Vintage sizing can be so darn confusing! When I started dress shopping at thrift shops in high school I learned very quickly never to trust the sizes on the tag! At the time I didn't know what the differences were between vintage and modern sizing I just knew that I was always wearing a larger size on tag than it would be if I bought it at the mall. I would shrug it off, buy the dress and rip off the tag before anyone could see! 🙂 I hope this post is informative and helpful to ladies who are interested in buying vintage dresses, but unsure and maybe a little nervous. This is based on my own personal experiences! ♥
Why are vintage sizes different from modern sizes?
While I can only assume that this is based on a marketing trend (women like to buy clothes that are a size smaller than what they normally wear… who wouldn't?) I don't know the specifics of how it happened over the years. I've noticed recently that sizing has run even larger than it did in the 1990s… I know this because I've been in the same weight range since jr. high and while I was squeezing into a size 8 pair of jeans back then I can easily buy a size 4 pair now. Weird, right? Sizing has continued to run larger and larger… especially at certain stores! This means you can pick up an item that fits great that has a much smaller size on the tag than an equally great fitting vintage item.
Growing up I always heard that Marilyn Monroe was a size 12-14. It's a great quotable fact and it's true. The only factor to be aware of is that a modern day size 12 and a size 12 in the 1950s/1960s are very different things. In today's sizes she'd most likely wear a 6 and maybe even a 4 in certain brands! If you add 6 to your current modern day dress size that's what you'll probably fit in a 1950s/1960s dress. When you're aware of this fact it's much less scary to see the size on the inside of a dress that 'look like it will fit'. Dresses from the 1970s are similar but a little bit less drastic. You'll probably wear a size about 4 sizes larger that normal. 1980s and 1990s dresses might be one to two sizes larger than your modern size and still fit like a glove.
For this reason I don't like to estimate sizes. I can squeeze into different sized dresses at different stores at the mall. Just because an online seller says something is a size 'small' doesn't mean it will fit like a 'small' from the store I like to shop at. An estimated size is just that, a guess. Checking your own measurements against the measurements listed is the best method for finding a great fit! I'll teach you how in this post!
The most important thing to remember is that vintage sizes ARE different and when shopping online it's best to go by measurements and not by the vintage size or an estimated size.
How do I take my own measurements?
This part is super simple! Once you've taken your own measurements you'll feel SO much more prepared to shop online. There are vintage dresses for most any shape and size! When you know your numbers you'll be able to buy dresses confidently and know what kind of fit to expect.
How to measure yourself for dresses:
Bust: Use a sewing measuring tape to measure the fullest part of your bust (with bra on!).
Waist: Measure the smallest part of your natural waist line. This will probably be about one inch above your belly button.
Hips: Stand with your feet close together! Measure the fullest part of your hips.
Add a little extra? Once you have your measurements add an extra inch if you want your clothes to be comfortable and loose fitting. I, personally, always add an extra inch to the bust but not the rest since I like a fitted waist. This part is up to you and will determine how you want your clothing to fit.
Can you explain the sizing on the Red Velvet Site?
Yes! This is a question we've received many times and is the primary reason for this post. 🙂 In our Dress Shop we display measurements in the same way that many online vintage shops do, "Measurements taken flat, double where appropriate". I'll explain in detail what that means! Here's an example listing with explanations…
Length: This is the length from the top of the shoulder to the hem. If you used a measuring tape you could see exactly how long this dress would fit on your body. The red velvet models vary in height, so it's good to use the measurement if you're concerned about length. Probably not an issue on a mid length dress like this, but with shorter dresses it's always good to check if you're pretty tall!
Bust: This measurement is 'taken flat' this means that the dress (or shirt, or sweater) is laid on a table and measured across. This is a standard way to take measurements. You need to double all measurements that have a front & back (bust, waist & hips).
So, for the Bust double the measurement that is there. If the dress is made of jersey or polyester you'll know that there will be some extra stretch there. If the dress has darts (or a formed bust) you can assume it will fit an inch or two larger than the measurements. This is one reason why people love 1950s and 1960s dresses, they look amazing on curvy figures and ladies with a larger bust!
Waist: Double the measurements given. Keep in mind that you can wear a belt with many dresses if the waist is slightly big to add shape and proportion (I wear a belt almost every day!). If a waist is elastic we stretch it to a comfortable size to take the measurement. This size can fit a slightly smaller or larger waist easily. If waist reads 'open' this means it's a 'house dress' style and the waist, hips and bust are all the same. It's a more roomy style that looks best worn with a belt!
Hips: This is the maximum allowance for hips (you'll double the number, again, of course). If the dress has fitted hips the measurements will be listed. You want to make sure you have enough extra room to walk and move! If the hips say 'open' it means that they are extremely roomy and could fit pretty much any girl who could wear the other measurements.
All measurements on the Red Velvet website are given in inches! If you prefer centimeters try using this Conversion Calculator. ♥
How can I find a dress that looks good on my body type?
Dressing for your body type is a skill that is best learned by practice!
Easiest way to find a new vintage dress that you love is to look at your wardrobe and find a few other dresses that you feel pretty in and that fit you well. Think about what style/era they are and what features you like. For example, I love 1950s and 1960s dresses most because I'm not very tall and I look better in fitted clothing. 1970s styles look amazing on taller girls and late 1960s dresses look flattering on just about anyone! Find a dress you love in your wardrobe, measure it flat and use it as a point of reference when looking for other dresses online! It's definitely a learning experience, so start with items you feel comfortable with and branch out from there.
A word about alterations…. I've benefited SO MUCH from finding my own local alterations professional! We work with several alterations people for Red Velvet. I highly recommend finding a local alterations person to take items to. The pricing can be more reasonable than you might expect, especially for small issues like shortening a hem, removing sleeves or taking in a waist! Those are the three alterations that I most often request. Since vintage clothes are often a better price than new clothes of the same quality, it's really worth it to get them custom fitted. I do this on a regular basis, maybe 3-4 dresses each month! :)
Advantages of shopping 'Authentic Vintage'…
Vintage dresses are in style and are being reproduced left and right by mainstream stores. This is a trend that I absolutely adore. However, one thing in the past I spent a lot of money on was dresses from inexpensive mall stores and noticed that my dresses weren't holding up very well with normal wear & wash. While I still shop at these stores occasionally, I've come to believe that one GOOD vintage dress is worth more than 5 inexpensive mall dresses. They've already lasted 30+ years and they will probably last longer than you need them! The only clothes I've saved from highschool and my early 20s are my vintage dresses and I know I'll keep them and pass them along to my daughter (or niece!) one of these days. That's my 2 cents about the quality and value of vintage clothing. The styles are often classic and timeless. I just love it!
I hope this post has been informative and helpful! If you've been a vintage admirer, but a little nervous about shopping for yourself I hope you feel inspired and excited to give dress shopping a fresh try! We run a cute dress shop and I also recommend shopping vintage on Etsy. Vintage shopping is a wonderful hobby and my dresses are one of my dearest collections since the ripe ole age of 16! Have a lovely day! Elsie