Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What Is Plus-Size, Anyway?

In response to last week's post about vintage patterns for plus sizes, Pattern Junkie asked an interesting question. Here's what she had to say:
Gertie, thanks for this post! Now, if I can ask my fellow blog readers for my small etsy shop (which exists mainly to justify my pattern addiction), I'd like to be able to mark plus-size patterns as such, but am not sure where the "plus-size line" is. I don't subscribe to the "anyone above a size 4 is plus size" way of do you think bust 42 and above is appropriate to mark as "plus-size"? Bust 44 and above?
This question is a compelling one that opens up many other avenues of discussion. It's interesting to think about how arbitrary sizing really is. Does "plus-size" really have any effective meaning any more?

In the modeling world, all the women featured in the photo above are considered plus size, and these models are generally a U.S. ready-to-wear size 8 or 10. The retail world is another story altogether. Lane Bryant, the popular plus-size clothing chain, starts its sizes at 14. (Interestingly, that's the size of the average American woman.) The vintage pattern world has its own rules: we generally don't think about number sizes, because they vary so much from decade to decade. The bust measurement is everything, and it never lies. But our perceptions can still become skewed, I think. Because so many of the patterns you see out there are very small, I've seen bust size 36" labeled as plus-size or extra large.

But all that aside, perhaps the real question is this: Is there truly a need to indicate plus-size patterns as such? I think I would argue that yes, there is. If Pattern Junkie tags certain items as plus-size, then someone can easily find them through a Google search for "plus size vintage patterns." Vintage sewing is definitely not known for being plus-size friendly, so perhaps easier access would change that.

On the other hand, is this categorization simply creating an unnecessary - and potentially damaging - ghettoizing of larger women in the pattern world? I mean, it's kind of like having a "gay fiction" section in a bookstore. It's nice that one can find them all in one section, but really . . . aren't they novels just like any other novels? Perhaps I'm getting a little carried away here, though.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you think vintage pattern sellers should denote certain sizes as plus? And if so, where does that range start? Please note that this question isn't meant to "call out" certain sizes or body types. I'm thinking of this as an overarching issue that can help vintage sellers and the women who want to find awesome patterns in larger sizes.

P.S. Thanks to Pattern Junkie for posing the question! The adorable pattern below is available in her shop in a size 44" bust for the excellent price of $6.25. Make it yours today!


  1. In terms of vintage patterns, I would say plus-size starts at a 40" bust. And I definitely think in terms of vintage patterns the plus-size distinction is a necessary one. Anything 40" bust or above is pretty difficult to find in vintage patterns. Having a "plus-size" category makes it easier to search...and not have to look thru 50+ patterns with a 32" bust.

  2. I think there is also a problem because if you lable something plus sized just because of the bust... well, like me for instance, I'm not top heavy, but I have huge hips and thighs, so while I may be able to fit into a 'standard' bust pattern, I would usually need a plus sized pattern for my lower half. I do think the label is helpful, especially with vintage patterns, but there needs to be some kind of uniform way to label them as such... which is why you wrote the post! Gah! I don't know! = )

  3. The 'plus-size' woman used to be referred to as 'stout' in vintage sewing books and there was a 'chubby' size in teen patterns (which must have done wonders for those girls' self-esteem...), but even though it seems more generic a term, I'm not sure 'plus-size' is an improvement. Anyone who sews for themselves will know their measurements, so rather than argue where the cut-off should or shouldn't be, it would make more sense to simply ensure bust measurements are always listed in the heading (so many sellers omit to do it, which is infuriating). One person's 'normal' is another's 'oversize', so I guess that's a way of not falling ito the trap of categorising people on the basis of a very flawed and ever-changing sizing system.

  4. I know that I am ecstatic when I see a vintage pattern with a 40" bust size. I completely agree that when searching for a larger bust pattern it would be easier if there was a key word that denoted larger size. I don't think I have ever typed in plus-size to look for a pattern, though. : ) Maybe Buxom would be a good word.

    I am a size 8 with a 40" bust so I have always had a hard time finding RTW that fit. I have often had to buy plus-size to fit the girls. Luckily I can sew so I can take in the rest. I think no matter your size you need clothes that fit. It's great to see places like Lane Bryant selling clothes that are constructed to fit normal humans.

    I think it all comes down to teaching children (boys included) that what we see on TV, Movies, etc. is not always real. Just think of all the retouching controversy that has been happening lately with photos. It reminds me of the Dove soap video that showed the transformation of the woman from what she looked like fresh and clean to the end result of hair/makeup/retouching in the final ad. It's really something.

    I know that I am not thin-skinned and the term plus-size does not make me feel bad about myself because as long as it fits me, it's all good to me.

