Ideal woman, 1926

From 1926, an "ideal" female body.

1926: The 1920s Silhouette


  1. So what dress size is this? 

    (Let’s assume we’re talking about modern dress size, and the ones that we judge runway models by — because the sizes have changed over the years, and are different for “Women’s”, “Junior’s” etc, and that high-end clothes tend to be more “generous” in sizing.)

    1. Most likely a size 4/5.  I measured a woman with almost exactly these proportions today.  She was a 66 year old nun from Mexico. And very attractive! 

    2. She has my hips and waist and a slightly larger bust and I’m a size 6 in normal clothes and was an 8 in my wedding dress (with the top taken in). Though at some stores, they’re so sensitive to women’s clothing sizes, I’m smaller than an XS. So screwed up.

      1. I recently went to Old Navy to try to find an inexpensive pair of jeans. Depending on the style and the fabric, I was anywhere from a 2 to an 8. Ridiculous.

        1.  That’s more about Old Navy’s poor quality control than anything else. Within the exact same item of clothing, the number size can vary. My ex-wife tried on two pairs of shorts that were size 4 and size 6 — the size 4 was bigger than the size 6.

        2.  It’s like that with alot of brands now. They are insanely irregular from brand to brand. I wear anything from a 12 to 18 (and probably even larger in some brands). I usually wear 14 and they’re loose but I’ve tried on tight 18s too. They need to have a more uniform way of doing it. Shirts are completely ridiculous too. Some of the so called XXL shirts are like 6 inches wide and not very stretchy. When I was thinner I could wear between a 2 and a 12 depending on the brand.

  2. 5’6″ would have been taller than average for an adult woman in 1926.  That part of modeling, at least, hasn’t changed.

  3. Yes, but if you look just a little further back, zaftig was un-sexy again. Sure, the landed gentleman might have preferred a bodice-busting lady, but to everyone else, fat was a mark of iniquity. Let them eat cake, and so on. Botero wasn’t (isn’t) a strict contemporary, but I think he captured that impulse (below). 

    I hope there’s no confusion – I’m male, and I know I’m not subjected to the same pressures by a wide shot. But I’m pretty sure everyone from yanks to jihadists like to point out how fat America has gotten, the latter as a new-oldfangled mark of iniquity. I’m sure Marie Antoinette would rather have lost a few pounds than, you know, all the pounds not in her head.

    There are obviously different ‘schools’ on this. If you’re surrounded by and aspire to preternatural model waifs (in person or on TV), you’re gonna have a bad time. But if, on the contrary, you eat too much, and you refuse to reign it in, you’re gonna have a bad time AND you’re walking America around with a ‘kick me’ sign on its back. Miss Murrica o’ two six is a much healthier goal than this abstract ideal we have now (with women literally head-to-head against fucking anime). But she’s not a reason for complacency either. I really do feel for the neurotic who’ll never be thin enough. I am one (I know, cry my white male life a river). There seems to be a disconnect between the urban busybodies who can’t keep up with this week’s emaciation, and the America that is DYING of its non-vanity. In America, at least, I think we’ve finally tipped the scales, so to speak. ‘Fat is beautiful’ is context-specific ENABLING.

    I just KNOW this is gonna ruffle some feathers, but Adele – who IS beautiful – is far from an appropriate role model, health-wise.

    1. This isn’t that chunky. The size described would be about a us 4-6. For a woman of 5’6″ that’s not on par with contemporary model standards but it would still be considered slim and attractive today. Consider that Selma Hayek has a similar build and ratio, and is even shorter at 5’2″ and you’ll see how ridiculous considering this chunky is to anyone but an anorectic.

      So basically you just went off on your diatribe about fat chicks blah blah blah on a post about skinny chicks.

      Please don’t project your narcissistic drama onto fat people. They have enough problems. And before you get on your high horse with me about it. I’m a 5’10 gluten-free vegan who wears a size 4, weighs under 130, and does some kind of dance or yoga every day. I am, also, one who also has an auto-immune disorder that may cause her to blimp out for a bit and and grow a disfiguring goiter until medication brings the symptoms under control, allowing sanctimonious idiots to preach at her about her health when they don’t know a thing about it.

      Please stop dividing all of America into the two conflicting parts of your own psyche. There is a lot more going on with America’s problem with obesity than women not “aspiring” to be thin and being lazy about themselves. It’s very sad to read things like this.

      1. YOU are insisting on this being about women. I could have referenced a fat MALE celebrity, but no one would have called him beautiful/handsome with the same zeal, now, would they? You read the first sentence (or maybe the last) and sniped. This wasn’t the post you wanted it to be.

        1. The post is about women’s body ideals from the past. You reference MISS America as well. Are you blaming men’s body issues on women’s body ideals then too? Or just confused. The only thing I regret in the post is that I didn’t clarify that I’m a *near vegan because it’s not an ethical position for me but a convenience of eating. Please don’t tell me what my post intends to be or  not be. I suggest you think hard about the narcissistic projection bit. You’re doing it again :)

        2.  Getting defensive after the fat-shaming rant is maybe not a good strategy if you’re trying to get any sympathy.

    2. How do you know? You don’t know Adele’s nutrition habits, exercise habits, blood pressure, or cholesterol levels. Believe it or not, there are different body types, and people classified as fat, either by society or medicine, can be quite healthy. And many thin people who are thin genetically, eat like crap, never exercise, and aren’t as healthy as the overweight people who engage in healthy behaviors. So you can say, “Americans are not good role models, health-wise” because the majority of us do not engage in all the healthful behaviors that are recommended. But don’t start picking out individual people you know nothing about and assume you know everything because you saw a picture of them at an awards show.

