What's the cause and what might be a solution to anarchy in clothing sizes?

According to the Bureau of Standards, an attempt was made in the late '30s and early '40s to measure a bunch of people to provide the basis for some sort of standards.

The project was initiated, at least partly, to provide work (toward the end of the late great Depression), and not surprisingly was somewhat limited in its usefulness. Still, 14,600 women and children were measured, and the result was the only standard in the field, one that was available up until early this year, unmodified by time or changes in the physiques of Americans. It was withdrawn in March of this year, however, leaving the field clear for any successor.

A couple universities have made some serious studies, but they have lacked the financing for the kind of study mail-order manufacturers would like to see done. Those manufacturers, of course, have a very practical interest in dependable and standard sizes customers could trust when ordering clothes they can't try on before buying.

Mail-order companies and other interested parties are cooperating in a Body Measurement and Apparel Sizing subcommittee of the American Society of Testing and Materials based in Philadelphia. That group is trying to get a draft of standards for clothing sizes for infants and children to be considered by the industry late this fall. Additional standards for adults are projected, according to Sirvart Mellian, chairman of the subcommittee.

ASTM began its study of sizes in 1978, with task groups for children, infants, shorts and talls. The group hopes to come up with information to include on clothing tags describing the shape of the human body that specific sizes should fit.

In others words, says Mellian, the plan is for a tag that will say something like, "This dress will fit a woman who is 5-foot-6, weighs 135 pounds and is short-waisted."