  5. It's such a tough call. For the vendor to draw in new customers, and for the potential customers to easily find patterns that will FIT them, it makes sense to include "plus sized" in the descriptor. But who decides? Why a 40" bust and not 38" or 42"? Being labeled plus sized matters not a whit to some, and deeply wounds others.

    My impression is that tailoring and sewing are more measurement-based and less vanity-sizing-based than retail. Do you sewists feel that's generally true? Maybe not if, as Nathalie pointed out, terms like "chubby" are/were used to describe patterns ...

  6. I would agree that labeling patterns as plus size makes searching for them a lot easier. I'm not interested in trying to size patterns up that much; I'd rather start with something within a few inches of my actual measurements. I also find it frustrating that on some vintage pattern sites, searching for larger sizes turns up a huge number of '80s, '90s, and '00s patterns. It is too tedious to sift through for the few older gems. I guess generally I'd like individual patterns to have the measurements clearly labeled, and also to have searchable tags for particular styles, size categories, decades, and so forth.

    1. If I'm on eBay, I put specifics in my search. I search for "((40's, 40s, 1940's, 1940s)) patterns", for example and it then shows me patterns from the 1940's. This will probably help you find patterns that are not from decades you'd rather not try.

  7. Well, I'll just say that a lot of the reason that I haven't gotten into vintage sewing (yet?) is that I'm a 16, and finding a pattern I could deal with just seems hugely daunting. Anything that would help me find what I would need would be encouraging.

    I would love to get into vintage sewing, but I'm still working on that whole courage thing.

  8. To add to my previous comment (now that I have more time), I also don't understand the "stigma" attached to the phrase, "plus-size". Certainly as sewists, we all understand that the numbers attached to sizes are completely arbitrary. We, of all people, should be able to "get over" the term "plus-size".

    Also, my reason for 40" bust as the cut-off was not completely arbitrary: that's pretty much where vintage pattens make the cut-off. For the most part, patterns seem to be sized up to size 18, and after that, are labled according to the bust. (At least circa 1950s patterns and older.) And using the bust measurment as the, well, measurment for plus-size was not arbitrary either: I've always been taught to buy your patterns (well, dress and blouse patterns) by the bust...the waist and hips are much easier to adjust as needed.

  9. As an avid vintage pattern hunter for larger sizes, I'm a 42 inch bust, I would love to have a category so I didn't have to search endlessly for a larger sized pattern. I love to find sellers that have their patterns categorized by bust measurements! They do usually start with 40 inch and go up from there.

    I add plus size to a few of my Etsy tags just to add that extra search for women that WILL actually look for that, whether they consider themselves plus size or not.

    I love Etsy but the patterns don't have different era categories and searching through thousands of patterns is daunting to say the least!

  10. Such an interesting conundrum...

    It would be so helpful to have larger patterns designated as such for searching purposes, but how to label them? I agree with Nathalie that plus-sized doesn't seem like much of an improvement, but labeling things strictly on numbers seems a little misleading. For instance, my nearly 40" hips almost put me in Burda's plus-sized range, but I weigh 130, and though I'm fine with my body and want a good fit above all, I object a little to a plus-sized label.

    I really like what Simplicity is doing these days with their Amazing Fit patterns which are broken down into Slim, Average, and Curvy fits. Curvy is a word I can live with. Has anyone sewn anything with these patterns?

  11. I truly don't understand those who object to plus-size, particularly in terms of vintage patterns. The fact is, the average woman today WOULD have been plus-sized (or chubby or curvy) in 1940.

    I know I'm in the minority, to call it "curvy" seems like sheer semantics to me, and only slightly less ridiculous than vanity sizing.

    As for Simplicity's new Petite/Average/Curvy range, i do have one of those patterns that I'm dying to try out. B/c regardless of size, we all know that you can take five women who are all the same size--be that size 8 or 22--and they're all going to be shaped differently. I think the Petite/Average/Curvy distinction has a lot of potential to be fabulous.

  12. It's an interesting dilemma. After I wrote my question, I started wondering: with sewing patterns, shouldn't we able to be able to get past the tyranny of numbered sizes and labels? After all, it's all actual measurements -- and if patterns are properly labeled with their bust size, what more do you need? (Nothing drives me crazier than seeing a listing for, say, a "size 14" since pattern sizes changed over time. Give me the bust size, I say!)

    This is how much the numbered sizing issue messed up my sewing years ago. I'd pick a project and:

    1) Despair that my bust and hips were different sizes, even if the pattern was multi-sized.

    2) Cut out the pattern at my ready-to-wear size (my bust RTW size, since that's smaller, of course). Because if I wore a size 6 top, how could I possibly make a size 14 pattern?!

