The End of Half Sizes

Sears Catalog, Fall 1988

The special category of half sizes, designed for shorter women with a “mature figure,” had about a seventy year history in American retail.  Although I’ve seen references in earlier years, it became an established concept in 1910s.  By the 1920s, department stores were praising this size range as a way to reduce alterations. 

Half sizes came to a peak in the 1950s.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that the fifties were the “Age of Mrs. Exeter,” a time when older women were having a fashion moment. While Women’s Wear Daily had just fourteen entries about half sizes from 1910-1919, there almost six thousand mentions of this size range—in articles, business reports, and advertisements–in the 1950s. 

Attention fell off dramatically in the 1960s, when the fashion focus turned to youth. Half sizes gained a reputation as dowdy and old fashioned. The decline continued and by the mid-1980s the National Retailer Association recommended giving rid of the name altogether.  Half sizes would now be called “Women’s Petite Sizes.”

The change took place in the Sears catalog in the Fall of 1988.  You can see the switch on the catalog page above. The former size 14 ½ was now rechristened 14 WP.  This might seem to be just a linguistic change, but the catalog offerings fell off significantly.  Three years later, the WP category disappeared altogether.

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4 Responses to The End of Half Sizes

  1. Lizzie says:

    The Youthquake has a lot to answer for!

  2. Black Tulip says:

    Thanks for another fascinating article, I hadn’t realised that half sizes began so long ago. I can’t help feeling that the move to ‘petite’ short-changed older women. Here in the UK (certainly now) it just means standard size but shortened, with none of the fitting improvements such as lower bust point and fuller waist which made half-sizes genuinely useful.

  3. Susan says:

    Now that populations are tending toward a greater proportion of older people, perhaps the manufacturers will (again) notice older women as a “target audience.” Of course, we’re old enough to know the difference between shoddy and good quality fabrics and manufacture — and I suspect that we keep and wear our clothes longer than a month or two…. So we may not be the ideal new market.

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