Do you struggle to find dress shirts that stay tucked in? Or perhaps you want to find a wedding gown that hits just above your heels, but you don’t know how to determine the best length of the dress for you. Learning how to measure shoulder to hem can help you find this perfect length.
The shoulder-to-hem measurement spans the distance between the rounded top of the shoulder to the lowest finished edge of a garment. Other ways to take a shoulder-to-hem measurement include measuring from the center back of a shirt to the hem or measuring from the armpit to the hem. On skirts and pants, this measurement spans from the waistband to the lowest hem instead.
In this article, you will learn how to measure shoulder to hem to determine the length of a garment. You will discover seven ways to take this measurement on different clothes. Finally, you will find tips on how to take other key hem measurements.
What Does Hem Mean in Clothing?
A hem is a finished edge on a garment, usually formed by folding fabric and stitching the fold into place. Sometimes hems have a frayed, bound, or decorative edging instead, like adding lace to the lower edge of a skirt.
Any part of a garment with an external edge can have a hem, like sleeves or pant legs. Hems finish the raw edge of a single piece of fabric. This differs from internal seams in a garment. Rows of stitching on the inside of the garment, called seams, usually connect two separate pieces of fabric to make the shape of the clothing, such as attaching a sleeve to the body of a shirt.
Hems come in different widths. This means the depth of the fold used to finish the edge. Some types of clothing, like men’s dress pants, traditionally have a deep two-inch fold held in place with invisible stitching. Others, like most t-shirts, use a small single fold of fabric held in place by two visible rows of overlocked stitching.
Of course, hems also come in many different lengths. You can have a floor-length, ankle-length, or tea-length hem on a skirt or dress, among many others. You can also find skirt hems cut in an asymmetrical shape, with the sides or front and back hanging at differing lengths.
You can often use the hem to shorten a garment by cutting away the lower edge and sewing in new folds or by folding over the existing hem and stitching it into place. Hemming a garment can mean making it shorter or adding a finished edge.
What is a Shoulder to Hem Measurement?
A shoulder-to-hem measurement spans the distance between the top of the shoulder to the lowest finished edge of a garment. This tells you where the bottom edge of a shirt, skirt, or pants will hit your body, giving you a good idea of its overall length.
The shoulder on a garment means the straight line between your neck and the edge of your shoulder, where a seam connects the front and back of a shirt. In this measurement, the hem usually means the lowest expanse of the garment, like the bottom edge of a shirt or the ruffle at the bottom of a dress.
You might have many hemmed sections on a garment, but this measurement is only used for the total length of the garment, meaning you measure down to the farthest away hem. You don’t measure shoulder-to-sleeve hem, for example.
A shoulder-to-hem measurement is not the same as a hem measurement. It is also not always the same thing as the official length of the garment.
Knowing where the lowest part of the garment will reach on your body will help you pick a dress that matches the shoes you want to wear or a shirt that does not poof out under your suit jacket.
How to Measure Shoulder-to-Hem: 6 Methods
You can take a shoulder-to-hem measurement on many types of clothes like a dress or jacket, and you can also take the measurement on yourself to find your desired length.
1. On Yourself
Taking a shoulder-to-hem measurement on yourself helps you determine the length you want before you buy or make a garment. If you go to a tailor for a fitting or to a wedding dress shop to buy a wedding gown, a professional will take this measurement to ensure you end up with a hem that hits just the right point on you.
You can easily take this measurement at home without professional assistance, but you need to ask a friend to lend you a second pair of hands! You can’t take this measurement yourself in most cases because if you bend over to look at the tape measure, you will mess up the distance between your shoulder and lower body.
- Position yourself in front of a mirror.
- Stand up straight with your shoulders relaxed and your hands at your sides.
- Have your friend place the short end of the tape measure in the center of your shoulder, where the shoulder seam of your shirt shows.
- Next, your friend will smooth the tape down your front in a straight, vertical line.
- When the tape reaches a point you like, such as your ankle for a long dress or your hip for a shirt, ask your friend to stop and tell you the measurement.
- You may want to take this measurement a couple of times to see if you like one length better than another or to take the measurement while wearing different shoes, like heels vs flats.
- Once you know the measurement, you can compare it to the garment length provided in a sizing chart in an online product description before you make a purchase. Or, for custom-order clothing like most wedding gowns, you can provide the correct length to the seamstress before she sews the dress.
Measuring shoulder-to-hem on a shirt will tell you its length and let you know how long it will hang on your body. You can take this length measurement in two ways: from the shoulder seam to the hem at the front of the shirt or from the center back of the neck to the hem.
