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Author Topic: A Theory...Does it Hold Water?  (Read 6599 times)
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Michaela C
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« on: May 24, 2015, 02:07:26 PM »

As I study more and more 1860's photos, the more and more I get a general sense for what was 'normal'.

Now, I've always been told that the average waist size was between 22''-28'', based on originals. However, after comparing pictures of myself and pictures from the past, the more I find this hard to believe because, to me, the average looks to be larger than that, and that 22'' wasn't exactly normal, especially for the average woman, even though many originals are that size.

It occured to me that, even though original dresses are great, could it be that what we have 'leftover' is smaller than average? It feels like the styles changed gradually enough that all the larger dresses could have been refitted much easier to a small person, than a small dress to a large person, then leaving all the small dresses for us to ponder over.

Does this in any way make sense, or hold water?
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EKorsmo
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« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2015, 07:13:44 PM »

I've heard that theory floated before, and it would also account for the skirtless bodices which have survived from our era--those full rectangular skirts are basically just yardage waiting to be used.  It's certainly easier to re-make a garment for someone smaller than the original wearer than for someone larger than her, though I've also seen a few originals with 'make bigger' alterations (fabric pieced under the arms, extra material tacked on to extend the waistband with part of the skirt let out).  At the Oregon City conference, there was one 1860's silk wrapper with a small 1850s low bodice of the same material; the hypothesis was that the wrapper had been made from the skirt material after the bodice was out-grown.
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Jessamyn
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« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2015, 09:50:17 AM »

I think that's a piece of it. I also think that the types of clothes that get preserved tend to be from the smaller times in our lives - wedding dresses being a prime example. Furthermore, I think there's more tendency for parents to preserve the clothing of deceased children (including teens and young adults) than vice versa - there was an amazing auction lot a few years ago of the entire wardrobe of a deceased young lady, whose things had all been packed up at her death. And also younger people tend to have more interesting clothes, the uber-fashionable items that get preserved even after the original wearer is forgotten. Not, of course, that there weren't larger and older women wearing uber-fashionable clothes! I'm just talking percentages here.

All that said, the average size nowadays is definitely much bigger than it was even a couple of generations ago. We're only a little taller, but even setting overweight issues aside we are, on average, vastly better nourished and medicated, particularly during the important growing years. Remember that when you look at old photos, you don't know how tall the person is nor what their bone and muscle structure is like. If you have an underdeveloped (by modern standards) ribcage, upper chest, and shoulders, your proportions are going to "read" differently.
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Amorette Bertilson
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« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2015, 10:33:07 AM »

I've always wondered about this, but would never have gone up and said something! I also wondered about smaller people growing out of their clothes and the clothes not being reused, but that didn't make a whole lot of sense in terms of those clothes being able to be used for smaller or same-size people.

I think that girl's-whole-wardrobe find would make such an interesting museum exhibit!
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MaryDee
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« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2015, 03:41:35 PM »

The generations are still getting bigger, even when not overweight.  Both my granddaughters are too big, even though both are slender, for their mothers' wedding dresses.  My youngest granddaughter (downright skinny) is only 13!  (No, she's not getting married; she and her mom were just having a fun try-on.)

As EKorsmo pointed out, we saw several dresses at the Oregon City Conference that had been let out.  The most interesting were a couple of obviously altered dresses in which the bodice was reattached backwards! 

Do note (as emphasized in the Oregon City conference, especially in Elizabeth's fascinating presentation) that women would regularly buy used clothing (often from an itinerant peddler) and make it over. 

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Sherry Key
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« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2015, 06:57:33 AM »

Just another thought...when we look at old photographs, especially studio ones, it is sometimes difficult to gauge the proportions.  (think of the ever-present quarter on fabric images-we all know how big a quarter is) Unless you are confident of the size of what ever they are standing next to your perception of the individual may be skewed.  For example, some chairs were smaller than we are used to and therefore, someone standing next to one may seem normal by our standards but is actually somewhat smaller.

Also, I have seen one or two dresses we lovingly refer to as the "stout" dresses with much larger waists (40+" IIRC).

Sherry Key.
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Sherry Key
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E L Watkins-Morris
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« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2015, 11:37:55 AM »

A few folks have taken measurement surveys of originals and they run a range parallel to our modern sizing...Carolann, K? Where are you?

The smallest waist in my collection is a 24 (day dress*) the largest 32 (also a day dress) with busts between 32b and 36C. Majority are in 24-26 range; Two (2) of them have period alterations to increase the waist.

For reference: I'm 41, 5'7, 158 lbs, 32 waist (same when corseted), 36B bust, 43 hip; wear modern size 8 top, 8-10 skirt, 12-14 jeans/trousers.

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*only to differentiate from evening wear.
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Carolann Schmitt
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« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2015, 06:10:45 PM »

The English costume historian, Doris Langley Moore, measured several hundred original dresses. Average waist size was 25".  That's pretty close to the average waist size on original dresses I've measured, with measurements well on either side of that average.

I think one of the things we overlook is how bodies adapt to supporting undergarments. My corset reduces my much-too-generous waist measurement by 3"-4".  If I wear it all day for several days in a row, my modern clothing is loose around the waist when I go back to wearing it. My body tissue has already begun to adjust to the shape of the corset. Unfortunately that doesn't last.  Cheesy  I experienced the same thing growing up in an age when being properly dressed meant wearing a girdle; my waist measurement adjusted to that compression. The waistline on my wedding dress is 24". 

Mid-19th century females began wearing binders immediately after birth, and wore some sort of supportive undergarment for the rest of their lives. Their bodies adapted accordingly. Our modern clothing stretches and we rarely, if ever, wear a supportive undergarment. Our bodies don't need to adjust to a supporting undergarment.

Regards,
Carolann

 
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Carolann Schmitt - Only a historian understands how much you need to know in order to recognize how much you don't know. - Elizabeth Ann Coleman
cschmitt@genteelarts.com
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