    3) Pray throughout sewing that the pattern would have enough ease to magically fit me.

    4) Try on the garment. Made with a pattern size 6, with its 28 inch bust and 32 inch hips, the resulting dress would barely zip up over my 38 inch hips and 34 inch bust.

    5) Sob for an hour about how horrible my body was.

    As stupid as it sounds, I did this for years! It was a true epiphany when I realized that I should just ignore the size numbers and only pay attention to the body measurements. Since then, sewing has been much more enjoyable!

  13. I have to say that I'm against adding plus-size when dealing with vintage patterns. One of the things I love about sewing my own clothes is that it goes by your actual measurements not some stupid label. The fact that I'm a 12 or 14 in my vintage patterns while wearing a 6 or an 8 in the stores made me realize how much of a mess it all was. Those numbers now mean nothing to me. Since I realized that, I don't get upset when something at a store doesn't fit or I have to go get the next highest size. I know it's all arbitrary and means nothing at all. The only thing important is "does it fit me and does it flatter me" once those questions are answered I'm good to go.

    I think patterns should have listed in their titles the bust measurements; which are the most important one for shirts or dresses, or hip measurements for pants and skirts. Then you just have to check the other measurements, which SHOULD be listed in the description.

  14. I am going to have to make the opposite comment of a lot of people here and say that I DON'T find vintage patterns being labelled plus size makes them any easier to find.
    I've found there are some sellers out there, who have no clue what they're selling, and will label a size 14 vintage pattern plus sized, because they don't know enough about what they're selling. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful vintage pattern sellers out there who do label things properly, but when you're trying to search on a site like Etsy, using the term plus size brings up way too many results that I don't want. I usually search by my bust measurement, I tend to find more relevant results that way.

  15. As someone who measures 46-36-46, I am lucky enough to have the perfect 50s body shape, but unlucky enough to be a size 22 1/2, according to the patterns of the time, which is difficult to find. I was ecstatic when I read in a vintage magazine about half sizes (made to compensate for a shorter torso) because now I can alter accordingly. I wish they'd do so in modern patterns.

    As far as the plus-size label, most of the people I know that sew who would search as such are SO past taking that personally. We just want to find what we are looking for. If that means tagging as plus-sized, so be it. Some stores that have larger inventories group patterns by bust size and then offer the other measurements in the listing. Some group together and give a range of bust sizes (40-46").

    This seems like more of a tagging issue, which is a retrieval issue. As someone who is 1 class away from a masters in library science, I can tell you that the best way to catalog something for retrieval is to list as many permutations of the item as possible. So tag with plus-size, bust size and possibly modern size equivalent, like xxl(measurements are available online to help you with that).

    Will it possibly upset a few people, perhaps. However it will drive you CRAZY trying to account for everyone's feelings, so be consistent and maybe have a short explanation of your choice of sections/sizing/tagging somewhere on your site. That way people will see that you are listing for retrieval purposes and not "labeling" purposes.

  16. It's interesting that you post this, because I have been thinking the same thing lately! I know it's hard to find larger size vintage patterns and lots of gals are looking for them and was unsure of what to label some I was listing. I looked on Torrid's site for their size chart and labeled anything in their size range "plus size". I add the tag to anything 39" bust size and over.
    It is unfortunately to pideon hole people based on measurements, but unfortunately, or fortunately for niche marketers, that's what happens. If we didn't label "petite" clothing and it's short in the arm length and torso length, then people in standard sizing would continually be frustrated when going into that store, and I bet people would say "oh, that such and such store is for petites" even if they didn't market that way- likewise with plus sizes. In vintage patterns, where they're so darn rare, I can't see it as anything but positive to have a fast search for patterns in your size range, rather than- as another gal said sifting through the sea of 32" busts.
    Thanks for posting this! It's really interesting reading your thoughts and the thoughts of other readers.

  17. With having kids my size has fluctuated some in the past few years and made sewing an interesting journey! When returning to sewing after some time, and being a normal body size, I was stunned to see my measurements being considered "plus size". Says who?

    As much as I'd like to think we're all above it, the term "plus size" does have implications for many people.

    I do wish sellers would just list the bust size in the heading, with the waist and hip measurements in the description. Most of us can work from there.

  18. How amazing would it be if modern pattern makers eliminated size numbers altogether and only listed patterns by size measurements?

    This whole discussion has reminded me of how crazymaking these arbitrary numbers can be. Years ago I told a neighbor that I really wanted to make a dress for her, and asked for her measurements. "I'm a size 2," she replied. "Oh, sewing patterns don't work that way," I told her. "Just tell me your bust and hip measurements and I'll take it from there. I'll surprise you." She wouldn't do it. "But I'm a size 2" is the most I could get out of her.

