If I read one more article on "Marilyn Monroe's dress size", I am going to roll my eyes so hard I will be stuck staring at my own frontal lobe.

Marilyn Monroe did not have a dress size. She had a range of measurements which would not have fit into any commercial garment, or commercial garment pattern, then or now, without extensive modification. The reason she looked so good all the time is that literally everything she wore was either custom made for her, or tinkered with by a dressmaker who knew their stuff. You will not look like that in anything you buy from a store. Marilyn Monroe would not look like that in anything she bought from a store. Clothing just does not come in that shape.

This rant is inspired by a shopping trip I took last week. I went to buy jeans, because A) it's my birthday on Monday, and B) all of my pants are falling off again. I blocked out an entire afternoon for this. Partly that was me assuming that if I wanted to get a pair of jeans that would last more than a month for under $10, I was going to have to embark on an epic quest through every Goodwill in Boston. But also that was me armed with the knowledge that when I try on clothing, I don't get to ask, "Does this fit?" It does not. I get to ask, "Can this be fixed to the point where it fits, and how long would it take?"

The reason for this is because of fit models. A fit model is the standardized body shape that a designer drafts all of their sizes to fit. Fit models are why women's fashion has divisions like juniors, misses, women's, and plus -- all of these ranges overlap in physical size, but they're all cut for different body types. Juniors, for example, is theoretically designed for teenage bodies. For a given hip measurement, a juniors garment will generally assume a straighter figure (less of a hip/waist and bust/waist difference) and a higher bustline than a misses garment, which is aimed at women in their 20s and above who are statistically more likely to have had children, with all the bodily changes that entails.

Women's lines are, or were originally, aimed older than that, for a more traditionally middle-aged figure. A 16W in the women's section will allow greater room in places like the upper arm, thigh, and bust, than the same garment in a 16 misses.

Structured garments in plus sizes -- as opposed to, like, caftans -- are a relatively new thing, so the fit models for plus sizes are all over the place. One of the greater challenges in designing a garment that fits a plus figure is that, while skeletons all tend to converge on the same average shape, adipose deposits go wherever the hell they want. A lot of plus lines have subdivided their collections into top-heavy, bottom-heavy, middle-heavy, and hourglass shapes, because it's nigh impossible to design one line that will do well with all of those.

Different companies use different fit models for their designs. They vary pretty widely. Topshop (aimed at juniors) shows a pretty consistent 7" bust/waist difference, and 9" waist/hip difference in their size charts. So does Rodarte for Target. XOXO for Macy's assumes an 8.5" bust/waist and 10" waist/hip difference. These differences are sometimes graded down for smaller sizes; in general, patterns err on assuming that people who are smaller have less flesh on an average bone structure, rather than an average amount of flesh on a smaller bone structure. Or, to put it more bluntly, that the thinner you are, the less T&A you're going to have.

I have an 11" difference for both bust/waist and waist/hip. Nothing fits me. Ever. And nothing would have fit Marilyn Monroe, either. Based on personal experience, she probably had her swimsuits tailored. I've had to alter both leotards and leggings to make them fit. There is a limit to stretch; if it's got enough give to get over my backside easily, then it might not have enough elasticity to hug my waist. Stretch things that are loose at the waist very quickly become stretch things that are trying to roll down your hips as soon as you move at all, so they can hang at the widest point of your body.

[I have also altered bras. Yes, you can tailor bras. No, you shouldn't. Bras should fit as purchased and be replaced as either you change sizes or the elastic wears out. I just bought more of the damn things, and the good news is that one of them actually fits. The bad news is that it's the 30E, and I would probably need a 30F if I wanted one that wasn't a plunge. Those of you who own and maintain boobs may correctly translate that size as 'fuck my life'. It is a magical unicorn bra size that almost doesn't exist. It means that all of my bras are going to be in completely deranged colors from now on, because black and ivory don't survive long enough to go on clearance, and full retail for these things is $60-80 a pop. If anyone feels the need to throw money at me for surviving to 38, a gift card to Bravissimo would be great.

If you do want to spend money but don't want to buy me underwear, then please direct it to the MSPCA. Their Angell clinic down on Huntington has helped me with many a rat. They are good people.]

The jeans I eventually came home with were American Eagle Outfitters bootcut stretch, size 2, and they needed to come in about 2" at the waist. I considered this a victory, because I did not have to take the garment completely apart to fix it. As a rule, you can take something down a maximum of 1-2 dress sizes before you're just disassembling it to make new clothes out of the pieces, and there are some lines I just can't buy from at all because they make assumptions (e.g., a long torso, where I am very wasp-waisted) that just can't be fixed without just hacking the entire thing to bits.

Making clothing is not necessarily a better solution. Unlike commercial dress sizes, pattern sizes are standardized, so they do in fact mean something. A size 14 Butterick pattern should fit pretty much the same as a size 14 Simplicity pattern, at least in theory. Like commercial patterns, however, they assume a lot less than 11" of difference between B/W and W/H measurements. Moreover, they are almost all drafted for a large-ish B cup, which makes the back too big and the bust darts too shallow for me even if the overall measurement is right. I've made lots of clothes and purchased fewer than half a dozen commercial patterns in my life, because frankly I find it a lot easier to just trace something that actually fits and then pick at it until it works.

In summary, Marilyn Monroe's "dress size" was a random number from 2 to 16 depending on your context, which wouldn't have meant anything anyway because everything she wore was extensively and professionally altered to fit her. Also click bait is annoying, and I hate having to buy replacement pants.


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