Skip to Content

How to Measure Bust Size for Dress, Shirt, Jacket

Whether you are on a quest to find a bra that fits or you want to order a tailored dress online, you will need to know how to take an accurate bust measurement! You may not know that you can use several methods to take your own bust measurement. Fortunately, you can learn how to measure your bust size for a dress, shirt, or jacket.

The most popular way to measure bust size is to use a flexible tape measure around the widest point of the chest to determine the circumference. Other more detailed approaches include measuring the rib cage and the upper bust or measuring the height of the bust. The least invasive approach to taking a bust measurement is to measure a garment that fits well.

In this article, you will learn four different ways to take an accurate bust measurement. You will find a bust sizing chart to help you determine clothing choices based on your measurements. Finally, you will discover tips for measuring your bust for a dress, shirt, or jacket.

How to Measure Bust Size

What Does Bust Mean in Clothing?

In clothing, the term “bust” means the portion of women’s clothing that covers the breasts. The shape of female bodies means that this portion of the figure curves out from the rest of the torso. This is typically the widest and most curved section of the bodice in a dress bodice, for example.

What Does Bust Mean in ClothingAlmost all forms of women’s clothing for the upper body, such as dresses, shirts, and jackets, will come with a bust measurement chart to help customers find the right fit. This is because getting the right fit in the bust area is crucial to the overall appearance of a garment as you wear it.

Common problems with clothing that does not fit correctly over your chest include drape or fold lines down from the shoulder in a shirt or dress, sagging armholes in a jacket, or seams that don’t align with the shape of your body.

In some cases, you can take an ill-fitting garment to a tailor to get professional alterations made. But most of the time, you will like your clothes better if you shop for the bust fit first and then make sure other key measurements, like waist and hips, also match your body type.

If you have never used a measurement chart for women’s clothing before, you may find the terms used a little confusing. For example, why do people use the term “bust” to begin with?

There is no clear answer, though you can trace the origins of the use of the word way back to the 1600s in the English language. It comes from the Latin and Italian words for a woman’s breasts–”bustum” and “busto” respectively.

Unfortunately, the more specific term “breasts” has a sexual connotation in English by this point, so it is likely that the fashion world adopted the less sexy term “bust” as a more business-like alternative.

The other common term sometimes used in place of the bust is chest measurement. But technically, chest and bust measurements could mean different things for a woman, as chest measurement sometimes means an underbust measurement, not an actual bust measurement! You can find out more about this later in this article.

The bottom line is that “bust” refers to the widest section of a woman’s chest. Whether you prefer to use the word bust or take a feminist stance and call it what it is and use the term breasts is up to you!

What is Bust Size?

What is Bust SizeBust size measures the widest area of the chest for women’s clothing. Bust measurement is the most important measurement to take accurately to find clothing that fits you just right because this is often the most outwardly curved section of your body.

A too-small garment will strain over this portion of your torso, while a too-large garment will drape inelegantly over your chest unflatteringly.

To avoid such a fashion faux pas, all you have to do is learn how to take a good bust measurement!

Cup Size / Overbust Measurement

A bust measurement, overbust measurement, and cup size measurement all measure your chest. But each type of measurement has slight differences.

The basic meaning of a bust measurement is the circumference around the widest portion of your chest. This is usually what an overbust measurement means as well, though in some cases, “overbust” can also mean the circumference of your chest just above your bust.

Cup size typically refers to the cups of a bra. You take a bust measurement to get this size, but you have to take an additional step to translate the measurement in inches into the cup sizing system used by bra manufacturers.

Cup sizes use letter designations like A, B, C, etc. To pick the right letter size for your body, follow these steps:

  1. First, measure around your torso just below your breasts. This is where the band of a bra will rest.
  2. Next, take your bust measurement. You can find tips for this in the next section!
  3. Subtract the underbust or band measurement from the bust measurement. For example, if you have a band measurement of 34 inches and a bust measurement of 36 inches, you would subtract 34 from 36 and get an answer of 2 inches.
  4. Each inch equals a letter size. One inch means an A cup; two inches means a B cup, three inches means a C cup, and so on! So, if you have a 34-inch underbust and 36-inch bust measurement, you would want a 34B bra!

Band Size / UnderBust Measurement

Another important variation on the bust measurement is the underbust measurement, which measures the circumference of your torso around your rib cage just below your bust.

Not every kind of garment needs this measurement. Many dresses and shirts just need the basic bust measurement, for example. But some close-fitting garments will need an accurate underbust measurement and a regular bust measurement. And, of course, you will need an underbust/band size measurement for buying bras!

To take this measurement, simply wrap a flexible tape measure around your torso at the point just beneath your breasts. Make sure the tape remains parallel to the floor around your body, including where it crosses your back. You can take this measurement in inches or centimeters.

Should You Measure Your Bust With a Bra On?

Should You Measure Your Bust With a Bra On

You should measure your bust with your bra on in most cases. For most garments, such as dresses and shirts, you want a measurement that reflects the size of your bust, including your undergarments. This makes sense because you will wear these undergarments with a dress or shirt!

