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Is your waist 8 inches bigger than your grandmother’s was?

Article by Fabafterfifty

From Hourglass To Apple.  Are our waists 8 inches bigger than those of our grandmothers? New research seems to suggest just that! It seems we’ve moved from hour glass to apple shapes in the space of two generations.

Average waist 8 inches bigger than in the 50s

The average British woman’s waist now measures 8 inches more than the svelte ladies of the 1950s. 60 years ago, the average woman was a petite hourglass, with a small 26-inch waist, 37-inch bust and 39-inch hip. Now we’re much broader on the waist – measuring an average 34-inches – sporting an apple shaped figure with 38-inch busts and 40-inch hips.

With Christmas party season just around the corner, new research from Playtex has revealed that nearly half (41%) of British women will be reaching for their control pants as they don their party dresses and dash to the dance floor this year.

It seems many of us are turning to controlwear to nip in our waists and smooth our silhouettes, with 47% of women saying control underwear helps us to feel more confident.  More than 50 years after Playtex introduced their first girdles to nip in our waists, it seems the 25% of us are handing over the task of creating our ‘hourglass’ shapes to control shapewear at least twice a week.
Vital statistics

1950’s Today
Bust 37 38
Waist 26 34
Hips 39 40


It seems our body shapes have changed, but our desire to emulate our grandmothers silhouettes is still there!


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  1. madgiemadge

    December 2, 2011

    I just want to say that my mother, who is 88years old has ALWAYS worn a corset, so she has been shaped by that. We 55 year olds have NEVER worn foundation garments (except for bras) I don’t think we can avoid the spread as we get older but have to accept that we must use shaping garments to look our best.

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      December 4, 2011

      Madgiemadge- it would be interesting to see if wearing the corset has helped your mother’s waist size! 🙂

  2. Anna Cronin

    March 4, 2012

    I don’t understand how, but the female shape in our society does seem to have changed in a generation, and without it having anything to do with control garments.
    About 10 years ago, I lent a 30 year old Miss Selfridge skirt of mine to a friend of one of my daughters’, then aged 17.
    It was a size 12 (as in size 12 circa 1970). I have always considered myself to be plumpish, and this friend of my daughter’s was tall and willowy. Amazingly, the waistband was nowhere near close to going around her waist! This is a girl who wears a size 8 (as in circa 2000 size 8. I don’t recall size 8 existing in women’s fashion a few decades ago). My very petite daughter also tried it on, and was staggered to find that the waistband barely did up on her. (She’s a size 6!)
    Both girls were much smaller around the bust and hips than I have ever been, but demonstrably were bigger around the waist than I had been pre – 3 babies.
    I’ve never in my life worn anything to ‘control’ my shape (that’s what our muscles are for!) so that wasn’t a factor.
    I’ve had several similar experiences in the years since, as I have often used my own 1970s and 80s clothes for costuming shows with youngsters. Even with 14 and 15 year old girls the waist sizes are an issue.
    How have figures changed so much in one generation?

  3. Trisha

    March 4, 2012

    Hi Anna, the answer is – yes they have! As a teenager with a family background in fashion (Norman Hartnell) I made most of my own clothes and did so into my twenties and thirties – I was tall and a size 12 then. After art school and fashion /textile design I now teach textiles at degree level. Commercial patterns for mass market clothes have been recut for contemporary measurements several times at least during the span since the 1970s to take accounts of increasing girth and height. A current size 12 would have been a 14 in the 70s, in better quality makes (which are cut larger than the cheap end of the trade) a 16 in the 70s! Stunning but true, as better diet (or is that worse?) has meant we are mostly over sized nowadays compared to once, when food was expensive for most compared to wages and special things a treat; and alcohol and fizzy drinks not so often consummed. Its frightening to know that the most popular sizes sold today are a 14 and 16, these would have been an 18 and 20 at least once upon a time, when it was unusal to see an overweight person in the street. I still wear a 12, but knows its not of course, its really a 14 in old money. The strangest thing is, I’ve found at least one make where I can now get into a 10, which I’m most definately not!

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      March 5, 2012

      How times and lifestyles have affected our bodyshapes! I remember a lot more home-cooked meals , fewer labour saving devices , less TV and more walking generally when I was younger. No wonder our waists are thicker!
      On another note Trisha, how wonderful to grow up close to such influencers in fashion. My own grandfather was the last in a long line of family tailors, so I can at least sew on buttons! Not as exciting as your exposure 🙂

  4. Hazel Ponsford

    October 16, 2012

    Interesting read including the comments. I remember being told that the ‘perfect’ figure was your waist 10″ smaller than bust and hips. Sizing these days is bizarre. I always mentally add £15 to the cost of most garments for alterations

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