Today we'll tackle one of the most vexing of all virtual-shopping conundra: vintage sizing.
Of course, the question of vintage sizing is not confined to the Net. But when you can't actually try things on, the whole issue is that much more confusing.
First things first: there are no absolutes. Things changed from era to era. Lots of things were custom-made, or handmade, and don't have sizes. Still other things were altered; for the most part pre-1970 clothes were made to fit and the fit was fairly exact. Always, always, always look at the measurements given, and when in doubt, ask. Remember that vintage clothes can look deceptively big and be deceptively small. And sometimes, it's true, it's just hard to find your size. As Greg West of Ballyhoo Vintage explains, "Our plus sized dresses run around 6" differential and our regular dresses are all over the place with a few at 9" but others less. One or two with even more than a 10" difference." And as to why it can be hard to find plus or petite sizes, the sad truth is that,
Often vintage dealers passed on larger sizes when they found them. ( This is much less true in the past few years but was the norm for years) The same with very small sizes. This happened for a long time so lots of vintage clothing in those sizes simply was destroyed by the rag trade; a lot of vintage clothing is simply recycled from previous vintage wearers or collections.
It's imperative, as ever, to know your own size. So a refresher on that:
Bust: Measure across fullest part of your bust, under your arms and across the shoulder blades.
Waist: Measure around your natural waistline, which is right under your rib cage (this is how vintage clothing will be measured.)
Hips: Measure around fullest part of your hips, about 9" down from natural waistline).
Always keep measuring tape level and parallel to the floor as you measure; when in doubt, find a helper.
Now, as to the pesky question of vintage-versus-modern sizing: there are no hard-and-fast rules. That said, I wanted to give you a good at-a-glace chart. I made one, but the truth is, this comprehensive number from VintageSwank.com is much, much better than any other I've seen, including my own, and is the one I've consulted for years, and it's always struck me as being remarkably accurate and detailed. Note that all measurements are US, and were taken flat (as is standard.)
Hats: Measure about 3/4" above the ear; not all hats require an exact number.
I have always found eBay's guide to be particularly clear in determining glove size — and gloves were made to be snug, so knowing this is handy.
Measure around the hand at the fullest part
Measure from the tip of the middle finger to the base of the hand
Use the largest of these two measurements for the correct size gloves
If you are Right handed, take the measurement from your right hand
If you are Left handed, take the measurement from your left hand
The number of inches measured equals the size of the gloves
Shoes: I am strongly of the opinion that people actually wedged their feet into uncomfortable shoes for generations, so caveat emptor. Maybe the ones we find were just too uncomfy to wear, and it's a kind of natural selection. But either way, don't expect sneaker-comfort here. Sizing was generally a little smaller pre-70s. As a general rule, size up half a size — but again, when in doubt, measure your foot. Generally speaking, this is how it breaks down:
Size / Measurement
6 - 8-3/4"
6.5 - 9"
7 - 9-1/4"
7.5 - 9 -1/2"
8 - 9 -3/4"
8.5 - 10"
9 - 10 -1/4"
9.5 - 10 -1/2"
10 - 10-3/4"
10.5 - 11"
I hope you find this helpful! Let me know about any tricks you have for assessing a vintage fit, or any other questions you'd like me to look into. Remember — always ask, often alter, and at worst, return. It's all part of the risk and reward of the clothes of another era.
For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.