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Because the dimensions of women's clothing are not what they used to be

If you don't know, you're not alone.

The purchase of women's clothing requires that buyers speak in code, adapt to continuously changing definitions and accept that cryptic rules do not always apply.

Unlike garments for men, which are based on unquestionable sizes of chest, waist and inner seam, female garments are assigned codes ranging from 00 to 20, with large sizes from 14W to 40W.

(Inclusive sizing is revolutionizing fashion. Just don't call it plus-size.)

Body measurements are attached to the codes, but the figures are not fixed and, even if they were, the adhesion to the sizing tables is voluntary: in most cases, clothing manufacturers do not have to follow the guidelines , which is why the brand is size 8 is the measure of another brand 4.

Some of these have to do with what is known as vanity sizing.

"The size is small," said Debra J. Klensch, president of the ASTM International subcommittee on body measurement for clothing sizing, the group that currently publishes the guidelines. "With more expensive clothes, you can buy a smaller size."

Share your thoughts

How could the sizing of women's garments be improved? Join the conversation below.

Even if the producers cut their clothes according to the recommendations, the tables have changed radically over time.

In 1958, a woman wearing a regular size 8 Misses had a 31-inch bust, a 23.5-inch waist and 32.5-inch hips.

Today, a "curvy" size 8 has a 36.25-inch bust, a 28-inch waist and 39.25-inch hips, while a "straight" size 8 has a thicker waist at 29.5 inches and more hips thin to 38.5 inches.

In other words, a size 8 now has a bust that is 5.25 inches larger than it was in 1958, a life that is at least 4.5 inches wide and hips that are at least 6 inches larger.

In 1958, he would have been closer to size 16.

The direct system for the adaptation of men has evolved from the need for the army to produce bulk uniforms.

"Everything else was custom-made, but when you needed to dress an army, you needed a lot of clothes," said Lynn Boorady, a professor of fashion and textile technology at Buffalo State University. "The use of actual measurements was a logical starting point."

To get dressed

The sizes for female sizes have increased over the years, with dimensions now distinct for curved and straight figures.

Standard sizes for women's sizes 8

Curvy: 28 in.

Straight: 29.5 inches.

Curvy: 39.25 in.

Straight: 38.5 inches

Standard sizes for women's sizes 8

Curvy: 28 in.

Straight: 29.5 inches.

Curvy: 39.25 in.

Straight: 38.5 inches

Standard sizes for women's sizes 8

Curvy: 28 in.

Straight: 29.5 inches.

Curvy: 39.25 in.

Straight: 38.5 inches

Standard sizes for women's sizes 8

Curvy: 28 in.

Straight: 29.5 inches.

Curvy: 39.25 in.

Straight: 38.5 inches

The women did not receive the same treatment, a fact that eventually became a burden on mail order companies because so many unsuitable clothes were returned.

To solve the problem, the Department of Economics of the households of the Department of Agriculture sent the head of the textile and clothing division together with an associate statistician to develop the standard sizes for the # 39. ; women's clothing sold commercially.

The result of their work, "Women's measures for clothing and model building" was published in 1941 based on measurements of 10,042 women. Among the numerous statistical tables, the volume provided the main measurements for women who were 5 feet four inches tall in five different weight categories, from 100 to 140 pounds.

"The average weight was 128 pounds," said Dr. Boorady. "Today it is closer to 150 pounds."

Since then, the guidelines have been revised at least four times, starting in 1958, when the Department of Commerce published a new commercial standard with the dimensions of regular missions ranging from 8 to 22.

"The 1958 adaptation was based on industry feedback," said Dr. Boorady. "The Corset and Brassiere Association of America collaborated with the Department of Commerce on a special research project to determine the right adjustments to be made. You see older women with busts up to 55 inches. Those were not common."

In 1970, the Commerce Department revisited the graphics again, increasing size 8 to a 32.5-inch bust and 34.5-inch hips; life has remained the same, at 23.5 inches. This graphic has also been added in a size 6.

In the early 80s, the government abandoned clothing to downsize and ASTM intervened by publishing a graphic in 1995 that included a size 2 woman with a 32-inch bust, a 24-inch waist and hip 34.5 inches.

It was larger than the 1958 size 8. But the morphing was not complete.

In 2011, ASTM reviewed the chart again, including for the first time the impossible sound sizes 0 and 00.

This chart remains in effect today. But who knows how long?

The ASTM subcommittee on body measurement for clothing sizing meets twice a year and consumer feedback still plays an important role in creating the sizing chart. The group, of which 54 members include representatives of industry, government and academia, will meet next June 3 in Denver.

"The people we buy clothes come together and talk about us," said Dr. Boorady. "They say, listen, we are getting many returns in this category. It is not suitable for people. We need to change our numbers."

Keep this in mind the next time you fill out a return slip for an unsuitable garment. Your observations could help reshape the industry.

Write to Jo Craven McGinty a Jo.McGinty@wsj.com

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