Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A distraction

Today's the election, it will be in the back of my mind most of the day -- will the Rethuglicans manage to steal another one? How successful will they be with their vote suppression efforts? -- but for now I'm focusing on other issues. Like sizing vintage dresses.

I inherited about a dozen "Lucy" dresses from an aunt. They were stashed in the attic when we cleaned her house out about 12 years -- she put it up for sale after moving into an assisted living place. Most of the clothes and other attic odds and ends went to the Salvation Army, but I took about a dozen dresses that looked to be circa 1955-1960 because I thought they looked kind of neat and they might come in handy for Halloween costumes. Plus, of course, the dresses with full skirts had zillions of yards of material (this striped sleeveless number being a classic example; that skirt has about four yards of material in it) -- and I quilt.

The dresses are great -- I'm willing swear I saw Lucille Ball in one just like a blue linen number that's part of the stash, and, if not Lucy, then for sure it's been in a Doris Day movie. There's a pink polka dot sun dress that would be ideal for anyone who wants to channel her inner Marilyn Monroe (and it's even the same size Marilyn supposedly wore, a 14), and several nice cotton house dresses that just beg for a string of pearls to complete a June Cleaver outfit. Some are brand new, still have the store tags on them -- which is a minor mystery (why buy a new dress at Gimbels and then never wear it?), but not something I'm going to worry about much.

At one point I almost donated the lot to a small museum in the U.P. that has a "fashion through the years" focus. I also thought about donating them to the theater department at a university for use in costuming. Then I started thinking about selling them -- and did, in fact, try one time on E-bay. The E-bay experience was sufficiently horrific (who would have thought an auction for a vintage dress would bring lunatics out of the woodwork?) that I vowed to never go near E-bay again, either as a buyer or a seller.

Then I discovered etsy.com, "your place for all things handmade." Turns out it's also your place for things vintage, both clothing and supplies, so I'm contemplating opening an etsy store. The big question, though, is what size do I call these dresses. Thanks to vanity sizing, a dress that was a size 14 or 16 back in 1959 might be only a 10 now. A 16 is supposedly a size Extra Large in 2008, but looking at these size 14, 15, and 16 dresses I'm guessing they're Mediums at best. Research is called for -- hence, a distraction. Instead of thinking about stolen votes and/or voter intimidation, I can focus on doing web searches for information on converting 1950s sizes to 2008 sizes.

All I have to do is figure out how to describe them in a way that gives an honest approximation of what body type they might fit now. So I'll spend my day worrying about defunct fashion instead of thinking about the many ways ballot boxes can be metaphorically stuffed (or emptied), and maybe one of these days I will actually set up the etsy store.

It appears vanity sizing is worse than I thought. Several sites have informed me that what was a size 14 for my mother's generation is a size 8 for my daughters. One site had a photo of a model wearing a vintage garment (circa early 1950s) that was a size 12 when originally sold -- the dress appeared to fit quite well, and the model wears a size 2/4 in 21st century clothing. This trend keeps up, who knows? Maybe we'll all be size Zero in the not too distant future.

I guess I'd know this stuff if I ever wore anything other than jeans and souvenir tee-shirts.


  1. You pose an interesting question. Research would be my only solution, through fashions, measurements, blah, blah, blah. But I do think I owned some dresses similar to that one. Argh!!

  2. I actually rather like the dress. It reminds me of rainbow sherbet. Not that I'd ever wear the thing myself, of course. Not my colors.

  3. That is a great distraction. The Dancer usually goes online and buys vintage dresses for dances, etc. She's a size 2 and never seems to have trouble finding dresses because I guess they are NOT vanity sized. The ones she has ordered are over the place in sizes. 8, 6, etc.

    Have fun with your new project!

  4. Based on the photos I've seen of the Dancer, I bet she would have been a size 8 or a 10 in the 1960s. When I graduated from high school long, long ago I was 5'3", weighed 98 pounds, and the smallest size I ever squeezed into as an adolescent was a 9 -- and that was flat on my back with pliers for pulling up the jeans zipper. It's interesting the way manufacturers have shrunk the numbers while at the same time the population has been (on average) getting bigger: according to one site I hit yesterday the typical American is now an inch taller and 25 pounds heavier than in the 1940s. One of these days (now that I no longer have politics to obsess over for awhile) I'll have to do a long post on the subject.

  5. I'm somewhere between a size 6 and a size 8 now so that really means I wear a size 12 or 14? oh, how depressing. but I've heard of that vanity sizing stuff going on. I just didn't realize it was that bad.

  6. When I buy vintage, I never follow the sizes, instead I follow measurements - i.e., 18" across the bust, 16" across the waist, etc. Could you measure the dresses and describe them that way?


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