    The power that we all give these arbitrary numbers is amazing!

  19. I really identify with Pattern Junkie's last post. I too sobbed about "size" numbers for years until I read enough of the history to understand that RTW sizes change - constantly. Isn't it a bit rediculous that even with modern patterns one has to pull out an envelope, use the magic chart in back to find the nearest "size" number, and then get a new pattern envelope to match that number? Why not just list patterns by measurements, which is the most accurate method and doesn't require a chart. That's my vote. No labels, including "size." Just the measurements.

    Incidentally, I recently had to buy new jeans. I picked up four sizes nearest to what I thought mine would be. I then mixed them all up, tried them on, selected the best-fitting one, and bought that pair. I then had a friend cut out the tags so I would never know the size. Instead of being a crying fest over a stupid number that means NOTHING, buying jeans wasn't so bad after all this time around. And guess what... they actually fit. I wasn't trying to magically make my body into a size 10; I found a pair that fit ME instead. :)

  20. Men's clothes are listed by measurements. Why can't women's clothes be listed by measurements, too? Then my husband could shop for me because he'd know my measurements and could find clothes with those measurements! Not that he would...I'm too picky.

  21. This is so interesting - the day before this post I got my library copy of Barbara Deckert's Sewing for Plus Sizes: Creating Clothes that Fit and Flatter.

    I could write pages on this subject because it is so interesting to me. The term "plus-sized" isn't particularly stigmatized for me but it's not very reliable or accurate either. If I have any problem with "plus-size" it's merely that, again, like Gertie says, the average woman in this country is a size 14, so calling HALF the women in our country "plus" has pretty interesting implications.

    While I'm at it, in order to avoid giving offense, I might as well say I don't find the term "fat" an unacceptable one at all, merely a descriptive one. I dislike "curvy" and "voluptuous" we see thrown around so much because among other things it implies a certain standard of womanhood, for instance leaving the flat-chested, large bellied, large hipped woman not "curvy" in the right places - not to mention it puts the thin, small-busted, slim-hipped and arse-less woman at not being "woman" or "real" enough.

    People! We are ALL real women! :-)

    To get back to sewing:

    Even a 40" bust that is lauded in the comments here isn't that big if you think of how many women have a much larger bust (I wear a 36 DD and have a 43" bust). A size 14 RTW is a 40" bust. So again, even if you find a vintage pattern with a 40" bust, it precludes HALF the women you know from sewing it up and wearing it.

    Fat bodies have different fitting issues than average or slim ones, and I notice this translates into fashion assumptions and thus things that work for fat people can begin to have a stigma or an "unstylish" reputation. For instance you know how some people sneer at elastic-waist pants? A slim or a youthful waist feels more comfortable in a narrow or stiff well-interfaced waistband. A softer or larger belly feels better with elastic, even if there's only a little. Obviously a fat person or a person with a soft tummy or a sensitive tummy deserves to look great, have a good fit, AND feel good as much as anyone else.

    Some of us are naturally slim and will easily stay slim for most of our lives. This means we will likely find it pretty easy to find clothes and sewing patterns that actually FIT over our bodies and who knows, may even look good!

    Others are naturally large, or (as is often the case) go from being slim to larger as they age and their bodies go through life's changes. In that case, if you're still sewing, I wish you the best in finding the styles you love to sew and I hope you pass on your skills to others!

    I agree with what others have said: seamstresses tend to eventually get out of "magical-number thinking. Women have been socialized to be highly critical of their own bodies - however, many seamstresses I know seem to be able to talk about their bodies and the fit of their clothes in more practical, accepting ways. This is a breath of fresh air to me. Very few people are a "fit model" - that is, a "perfect" size 6 or size 22. Many of us have a low bust, or large hips, or a short inseam, or a broad back etc. Learning this, accepting it, and learning how to sew for ourselves may take the de rigueur self-shaming talk out of the equation for some women. Having clothes that actually fit correctly (this may take some time) and feel great, is wonderful for the self-image.

    In Sewing for Plus Sizes the author says she has worn everything from a RTW 12 to a 32, and has always sewn for herself and never felt limited. I wish there were more pictures in the book of her amazing outfits.

