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The Wild West of Women’s Sizes

The Wild West of Women’s Sizes

Why can’t Women’s Sizes be as straightforward as Men’s Sizes?  Why?  Instead, women’s sizes are all over the map!  Changing Women’s Sizes have often been blamed on “Vanity Sizing”, which is labeling sizes smaller to appeal to women’s vanity.  What woman doesn’t prefer being labeled  Size 4, instead of Size 10?  The organization responsible for size standards, ASTM, has revised their standards in response to shifting size standards.   What used to be Size 8 in 1960 is now a Size 0 or 2 today!  The ASTM Women’s  Size Standard lists an average height of 65-1/2″, when in fact the average women’s height today is shy of 64″, according to the CDC.  Yet another problem — current ASTM standards assumes women have a back-waist length of 16-1/8″, when in fact the average woman’s back-waist length measures  17-1/4 (according to a recent NC State College of Textiles study)!   Perhaps this may explain why women’s shirts are often too short!

 On average, women have gained 30 pounds since 1960 sizing standards, yet are only half an inch taller.    What used to be Size 14 in 1960 is today a Size 8!  

Average American Woman 

                Height       Weight           Waist   

1960       63.1″          140lb.             27-28″               

1980       63.7″          145-152lb.      29-31″  

2000      63.8           162 lb.            35

2016       63.6           170 lb.            38½


The Morphing of Women’s Size 8

                  Bust            Waist            Hips

1960         32½           23½              34½   

2000        35               27                   37½

2016         36¼          28-29½       38½-39 


For perspective, the American women in 1900 averaged 62.4″ tall and 137 pounds.   Today’s average woman is about 64″ tall and 170 pounds.  Today’s average British woman is a Size 14 (38” bust, 34” waist, and 40” hips).   Today’s average French woman is even smaller:  63-65″ inches tall and 137.6 pounds.  And that’s after bagels, cream cheese, butter and wine! A research study in 2016 found French models are 70.8″ average and Size 4, compared to the average French woman who is  Size 8 or 10. 

Most fashion schools teach students to design for a Size 2 or 4 woman, with runway models being even smaller.  It’s rare for a school to cover Plus Sizes in depth.    A disconnect exists between idealized size taught in fashion school, and the average American woman. 

Another sizing problem occurs due to pattern grading practices.    Pattern grading is the development of differing sizes from one pattern.  When larger sizes are developed from a Size 2 or 4 pattern,  more errors can be introduced, especially in the larger sizes.  Considering that the average woman is a Size 14 or 16, it’s no wonder women are frustrated with clothing fit! 

“….realistic clothes that work for today’s woman today. Forgiving fit.  Style and design lines which flatter……Quality clothing makes real  women look beautiful. “

A few brands have responded to women’s sizing problems and developed wonderful plus size clothing.  However, much of the plus size clothing (Sizes 14+) found in stores still has poor fit and aesthetic, since it was not originally designed for plus size women.  Adding to the sizing problem, accurate size data is not affordable to many brands, whereas once it was free.  As a result, many brands fill in the gap, establishing their own sizing systems, based on their target market.  Some brands get it right, and others don’t!   It’s pretty much a wild west out there when it comes to women’s sizes!

As a designer, I recognize problems with size and fit today.  Of course most women desire a healthy, shapely figure.  It’s important we all strive to be as healthy as possible.  However, it’s also important to treat our present body the best we can.   That’s why I strive to be realistic, and find style lines that forgive and flatter.  No sack cloths!  No judgment! Do women have the same waist size as women one century ago?  Of course not!  Corsets no longer have widespread use, either.    Size is just a number!  Quality clothing makes real  women look beautiful.

Lindy, Roanoke Rags Designer


P.S.  Next blog:  How are those pesky French women staying slim?


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