Clothing sizes: truth or urban legend?

I’ve heard the story about how Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14 about a million times now, and it’s invariably followed by someone saying “Yeah, but women’s clothing sizes have gotten bigger over the years… a size 14 then is a size 6 (or whatever) now.”

Anyone got any facts to back up either of these claims? Marilyn Monroe, although not as skeletal as Calista Flockheart or Kate Moss, always looks fairly slim to me. Full-figured and curvy, yes. Fat, no.

And clothing sizes… I can certainly understand why clothing designers may fib a little on the sizes, but then again it’s not like there’s some agency governing sizes. But has it changed so much that a 1950’s size 14 (which is one of the larger women’s sizes, above 16 or so you get into “plus” sizes) is now a size 6 (which is on the edge of being petite?) Any facts to back that up? I’m thinking something along the lines of a JC Penney’s size chart from the 50’s that says “30 inch waist = size 16” and the same size chart from the current Penney’s catalog saying “30 inch waist = size 8”

I saw the “Happy Birthday” dress of Marilyn’s on the Today Show. It was far from a size 6, but not a standard 14, either. She was very hippy, so maybe just that part of it was 14.

We men have an idea for sizes: measure the man’s waist and inseam in a given unit, say inches. Then put that info on the pants. Most times, it’s a perfect fit. Works for shirts/neck circumference too.

My personal experience suggests there’s been quite a bit of size inflation (deflation?) just since the eighties. When I first reached my full adult height, in, say, 1983, my usual size was a ten or twelve. Now it’s a four or six. I’d guess I’m a little thinner now than I was then, but it’s not just that: when I decided to try to wear a size eight suit that I had worn as a kid, I found it was much too tight.

Here’s a possible example of the reverse effect: I’m told that in the fourties and fifties that a size four shoe was the ideal. Now you’d be hard pressed to buy a four anywhere. Have women’s feet grown, or is this a result of a change in attitudes about foot/shoe size?

My own personal opinion is that a woman who weighs 140-180lbs has a goodly amount of meat, anything less is not enough, and more is just too much. A six foot tall woman who weighs 120lbs, regardless of size is just nasty… Try paying more attention to how it looks as opposed to size. And no I don’t think MM was waiflike in the least. Big hips ‘n’ funbags weigh plenty.

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FWIW, size 14 and 16 are “misses” sizes, not women’s. “Women’s” sizes ARE plus sizes. Odd-numbered sizes are “junior”. Probably something to do with being PC, but people just don’t label much as being plus anymore. My mother-in-law is quite large, and I have noticed that even in her larger-size clothing catalogs, sizes are labeled small, medium, large and x-large.
As for the shoes, the sizes themselves must have changed, not women’s feet, because you don’t see any little old ladies running around barefoot for lack of size availabilty. I worked at shoe stores for 5 years in high school and college, and only once did I ever have a grown woman ask for anything smaller than the “standard” smallest size, which is 5.
On the other hand, my Aunt Linda wears a 1 1/2 - her growth was stunted by polio as a child and she’s only slightly over four feet tall.

Even within male’s clothing, there’s a sharp dichotomy between “boy’s” sizes and “men’s” sizes. When I was a lad, I wore size 16 boy’s briefs. Before I’d grown out of them, I started wearing boxers. Boxers are available only in men’s sizes. The boxers I wore were size 30.

I think men’s waist sizes are the circumference in inches and boy’s wait sizes are half that plus Planck’s constant, or some such.

In my experience, women’s sizes mean little or nothing. I have one brand and style of pants in which I wear a small-petite (small being the size and petite meaning “for short women”), other styles in that same brands and also several other brands in which I wear medium and/or large and a couple in which I wear XL.

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Kat posted 11-13-1999 06:22 PM
“I wear a small-petite (small being the size and petite meaning “for short women”)”

Maybe even the small/petite thing doesn’t even carry over. Last time I went shopping with a lady friend of mine small=short and petite=skinny… not that we found anything that fit her, at 152cm and 44kg we ended up shopping in the kids section.

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I once told a girl at school that I wore a dress size 6. (She had asked, so I looked at the label on one of my dresses.) She laughed and told me that that was impossible because she wore a size 0 and she was a bit bigger than me. Now, I don’t know much about sizes, but I’ve never even heard of a size 0. Personally, I just pick out the clothes that look about right, regardless of the size printed on the label.


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Is it possible that the sizes are close to the same, but that Marilyn Monroe’s clothes were taken in to fit? (Sorry if I sound really ignorant about this, but all of my blue jeans are the same size.)

My 70-something mother always has maintained that clothing sizes (and bra sizes) have changed over the years. She says she always used to wear a certain size bra cup, and then all of a sudden, she had to start getting a larger bra size. (Yet her old bras still fit, and she did not grow bigger!) She thinks it helped a lot of women’s “self esteem” to think they were wearing a larger bra cup.

Sizes have changed, but they haven’t just gotten bigger. Women’s proportions have also changed enormously – young women today on average are taller and have longer arms and legs, broader shoulders, bigger hands and feet, and larger heads than our grandmothers did. It’s not unusual for a woman shopping in a vintage clothing store to find a dress that fits just fine in the waist and hips but doesn’t come close to fitting around the shoulders and upper arms. If she can even get her elbows through the armhole at the garment shoulder (and I’m not exaggerating here), she may find the sleeves too short and the cuffs too narrow.

This is more likely to happen with women who take sizes Small or Medium; larger sizes were more generously cut in the shoulders even then.

I think MM could very well have been a size 14 at one time in her career. But from the pictures I’ve seen of her, her weight varied greatly. One of the biggest changes in Hollywood, IMO, is the level of fitness. MM’s thighs looked like everyday thighs. Compare that to the athletic build of the leading women today, who obviously run and lift weights.

I once bought a size 0 dress. That was before I gave birth however. I think I’m a 6.