Retro & Vintage in Buffalo NY
Retro & Vintage in Buffalo NY
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Waist Not, Want...Not?

Posted Julie Ann Davis Fashion Food Lifestyle Style Vintage

Some of the blogs I've written are based on real life questions I get from customers, and this one is no different. Since Cats Like Us started carrying vintage clothing one of the more frequent questions I get asked from the ladies is, "Why are waist measurements so small on vintage clothes?"
I can sympathize when something doesn't fit in the waist. I was an overweight kid and tall for my age. Don't believe me? My mom made my Halloween costume in second grade, a poodle skirt (no surprise there) and it still fits me, I thinned out a little as I got older. So I get it.
Me, Halloween 1983. I was 7 and in second grade.

Let me try to put things in perspective...

My gram was born in 1921 and had a large wedding portrait that hung in her living room for years. She would point as she walked by and say, "I had an 18 inch waist when I got married. I'm bigger now and blame the Woolworth's donuts I would stop and get on my way home from work everyday." Now my grandmother was never obese, she wasn't even heavy, she was just an average size lady when I came around. 
I couldn't find the exact photo, but this is one from her wedding day. September 1947 taken in the park across the street from her house.
My second grade waist, at seven years old, was bigger than her married waist!
So what is going on in society that has changed? Allow me to detail some things that might explain the change in size. Mind you, this is part speculation and part history, but my guess is that a combination of these things has caused everyone's size to change.

You are what you eat...

Let's start with food. Specifically, fast food. Fast food restaurants were not as prevalent as they are now. The most popular, McDonald's didn't branch out until the mid-1950s and even then they only had 34 restaurants. Into the 1960s and 1970s going out for fast food was a treat. Now it's an everyday convenience. We have lots of options in fast food and you can find fast food restaurants on every corner. Fast food is high in calories and sometimes in chemicals, so you can imagine what that can do to your body. Although in recent years they are trying to offer healthier options, it's not the same as a home cooked meal.
(Image taken from
Speaking of fast food, back in the 1970s and 1980s fast food was a heck of a lot cheaper. So if you were on a budget, fast food was the way to go, especially if you are feeding a large family. So it was cheap and easy to eat out. Nowadays it's a little more expensive than it used to be. 
What about "super-sizing" everything? Portion size is out of control! I'm a family of two, and I don't need the giant family pack of anything! Giant size food portions have been making people bigger. At a restaurant you can always eat half and take the rest for leftovers, or split something. You don't have to eat it all even though you might have been trained to "clean your plate."
We have more rich foods now, which means more calories. That fancy cheese in your refrigerator was not an option in the 1940s and 1950s simply because it wasn't available to purchase.
Ever look at a food label? There's sugar in everything (yikes!), usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup or corn sugar. It has the same amount of calories as regular sugar. It's really a filler ingredient to make food taste better. So we are constantly eating products that are not in their natural form with additives. I was shocked to find out it's in ketchup!
The other thing that may or may not have to do with a person's size is the hormones and pesticides in food. Companies are trying to make bigger chickens for us to eat, so they pump them full of hormones, and then we eat the chickens. It's a cycle that can't be good.
There was no such thing as "snacks" in the 1940s and 1950s. There were not bags potato chips laying around, ice cream, or cookies for snacks. They were treats, not something to be eaten casually watching TV. Andrew's grandma was famous for saying, "Have a cracker, it will tide you over" and she would hand us three Saltine crackers (serving size is 5 crackers!).
In short, there's just too many bad food options now.

Food availability during war time...

Think of it, mid-1940s, the war is ending and you've sacrificed a lot, including your health and food. There were food rations during World War II. Yes, the U.S. Government rationed essential food items and distributed them as they saw fit. So there was no hoarding. You couldn't purchase sugar, coffee, meat, cheese, fats, canned fish, milk, and other processed items without government issued food coupons. For each of the items there were points and you couldn't go over a certain point value in a month. Sugar rationing remained in effect until 1947! There were coupons being sold and traded on the black market, so some people could potentially be malnourished, causing them to be very thin or sickly.
The amount of meat that was eaten was very limited. You didn't eat meat with every meal, and it wasn't expected like it is now.
Victory Gardens were incredibly popular. They were personal vegetable, fruit, and herb gardens that people planted in their yards, and they helped you supplement your food rations. They were also a morale booster during a time of war. So people were eating "real" food, not food with chemicals and fillers in them. It was a healthy option and you could feel like you were doing your part for the war effort, by supplying you and your family with food that didn't rely on the government rations.
Lunches were very rarely purchased and people ate leftovers or what they made, therefore healthier options than going out for lunch like so many people do today!


The other huge factor was how people actually lived and what they did. Kids were more active and took gym classes and home ec in the 1940s and 1950s, where they learned how to prepare healthy food. Now all those classes are getting cut and eliminated from school curriculums which leads to kids being bigger.

On top of that adults are getting less and less sleep because of stress and outside factors, so their metabolism is goofed up, that can be a factor in weight gain.

There wasn't TV like there is now. People lead sedentary lives sitting in front of TVs, computer screens, and playing video games. That wasn't even thought of back then!

People were more active in the 1940s and 1950s, you walked or rode a bike to the grocery store, the bus stop, and wherever you needed to go. Commuting was very different. Cars were not as prevalent as they are now. My gram never learned to drive and she always said that was her only regret in life. Just think, not being able to drive!
Many people smoked in the 1940s and 1950s, which we now know it's bad for you, but back then it was recommended by doctors! So instead of eating, many people smoked tobacco as an appetite suppressant. It wasn't until the late 1960s cigarette packaging had warning labels on them!
Ad from 1950. (Taken from

Benzedrine, an amphetamine was issued to many soldiers during the war for it's ability to keep you alert and awake and ready to fight. This normalized amphetamine use. Once the war was over, these drugs were prescribed to women for weight loss, along with a combination of other drugs to curb the side effects it caused. The downside is that you could get addicted, but you were thin. That logic makes no sense, especially now with our opioid problem.
Getting back to fashion, everyone, and I mean everyone wore foundation garments. My gram with the 18 inch waist wore a girdle her whole life. They made your waist smaller and smoothed out any lines. Corsets and girdles, every body wore them, thick or thin, you had a foundation garment. Now they are called "shapers", but it's basically the same idea. So many women are offended when they try on something in my shop ~ they don't like it because they feel "lumpy" ~ and I ask if they are going to wear different foundation garments with it. Don't get offended by this! They make a huge difference, especially when wearing vintage. Just think, the person who originally wore it probably had a girdle on underneath!
Ad from 1954. (Taken from

So this is a compilation of reasons why I think people have bigger waists now. Was there anything you would include?
~Julie Ann

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