In anticipation for L. Royalty’s upcoming plus-sized collection, this week I’ll be taking a look at the history of fashion standards and sizing. Over the decades, we have had many different ways of sizing clothing. Not only has the way we size clothes changed, but the way we view different sizes has evolved as well.
Sizes in fashion didn’t actually exist until the early 1900s, when the industrial revolution meant that clothing could be mass-produced faster and for cheaper than ever. Before, clothing was usually handmade at home, or for wealthier customers, made-to-order by a seamstress. This meant that there was no reason for sizing, because each piece was created to fit one’s measurements perfectly.
In 1939, during the midst of the Great Depression, 15,000 women were interviewed and had their measurements taken by the National Bureau of Home Economics. The results of this study were what fashion designers of the time used to begin to standardize their clothing sizes. However, these results were likely not entirely accurate, because the participants in the survey were paid for their time, which may have attracted more underweight subjects during the hard economic times. The data may also have been affected by the regions that the study took place in.
The data regarding women’s body measurements was used by clothing manufacturers to formulate the first standardized sizing for clothing in the 1940s. There were three height categories, Tall (T), Regular (R), and Short (S). Along with the height distinction, there was a symbol to distinguish “hip girth” this was a – for more slender women, a + for curvier women, and no symbol at all for “average” women.
At this time, women with larger-than-average bodies were often referred to as “stout”. Many of the words used to describe plus sized women in the past, from “chubby” to “full-figured” or “outsize” would be seen as outdated and likely offensive today, because of the ways the industry has changed over the years. The first women’s plus-size brand, Lane Bryant, is still around today, and used this word often in its early ad campaigns. Plus sized clothing at this time was also focused on “slenderizing”, using cut, color, and pattern to make the women wearing the clothes look as thin as possible.
Another issue with sizing in women’s clothing is that the lack of standard measurements for sizes has led to “size inflation” over the years. This is also called vanity sizing. Since as early as the 1950s, clothing that has the same measurement has been labelled as a smaller and smaller size. This graph shows how a dress made for a woman with a 30″ bust, 22″ waist, and 32″ hips would be labelled across the decades. If you shop vintage, you have likely noticed this trend before. Companies want women to feel better about themselves by thinking they wear a smaller size, but vanity sizing has caused many issues in the fashion industry. A lack of standard sizes across brands makes it hard to shop for clothes, as you are likely a slightly different size depending on what store you shop at. The best way to prevent buying clothes that don’t quite fit, especially when shopping online or somewhere without a fitting room, is to know your measurements and use the brand’s size chart to find the ideal size for you.
Though we have much to change about plus sized fashion as well as sizing clothing in general. Plus sized clothing is still underrepresented in the market, and sizing is still not standard or inclusive across the board. We hope to change that, so here at L Royalty, we can’t wait to launch our very own plus- sized collection!