For a traditional shoulder-to-hem measurement:
- Start by smoothing out the shirt, front side facing up, on a flat surface like a table.
- Locate the seam across the top of the shoulder. (Not every shirt has this seam, so you can use the fold line across the top of the shoulder as the reference point).
- To keep your measurements precise, you can insert safety pins to hold both layers of the shirt flat at the shoulder seam if you want.
- Smooth the tape measure in a straight, vertical line down the front of the shirt.
- Mark the point where the hem of the shirt end.
The hem on a shirt is often just called a hem or a rounded hem if the shirt has a curved lower edge. For dress shirts with a curved hem, the best way to determine length is to use the back-of-neck method that reaches down to the lowest point on the curved hem.
- Button the shirt, fold it in half longways, and put a safety pin in the center fold in the hem. This will help you measure straight down to the center back of the shirt.
- Unfold the shirt, place it face down on a table, and smooth out any wrinkles.
- Find the place where the collar connects to the back of the shirt. You want to start exactly at the center back of the neck along this seam.
- Place the short end of the tape measure at the center neck point, and then run the tape in a straight line down to the safety pin at the center back of the hem.
- Write down the shirt length.
The shoulder-to-hem measurement is one of the most important measurements you need to take on a dress to help you know how it will fit you. In this case, the measurement does serve as the official length of the garment, and aside from physically trying on the dress, it is the only way to know where the skirt of the dress will end on your legs.
This official length can often determine the kind of dress as well. Mini dresses have a length of 30” to 35”, cocktail dresses have a length of 36” to 40”, and a maxi or full-length dress has a length of 55 to 61 inches, for example.
To measure the shoulder-to-hem length of a dress:
- Fasten any buttons or zippers to close up the dress if necessary, then smooth it out on a flat surface.
- If the dress has a full or ruffly skirt, take some time spreading it out flat, so you can easily find the lowest point of the hem.
- Find the shoulder seam on the dress and measure in a straight line from that point to the lowest part of the hem, close to the center front of the dress.
Because dresses come in so many different styles, check out some tips for how to measure the length of special kinds of dresses as well:
- For a sleeveless dress that does not have a shoulder seam, measure from the hollow at the base of your throat instead. Try on the dress and measure from that point down the center front of the dress to the hem.
- For a dress with shoulder straps instead of sleeves, see f there is a seam at the top of the strap and use that as a starting point. If not, smooth out the dress flat and use the top of the strap as the starting point.
- For a dress with an uneven or asymmetrical hem, measure from the shoulder to both the longest and shortest part of the hem.
For a jacket or hoodie, taking the shoulder-to-hem measurement is the easiest way to determine the length of the garment.
- Spread out the jacket face-up on a table. If it has buttons or a zipper, fasten it shut. Smooth out any wrinkles.
- Find the shoulder seam where the shirt meets the collar or right next to the neck hole.
- Measure straight down from this point to the hem of the jacket.
- This should give you the full, vertical length of the garment.
As a pro tip, suit jackets do not list the length of the jacket in inches as part of the size. Instead, they typically describe the length as R for regular, “S” for short, or L” for long. You have to check out a sizing chart from that brand to find the specific length in inches.
Since most pants do not have a shoulder seam, you measure from waistband to hem instead of shoulder to hem. (Except a few styles like dungarees or overalls, of course!).
Measuring waistband-to-hem on pants is helpful because it tells you the overall length of the garment. Jeans can have a high waist or low waist, for instance. Taking this measurement will help you determine how much of your lower body the pants will cover.
- Spread out the garment facing up on a flat surface.
- You may want to safety pin the waistband of the pants to keep the top and bottom layers together.
- Place the short end of the tape measure at the top edge of the waistband right at the fold on one side of the pants.
- Measure all the way down the outside seam of the pants, to the hem.
- Write down that number.
However, you should note that most clothing brands do not use this measurement as the official length of the pants. For that, most brands use something called the inseam.
The inseam on pants describes the length from the hem at the inside seam of the leg all the way up to the crotch seam. Basically, it measures the length of the inner leg.
Skirts use a waistband-to-hem measurement to describe the length of the garment.
- Spread out the whole skirt on a flat surface. Depending on its fullness, you may need to use a floor instead of a table.
- Place the short end of a tape measure at the center front of the waistband, at the top edge of the band. Use a pin or paperweight to hold it in place.
- Smooth the tape in a straight, vertical line down the front of the skirt.
- Stop at the lowest edge of the hem or trim.
One important thing to keep in mind about skirt length is that you can often adjust the length by changing how you position the waistband on your body. If you tug the waistband higher on your torso, the hem will rise higher on your legs. Likewise, if you place the waistband lower on your hips, the hem will hang lower on your legs.
