A Case of the Human Condition: A Half Century Later I’m Still a Size 10 . . . OK, 12

Two teenager girls in Bermuda shorts, 1950s. Photo by DG Falconer

My brother Dave took this picture of size 10 me and my friend Karel McCurry. Photo by DG Falconer.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I discovered a forgotten pair of jeans at the back of my closet the other day. Nice jeans, I thought. I could throw them on for a quick trip to the drug store or the plant store. I tried them on. A perfect fit. They were a size 10.

I did a double take. Wasn’t I a size 10 in high school way back in my mid-century modern days? But that was twenty pounds ago. (Okay, okay. Thirty pounds ago.) How could I still be a size 10? Was I remembering my high school self all wrong?

My size 10 virgin wool Pendleton skirt from Pendleton Woolen Mills, Portland, Oregon, circa 1958 -- and my 21st century Charter Club low-waist jeans from Macy's, size 10 petite.

My size 10 skirt from Pendleton Woolen Mills, Portland, Oregon, circa 1958 — and my 21st century Charter Club low-waist jeans from Macy’s, size 10 petite. Photo by BF Newhall.

It was a digging-around-in-the-closet kind of day, so I kept on digging. There, in a garment bag at the farthest, dustiest, most forgotten reach of my closet was – my old plaid skirt from high school.

It was a Pendleton. Very high quality, my mother told me as she took out her credit card to pay. “You’ll be wearing it when you’re pushing a baby buggy around.”

Except by the time my kids were born, baby buggies were passé and all the moms I knew were tossing tidy little collapsible umbrella strollers into the trunks of their cars.

Also – by the time my kids were born I was fortyish and definitely not 106 pounds any more. But still a size 10 or 12. Somehow.

Which brings me back to the question – was I or was I not a size 10 in high school?

I pulled the Pendleton from the garment bag to get a closer look. Sure enough. The label read size 10.

So, there you have it. I did indeed wear a size 10 in high school – all 106 pounds of me. And in college, a couple of pounds later, I was a perfectly svelte size 12. I have my old plaid kilt from my University of Michigan days to prove it. It’s hanging right there in the closet next to the Pendleton. Size 12. Waist 24 inches.

It’s called vanity sizing. Manufacturers have been cutting women’s clothes larger and larger in recent years as the average American woman has grown plumper and plumper.  The strategy lets women do that denial thing about their avoirdupois, so they can go on believing they are smaller than they really are. The trouble is, today’s size 10 is too big for a lot of women, which is why we’re seeing more and more clothes in size extra-small, extra-extra-small, size 0 and even size 00 on the ready-to-wear racks.

The size 12 plaid kilt with the 23-inch waist I wore in college, and the size 12 petite jeans I bought a couple of years ago. Photos c 2010 B.F. Newhall

The size 12 plaid kilt with the 24-inch waist I wore in college, and the size 12 petite jeans I bought a couple of years ago. Photo B.F. Newhall

This is not a new trend. Way back in January, 1983, the US Department of Commerce dropped its universal sizing system for women’s clothes because it no longer had any relationship to the size and shape of the average American woman.

But back in 1983 I was too busy pushing babies around in strollers to notice. As far as I knew, I was a perfect size 10 (or 12), and all was right with the world. As a matter of fact, all is still right with the world. As long as I can squeeze myself into those size 10 jeans.

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  1. Dan Schrock says:

    I always thought you were an 8 back then, “…living, breathing, 20th century woman” . Greetings from an old acquaintance that you left in the past so many years ago. Hope you are well. Dan

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks, Danny! Great to hear from you! How did you wind up in Kansas? I came to California in the Sixties, along with a lot of other people looking for the good life … I make regular pilgrimages to Michigan (but only in summer when it’s gorgeous).

  2. Cute!


  1. […] That’s Karel on the right with me back in our Bermuda shorts days. Photo by David Falconer […]

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