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.
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 high school 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! xo, elsie