    Believe it or not I wrote a MUCH longer comment and had to hack it down to fit the character-limit. Yikes! ;-)

  22. I agree with Kelly!
    I think one misconception that modern women have that a lot "vintage" women didn't is in the way off the rack clothing is supposed to fit. I have many vintage sewing and beauty books and nearly ever single one mentiones buying a dress at the store and then taking it to a tailor to be fit to flatter their individual figure. It also mentions womens bodies in terms of builds- small, medium, and large. Short, average, and petite.
    With as much talk as there is about sizing and plus sizes, I have to admit when I went to make vintage dresses for my cousin who is a 44" chest I was surprised that Vogue reprints did not go up to that size. After looking through many pattern catalogs I found that not many of the styles that would have worked for the event we were going to were offered in her size, so I knuckled down and started grading. Given that women today are built differently than women back then I don't find it that surprising that the big companies didn't usually offer sizes larger than a 40- and the niche market for mail order patterns, which served a greater part of more rural areas, were offered in up to 50 busts. It wasn't that plus size women weren't around- look at Lane Bryant! It's just that the patterns with the pretty color covers and the nice packaging weren't as common in larger sizes while the mail order patterns- made of inferior paper and probably used and reused and reused and reused don't survive as common.
    As far as ready to wear, in an era with make-do-and-mend I'm not surprised that larger sizes are harder to get a hold of, especially post 40s, in actual made up vintage garments. Think of it from a practical standpoint. Women owned few dresses at all and when that dress becomes used and dated, and starts to show wear- it simply has more fabric so is cut apart to make a dress for a younger sibling, daughter, etc. That's why patterns are so awesome- we can make the rare things NEW!

  23. My mother is an antique dealer and used to put on fabulous large scale vintage fashion shows. At about 12 years old, I was the perfect size to model all of her Victorian gowns. Now, at a size 6, I can barely fit into the gowns of women who were considered too portly in that era.
    However, I have no trouble finding great 40's and 50's looks in my size, and neither does my "plus sized" sister. I think the term is all relative to one's generation.

  24. While I can understand the practicality of labeling patterns at 40 and above "plus size", it seems unnecessary. I wholeheartedly agree with some of the previous speakers here, label ALL patterns with bust size! I have a size that's quite easy to find, and even then it takes so much time to sort through all the patterns in the wrong sizes.

    Why should some women have to define their bodies as plus size just so a search can go easier? Esp when there's a much better way of doing it! Being uncomfortable about one's body is not something uncommon no matter our sizes, but why should women with larger sizes be named? Nobody's suggesting for all the other patterns to be called "skinny", which in my world is an equally bad term.

  25. This is certainly a frustrating issue. Especially for those of us around size 14. Despite my sewing, I still need to buy some items off the rack and some places I'm a Misses...others I'm a Plus. Even for modern patterns I still have trouble. If I use the size for my 44" bust I'd require a pattern size 22 - yet off the rack clothes I'm only a 14 - huge, frustrating difference! I guess my advice would be to try and cover all your bases and list the pattern under the actual size as well as a designation like plus/petite/tall, etc. That way all your bases are covered.

  26. I don't have a problem with the plus size label on patterns to help sift the listings, but think all sellers should list B__ or Bust __ so that it can be searched easily. That is the standard we look for in the listings, the rest can be worked around. Plus size is arbitrary, but probably applies to around a 40 bust,since the pattern companies stopped putting sizes around that.

  27. Brrrandi, your jeans-buying strategy is simply brilliant! I can't tell you how many times I've come home from pants-shopping sobbing -- something my husband just can't understand.

    Again, the power we give these numbers...!

  28. Not sure about the 'plus-size' tag would help a lot to find patterns that fit well, as it finding a supposedly 'plus' 40' pattern wouldn't help a ladies who has a 46' bust that much (or would it?). I always rely on bust measurements to find patterns.
    Morover, that might soon become another irrelevant tag for sellers to add, and finding an irrelevant result when looking for a precise thing, just because the seller wants his/her pattern to be seen is quite irritating, isn't it?

  29. I don't have an answer for the "plus-sized" question at the moment. I do however have a comment and your claim that the bust measurement never lies. I call bullshit. My bust measurement ALWAYS lies to me. That is because I am a D cup and I have narrow-ish shoulders. If I pick and cut a pattern based on my bust, I end up in a sack. Fit models usually have a B cup, which will give a more accurate pattern size. But for those of use with larger boobs, we are better off following our OVER bust measurement and then doing a full bust adjustment.

    Love your blog!

  30. Grace, I just meant that measurements in general don't lie, while retail sizes are affected by vanity sizing and such. Sorry if that was unclear! I totally agree with you - best to go with your high bust measurement. Thanks for adding that!

  31. I find the term a little odious (plus-what, y'know?) but I'm not sure what a better alternative would be. Maybe justgreater awareness among the etsy-seler crowd on how correctly labelling their patterns would increase their sales...
    how bough a convo-campaign putting the word out that we all want inch-measurements of patterns to be searchable?

