What is the cause for the problem of stoutness? Aging. That is the analysis of the editors of The Home Pattern Company 1914 Fashions Catalog, republished by Dover books. “When a woman begins to leave youthful slimness behind and sees herself going gradually plump and then plumper, and then positively stout, life is apt to seem a tragedy,” read the opening lines. “Just at present, however, fashion is kind to the stout woman, for large waists are so much the fashion that she need not lace herself in, until her discomfort shows itself in her reddened face.” (6) The styles offer common solutions for the larger woman—vertical lines and surplice (diagonal) closures.
On another page of the catalog devoted to larger women, the advice is more specific: no pastel colors, no primary colors, no horizontal stripes. “When a woman finds herself stout, she should stop using the latest styles and instead spend many hours before her mirror to find just what lines and colors suit her best. Then she should stick to these through thick and thin, making only such changes in her clothes as will keep them up-to-date.” But most important, she should focus on her conversational skills. “Like the extremely homely woman, she should make every effort to have her disposition and conversation so pleasing and interesting that what wear she wears becomes of minor importance. (48)
Sizes for these “stout” styles went up to a bust measurement of 46 inches, only two inches larger than the standard women’s sizes. In fact, the largest item offered in the catalog was for a “smart mannish shirtwaist” aimed at working women. It went up to size 48. That’s more evidence of just how ubiquitous the skirt and shirtwaist style was for all ages and sizes in early twentieth century America.