Generally speaking, you should take this measurement in a flat and unpadded bra. If you measure while wearing a push-up or padded bra, it will skew your bust measurement and you may end up with clothes that do not fit you properly.

Sometimes, you may want to take a bust measurement with the specific bra or undergarment you want to pair with the outfit. For example, if you want to wear a special corset or padded bra with a prom dress or wedding dress, you should take your bust measurement while wearing that particular set of undergarments for the greatest accuracy.

The only time you should take a bust measurement without a bra is when you measure yourself to determine bra size. In that case, you should measure directly on your skin for the most accuracy.

How to Measure Bust Size Four Ways

Measuring Bust Size

This guide will help you take a basic bust measurement and also understand variations on this measurement, such as how to measure bust height.

1. Circumference

The basic bust measurement gives you the circumference of the widest point of your chest. This is the most important and most widely used type of bust measurement. When you see ”bust measurement” listed on a sizing chart, this is the kind of measurement the chart means.

To measure the circumference of your bust:

  1. Stand sideways to a mirror and find the most full portion of your breasts. Typically, this is at the nipples.
  2. Wrap a flexible tape measure around your back and across your chest at this point.
  3. If you feel comfortable asking a friend for help, have a second person take this measurement for you. This will allow you to keep your arms loose at your sides for the best measurement. But you can also take this measurement by using both hands to hold the tape and keep your elbows at your sides.
  4. Try not to hold your breath, as this could alter the measurement.
  5. Make sure the tape remains level and does not twist as it wraps around you, which will also skew the results.
  6. Do not pull the tape too tight. You want it to firmly but not tightly circle your torso. You should not feel pinched at any point.
  7. Find the number on the tape where the two ends meet at the front of your chest.
  8. Round up to the next whole number on the tape measure. For example, if you take a bust measurement of 37.5 inches, round it up to 38 inches because manufacturers always use whole numbers in sizing charts.

2. Bust Height

Bust height measures the distance from your shoulder to the widest point of your bust. You do not typically need this measurement for buying ready-made clothes, but you may need it for specialty clothing like wedding dresses or for sewing your own clothing.

To take a bust height measurement:

  1. Place one end of a flexible tape measure at the point where your neck meets your shoulder. You can think of this as the point where a shoulder seam would meet the collar of a shirt as you wear it.
  2. Drape the tape down the front of your body, so it follows the curve of your chest.
  3. Smooth a hand down the tape to ensure that it lies flat with no twisting bulging.
  4. Now find the exact point where the tape reaches the fullest portion of your bust, usually at the nipple.
  5. Pinch the tape at this point and then lift it away from your body so you can read the measurement.
  6. Write down the exact number at this point without rounding up.

3. Rib Cage

Another common measurement you may need, along with a bust measurement, is a rib cage or underbust measurement.

Taking this measurement is super easy.

  1. Keep your elbows close to your sides, but use both hands to hold a flexible tape measure.
  2. Wrap the measure around your rib cage just below your breasts.
  3. Keep the tape flat and level all the way around your torso. It may help stand sideways while looking at a mirror to ensure the tape is flat.
  4. Note the number where the two ends of the tape meet.

This measurement is the same as the band measurement on a bra that fits you well. So you can also just check your bra instead of going through these steps!

4. On a Garment

You can also measure a dress or shirt to take a bust measurement. This is not as accurate as measuring your body, as most dresses and shirts allow some space between your skin and the garment.

But you can get an easy and approximate bust measurement if you pick a fitted dress or shirt to measure. You should not use a puffy blouse or flowy dress for this process.

  1. Spread out a fitted dress or shirt on the floor. Make sure it does not have any wrinkles in it.
  2. Find the side seam just below the armhole. Place the tip of the tape measure here.
  3. Stretch the tape straight across the front of the dress or shirt. End at the other armhole, right at the side seam.
  4. Note down this measurement, and then multiply it by 2.

What Do Bra Sizes Mean?

Bra sizes use both a bust measurement and a ribcage or underbust measurement to help you find undergarments that closely fit your bust.

The slightly confusing thing about bra sizes is that they do not just use a bust measurement in inches. Instead, you subtract your underbust measurement from your bust measurement and use the remainder to determine a cup size in letters.

For instance, if you followed the steps described earlier in this article to find that you have a 40-inch bust measurement and 36-inch underbust measurement, you can find your bra size by performing this equation: 40-36 = 4.

Your answer to this equation translates into the letter sizes used for bra cups. Four inches means the letter D, just as three would mean C, and so on.

For our sample equation above, you would need a 36D bra size.

Bust Measurement Chart

Most clothing brands or manufacturers provide sizing charts that tell you what size of bust will fit into which size of clothing.

The bad news is that there is no universal system applied to the sizing. Your 32” inch bust could fit a size 6 in one brand and a size 4 in another brand, for instance.

But on average, most brands use bust sizing that falls within these parameters:

Bust Measurement in Inches Dress Size
32-34” Sizes 2-4 or XS
34-36” Sizes 6-8 or S
36-37” Sizes 8-10 or M
38-39” Sizes 10-12 or L
40-42” Size 16 or XL
44” Size 18 or 1X

You can also use free online calculators like this one to help you determine your dress or shirt size.

