Here is a question I am asked quite often: How can you tell what your “vintage size” is?
OK, deep breath, here goes:
The size of a vintage garment pre-1980s is roughly 6 dress sizes larger than the same dress in modern sizes.
This is because today’s ladies clothing size scale starts as zero or two, while in the 1930s, 40s and 50s most clothes for adult women started their sizing off at six or eight, not zero.
The upshot: pay little attention to tag sizes when it comes to quickly judging if a garment will fit you or not. Such numbers are incredibly arbitrary (and, of course, should never influence how we feels about ourselves.)
Another thing: it’s important to know your measurements. If you have your correct your bust, waist and hip measurements, vintage shopping will be much easier.
How to measure yourself for dresses:
Bust: Use a sewing measuring tape to measure the fullest part of your bust (with a 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 (or two) if you want your clothes to be comfortable and loose fitting. This part is up to you and depends on how you want your clothing to fit.
You can measure the waist of a vintage dress (just do it on one side and then double it) to estimate whether or not a dress will fit before you even try it on.
Once you have measurements to go by, you will eventually find that most vintage sizes are fairly constant. A vintage size 20.5 generally has a 36″ waist and usually fits a woman who is a 14 in modern clothing. A waist size 28″ is usually a dress size 12 in vintage dresses, which is a modern size 6. If you notice, these vintage sizes are almost always 6 sizes larger.
While you’re at it, keep your measurement in your phone and toss a measuring tape in your bag.
Sometimes, just trying on the belt of a dress will help you determine if the dress will fit.
Another useful tool in determining your dress size in a vintage garment is to really know your body and know what size you wear today. Look through your closet to see what the majority of your clothing tags say. And notice what styles you gravitate towards.
One more thing to do: find a local alterations person. 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, the three alterations most often requested. Since vintage clothes are often a better price than new clothes of the same quality, it can be worth it to get them custom fitted.
I hope all of this helps. The most important thing to remember is “when in doubt, MEASURE!”
Then go out there, measurements in hand, and have fun knowing that your vintage size is not the same as your modern one, and that this is exactly the same for everyone else on the planet!
Fit, not size, is what truly counts