View Full Version : Clothing sizes

03-25-2006, 10:02 AM
I've noticed something that may be just my lousy luck, but I want to know what others think. I'm a 38 regular suit coat, and while I expect a 40 to be too large, I've found the 38s I've tried on are also too large. Is it because people tend to downplay their actual size, for instance, a guy with a 38 waist insists that he takes a 36?

Is it because so many of us with extra flesh are in denial about it and the makers are fudging the sizes to keep the customer happy? A 38 is actually a 40, a 40 is really a 42, and so on? Should I get a size smaller just to get a decent fit?

03-25-2006, 10:16 AM
I know what you are saying Frenchie. Last year when I just got into this hobby I ordered a jacket from Milk Creek. I gave the lady my exact specific measurements over the telephone. She siad I took a 46" jacket. Sent one to me to try. I could barely fit into it! This past winter I went to see Christ Daley in Gettysburg. He measured me and said I needed a 46 also. I tried a 46" of his on and it fit okay.
I don't know what it is about this sport. It seems every vendor uses a different tape measure or something. It makes you afraid to even order one, you know?
Bottom line is , you are not alone. Just be careful.
Frank Stevanus

03-25-2006, 01:10 PM
Possibly the maker was deliberately cutting them a tad larger to account for possible shrinkage after the use and the first washing. Just a thought.

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt
03-25-2006, 02:21 PM

I suspect it might would be better to let the makers/vendors answer best...

IMHO, there are a number of things going on. Some of things I have wondered about:

1. Different makers/vendors "sizes" are indeed different. To use the modern terms, I wear a "Size 34" trousers. One "premium" maker's 34 fits loose, another's "Size 34" barely buttons. I wear a "Size 42" jacket. One premium maker's blouse fits loose as a "Size 42," another maker's pulls the buttons and is tight across the back.

So, I wonder. Does Maker A make a modern "Size 42" blouse? Or does Maker B use the measurements and dimensions of a CW period "Size 4" blouse??
Or, did Maker A make his "pattern" from one original pair of trousers while Maker B used another pair for his. This can be important because while their are Quartermaster specs for the sundry measurements and parts dimensions, it is not unusal to find that "in practice" one can find variances in Federal garment sizes. For example, five surviving pairs of Schuylkill Arsenal trousers, Size 2, show unaltered variances in inseam, outseam, and waist measurements such as waists of 30, 31, 33, 33.5, and 34 inches. (So obviously, if Maker A uses the 30 inch waist, and Maker B uses the 34 inch waist example, "fit" is going to be different.

Also, among makers who use modern sizes. One might be a Size 40-42, a Size 42, and a Size 42-44 and all three blouses are intended to fit the man with a chest size of 42 inches? :-(

And last, yes, IMHO there seems to be something of "phenomena" when it comes to "modern sizes" in the hobby. May be something of a carry over from womens' fashion, it sometimes seems that there is a "Bonus (or bogus) perception that "smaller is better. I have purchased several used jackets sold as Size 42 that would not button on my actual chest measurment of 42 inches! :-)
Which reminds me of my late friend; a rolly-polly, rotund lad whose Mental Image of himself was fixed in his head at about 14. So, even though he actually wore a Size 48 blouse and Size 44 trousers, he believed we wore the "same size" even though I wore a Size 42 blouse and Size 34 trousers to use modern sizing.

At any rate, I have learned what the "sizing" actually means for me, from a number of makers, and order accordingly. But I dread rolling the die when it comes to a new vendor I have no experience with, or buying used from the boards or fora! :-)

Curt-Heinrich Schmidt

03-30-2006, 11:33 PM
Dear Frenchie,

Yes, I too have noticed the same phenomenon. I had trouble this winter finding a nicely made 36" federal blouse. The smallest size sold by many of the quality makers is a 38" chest and when I tried these on, I was swimming, especially in the sleeves. I solved the problem by buying a kit from White and Wambaugh & Co. and sewing my own size 1 SA blouse, the thought being I could tweek the fit if I needed to. I just finished it and it came out looking great and fitting well just as it was cut from the pattern (with room for shinkage from that first washing). Lots of work but well worth it in the end.

See you in Baltimore, Hon,

Audrey Scanlan

03-31-2006, 09:06 AM
For me it all comes right down to the maker. I was looking for a Great Coat this past winter and tried on one at Chris Daley's that was the same size as my frock and the darned thing was too small. I went down to S&S and tried on the same size as before and his fit me.

I think that at times it all depends on patterns used (okay no I don't sew and actually it would be nice to see Joe Hoffman or Nick Sekela throw in some advice) I know that some makers use period patterns and so your ordinary sizes just go out the window.


