WW2 Uniform Sizing Primer
Author: Chris Guska
Uniforms and footwear during the war years were made in a greater range of sizes than today’s consumers and re-enactors are accustomed to. Civilian clothing, military uniforms and footwear were not made in “Small” “Medium” and “Large” as we know it today. In civilian life, when you went to buy clothing or footwear, you already knew your size or had a salesman measure you. The Army was no different than civilian clothiers and haberdasheries, upon arrival at an Army reception center you were measured for your uniform sizes and recorded on a card to be presented during your initial clothing issue.
The Quartermaster Corps went to great lengths during WWII to study the most common sizes and ensure the production of adequate numbers of properly fitting uniforms. It was the belief of the Army that a soldier should be clothed with a properly fitting uniform for effectiveness, comfort, and esprit de corps.
Both in civilian life and military life, men routinely had their clothes tailored for a sharper more masculine look. Particular details that were emphasized during that period were the taper of shirts and jackets from shoulder to waist. Clothes were tailored so shirts were not excessively baggy at the waist, and jackets in such a manner to emphasize the triangular shape from a man’s shoulders down to a fitted waist. Shirt sleeve length was to come to the point between the wrist and base of the hand. Jacket sleeves were to come to the base of the palm on open sleeved jackets. Pants were worn with the button at or just below the navel.
Field jackets were purchased and issued by chest size, such as 34, 36, 38 and so forth in short, regular and long lengths. Class A dress jackets had intermediate sizes available, allowing for one inch increments, thus 35, 37, 39, 41… with Regular, Short and Long sizes being made and issued.
Pants were sized by Waist and Inseam – for example, 31 inch Waist, 29 inch Inseam (30x29). Pants came in both even and odd sizes, graduated in size by 1 inch increments. Pants were made with additional material in the rear seam of the pants allowing them to be let out by a tailor if needed in the future.
Shirts were sized by Neck size and Sleeve length. For example, 15 ½ inch neck, 34 inch sleeve length (15 ½ x 34). Neck sizes were graduated by ½ inch increments, and sleeve length was graduated by 1 inch increments.
Fatigue, or Herring Bone Twill uniforms were designed and cut larger to be worn over the regular wool service uniform to prevent it from becoming soiled. Fatigue jackets were cut sufficiently large to fit over the corresponding size field jacket. For example, a size 36 herring bone twill fatigue jacket was cut sufficiently large to easily be worn over a size 36 or even 38 parsons field jacket. Fatigue pants were cut large enough so that they could be worn over the corresponding marked size, 32 waist herring bone twill fatigue pants would have easily fit over size 32 wool service trousers when initially issued and after several washings. One piece field uniforms and jackets were available in 2 inch size increments by chest size, for example, 34, 36, 38 and 40, and were made in small, regular and long lengths.
Undergarments were sized incrementally in inches. Underpants were sized by waist, in inches, in 2 inch increments. Undershirts, tank tops, winter underwear and other knit garments were sized in 2 inch increments.
Footwear was sized as it is now, in whole and half sizes. During that time period shoe width was of much greater importance and consideration with an attempt being generally made to wear the correct width shoe. Shoe widths ranged from AA, A, B, C, D, E, to EE. Military footwear (Boots) were made exactly 1 size larger than the size indicated on the boot. For example, a boot marked 7.5 D would actually fit someone with an 8.5 D foot. This was done as “dummy factor” so that troops could wear additional pairs of socks and provide room if and when the foot swelled. The intention was not so that boots could be fitted and issued in a sloppy manner so that a wide range of sizes would “fit” an individual soldier.
Finding your size:
If you don’t already know your exact sizes – it’s really something you should do prior to shopping for any more clothes – either modern civilian clothes, or reproduction uniforms. It’s something you need to do – should you ever want to buy a suit, or otherwise look good for the ladies.
