Friday, January 17, 2014

will it fit?

1938 Cotrell and Leonard Schiaparelli ad via Albany Group Archive on Flickr.

I know many of you are veteran online vintage shoppers, and you know how to tell if a garment will fit you (or what questions to ask to find out if it will).  But I still get that "Will it fit me?" question often enough that I thought I'd write a little here about sizing and selling clothing online.  This isn't meant to be a definitive guide or anything.  It's just how I do things for the shop, and what I believe works best.  Please chime in with your further tips and comments!

Vintage sizing is different.  Vanity sizing means that a size 10 of yesteryear can be more like a size 2 today.  There is no set rule for this, as sizing can vary so much from manufacturer to manufacturer, as well.  So measurements are very important.  Any good vintage seller will provide a wide range of measurements in their item listing--and will be happy to provide additional measurements that you request.  The measurements I give are those of the item itself, and I recommend that buyers compare the measurements given to those of a similar style garment to determine fit.  Thus, you would take the bust measurements I give of a cotton shirtwaist dress and--ideally--compare them to those of a cotton shirtwaist dress you already own.  Comparing them to a sweater dress, or dress made of stretchy material, won't be helpful, as the fit of that type of garment and material will be so different.

I also often get asked things like "I have a 27" waist; will this dress fit me?"  Now, if the dress has a 25" waist, I'm going to tell you no.  I think you should allow about 2" (maybe a little less, maybe a little more) for ease of movement and so you're not straining against a (possibly) fragile vintage fabric.  So if you have a 27" waist, a dress that measures 29" at the waist should be ideal.  But if the waist is elastic, or the fabric has some stretch, or you're a whiz at reducing your waist size using foundation garments, this 2" space might not be as necessary.

It is also true that aspects of a garment can be altered to make an almost-fits item fit.  I always give the hem measurement for dresses and skirts in my listings in case the buyer would want to let it down for a longer length.  I often get questions about inside seam allowances for items, to see if there's some room to let a dress out.  I admit to not having much personal experience with this, but there are great seamstresses and tailors out there who can often alter a garment to make it fit.

1961 Roman's ad via Classic Film on Flickr.

I do use a size chart to give estimates of current day sizing on my listings, and include it in my listing title.  This isn't meant to be the definitive size, but rather a guide to let you know if it might fit you; you still should go by the measurements.  But I know how frustrating it is to muddle through hundreds of listings, and having to click each one just to see if it might be your size.  The Etsy shop search isn't foolproof, but generally speaking, you can search by size within my shop by typing an "M" or the word "medium" into the "Search in this shop" box at the top of my shop to see all listings that are in that range.

It is true that a lot of (most?) vintage clothing tends to be on the smaller side.  However, not all of it is, and I find plenty of vintage that ranges from medium up to XL.  We do find vintage in plus sizes, but it tends to sell quickly.  Plus size shoppers on Etsy need to have some patience, as I think sellers seem to use that term quite loosely.  My shop has a lot of XS in it right now, but it also has a great selection of M-L in it (XL tends to sell quickly, too...when I don't keep it.  Which I don't always.  Really!).  

If you know how to find your size, Etsy can be a great place to shop for vintage.  My favorite vintage sellers on Etsy often offer a great range of sizes, and always offer full and detailed descriptions and photos of their items.  If you're unsure about fit, ask questions!

Buyers, what do you like to see in listings to help you figure out fit?  Sellers, what have I left out?



  1. Thank you for writing this post! What you say about plus sizes made me double check my plus sized listings to make sure they were as accurate as possible. Because of how variable size charts can be, I often feel that garments that are my size, or one below and one above, are more accurately described in terms of fit in my shop, but it's something I'm really trying to work on and present as accurately as possible on top of providing measurements.
    I guess everyone has their sizing pet peeves depending on what part of their bodies conforms the most or the least to certain cuts and styles, and mine is the pesky hip measurement. Although it would be a hundred times easier for me just to give up and only wear 1950s garments, I somehow prefer to wear 1960s pieces that are more tricky to figure out in terms of hip/waist proportions. So many sellers only list the waist and length measurements of skirts, or measure the hips of pants not at the crotch, but somewhere in the middle of the pockets. That's in no way helpful to me!!! (although I'm sure some buyers probably yell the same thing at my shop concerning other areas I may have mistakenly overlooked...)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Camille. Buyers in the past have been really helpful in determining what measurements I put in a listing. I now put arm opening circumference measurement in my listings because of a buyer who asked for it. It wasn't something I'd considered until that buyer mentioned it, but it is an important measurement! I know when I'm shopping I'd rather not have to ask for info, so I like to include as much as I can in the listing. (And I like what you say about stating where a hip measurement is taken...that really does make a difference!)

    2. I was just going to write that I really appreciate your including arm opening circumference in your listings but you beat me to the punch! :) I learned my lesson after buying a coat (from someone else, not you) that was listed as XL, had the right measurements for me, but once I received the coat I couldn't even get the sleeve on past my bicep. As a shortwaisted person I also like how you include bodice measurements for your dresses. You're definitely one of my favorite etsy sellers because I can always count on you to provide all the necessary measurements in your listings :)

    3. Ah, thank you so much, M. :) The bodice measurement is another one that it didn't occur to me to include until I saw someone mention it on the internet (on a blog, I think), and I thought "aha! of course." So I now include it whenever a dress has a waist seam. I have learned so much from both buyers and other sellers.

  2. Your descriptions are always helpful, Karen. When I buy vintage online I always look for these things, in this order: waist size, hip size, fabric and, if a skirt or dress, length. As with Camille, the hip/waist proportion is most important to me. And I tend to have a smaller waist and larger hip/thighs so fabric matters because I am happy to have something snug(ish) as long as the fabric is forgiving.


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