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Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Misconception: If I wear a size 10 store-bought dress, I need to buy a size 10 sewing pattern.
True! – if you’re talking 1976, that is.
But seriously, this is the 21st century, and women’s clothing-makers have since resorted to a type of “psychological” sizing. (You may have already sensed this was the case.) Let’s look at this simple example:
Brand A sells the same type of garment as Brand B. They may even be in the same price range.
But to compete with Brand A, Brand B starts labeling its clothes with smaller numbers, all while keeping its prices roughly the same as Brand A’s. So a Size 10 at Store A becomes a Size 6 at Store B.
Now B’s size 6 is selling better than Brand A’s 10 because, after all, what woman wouldn’t rather (claim to) be a 6?
The result: “big designer” clothing labels often have smaller size numbers – and higher prices – than the mid-priced department stores. And consumers buy into all of it! Seems the clothing industry changes the size systems as often as the women change their clothes, doesn’t it?
(By the way, you also may have noticed men’s clothing isn’t as grossly affected by these mind games, partially because of the way men shop, but also because men’s clothing has traditionally been labeled by actual measurements anyway.)
Luckily, sewing patterns are different. Their size systems don’t change as often as retail clothing’s do. Pattern sizing was first standardized in the 1940s, but those standards were not universally accepted until the 1960s.
Thus, sewing patterns you find in the fabric store today are most likely using the same system in place since Kennedy was president, and the size numbers have not changed either.
Rule of thumb: It is best to take your current body measurements before buying a pattern because it is common for your pattern size to go up as much as 6 numbers from your store-bought size.
Let’s look at another example: a woman shopping at the mall buys clothes in the 0-4 range for Womens and 1-3 range for Juniors, her size shifting slightly depending on whether she’s at Banana Republic, Old Navy, or Delia’s. (Check out those links to see what I mean.) But according to her measurements, her pattern size at a store like JoAnn Fabrics winds up being a Womens 6 and a Juniors size 7 or 8.
To top it all off, any given sewing pattern may even need to go up or down by a size, after the pattern style & included amount of ease (or “breathing room”) are taken into consideration.
I have sewn for multiple women who have given me a pattern they’ve purchased, believing it to be their size. In most cases, they’d chosen something way too small, and then I’ve had to discretely buy them the correct size so they wouldn’t freak out. Seriously.
So remember: whether you’re shopping “off-the-rack” or looking for a sewing pattern, don’t become obsessed with a size “number” – no one will think about your garment’s numeric size, as long as what you are wearing fits correctly on you. (And besides, custom-made clothing won’t even have a size label for anyone to check!)