The easiest, and in my opinion best, way to get measured is to go to a department store, Macy’s, Men’s Warehouse, Dillard’s, Elder Beerman’s, Boscov’s; into the men’s section where they sell suits. There should be a customer service representative or salesperson that should be able to measure you for a suit and for shirts. The salesperson should be experience and know what they’re doing when it comes to taking measurements. I’ve never found a department store that didn’t offer this service for free, especially if you appear to be interested in purchasing a suit. If you ask, they will write all your measurements down for you, so you can take them home. This is a good time to look at suits, and have a discussion on how they should fit. You can learn quite a bit about how garments are supposed to fit and how things were in the 30’s and 40’s based on that discussion. For example, you can learn about proper sleeve length on jackets, what to look for in a waist, how to check the back for pucker or ripples, and generally how a jacket should fit. This may seem really silly, but there is an increasing proportion of the population that does not know how a properly fitted or tailored suit should fit, let alone the different types of “break” in pants.
You can have someone else get your measurements at home, with a cloth tape measure. There are a number of internet sites that offer directions on how to measure and where to measure to get accurate sizes – do a Google search if you need more info. This really is something that you need someone else to help you with in order to get accurate measurements.
The proper fit and wearing of hats can be a whole article in and of itself. Basically – you can measure yourself for what hat size you wear with a cloth tape measure, if not have it done while you’re at the department store. There is a standard chart of conversions from the circumference to the “hat size” available on the internet. Once again – Google search.
The current marketplace is better now than it has ever been for the variety of sizes of reproduction garments available.
Particular strides have been made by Juan Gonzales of WWII Impressions, Rollin Curtis of At the Front, and Ed Walton of Lost Battalions in providing the reenactment market with a wide range of “accurately” sized uniforms.
Each of the above vendors offers a variety uniforms in sizes other than “Small”, “Medium” and “Large”.
Until recently, many vendors and manufacturers have taken the cost saving measure of making only 4 or 5 uniform sizes, S,M,L,XL, and XXL – with “Small” being usually omitted. The lack of individual inch incremented sizes was a cost savings measure of reducing the number of patterns to be made, as well as lowering the number of different size garments to stock.
Many vendors still carry and make uniforms in S,M,L,XL, and XXL, but are beginning to make the transition to inch incrementally sized uniforms as their companies and the market grows to support those size differentiations.
Patterning of uniforms has been an ongoing problem in the reenacting community, where vendors and manufacturers will alter uniform patterns from original shapes and contours as to “better fit today’s modern sizes”. The result of altered patterns are ill fitting, sloppy looking, incorrect uniforms. Most significant of the changes in the uniforms is the elimination or the severe reduction in jacket taper from chest to waist. Jackets of the period commonly had a 4 to 6 inch taper, from Chest to Waist size. For example, if the jacket was a 38R, the largest waist that the jacket could fit would be a 34 or 32 depending on the taper. Many reproduction jackets now have no taper, or two inches of taper, making them appear “Fat”. The reproductions from Hong Kong and Asian vendors are notorious for being inconsistently cut, with few “reproductions” following original styled patterns, and the majority having been significantly changed to accommodate “Fat Tall Americans”. The sizing of these uniforms is significantly different than established American norms. For example, a size “Medium” jacket from a Hong Kong vendor has the chest listed at 42-44, where the accepted American norm of “Medium” is 38-40. If you plan on purchasing anything from an Asian vendor – be sure that you know your size, and the actual measurements of the garment you intend to purchase.
There are 5 major players in the footwear market that I am aware of – WWII Impressions, At the Front, SM Wholesale, Sturm and Cove Shoe. WWII Impressions is one of two companies that have boots made in multiple widths and half sizes. Cove Shoe (Corcoran) makes their reproduction Paratrooper boots in D and EE in whole and half sizes. At the Front has boots privately contracted for them in China, in whole sizes and E width only, although their boots are marked D. SM Wholesale has boots made for them under contract overseas to be sold by SM Wholesale and What Price Glory. Their boots only come in E width and are made in whole and half sizes. Sturm’s boots are made overseas and are available in E width in whole sizes only. The Sturm boots are sold by Sportsman’s Guide and numerous small dealers.
Before you spend any money, find out what your sizes are. Educate yourself as to how clothes fit in the 40’s and how they are supposed to fit in general. Do your homework and find out everything you can about original garments and the current batch of reproductions on the market.
By investing the time up front, you will save yourself money and time in getting garments that fit properly the first time as well as improve your overall impression.
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