  32. Oh for Pete's sake, why DON'T we go by the measurement, not some arbitrary/meaningless "size". It works for men, it'll work for us. Pattern Junkie, I love your "But I'm a size 2." story. Sellers, for search purposes, list the damn measurments.
    Oh, and I'm 5 foot even, and just about 100 pounds; should I have to search "MINUS-Size" patterns? Absurd.

  33. Gertie, I have to say that this was an awkward post to see pop up in my feed reader when I was at work! I do think that image really nails your point home, though. As much as I wish both pattern and RTW companies would simply list by measurements, I readily admit that it took quite a lot to memorize mine, and I still recheck them fairly frequently because I don't feel certain that I am remembering them correctly. Of course, if we were trained to look for them from the get-go, I wouldn't have that problem. Obviously the bust size is the most important thing to tag, but I can see the utility of tagging plus size as it is something that people are searching for, and using the dividing line that both Lane Bryant and pattern publishers used seems to be a well grounded choice.

  34. All I want is the bust or hip size listed in the header for the pattern. Bust for shirts and dresses, hip for pants and skirts.

    Simple, right? :)

  35. As one of the earlier posters has stated, the pattern companies have really made this decision for us as they number the sizes to 18 and then start at a 40bust after that.

    I am on the larger end of this discussion and have no problem with the term Plus Size. I am. Clearly. Look at me and you can see this. The terms I hate are curvy & volumptuous. You can be both of these but not be a plus size.

    To me the term Plus Size means much more that a bust and hip measurement. It's about design & fitting. A plus sized pattern has different bust:waist:hip ratios that a 'normal' pattern. Plus Size is designed for a lower bust, a thicker waist and a well padded thigh area. Yes you can get some patterns that the range goes to a 42 but after that they stop. This is because of these issues. Some patterns have the W after the sizes to indicate that they are Women's patterns that take these shape into account when designing. Most of the vintage patterns that I have that are in my size are princess line. (Oh,to have an actual waist. *sigh*) Now, I have only a few vintage patterns that are actually my size (my high bust is a 46) so I need to buy 40 & 42 and heavily upgrade and then make my standard FBA, LBA, sloping shoulder and waist adusments. I understand that if I want vintage this is my plight.

    I hope I do not offend, but it seems that the people who do not like this term are the women who's sizes are in the no-man's-land of the size 14, 16 & 18. And rightly so, you probably do not have the same fitting issues a true plus sized lady does. (Fit issues but not the same ones. Although, this also depends on your height!)

    Judging from all the varied responses on the topic, it's easy to see that this is a complicated issue. I'm sure discussions of this nature will continue for decades to come!

    I don't think I mentioned it earlier but mentioning measurements in the subject is, I believe, the easiest way for searchers. (Oh, and I'm an Aussie so measurements are so much easier because US number sizing is not the same as ours.)

  36. personally i just want to know what the measurements are. Being labled Plus size, usually comes with the feeling it will be an unstylish, ugly pattern as so many garments in the books labled Plus size are. For that matter in the stores as well. I fluctuate back and forth on measurements but the things that stay certain are my back to waist, and shoulder measurements. just because my bust is larger than a 36 doesnt mean i have the shoulders of a large man. Henceforth i have difficulties with plus size patterns really fitting correctly and usually try to adjust a regular misses pattern.
    I actually dont think they even had the "plus size" patterns in the 70's and before. They had half size, which were usually designed for people with no taste or talent, they had Miss, and junior/teen. and yes later they came out with Chubbies for girls an boys, which i'm sure made any young girl learning to sew feel like she wanted to find a hole in and die. I was always 13/14 but had big biceps so i had to learn to adjust for that especially during the 70's when the styles went retro to the 40's. Measurements matter, not labels.

  37. Oh Mischka.. I couldn't agree more! I was discussing this very same issue last night with a girlfriend of mine. I bemoaned to her that I seem to be a Plus Size, even though I thought I was "about normal", that is, in US Size 10-12, Aus Sizes 12-16. (I am Austalian.) But according to patterns I measure about a Size 20-22 with my bust, a size 24 plus on waist and about a 16 on hips. I wish I had a waist too! I am in NO MAN's LAND!

    My girlfriend complained about people invading her plus size territory! She is a very happy TRUE plus size woman, and was offended about pathetic little sizes like 14-18 being called Plus. LOL

    Funnily enough when I have made outfits STRICTLY following the measurements given on patterns, I rarely found them to fit. So if I measure 42" bust, and make according to that size - why are the clothes impossibly large?

  38. Cath. When you measure your bust do you use your high bust? That is, basically under your armpits and over your chest, or over the fullest part of your bust? From what I understand, when purchasing the big 4 companies patterns you should use your high bust measurement. That way the shoulders are more likely to fit. You then do a full bust adjustment (FBA) if you are bigger than a B cup. I believe vintage patterns are the same. Burda patterns, apparently, don't require the high bust measurement.) This has always worked for me.

