measured up

Does the sizing of children's clothes confuse anyone else?

One of the mistakes I made when I first started out sewing is thinking that the size I would buy in ready to wear corresponded to the size on a pattern envelope. Then I would measure my daughter, and have her sizes come up completely different. When in confusion, I used to go with the what I believed her 'size', according to the tags in her shirts, was, and ignore my measurements. I don't know why really, maybe because I lacked confidence and the knowledge that sizes on envelopes are completely irrelevant. Measurements matter, sizes do not.

Another problem I had was not understanding exactly what was the difference between a pattern meant for a toddler versus a preschooler. Both came in size 2 and were roughly the same measurements, but differently proportioned. Actually, one was a 2T, but I didn't know what that meant either. I know some of you are laughing pretty hard that I couldn't think my way through what 'T' represented, but my first experience at clothing children was my own, and they don't really put any of this information in any of the thousands of pregnancy and baby's first year books I read.

(Baby books like to talk about scented candles and having sex after the baby is born - things I've been doing for years already, thank you. Where was the real info like how to juggle a car seat, diaper bag, and a screaming, hungry baby with a leaking diaper while checking her into the emergency room at the hospital? Hm? Anyway.)

Perhaps my basic ignorance set myself a steep learning curve on sizing, but it wasn't until I started putting together my own patterns that I started to get a clue on how it works. Of course, I started making my own pattern because commercial patterns did not fit well, which was mostly because I kept choosing the wrong size, which was because I didn't understand how the sizing worked, which is because I did not grasp that small children grow weird. Which is that they don't just get bigger, like one of those slimy grow sponges shaped like dinosaurs you place into water, but grow fast in one area while another part of their body hardly gets bigger at all.

I have a vivid memory of my college introductory psychology text book with the baby to adult illustrated anatomical chart burned into my head. It's there because a few months after I began sewing I was going through my old text books, trying to slim down my collection and steal back some shelf space, and flipping through my intro texts I came across the second on human growth. Seeing the monstrous baby with the bobble head slowly have it's body change from bean shape to Chippendale calender-esque man turned on my dusty mental light bulb. Ah! The whole size 2 vs size 2T makes sense because toddlers are shaped different than preschoolers. It's so simple. Why couldn't I work this out? I actually blame baby brain, and the fact that I was thinking about what grain-wise and bias tape and what does a 11/60 sharp needle mean to me really, instead of the what looked to be the simple stuff, like wrapping a tape measure around my daughter's chest.

I kind of want to laugh at myself, for being so woefully ignorant, but trying to puzzle out children's sizes is not just my problem. I have encountered on more than one occasion, a grandmother standing in the children's department at the shops, scratching her head, trying to figure out whether she should get the 2T or the 2, because it's really damn confusing when trying to buy an outfit for a 2 1/2 year old child. And if I have troubles and grandmas who actually know everything have problems, then I bet there are a few more out there in blog land too.

This is a breakdown of children's sizing, as I understand it, for both sewing patterns and ready to wear. (Keep in mind it's a bit fuzzy, because every pattern maker and every garment manufacturer does their own thing. It's a only a guideline, at least until they nail down this cloning thing and future generations all grow predictably.)

Baby sizes are for children who do not yet walk, range from 0 to 18 months.

Toddler sizes are walking children with bubble tummies, rounded tiny shoulders, short little necks that are hard to get into to nuffle, and hips that still are turned out, giving them a slightly bow legged walk. You know you have a toddler if they say the word 'no' more than ten thousand times a day. Their sizes include 24 months, 2T to 4T.

Children (preschoolers) have about the same sized chests as toddlers, but their shoulders are wider, their bellies flatted out, and their legs growing like crazy. Their sizes are 3 to 6, and 6x (the 'x' is just a bigger size than the 6, but they don't call it a 7 in order to avoid confusion with the next group. Totally clear, right?)

Boys and Girls (school age) sizes are differentiated by sex because this is the age when bodies begin to grow differently, depending on your chromosomes. Their ranges are 7 to 14. If you are using a 'boys' pattern for a girl (or vice versa), you may have to make some modifications for a better fit. As school age kids grow, the standardization falls apart because the kids are all growing and maturing hormonally at different rates. That is why you have a 4'5" kid in grade five next to a 5'11" kid. They try to give us a whole bunch different 'body types' to help out (like slim or husky, or junior, etc), but pattern tissue fitting is your best bet here for any individual child. Or sew with knit - knit fits everyone.

