When I started writing this blog I didn’t know anything about half sizes, a special size range for women who were a little shorter than average with a wider and shorter waist. But while tracking down Mrs. Exeter in Vogue, I found references to them everywhere. I came to the conclusion that half sizes must have been the result of the great reassessment of clothing sizes that took place after World War Two, which based clothing sizes on a wide scale measurement of actual individuals from around the country. I soon had to adjust my assumptions when I encountered half sizes long before the 1950s, like this Fashion Frocks flea market find from 1930.
Since most women shrink and gain pounds in their middle as they age, half sizes had a special spot in the wardrobes of many in the older set. Although the Fashion Frocks card makes it sound like they fit only “stout” women, half sizes existed in all sizes, from small to large. But who thought them up? And when did they begin?
After reading Dorée Smedley’s You Only Live Twice (1941), which I discovered in The Lost Art of Dress, I’m now on a quest for the origins of half sizes. Smedley gives a provocative but undocumented account how this size range began. According to her, an unnamed dress manufacturer at an unnamed time once had a significant overstock of clothing that he wanted to offer to his workforce for free. Unfortunately, none of dresses fit his female staff. After having the women measured, he discovered that they were a little shorter than average, with broader busts, waists, and hips than those accounted for in standard sizes. In addition, they were all short-waisted. With this knowledge in hand, he invented half sizes.(72-74)
Well, here’s a provocative mystery story. Is it even true? And if so, who was the manufacturer and when did this happen? Can you help me find the answers?