  39. So if I measure 42" bust, and make according to that size - why are the clothes impossibly large?


    Because you buy the pattern to fit the largest part of your anatomy. It's easier to scale down the waist and the hips than it is to scale up the bust.

  40. For me the term plus size denotes ready to wear clothing sizes that are out of the ordinary range. In Australia, I consider this to anything above a size 14, though 16 and 18 are sneaking into more mainstream stores than they used to be. I think the meaning of the term is therefore fluid, as larger sizes become more available, what is considered plus sized is changing.

    I completely agree that shape is a critical distinction too - one single measurement like bust can't provide a real picture of who is plus size and who isn't. (But I think the shape v size problem is one for all sizes not just plus when it comes to clothing and patterns.)

    From a search and online perspective I think using plus size is very helpful - I've been disappointed so many times to find a garment/pattern/book/magazine only to discover is does not have anything for me. Knowing before I begin that this product caters to me is really important. But plus size is not exactly a precise instrument, so more info is needed too - size ranges help more than simply plus or no.

  41. Actually those models in that picture are a size 12-14. Plus size is an industry term to say people size 14 and up in width. Fit models are a size 8 as this is the base pattern which all "normal size" patterns are graded from. Most print models are a size 2 or 4. Catwalk models are a whole other thing. When we use plus models they're usually a size 16. I don't really like plus size patterns that are out there because pattern companies assume someone of that size likes dressing like a grandma, so I just size up missy patterns to fit me.

  42. Thanks for the hints ladies.. I always measure over the fullest part of the bust. But when you are a DD cup... it means the patterns are not going to be right. The patterns tend to assume that 42" bust means an A or B cup that is "large" around the body, whereas, I am "medium-ish" around the body and poke out a lot in front!

    I think I just have to continue this learning process of working out how to adjust patterns properly!

  43. Thanks to PatternJunkie for bringing this issue up.

    I'm going to come down firmly on the anti-plus-size label side of the debate.

    Unless we can all agree on where the arbitrarily drawn "this is considered plus size" line lies, I think using the term confuses the issue and stirs up all kinds of unnecessary insecurities.

    I'd rather see people list and search according to the one measurement we all have a firm and unchanging grasp on - inches. Every one of us knows without question what an inch is and that expectation is consistent throughout the world AND throughout the decades.

    It's for this very reason that I organize my etsy sections by bust measurement. As a not-totally-comprehensive but interesting data point, let's look at the relative number of each size: (quantity in brackets)

    # 28 to 31 Inch Bust (26)
    # 32 Inch Bust (57)
    # 34 Inch Bust (72)
    # 36 Inch Bust (101)
    # 38 Inch Bust (20)
    # 40 to 42 Inch Bust (28)
    # 44 to 46 Inch Bust (11)

    The drop off at a 38 inch bust (equivalent to an Old Navy Large or 12/14) is huge. Also bear in mind that the top end of the size scale 44-46" are likely to be from the 60s/70s. I'd don't believe I have ever come across a 44" bust from the 40s or 50s.

    But then we also have to factor in the change in undergarments. I'm going to be a vastly different size in a corset than I am in my modern skivvies. When we reach back past the 60s, so many outfits were designed on the understanding that you would be wearing seriously shaping and restrictive underoos. Sure, ladies were generally smaller anyway, but I'll wager a vast proportion of those 26" waists were thanks to their internal organs being jammed up into their diaphragm ; )

  44. I haven't read all the comments, I do apoligise I have a cold and everything is a little fuzzy right now.

    I aggree with what Nathalie said that all vendors should include the bust measurement in the heading. It makes searching for a pattern so much easier but a lot of sellers don't do this.

  45. oh almost forgot "plus-sized" pattern I have been thinking over for a couple of days now but have decided to not buy. 42" bust

    I was thinking with the short sleeves but the skirt given a more 50's wiggle skirt cut.

  46. I remember this outlet store here used to sell Fr low cost RTW.

    We didn't go often becasue it was far but I always remembered the tags the most. They had a human silhouette in white over a blue background with 3 vertical lines. Bust, Waist and Hip with the measurements in cms next to is in big numbers.

    I always said if I ever had a RTW line, that is how I would do it!

  47. I hate sizing in shops - just put the measurements on the clothing!!!

    I'm an Aussie living in the US and currently visiting the UK. I am roughly a 22 Aus / 24 US / 28 UK. What the????

    And then try getting something to fit the girls in (E-F cup)? Finally add that I'm 5'7" and this adds up to no luck.

