Do these jeans make my ass look thin?
August 27, 2010 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Was everyone super-thin and super-tall back then, or is it just me?

I had to pick up clothes for a 70s themed performance, and I went vintage rather than costume. My biggest concern going in was finding something in my size, since I'm 6'1" and 160lbs -- I've always had trouble finding modern-day clothes off the rack, and assumed finding vintage would be even more difficult.

Instead, I found the racks full of pants in my size, and very few with shorter legs/larger waists. I ended up being able to have my pick of flared hip-hugger jeans that fit me better than anything I've worn in twenty years.

In addition, about half the shirts had sleeves long enough for me (unusual these days, with my ectomorphic body shape.) The next time I need to buy new shirts, there's a huge pile of just-70s-enough-to-be-modern shirts I plan to buy and wear non-ironically.

My question, then, is this: WTF? Was everyone in America taller and thinner back then (and if so, what happened), or is this just some weird coincidence? I was under ten years old when the 70s ended, so I really have no context to compare. Certainly everyone in my family was tall/thin, but I don't recall everyone else being so.
posted by davejay to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Skinny people's clothes don't wear out as quickly due to friction, sweat, etc., so they end up in thrift stores more often, rather than the garbage.

That said, I'm 6" and I used to be under 160lbs, and I never had trouble finding modern-day clothes off the rack until I gained unfortunate thirtysomething weight. So maybe it's just confirmation bias or something.
posted by The World Famous at 3:23 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

People were definitely thinner, but not taller. What happened? High-fructose corn syrup (among other things).
posted by 2oh1 at 3:25 PM on August 27, 2010

Also: the average-sized people got there before you and bought all the stuff in their sizes.
posted by amtho at 3:27 PM on August 27, 2010 [10 favorites]

The CDC keeps track of this stuff - here's a report titled Mean Body Weight, Height, and Body Mass Index, United States 1960–2002.

What it tells you is that since the 60s, the mean weight of adults in the US has gone up over 24 pounds, and the mean height increased approximately one inch.

So yes, people were skinnier, but no, they weren't taller.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:28 PM on August 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Americans Slightly Taller, Much Heavier Than Four Decades Ago (For Release: Wednesday, October 27, 2004)
Adult men and women are roughly an inch taller than they were in 1960, but are nearly 25 pounds heavier on average as well, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, average BMI (body mass index, a weight-for-height formula used to measure obesity) has increased among adults from approximately 25 in 1960 to 28 in 2002.
More details and numbers on the linked page.

Or as chrisamiller said.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:31 PM on August 27, 2010

People tended to wear their clothes a lot tighter. Like embarrasingly tighter.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:34 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

My mom recounts stories of their pants being so tight in the 60's and 70's that they had to lay on the bed to zip them up.

Another vote for the regular sizes not surviving, or they were bought before you got there. Keep looking :)
posted by lizbunny at 3:36 PM on August 27, 2010

There's also fashion at play - I noticed some vintage boots often have no room for calf muscles at all, which I always attributed to the no-muscle skinniness that was fashionable at the time, as opposed to the more fit thinness which seems to be at play these days.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:36 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can tell you this, as someone who was there: in the UK, in the seventies, people were thinner. We didn't eat processed, fat-laden crap as often and we certainly didn't eat anything like as much of it.

I have in front of me my school photo, class of 1973. I'm looking at Tyrrell, the one "fat kid" in the class. God, he caught hell for being such a fatass. And you know what? He looks nothing more than a bit stocky now. Sort of Seth Rogenesque. That was considered fat, back then.

Taller though? No. But thinner, most definitely.
posted by Decani at 3:48 PM on August 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe the clothes for shorter and fatter people sell more/faster so they end up with a glut of the less popular sizes.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:54 PM on August 27, 2010

People weighed less, but they were also less muscular--running, not weight lifting or resistance machines, was the favored exercise. I also think a lot of vintage things shrunk.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:54 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it were just the waist you could chalk it up to CDC stats, but since you say you also found longer inseams the explanation is more likely to do with the fact that chubbier contemporary people have already bought/used up/worn out all the vintage clothes in their sizes, leaving a large stock of relatively uncommon tall/skinny items left for you to buy.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:57 PM on August 27, 2010

Could it be that the pants were cut long to be hemmed to the correct length?
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 4:08 PM on August 27, 2010

When I was in high school (and roughly 5'7" and 120 lbs) my mom gave me a bunch of clothes she wore in college back in the 70s. Most of it was super-ugly, but there was a pair of kelly green corduroy bell bottoms that I LOVED. My mom was 5'9" and about the same weight back then, but they still didn't fit! They juuuuuust quite but not really buttoned, but they were, like, a foot longer than what would fit me and not just two inches. It was so crazy!

And then I remembered--platform shoes.
posted by phunniemee at 4:13 PM on August 27, 2010 [9 favorites]

2nd ing platform shoes re: pant length.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:35 PM on August 27, 2010

What if the local thrift store is simply supplied by one or two tall thin people from that era? Assuming of course that you only shopped in one place.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:20 PM on August 27, 2010

Thanks for the answer, folks. The larger of the mystery for me was the height, and platform shoes (in retrospect, pun intended) makes perfect sense as the cause.

Regarding this:

That said, I'm 6" and I used to be under 160lbs, and I never had trouble finding modern-day clothes off the rack...

It's the extra inch that does it, for me; I need 33" inseams, and typically only find lots of 32" (too short for me, perfect for you) with my waist size, and 34" (a smidge too long) with the waist 1"-2" too big.
posted by davejay at 7:31 PM on August 27, 2010

Earlier puberty is making for somewhat shorter limbs, proportionately.

Before puberty arms and legs grow faster than the torso (we do start out with awfully short limbs as babies, after all), but after, at about the same rate.
posted by jamjam at 9:46 PM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I notice the same thing when watching my beloved reruns of older television shows. People were rail-thin. Sure, it was the fashion of the time, so there are going to be proportionally more of them on TV. But still, even in contemporary crowd shots and old news footage, people just aren't as fat as they are now.

But the reason is that times were tough. Food and money for it was not in abundance. Gas was expensive and people walked more.

I mean, look at Refrigerator Perry. He got that nickname because he was huge. These days, a guy that size barely stands out. Or at least a guy the size he was when he got the nickname.
posted by gjc at 3:32 AM on August 28, 2010

I'm in the UK, and an average size for a UK woman. I have a 33" inseam. I have never found a pair of vintage pants long enough for me - women were, on average, shorter back then - and I have rarely found vintage dresses to fit me. This is true of small charity shops and large London vintage shops alike. If I have trouble finding modern clothing to fit it's only because not much of it is cut for hourglasses these days, or is for shorter women.

Part of this may be cut - I have the same issues with reproduction clothing even in sizes/measurements that would normally fit me, and I have an hourglass shape which wasn't always in fashion - but it does make me wonder where all the bigger people bought their clothing. One of the vintage dresses I do own looks handmade which might explain things - more people bought dress patterns and sewed at home. There's also vanity sizing, which may not be the case with men - vintage sizes were much smaller in the past, so a 10 now may have been a 12 or a 14 then, and if a shop's size range went from 10-18 then the general range would have been much smaller.
posted by mippy at 2:51 PM on August 28, 2010

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