03-31-2006, 04:38 PM
I ordered a size 48 fatigue blouse this winter. It pinched me across the armpits and fit like a tent at the waist.

My wife, ever the wiseguy, said, "Well, you got a 48, on average... it's 46 on top and 50 on the bottom."


NJ Sekela
03-31-2006, 09:35 PM
Guten Abend Herr Schmidt:

I have to say, that this is one of the few areas in the hobby where people have a pre conceived notion of what the correct fit is, based completely on how it fits on them. Even advanced living historians commit the blackest of sins, by compare reproduction to reproduction.

In truth, if one was to focus soley on the topic of "specs" in the current apparel industry, the topic would be massive enough to fill a book. I would, however, point out, that there is no such as a "modern fit", as you used in your example. Every company in the modern apparel industry has their own ideal customer, and corresponding fit. J. Crew has a very slim fit, where Orvis or Timberland have a more relaxed fit. All are modern, and all three are different.

The problem with the Civil War uniforms is that there are no published finished specs for the garments. The Quartermaster's manual, while widely known among researchers, was never published, and consequently never reached a single contractor. To that end, the information it contains, reflects more of an ideal situation, and is not useful in codifying the existing garments.

And, fasten your seat belts for this one, because it is gonna get bumpy...

Some of the information in the manual is WRONG. I have recently discovered correspondence from Daniel H. Vinton, Quartermaster of the New York Depot, who requested shirts to be shipped in four sizes, and drawers, in four. The Quartermaster's Manual specifies one size of shirt, and three of drawers. The original surviving drawers from the Alvin Rose contract is marked with four bars, which many scholar could not understand, because "the book" said that there were only three sizes.

Essentially, during that time period there was very poor knowledge of quality control of wholesale apparel manufacture. The amount of piecing in a garment is a strong indicator that it was hand cut, making each garment slightly different. The Federal Goverment was using imported fabric, and letting contracts for fabrics of different widths. One of the people on the AC forum a while back, had mentioned ISO certification. The basis of ISO, is that by using consistent systems across the board, the results will be consistent, predictable and easily duplicated. Contractors were not given any guidelines to work with. Consequently, a mtd svcs jacket from JT Martin will measure differently than one from James Boylan, and both were accepted by the Federal Government. The only exact matching of sizes came when there were back door deals between contractors, who actually produced goods for others who secured contracts.

As I said, I could fill a book on the topic.

I am, &c,

NJ Sekela,

04-02-2006, 09:16 AM
I had been waiting for you to weigh in on this subject. Thank you for your insight.

bob 125th nysvi
04-02-2006, 01:34 PM
As pointed out there really wasn't anything as "sizes" during the time period unless you had something custom tailored. So the QM handed you what ever was closest next side up.

So I usually, when buying something off the shelf, I order the next size.

In a way it is more realistic because if you look at the period photos many of the men look like day workers or (as grandma used to say) a rag-a-muffin.

I'd suggest buying the next size up in all cases. Not only will it fit better but you'll look more realistic.

Bob Sandusky
Co C 125th NYSVI
Esperance, NY

NJ Sekela
04-03-2006, 08:25 PM

Well, you may not realize, but there are variations in MODERN production between lots, especially in denim. Fabric can react differently, and at times, sizing labels must be shifted to more closely reflect the desired spec. You should always try on clothing at a store, because there are variations.

There is a slight organization overlap in the "four-sizing" system from the Civil War. Whereas they had sizes 1-2-3-4, we have S-M-L-XL. The difference was that they were going for "popular" sizes, we go for size ranges to fit a larger segment. In other words, a size #1 was for a 36, our small is designed for a 34-38 range. The 19th century numbered sizing was not limited to military as you see the same listed in outerwear advertisements from the period. Military items from the period rarely invented their own system of manufacture, but usually evolves from the preexisting system.

I am, &c,

NJ Sekela,

bob 125th nysvi
04-04-2006, 09:11 PM

I was a men's clothing manager for several years and I'm well aware that the sizing is no where near as specific as people would like to think.

And as you are aware even if the "sizes" are the same the cut of the clothing will alter how the item fits. (ex: European vs. American cut).

As you point out there could have been a 4" variation in fit. Something that modern clothing patrons would find unacceptable when dealing with pants even if they are willing to put up with it in tops.

And while a reenactor has the luxury of being able to pick and choose what they'd like to wear the original soldiers had no such option. They wore what was issued to them.

Actually something very similar happened to me in ROTC. They didn't have in stock a dress shirt that fit my 185 pound torso with 36-37 inch arms. The Lt.'s solution, I wasn't allowed to take off my dress jacket in public.

I imagine a civil war soldier questioning the fit of his clothing got a very similiar instruction.

Bob Sandusky
Co C 125th NYSVI
Esperance, NY