What Cup Size is 36 Inches?

You can’t find a cup size just from a bust measurement of 36 inches, as every body type has slight differences. You need both a bust and an underbust measurement to determine cup size.

Think of it this way: If you have a 36” bust measurement and a 32” under bust measurement, you would do your equation (36-32 = 4) and find that you need a 32D bra. This would mean you need D cups.

But suppose you take a 36” bust measurement and a 34” underbust measurement. Then, with an equation of 36-34 = 2, you would need a 34B size bra. You would end up with B cups.

This is why you need to take both measurements to determine your cup size.

What Cup Size is 42 Bust?

You can’t find the cup size of a 42-inch bust without using your underbust measurement. Cup size uses the difference between the bust and underbust measurements to provide an accurate size of the curve of your body.

If you want to find out what size of a dress or shirt you would fit if you have a 42” bust measurement, you can easily do that by finding a sizing chart provided by the manufacturer. On average, a 42-inch bust will indicate a dress size of 14 to 16 in US sizing.

What Size is a 34B Bra?

A 34B bra would indicate a clothing size of 8 to 10 for US women’s sizes.

How can you figure this out? Well, a 34B bra size means that you have an underbust measurement of 34 inches and a bust measurement of 36 inches. The average US dress size for women with a bust measurement of 36 inches is a size 8 or 10.

How Big is a Cup D?

D cup bras have a four-inch difference between the bust and underbust measurement, which means that the fullest part of the breasts extends four inches from the torso.

The actual physical size of D-cups can vary greatly, though. You could have a bust measurement of 44 inches, an underbust measurement of 40 inches, or a bust measurement of 34 inches and an underbust measurement of 30 inches. Both body types would use D cups but would vary a lot in physical size.

How to Measure Your Bust Size for:

Bust measurement for dress

Now that you know what a bust size is, check out these tips to take your own measurement for a dress, shirt, or jacket!


Most dress sizing charts require only a regular bust measurement taken around the widest portion of your breasts. The idea is that you want a dress that provides enough room to comfortably curve over your bust without feeling too tight or hanging too loosely.

Depending on the style of dress, you may also want to consider the placement of bust seams and darts.

If your dress has curved princess seams up the front of the bodice, the seams should lie directly over the center of your breasts when you try on the dress. If the seams do not align with the shape of your body, you will look like you stuffed yourself into a sausage casing of a dress or like you are wearing your older sister’s too-big dress and playing dress-up!

Darts in a dress bodice should fall a tiny bit short of the fullest part of each breast. If they lie off-kilter–for example, if the dart rides up to the upper curve of the breast–the dress 100% does not fit you.

Shirt or Top

One of the best ways to get a bust measurement for a shirt or top is to measure the bust of a garment rather than measuring yourself. This is because many shirts are designed to fit your torso more loosely than dresses. So instead of buying a shirt that exactly fits your bust measurement, you may want to buy a shirt that fits the bust measurement of a similar shirt that you like.

For example, pick a t-shirt that fits you well. Use the “how to take a bust measurement on a garment” process described earlier in this article. Basically, you measure from one side seam to another right at the bottom of the armpits and then double this number.


Most jacket brands use a regular bust measurement measured across the widest part of the bust to help determine the size. You will also need to measure the length of your arms and the length of your torso from shoulder to waist to get a complete jacket size.

Most jacket sizing charts use bust, sleeve, and length measurements to help you get a jacket that will comfortably curve over your bust and provide the correct length in sleeves and hem.

Bust vs Chest Measurement

Bust and chest measurements measure the circumference of two different body parts for women’s clothing. A bust measurement tells you the circumference of your torso around the widest part of your breasts. Chest measurement is the same as an underbust measurement, which tells you the circumference of your rib cage just below your breasts.

Most sizing charts for garments like dresses, shirts, and jackets only need a bust measurement. To find an accurate bra size, you will need both a bust and a chest measurement.

Sometimes you see the terms bust and chest measurement used interchangeably, but this is sloppy and inaccurate and can cause confusion. Usually, a chest measurement means an underbust measurement.

How to Measure Bust, Waist, Hips

To buy clothes that fit your whole body, you should measure your bust, waist, and hips and then check a sizing chart to find measurements that match your body type.

After reading this article, you should feel comfortable taking a bust measurement around the widest section of your chest.

To measure your waist, find the narrowest part of your torso or the lowest portion of your ribcage. Use a flexible tape measure around this portion of your upper body.

Measuring your hips can get a bit more tricky, but the basic idea is that you want to measure the circumference around the widest part of your butt and your hip bones.

Once you have all three measurements, you can buy clothes that fit you with ease!


The best way to take a bust measurement is to use a flexible tape measure wrapped levelly around the widest portion of the bust. Most dresses, shirts, and jackets use this type of bust measurement to help select accurate sizing. For a shortcut, you can also measure a garment across the bust from side seam to side seam and then double that measurement.

In some cases, you may also need an underbust measurement, especially for picking the right bra size. Bust size is not the same as cup size, as you have to find the difference between bust and underbust measurements to determine cup size for bras and other garments.