad goes on to say that “A reasonable proportion of sugar in the diet is recommended, but the authorities are overwhelming that too many fattening sweets are harmful. So, for moderation’s sake we say: – ‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet!’ “]

Surplice Line Dresses for Young Women and Teens, January 1929
1929 jan p 29 rt

The surplice style was not limited to older women or those who had to “consider” their figures. Butterick pattern #2397, “a very informal afternoon frock for winter resorts, [was] designed for sizes 32 to 37, 15 to 20 years, and for [ladies with bust measurement of] 38, 40.” The dress next to it, #2424, is also for teens “15 to 18 years and [women bust] 36 to 44 [inches.]” A dress pattern for size 18 years had a 35 inch bust, but was proportioned for a smaller person. 1920s pattern descriptions often say “15 to 20 and smaller women.” Butterick Patterns for women who were both short and stout did not become available until the 1930s, as far as I have seen — but I’m still looking.


Filed under 1920s, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage patterns, Vintage Styles in Larger Sizes