From Size 10 to Size 6—Overnight!

Yes, a dramatic overnight transformation from size 10 to size 6 really is possible. I’ve done it myself. Truly. When I was in high school, I wore a size 10. Suddenly, a few years later, I became a size 6. Even now, weighing around (mumble, mumble) pounds more than I did then, I wear a size 6.

The reason for this has little to do with my actual size, nor the size of any other adult female person. It’s because sizing standards changed.

For a long time—pretty much ever since people started making fabric and shaping it into clothes, probably—making clothes that actually fit meant measuring one person at a time and cutting the garment to match. The first attempts to standardize women’s clothing sizes in the United States came in the 1930’s and 1940’s, thanks in large part to catalog businesses like Sears Roebuck wanting to help customers order garments that that might actually fit them. In 1958, the National Bureau of Standards came up with an official standard. After a couple of decades of various revisions, adaptations, and increasing disregard by manufacturers and retailers, in 1983 the Department of Commerce tossed its measuring tapes into a corner and gave up trying to maintain standard sizes for women’s clothes.

Thousands of women have done the same. We all know there’s no simple answer to the simple question, “What size are you?” Any woman knows what size jeans, tops, and dresses she buys. She also knows that she might buy size 6 in this brand but size 8 in that brand, or that she wears Small in Women’s but Medium in Juniors.

(And who exactly are “Juniors,” anyway? High school girls? Women under, say, 30? Or just women who are mostly skinnier and more fashion-conscious than many of us? There probably isn’t really a maximum age limit to shop in the Juniors section, but if I stray into it I always worry that someone might check my ID. On second thought, that’s a silly thing to worry about. Just one glance at my clothes is all they need to know I don’t belong there.)

Anyway, this whole confusion over sizing is the reason why I now have a twice-made skirt in my closet. It started as a simple project: to sew a simple skirt out of a piece of leftover red denim. I found a simple pattern in the odds and ends of stuff left from the days when I used to sew some of my clothes. The smallest size in the pattern was 8. I’m a size 6, remember. Close enough, I figured. I cut out the skirt, put in the zipper, sewed the darts at the waist, sewed on the pockets, and sewed the side seams. Then I tried it on. Even holding my breath till I turned blue, I couldn’t get the zipper up more than half way.

Belatedly, I read the sizing chart on the pattern. The size 8, it claimed, would fit someone with a 24-inch waist and 33-inch hips. Even two pregnancies and considerable chocolate ago, that wasn’t me.

I muttered. I whined. I (very briefly) fantasized about losing 15 pounds. I left the half-made skirt on the sewing machine for several days until I reluctantly accepted that it wasn’t going to fix itself. Then I ripped out the seams, the zipper, and the pockets. I cut three inches off the top of the skirt, lengthened the darts, resewed the pockets, reinstalled the zipper, and (after trying it on first) resewed the size seams.

The skirt is now finished and in my closet. I’ve worn it several times. It fits nicely, thank you very much. And, as far as I am concerned, it and I are both size 6.

I do appreciate the things I’ve learned from this experience. Such as the history of women’s clothing sizes. Or the value of that old axiom to “measure twice and cut once.” But especially the fact that, back when I was a size 10, Marilyn Monroe was a size 12.

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