This differs a lot from pants because pants have a crotch seem that keeps the waistband in a static location. Depending on the type of waistband on the skirt, you may find that placing the band at just the right point is the best way to get the perfect length at the hem of the skirt.
Other Hem Measurements
You can take several different key measurements that use the hem besides a shoulder-to-hem measurement.
Is a Hem Measurement the Same as a Shoulder to Hem?
A hem measurement is not the same thing as a shoulder-to-hem measurement. A hem measurement means the width of the hemmed edge, rather than the distance from the top to the bottom of the garment. Tailors also call the hem measurement “the sweep” for garments like skirts and dresses.
To take a hem measurement, you spread out the full expanse of the finished edge on a flat surface, measure across it from one side seam to another, and then double that number to find the total width of the finished edge.
If the skirt has an uneven or asymmetrical finished edge, you will need to measure all the way around by hand instead of measuring half of the hem and doubling the number.
On pants, a hem measurement is usually called the leg opening. This tells you the circumference of the circle at the opening of the pant leg, such as 16 inches for a loose, regular-style pants leg or 12 inches for a skinny, close-fitting pant leg.
On clothes that don’t have shoulders, like skirts and pants, you take a waist-to-hem measurement instead. This still performs the same function of telling you the complete overall length of the garment.
If you take this measurement on yourself, make sure you place the short end of the tape measure where you want the waistband of the pants or skirt to rest on your torso. This may not fall at the same point as your natural waist. Low-rise jeans, for example, will have a waistband below your natural waist.
Shoulder-to-Shoulder Measurement on Clothes
A shoulder-to-shoulder measurement tells you the width of the garment around your shoulders. This is an entirely different measurement from a shoulder-to-hem, which measures length. Shoulder-to-shoulder helps you get the right fit in the shoulders and chest of a garment, usually a fitted item like a jacket or dress shirt.
- This is another measurement that works best if you ask someone else to help you.
- Stand with your feet flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. You want good but related posture, as rigid shoulders will mess up the measurement.
- Have your friend place one end of the tape measure at the tip of one of your shoulders, and hold it in place.
- With her other hand, your friend will unroll the tape across the rounded top edge of your back, reaching from one shoulder to the other.
- Stop the tape at the tip of your other shoulder, and write down the measurement.
How Many Inches is a Hem?
Hems can come in various depths that often depend on the kind of garment. Dresses and skirts often feature a deep hem measuring two or three inches, while t-shirts and blouses often have a tiny folded-under edge with a ⅓” fold or even just a rolled edge that only encompasses about ¼” of fabric.
Jeans usually have a ½” fold double stitched, but dress pants or trousers may have a deeper fold of one to two inches held with invisible hemstitching.
Curved edges often use a narrow hem, while straight edges on more formal garments often have a deep fold.
Shoulder-to-Hem Size Chart
The shoulder-to-hem measurement on a garment will vary based on the style of clothing, but this t-shirt size chart will give you an idea of how the shoulder-to-hem length varies based on increasing sizes for the same shirt.
When you look at increasing sizes of the same garment, the length usually increases incrementally with each size.
You can usually find the length or shoulder to hem listed in the sizing chart as part of the online product description for a given brand. Remember, though, that the length does not necessarily have anything to do with the size! You can buy a size 4 dress in a midi length or a maxi length and they will still fit you, though the maxi dress has a much greater length.
Is Shoulder to Hem the Length of a Garment?
The shoulder-to-hem measurement is the official length for most garments with both shoulders and hems. Dresses, wedding gowns, coats, and most shirts use the shoulder-to-hem measurement as the length of the garment. This is the measurement you will see in the sizing charts for these clothes.
The only exception to this rule are clothes that do not have shoulders, like pants and skirts.
Also, in some cases, you may want to measure from the back of the neck to the hem on dress shirts and jackets to determine length instead.
Pants use an inseam measurement for the official length. Measuring the hem and the inseam are two different methods for measuring pants. Skirts use a waistband-to-hem measurement for the official length.
Learning how to measure shoulder to hem can help you find dresses and jackets that hang right on your body. For most garments, locate the shoulder seam by the collar of the dress or shirt and then measure a straight line down to the hem at the center front of the garment. This tells you the whole length of the garment from top to bottom!
Most kinds of clothes have hems, or finished edges, at all their most distant points, like the bottoms of skirts, pant legs, or sleeves. Measuring from the top of the garment to these extremities helps you get clothes with a long enough shape to fit you properly! The exception to this rule is on ants, where you use a special measurement down the inner leg, called the inseam, to determine the official length.