Linking the history of women’s clothing size and the sociology of culture

This article about women’s clothing sizes reminds me of the production approach within the sociology of culture: sizes were once regulated more closely.

This lack of sizing standards wasn’t always the case.

Until January 20, 1983, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards and Technology offered specifics for the sizing of apparel with body measurements for men, women, junior women, young men and children. These standards began in the late 1940s as a byproduct of the necessity for size-standardization in military uniforms during World War Two. Committees that included textile manufacturers, designers and retailers worked with the Department of Agriculture to determine these sizing standards and all adhered to it.

The program was discontinued in 1983. The measurements were not keeping up with the typical American body, which was changing due to better medicine and nutrition, along with an influx of new and varied ethnic groups. Sponsorship of these standards was assumed by private industry. That marked the start of sizing’s new Wild West, a lawless, volatile environment that continues today.

As the production approach would suggest, sizes were once standardized because of particular historical circumstances, namely, World War II. Once the regulation was deemed “unnecessary,” different companies took the sizes in completely different directions. The defense of the change given in the article, new bodies and types, doesn’t make much sense: the existing standards could have simply been altered rather than abandoned.

It would be interesting to see more on how the marketing and design of women’s clothes changed with the regulatory shift. Prior to 1983, companies couldn’t really play around with size and use it as a distinguishing feature. After 1983, different brands could use this as part of their image and sales pitch. Did brands that deviated a lot from the prior standards really help their cause?

0 thoughts on “Linking the history of women’s clothing size and the sociology of culture

  1. Pingback: A sociology PhD student is studying changing women’s clothing sizes while also not looking in the mirror before her wedding | Legally Sociable

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