June 11, 2007

Vintage Pattern Sizing

A reader asked a very interesting question

I have started sewing for my 20 month old son and some of his friends and was wondering if you have any experience with vintage patterns (1940's, 50's, 60's). Specifically I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on size variations. I'm sure you are familiar with the dramatic shifts in women's pattern sizes (the 1940's pattern size 12 is very different from the current pattern size 12)...I'm wondering if the same shifts occurred in children's sizes. Any thoughts you would be willing to pass on would be much appreciated!

This question was a little difficult for me to answer because I don't use home sewing patterns very often (not for children, anyway). They require too much work to correct. They have a lot of sloppy patternmaking. It is easier to pull out proven blocks and draft whatever style I want. I will buy a commercial pattern only when I have difficulty figuring out a more difficult design, such as a sleeper and then I only refer to it. I almost always draft my own patterns.

At one time, I thought a collection of vintage children's patterns would be pretty neat to have. I started collecting a while a go, but haven't added much to it. See, I don't actually look at the pattern pieces. Instead, I collect the patterns for design inspiration - in other words, I like the pretty pictures. I can draft patterns with the same style using my own personal blocks. This is one of the few vintage patterns I have from 1950.



I liked this pattern because it has an unusual skirt, pleated fullness in back and a gathered front waist. The bodice has a built-in cap/kimono sleeve. Besides, it is cute!

Now the question of sizing differences between then and now is also a difficult to answer. I haven't really done the research to be able to supply a truly adequate answer. I checked the measurements on the back of this envelope against my collection of measurement charts and the 1950 measurements fall within an acceptable range of contemporary measurements. In fact, the body measurements for this pattern were a little larger than today's measurements. I found this surprising considering the extensive reporting about childhood obesity. Of course, this is one style, in one size, from one company. I don't know how other vintage patterns may measure up. The best thing, of course, is to measure your own child and compare the measurements with the pattern envelope charts.

One difference that may exist between vintage and contemporary patterns is the amount of ease, design and wearing. Styles from the 1960's may fit closer to the body versus styles from the 1980's. This may cause one to think the patterns from the 60's were made to fit smaller people versus larger people in the 80's. The reality is that the prevailing styles influenced fit. It is helpful to try and look at the patterns from the correct perspective. Unless you are striving for authenticity, it is worth the time to draft your own patterns.

I haven't really seen a "vanity" sizing shift in children's clothing that is comparable to women's clothing. US Children's sizes are based on age designations. If anything, the sizing has become more specific. The 1950's may have had one infant size and then start with toddler sizing as 1, 2, 3, etc. Now, infant sizing is broken down by age too -- 0-3M, for example. Measurements are derived from the average measurements of children in each age grouping. Some consumers become frustrated by this sizing system because their children may vary from the norm (not to mention every manufacturer sizes differently). They may have a 2 year old child that actually wears a 4T. Trying on multiple sizes of one style can cause frustration in a changing room, if parents even take the time to try clothes on.

European sizing is evolving to a more intelligent sizing system. The Europeans are basing their sizing on height and weight measurements, available on hang tags and labels. Body size measurements are broken down by age grouping too, but they are not given age designations. This concept enables the consumer to buy the most appropriate size regardless of the age of the child.

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