I survived my first day at the new job. I didn’t have the sewing station set up for alterations. Instead, I manned the dressing room and menswear section. Most of the customers knew there stuff. Others could have probably used these hints and tips to power shop like the pros.
Most of the resources for vintage sizes online were created for online vintage shoppers. The same applies to stores. So, in a modern clothing store or online merchant, they provide you with clothes that have some sort of tag with a size, then there is some sort of magic decoder key that relates that to your body.
Vintage shopping throws a few curve balls in to the traditional modern measurement scheme. Yes, they had labels with sizes but the sizing conventions were different back then and it is virtually impossible to track down the old decoder key. “ But, what do you do when the size labels have faded or disappeared over time?“ Certain eras were known for well-tailored, custom fit clothes. You might see the size label but double check the size with a measuring tape. That garment could be a half“ or full size up/down in some spots.
So, what do you do to find your size?
Measure yourself (or your favorite garment) and measure the garment at the store. Yesterday, I spent some time measuring pants in the men’s section. Most were true to the label. Some had shrunken in the wash or others had been tailored. I ended up marking these new measurements on the tags to help the dudes out.
If you are shopping for someone else, please get their measurements. Most vintage stores have a no returns policy. The other option is to see if you can put something on hold until that person can come by and try it on. If you are buying something as a gift, I suggest sneaking into their closet and measuring their clothes another tip is to know how their clothes fit on you.
Pants – waist/inseam/hip (for ladies or men with booty)/thigh/calves-“ This would be the waist where you like your pants“ to fall. This isn’t quite the same as the store measurement. The store has a standard/natural waist, which is around your bellybutton. Some labels account for pants with a lower or higher waist, others don’t. The hip measurement is the full hip. for most people this is 6or so inches below the waist. It is the fullest part of your hip and goes across your butt. If you are buying skinny pants, you need to know your thigh and calf measurements (It’s best to try those on to make sure they fit).
Shirts- neck/chest/waist/shoulders/sleeve-“ You don’t need to know all of this for something like a t-shirts, but for a tailored button down you do.
Jackets- chest/waist/shoulders/sleeve– Shoulders and chest measurements and key. I found a comprehensive guide to measuring a jacket on Ask Andy About Clothes.
Dresses- bust/waist (smallest part of torso)/hip– One thing to note with vintage dresses is that women had much smaller waist to hip ratios. It’s important to know where the smallest part of your torso is in relation to your shoulder or the nape of your neck.
Skirts- waist/inseam/hip-“ This would be the waist where you like your pants“ to fall. This isn’t quite the same as the store measurement. The store has a standard/natural waist, which is around your bellybutton. Some labels account for pants with a lower or higher waist, others don’t. The hip measurement is the full hip. for most people this is 6or so inches below the waist. It is the fullest part of your hip and goes across your butt.
Another pro tip is to carry a measuring tape with you. I have a small retractable one in my purse. Most stores have them at the counter and will let your borrow them.
Shoes/boots– This is best done in person. Second hand shoes could be up to a half size larger do to wear. New vintage shoes are usually more narrow than modern shoes. It’s a good idea to know your European size.
Hats- To determine your hat size, measure the circumference around your head, keeping the tape level and firm, across the temples and above the eyebrow ridges. There is a conversion chart that is great for new hats but a used hat has probably stretched out a bit to conform to the former owners head.
I hope this helps. As I spend more time at the store I will try to add on more tips. Please comment if you have a tip or two to share.