If the Clothes Fit, Sell Them: Sizing and Fashion Design

by Jessica Santina
Fashion School Review Columnist

May 14, 2009

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Believe it or not, until about 100 years ago, everyone either made their own clothes or employed a tailor, and all fashions were custom-designed. That was until the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted a study of women's body measurements, from which clothing sizes have been based ever since.

The Birth of Fashion Sizing

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The Home Economics division of the U.S.D.A. hoped to sell more ready-to-wear clothing by developing a reliable, industry-standard sizing system. The survey, which began in 1939, was a tremendous two-year undertaking that involved 15,000 American women, input from mathematicians, and technicians taking 59 measurements of each participant.

From these results, a sizing system was created. And although they've been slightly adjusted since, this system was widely adopted by fashion designers who have been using it to this day.

Fashion Design Takes Shape

As any fashion history or pattern-making course in fashion school will show you, that old sizing system, which is based upon an hourglass body shape, is pretty outdated. Only a scant 8 percent of women have the coveted hourglass figure that Marilyn Monroe sported in the 50s. In fact, today's woman is taller, with a bigger bust and hips, and her waistline has expanded by about six inches.

Sizing Up Fashion School

As you'll learn in fashion school, through tailoring, pattern-making, and fashion history courses, many fashion designers are developing new sizing standards to accommodate these changes. Sizing is pretty standard in the curriculum of both campus education or online degree programs. And now that 60 percent of women are overweight, body image issues have led to "vanity sizing," in which what used to be a size 8 might now be a 2 or a 0.

In fashion design, sizing affects everything from the way clothes hang to the ability to even wear certain styles at all. And while aspiring designers in fashion school hope to see their designs on the runway, the ultimate goal is to sell them to a public who can actually fit into them.  Explore the possibility of taking classes at one of many online schools that offer fashion degree programs.


About the Author
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer with a background in media and marketing. She also teaches first-year writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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