    I now have a habit of taking a tape measure with me. I know my measurements in inches so I can at least see if the item I'm looking at will go anywhere near me.

    However, back to Gertie's original post - I'm used to "Plus Sized" - don't particularly like it - but it's one of the more inoffensive titles.

  48. I say "Bah Humbug" to the plus size label!
    I just go by the measurements on the envelope and make a decision from there whether to buy or not to buy.
    Some skinny twit with a size 2 waist probably thought of that label anyhow!

  49. I agree with Jennie! Bah HumBug indeed!! I no longer look at the "size" of any pattern, be it vintage or modern. I use my "high bust" measurement for dresses and tops and my hip for pants and skirts, period. Of course, I spend a lot of time with pattern alterations and such, but have done it so many times, it is second nature to me now, and doesn't feel like it takes any time at all.

  50. Grace! You're the first person to air my thoughts on bust measurements!!

    First, I agree with the comments that say label things with as many labels as possible for retrieval. It is hard for people to come up with words to search for what they want so if you have every category imaginable, you are more likely to get a hit in the searches.

    I, however, have a similar problem to Grace's. I have a 10 inch difference between my bust and underbust measurement - which means I have a G cup. I have had to shop for bras in plus sized stores nearly since puberty and so it's rare that I find RTW that will fit my body shape. Because of my current job situation and life situation, my whole (top) wardrobe consists of tshirts and I have one buttonup dress shirt that I found at Walmart (oddly enough) that seems to be cut with a big enough cup so that the bottom of the shirt doesn't just swim on me, but still isn't quite right. Even tshirts don't fit quite right, but I try to buy things with enough spandex in them that they'll hug my underbust waist area and stretch over my bre@sts because otherwise I look pregnant in everything (especially sweatshirts).

    All this to say that I wish things were listed by pattern size, measurements, not plus size, plus size, petite, long, curvy, and CUP SIZE!!!

    I used to buy "plus size" patterns according to my measurements and even though the measurements looked like they should fit, I never produced anything I could wear because of my cup size. Being completely unaware of the fact most patterns are B or C cups, I thought I was a failed seamstress!! Now with the fitting guidebooks I have, I would buy based on my waist and hips (which do fit into a standardized size) and adjust the bust because my bone structure fits the size (across the shoulders etc), it's only my breasts that don't.

    I think it's more important for people to know their own body and how to alter accordingly. Spend time and money on how-to books with good reviews before having as many failed projects as I did. If I'd have known, I'd have done it in that order.

  51. I'm new to reading your blog, but boy is it so helpful and interesting to read!

    I have to agree with the other Aussie ladies who have posted! It's so frustrating that the sizing between countries is so different! I always have to look at measurements when buying a garment or pattern online, particularly from the US.

    In regards to commercial pattern sizing (ie. the Big 4 Companies), one of the biggest issues I have is the amount of ease they add to the patterns. I'm generally an Aussie size 10-12 in RTW, with quite a small bust but larger hips and thighs. But according to most commercial patterns I'm about a 16-18!! But when you look at the *finished* measurements printed on the actual pattern pieces, I really am a 10-12 because on average there is about 4 inches ease added to the pattern. It's utterly ridiculous! So I always buy a 10-12, decide the size based on the measurements printed on the pieces, and alter accordingly. Why on EARTH would you need 4 inches of ease in a pattern? I just don't get it!

    I totally agree that pigeon-holing people can be very unhelpful. I really wish we could go back to a more measurement based labelling rather than sizing. I have such odd proportions (long legs, small bust, wide ribcage to mention a few) that I generally find RTW clothing obscenely difficult to fit. It's one of the motivations for me to actually sew my own stuff; I got sick of spending hours and hours attempting to find RTW clothes that fit and looked flattering.

  52. I'm a DD cup and have to buy different sizes to fit top and bottom when I buy RTW. Dresses usually don't fit me unless I get them disproportionally large on bottom. I can get by with an 18 (pattern) on top if I cut a little extra and use narrow seams.

    I'm a size 10-12 on bottom and sometimes a 14 on top depending on the cut. The sad part is my hip measurement is roughly the same size as my bust. I have a classic hourglass figure, and it's really hard to find RTW. At least with patterns I can make the adjustment before putting them together.

  53. My problem is I am plus size but stuck between pattern sizing. I am youngish so I love the newer patterns but they usually stop at a 20. Which got me thinking what is the difference between a missus size 20 and plus size 20 pattern? Any advice?

    Miss Q in North Carolina

  54. Gertie, thanks for this post! Now, if I can ask my fellow blog readers for my small etsy shop (which exists mainly to justify my pattern addiction), I'd like to be able to mark plus-size patterns as such. how to become a plus size model


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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