Standard size charts. Sounds like an excellent idea, doesn’t it? Well, there aren’t any standard sizes. There used to be….sort of. In the 1950s, the US government and clothing manufacturers developed sizing standards for clothing, and for a few years most manufacturers and sewing pattern companies went along with it. But cooperation didn’t last long. While sewing pattern companies kept their sizing pretty close to government standards, clothing manufacturers quickly discovered a sneaky little trick. Ladies like to think they are smaller than they really are. If a pair of pants in one brand in size 8 fits the same as a size 12 in another brand, guess which one is more likely to be purchased?
The government updated the standards in 1970. Again, pattern companies cooperated much better than clothing manufacturers. Today there really isn’t any standard at all in retail clothing sizes; and pattern sizes bear absolutely no relationship to retail sizing. It is quite common to see at least 3 or 4 sizes difference; a size 10 in retail will usually require a size 14 or 16 in patterns.
The 1970’s era standard sizing charts are included here. Even though the arbitrary size (ladies size 14, for example,) doesn’t come close to retail sizing, the body measurements, as a group, listed for that size are pretty close. There is one notable exception, however. These measurements were developed when ladies still wore girdles. Waist measurements are much smaller than than for modern women; plan to add at least a couple of inches for smaller sizes, and several for larger sizes.
Another thing to keep in mind when using any of the standard charts is that they are given for a woman with an hourglass body type. Plan to make adjustments if you have a different shape. Some of us carry most of our weight in our hips and thighs; this body shape probably needs to add to the hip measurement. Some of up are “top heavy” and will need to add to the bust. Some of us are rectangular, with almost no waist shaping, and some of us are apple shaped, and will need to add quite a bit to the waist measurement. You may need to add or subtract from the back width (measured across the back at the shoulder line.) You may need to add or subtract from the sleeve width and/or length. Size charts are just the beginning point. If you know you need to alter retail clothing, you probably will also need to alter knitting patterns.
I have also included my own women’s size chart. This has been on my website since 1997. I developed it over more than 20 years of custom knitting, measuring more than 100 women. I then compared these measurements with those from several catalogs, and came up with average numbers. This chart also includes several additional measurements that are not included on the standard sizing charts, or on the Craft Yarn Council of America size charts.
The Craft Yarn Council of America has given up on the old sizing standards. They are now using XS-S-M-L-XL for sizing. In many ways this is a better system; however, they don’t include as many body measurements. Most pattern designers today are using the XS-S-M-L-XL standards, but older patterns usually use the old ones. Additionally, if you are drafting your own patterns, you will likely need the additional measurements found in the other size charts given here.
Craft Yarn Council of America size charts can be found here
Another thing you need to consider is ease. in general, a very close fitting garment actually has negative ease (5-10 percent less than body measurement.) A close-fitting garment is the actual body measurement. Average fit is 5-10 percent more than body measurement. Loose fit is 10-15 percent more than body measurement. Oversize is 15 percent or more than body measurement. However, the percentages alone are not the total answer. Lightweight garments usually require less ease than bulky ones, and stitch type (such as ribbing) must also be considered. One of the best tips is to measure a favorite sweater, taking note of the weight and type of stitches used.