Fit It or Quit It: A Tale of Sizing Gone Wrong

If you could read the mind of any woman browsing a clothing store, you’d likely hear some expletives over sizing. Determining if a clothing item will fit properly has been plaguing women since the dawn of ready-to-wear. If you’ve ever lamented why you’re a certain size in one brand, only to be a completely different size in another–you’re far from alone. So, how did sizing get so (ahem) mucked up?

This woeful tale starts as most do–with good intentions. In 1940, clothing manufacturers realized they were bleeding money making clothing that didn’t fit the standard American woman–and saw the need for a standardized clothing system. Enter the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Bureau of Home Economics. They took on the monster task of measuring 100,000 women across the country in hopes of learning more about fit. And this was no simple ‘bust’, ‘waist’, and ‘hips’ venture–each woman was measured in 59 different ways, specified in a 50-page manual, down to details like “vertical trunk girth” for swimwear and “girth of sitting spread” for skirts. [1]

Unfortunately, the WPA was too big for their britches, and in the end, about 15% of their 100,000 goal was reached, and they failed to survey a range of body sizes.

The National Bureau of Standards came in a decade later determined to right this wrong… and made the exact same mistakes. Their new set of measurements were taken from the women in the Air Force–women, who were more or less the exact same shape. Their 8-38 size range included a plus sign (+) to cover the “in between” sizes (much like a half size in shoes) and was equally unhelpful to consumers. 

After these failures, manufacturers took matters into their own hands marking their garments with smaller and smaller sizing, introducing a cycle of frustration we know as “vanity sizing”. The government has stayed out of the sizing game since.

Today, the senseless chaos of sizing makes shopping both in-store and online a continued mess. What’s a woman to do? [2]

We at Gwynnie Bee are helping sort through this 78-year-old mess with smart-fit technology. We’ve created a Size Advisor to cut through the discrepancies between different brands. If you love the fit of one size in brand A, we’ll advise you what sizes to try in brands B-Z, getting you as close as possible to the perfect fit.

You know your style, we know your fit.

Special thanks to Phoebe McDougal and History Associates Incorporated for their research and efforts.

[1] “WPA Starts Measuring 100,000 Women to Get Standard Dress Size,” Life, January 15, 1940.
[2] Laura Stampler, “The Bizarre History of Women’s Clothing Sizes,” Time, October 23, 2014.
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