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What size? (05/23/2012)
By Frances Edstrom

Among the “dress up” collection I have put together for my grandchildren are dresses that belonged to my mother and mother-in-law when they were in their thirties and forties. There is a beautiful pink and black plaid taffeta dress of my mother-in-law’s that appears to have been made for her by a dressmaker. At least we couldn’t find a label and although the stitching is expert, it doesn’t seem mass produced. It has short sleeves and a wide skirt, looking very 1950s or 60s. There is also a burgundy velvet sheath that I would love to have in my size. But I am 5’7” and my mother-in-law is at least six inches shorter. Alas.

My favorite among the dresses, though, is a black sleeveless linen sheath with rows of scallops bordered in white stitching from top to bottom that belonged to my mother. No verbal description could do it justice. When my sister Susan was here, we were cleaning the toy room, and she discovered the dress. She looked at the label, which says it is a size ten. Susan wears an eight, and as she lifted the dress in front of her, her eyes widened in disbelief. There was no way in the world that a 2012 size eight woman was going to fit into that 1955 size ten (and by then my mother had had five children!). The waist on this beautiful dress would perhaps fit around my granddaughter’s, and she is only five years old. I wear a size ten in today’s sizes and I doubted I could get the dress over my shoulders.

Granted, my mother was one of those people who seemed to be able to eat anything and still remain slim. Of course she didn’t have soda pop and potato chips in the house all the time like people do today, and her diet was basically healthy. Still, she was always the last one done eating, and would offer to “clean up” anything left over that couldn’t be saved.

But back then, women who stayed at home worked extremely hard. No dishwasher, sometimes no automatic clothes washer and dryer, so women hefted around huge baskets of laundry and hung it on a clothesline. No electric broom. Vacuum cleaners that looked industrial size. No wash and wear, so the iron and ironing board were front and center, not hidden away as mine is. Men wore white shirts to work. More ironing. I remember the horrible smell of something my mother used to “spot” my father’s suits and ties so they didn’t have to go to the dry cleaner as often. And, yes, no easy birth control, so women had lots more kids (and kids are a lot of work!) Still…mother’s size ten, no matter how toned she was, is not the same as today’s.

When did women’s dress sizes get larger? Did it happen when I was in my hippy phase and wore nothing but old blue jeans and T-shirts? Or was it during my pregnancy days, when it didn’t matter what size I wore, I looked horrible?

And why? Did women start to rebel when they couldn’t fit into the size they wore in high school, and clothing manufacturers gave in, deciding to call an actual 14 a 10 to make women feel better about themselves?

Is this the inevitable result of the “obesity epidemic” (I just read that most high fashion models these days are closer to 12 than to 20 years old). Are women kidding themselves that they don’t need a healthy diet and workout regimen?

“I can still wear a size 10!” Really?



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