      1. Yes, Americans are not good role models, health-wise. And this is my point – calling someone fat when they aren’t has foiled the metric. There are many many healthy people who have been duped into thinking they’re fat. But there are significantly more who are unhealthy, and who have been duped into thinking they’re healthy. Now when someone is objectively, obviously and detrimentally fat, we can’t call it. That’s a bad thing. And as I tried to explain above, that isn’t a sex-specific thing.

        And as to how I know? Giantism, for example, is bad for life expectancy. If Adele is just genetically off the charts in what qualifies as healthy BMI, that’s still not something you should ASPIRE to. I want to be like Mike, but if I grew three feet while keeping my current weight, I would have a serious problem. And vice versa.

  4. I’m not sure this jives too well with the flapper trend during this period, which celebrated a more boyish physique. Well-endowed women of the period would actually buy bras to flatten their chests.

    1.  Given that by the mid-20th century a more hourglass ratio of about 36 bust to 24-26 waist to 36 hips was considered “ideal” (Marilyn Monroe was either 37-23-36 or 35-22-35 depending on the source consulted) – I think these more columnar measurements actually do jive with the more boyish figure of the ’20s.

  5. Ideal this, ideal that.  When I was single my conception of the ideal woman always started with ‘finds me interesting’ and ‘laughs at my jokes’.  Sadly, that was a much more exclusive group than I would have liked.

    Most of us are sexy in some way or another. That said, I’d love it if we could get past this absurd idealization for a particular period.  Now people are into all sorts of things, surely our idea of attraction will also become more diverse?  Has it become more diverse?  Mass media conceptions of attractive certainly haven’t.

    1. It is more diverse. I think it always was more diverse, actually, but people seem to be slightly more ok with talking about it now which is a step in the right direction.

  6. You know, as a typical straight male I end up looking at a lot of women both in media and in person. Someone like this would be quite attractive in reality – and also, not coincidentally perhaps, quite rare. It’s all in the proportions, not the specific measurements, and these are truly rare proportions – to some extent anyway.

    This illustrated woman has essentially the same proportions as the average thin attractive women of today (not the model types). She has more fat and/or muscle, but it’s distributed perfectly – which is not something most people are gifted with. Most people, I think, actually have good proportions… but you have to figure out how much muscle and fat you need to maintain your best look, and then you have to figure out how to maintain it, and that’s very difficult. I hate my proportions, personally, and can only imagine how bad it is for women (once I learned how clothes should fit on me to look the best, I realized I need almost everything off-the-rack to be altered to fit – my proportions truly are off).

    One of the key areas for an attractive woman, I think, is the hip, ass, and thigh region. Many people with a little bit of extra fat have an excess of it collecting in those areas (for whatever reasons… not a biologist or doctor here), throwing off the nice proportions. These people probably weigh about the same as this woman would, but don’t look the same because of the distribution.

    Really, the only thing that looks slightly different here from today’s “ideal” is the fairly thick thighs (though with the length of her legs, it’s still in good proportion) and arms. Not sure if it’s flab or muscle, but if her exercise and diet was the same as people today she’d probably have less-fat arms and thighs. You rarely, if ever, will see someone today with thighs that look like that to go with an upper body shaped like that. It’d certainly catch my eye if I saw someone like this.

    There’s a website where you can search photos (user-submitted) of real women by their size. I tried figuring out how the measurements here might translate (with the help of commenters above mentioning clothing sizes) and found just one photo of someone with fairly similar proportions – and they’re quite attractive.

    1. Really, the only thing that looks slightly different here from today’s “ideal” is the fairly thick thighs (though with the length of her legs, it’s still in good proportion) and arms. Not sure if it’s flab or muscle…

      It is ink.  This woman is a drawing.

  7. Flapper alert!
    You know, I never expected to see the day when girls would get sunburned in the places they do now.
    Like the collarbone and elbow.  Rawr!

  8. Looks good!  I would say this about what I have always considered to be ‘about right’. Weird to see I have a 1920’s ideal, I am older, but not that old.  Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, feel free to like whatever shape you want.  I wonder about tattoos. It seems like almost everyone I meet these days has a tattoo.  I am guessing if a woman had a tattoo in 1920, she would have been considered fringe – of exotic heritage (foreign/islander), circus freak, whore, etc.  Anybody know about this?

    1. She just looks sort of average and healthy. She really needs to stop locking her knees like that, though, or she’s going t run into trouble right around the time that the Beatles hit the Ed Sullivan show.

  9. Looks pretty good to me.  Except for the vacant eyes, and high heels while wearing a swimsuit.  Which I guess goes to the whole Ms. America thing?

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