Juniors (high school) is almost adult sized, except they aren't. The boys are a bit slimmer and shorter than men, and the girls are all perky and small waisted in comparison (at least in theory). Their range is 1-13 ish, but in stores go quite a bit higher. Never confuse adult sizing with juniors. It will make a grown woman with a skirt that jammed at the knees cry.

I hope this helps out a few of you who are just venturing out. I wish someone had told me years ago, especially when buying patterns for your 1 to 3 year old range. And, when in doubt, pay attention to the measurements you have and modify the pattern. Let the size numbers go hang. There really is no normal size.


  1. funny I was just thinking about the crazy sizes for babies my daughter is 6 months old and wears anything from 3months to 12 months !

  2. You know what is really confusing for those that don't have children but want to buy clothes for yours? (Like for a baby shower gift) They base it on the age of the child in months and the size of the clothes in months. My son did NOT wear 12 month clothing at 12 months! No way! Nope, he wore 24 months (or 2T) to 3T! He was just soooooo round! His clothes were so incredibly long, of course this was before I bought a sewing machine and could hem them.

    Then, when I think I have kids and the sizings down pat, along comes my daughter. She was the exact opposite! Long as can be, but not an ounce of chub on the child. Everything that fit around the waist, would be like 3 inches too short.


  3. Another huge difference: The 2T and 3T are sized to fit over a disposable diaper!

    If you sew with Ottobre patterns (or Kwik Sew), you can use their height charts with good success! Hannah Anderson does the same thing with their size charts. That way, when you have a really tall child, you can still get clothes to fit! You may need to take it in a touch at the side seams for a bean pole, but at least the pants aren't capris! :)

    I have a tall boy and always sized up his baby clothes (making size 18-24 months at his first birthday) and hit a problem when he was 2 and still in diapers. The size 4 wasn't big enough to go over his diapers! That's when I started sewing ALL his pants! And after making him a nice set of pants with size 5 hips and size 3 length, he promptly potty trained and his pants fell off! Ha ha!

  4. Great summary!! Even after sewing for two kids, I still get flummoxed every once in a while. And hey, to add to the toddler/baby confusion don't forget the 24M size! WTH!?!

  5. This is SO TRUE. I puzzled over that "T" thing for a long time as well.

    I actually carry a measuring tape & measurements in my wallet for my girls if I'm shopping ready-to-wear, I get overwhelmed and seem to lose my innate sense of what will fit them just by looking...especially in secondhand stores where things are arranged by colour, not size...I used to feel silly about this but quickly became much more brazen as it was AMAZING how many people comment, "What a smart idea!" as I am measuring lengths and widths of clothing.

    I am constantly altering sewing patterns and half the time end up laying out clothes that already fit them & just use them for cutting guides...

  6. I have to chuckle at this, because while I knew that the 'T' basically meant they left room for diapers, I didn't really understand that the preschooler sizes would also be longer as well as narrower. Which is an advantage now that my little one is a very lanky preschooler, but less so back when she was a short but skinny toddler. But as far as I can tell, childrens' ready-to-wear is even less standardized than adult!

  7. Well that helps me, I'm from the UK so I had NO concept of what 2T meant. I often come across wonderful tutorials or patterns that lovely bloggers like yourself have painstakenly put together, I look at the pictures, I see the words and then I see the numbers and nothing makes sense. I usually look at the picture again and think 'That kid is smaller than mine, I sharn't bother!' Now I know to ignore T as mine are definetly not Ts!


  8. What a fantastic summary of sizes...I especially liked the description of the toddler's tiny little neck and rounded belly. My son is 23 months old and your description fits him to a tee (especially the number of times he says "no" per day).

    I too was really confused with sizing, particularly because my little guy has always been little, so now at almost 2 he still wears 18 month clothes and could almost fit into 12 month pants if it weren't for his big old cloth diaper. The pants I make him are the only ones that really fit, everything else I have to roll up. :)

  9. Oh my good heavens, THANK YOU. This helps not only with SEWING sizes, but also with BUYING CLOTHES. I never understood the difference between a 3T and a 3!

  10. Another great post! We live in Korea right now and I wish I could find someone to explain the clothing sizes here to me because I keep thinking I've got it and then find something new that is totally different. . . . In the meantime, I'm going to start taking a measuring tape with me like you've said. That would've been a smart idea of me to think of on my own, but I didn't. Thank you again!

  11. I'm still confused about what the T means? (tall?)(tiny?)

  12. Oh... toddler... I get it... someone whack me in the head and the light will go on eventually!

  13. I just searched through to find this post while making a baby/sister gift. SO helpful! The baby is almost all done, but I was flummoxed as to how to make a pattern work for a 24-month size when it's McCalls 1-2-3 sizing. I appreciate your input... you have great things to say.