TIL I would fit into Marlene Dietrich's clothing.

There's an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts right now called Gender-Bending Fashion. It has the array of glam rock costumes (Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones) you'd expect, as well as modern pieces from couture runway shows. Some of the pieces are considerably older -- there are Edwardian women's "suits" á la Titanic that took their inspiration from men's business attire, and sporting and driving gear of similar vintage. A few of the outfits there belonged to Marlene Dietrich, who spent an awful lot of her career borderline crossdressing. One of them is the tuxedo she wore in the nightclub scene from Morocco, embedded at right.

All of the old clothing looks pretty small by modern standards. People are generally both taller and broader than they were in a hundred years ago, mostly owing to improved nutrition across the board. (Yes, there's a lot of crap out there these days, but we also put vitamin D in all the milk and iron and thiamine in the breakfast cereal. America has a lot of problems, but we tackled rickets about the same time as poliomyelitis.) If you sew from commercial patterns, you run into reminders of this constantly: Pattern sizes were standardized in the 1960s, whereas ready-to-wear sizes were not, so the dress size you buy from McCall's is wildly different from what you look for at Macy's. This is where you get those "Marilyn Monroe was a size 12!" clickbait articles you see everywhere -- her bust measurement of ~35-36" would put her roughly in a pattern 12, but her RTW dress size today would likely be more like a 2/4, and either way she'd need the waist taken in by a good chunk.

[Bra sizes, for the record, have also changed. The old method involved measuring the underbust and adding 6 to get the band size. No adding anymore -- we have elastic now! Wrap the tape around your rib cage right under your boobs, level with the floor, and that's it. Cup size is still the inches of difference between the underbust and full bust. A 36D bra today would be a band of 36" and a full bust of 40" -- a majestic set of knockers more akin to Jayne Mansfield than Marilyn. Her full bust is given at about 36", with an old band size of 36 that equates to a 29~31" underbust measurement. Today she'd be somewhere around a 30DDD/E/F, depending on the brand's labeling.]

I eyeballed the tux and thought, that looks an awful lot like the suits in my own closet. I have recently learned the hard way that I am smaller than I think I am. The correct leggings to buy are the ones that look like they would be slightly too tight to cram myself into. I tend to think of the mythical '36"-24"-36"' as it would have been seen when it was codified by the classic Sweater Girls: Slim-normal, just with a very specific distribution of mass. It's annoyingly difficult to find average measurements for women in the days of yore -- the only summary I found was in The Metro, which is heavily on the pop end of pop-sci, and gives a 36" bust and 28" waist for 1957, no hip mentioned, with a weight that comes out to 136 lbs.

Not really so much anymore. A cursory Google says the average American woman weighs 168 lbs and has a 37" waist. If you're anywhere near 36"-24"-36" (I just dug out a tape and got 36"-25"-36" for me, and the scale says 119.8 lbs), mostly what people tell you is that you're tiny. An article about Marilyn Monroe's "true size" gawks at her largest verified waist measurement of 28.5" as "astonishing".

Like... what? I'm not that small. I don't feel that small. I make a pretty good thump when I hit the floor, really I do.

I dug up this somewhat dubious list of measurements for Golden Age starlets, and though I'm slightly shorter and slightly hippier than Dietrich was, the pant style in 1930 was pretty baggy, and belts were a thing. So yes, I would fit that tux, not that the museum would let me anywhere near it. Huh.


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