Thursday, February 14, 2013

History of Sewing - 1960s Vintage Pattern Sizes and Body Types

 At the end of the 1950s, seamstresses hopefully had adjusted to the "new sizing" changes that occurred in the mid-late 1950s. But in the 1960s, more changes are afoot. New figure types will be added (junior petite and chubbie girls), some figure types will be merged (sub-teen or pre-teen and teen become young junior/teen), and at the end of 1967 another complete sizing shift will occur.

Revisiting the End of the 1950s

To refresh your memory (if you don't want to review my post on 1950s pattern sizes),  here are pattern sizes from a 1959 Butterick Sewing Book. Note that there are separate pattern sizes for sub-teen, teen, junior, miss, woman, and half sizes. Note also that the Junior figure type IS considered a fully-developed (or mature) figure type, not a youthful (that is, teen-like) size. The Junior figure is simply relatively higher-busted and shorter-waisted than the Miss figure type (and maybe a tad shorter).


 Early and Mid 1960s

Although sizing from the end of the 1950s through the mid-1960s remains consistent, note that the sizes are NOT consistent from one pattern maker to another. Compare the Butterick sizes above, with those from Vogue (Vogue Sewing Book dated 1964) (Note that the "New Sizing" referred to here are the size changes from the late 1950s.):

McCall's Easy Sewing book from 1964 provides sizes and figure types similar to those of Butterick, but replaces Sub-Teen with Pre-Teen, and adds the Junior Petite figure type:


And in 1966, McCall's sizes are still the same. This McCall's Step-by-Step Sewing Book provides a nice comparison of the Misses figure type with each other type.

1967 - Time to Change to New Sizes!

In late 1967 sizes change yet again!!! Effective November 1, 1967, pattern companies made the shift to new sizes developed and approved by the Measurement Standard Committee of the Pattern Fashion Industry. The pattern sizing change was made to correspond more closely with standard ready-to-wear sizing (at that time). Was access to better or more food a factor in the size changes of the late 50s and this change in the late 1960s? A good topic for research and discussion!

The sizes affected Misses, Women's, Half-Size, Junior, and Junior Petite. Teen and Pre-Teen sizes were replaced with a new size range - Young Junior/Teen.

Sizes essentially shifted downwards. For example, for the Misses figure type with bust 34, the size changed from 14 to 12. The ratio of hip to bust remains the same (bust 34, hip 36), but the waistline is reduced by a half inch (a full inch for some sizes): Before: bust 34, waist 26, hip 36 - After: bust 34, waist 25-1/2, hip 36.

McCall's Step-by-Step Sewing Book from 1968 does a great job providing a comparison of the former sizing with the new:

And here are the "new sizes" as published in a Simplicity Sewing Book from 1968, which includes a  "Chubbie" figure type for girls: 


  1. It's interesting to me that there seems to be less diversity in sizing categories now. Most department stores seem to carry misses, petites, juniors, and plus/womens, but it seems to be less about proportion and more about overall size. One has to go brand to brand to find thicker-waisted or narrower-waisted cuts for example, while it seems like the old system tried to account for those proportional differences in adult women to some degree. Even then, as a taller woman, I don't feel I fit any of these older categories very precisely. My proportions are vertically balanced, though narrower-waisted/fuller-busted than the patterns account form, and I have a very high bust despite a more "mature" figure type. There's so much variation in body type out there. That must be why sewing appeals to me.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, @malcontent. I agree that sizing or rather the efforts to standardize sizing over the decades remains a challenge for pattern companies. Patterns from the 40s seem to me to be more realistic in that they allow a larger waist and hip in proportion to the bust, than for comparable bust sizes in the 1950s. In the 50s I think they just assumed women wore girdles in order to fit the narrower waist & hip sizes. It took the radical 60s to reject girdles, thank heavens! In the end, sewing for oneself IS the surest way to have clothes that fit. :)

  2. Wonderful info, considering 90% of my patterns are vintage. Will be studying this when I get some time.

    1. Thank you so much, Katherine, for your comment. I look forward to your future thoughts!

  3. I was wondering do you have an article or how to on grading up sub-teen sewing patterns from the 60s to a average woman's size of today? I have a couple of sub-teen sewing patterns in my collection but not sure if they would even fit me or if its even worth the hassle of adjusting the pattern.

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