Getting the right shoulder width measurement can impact your everyday clothing. A too-small shoulder width can leave you scrunching like a pillbug inside your shirt! Of course, a too-big shoulder width can also make you look like a kid playing dress-up. The good news is that learning how to measure shoulder width is quite easy.
A standard shoulder measurement traces the curve of bone and muscle across the broadest area of the shoulders. One popular method is to measure the space between the shoulder bone tips. Another popular method is to measure from one shoulder seam to another in a well-fitted shirt.
In this article, you will find out four ways to measure shoulder width. You will discover how shoulder-to-waist and shoulder-to-neck ratios can impact your appearance. Finally, you will find information about common shoulder widths.
- What is Shoulder Width?
- How to Measure Shoulder Width for Clothes: Four Methods
- What is Average Shoulder Width?
- Average Shoulder Width by Height
- What is a Normal Shoulder Width?
- How Many Inches is a Broad Shoulder?
- What is Considered Broad Shoulders for a Woman?
- Shoulder to Waist Measurement
- Shoulder to Neck Measurement
- Shoulder Measurements
- Shoulder Width Measurement Chart
- How to Measure Shoulder Width for Jacket
- How to Use Shoulder Width Measurement
What is Shoulder Width?
Shoulder width is the distance across your upper back from the tip of one shoulder blade to the other, measuring the broadest section of the shoulders. A shoulder width measurement traces the broadest portion of our upper back and should bend with the shape of your muscles instead of forming a taunt horizontal line.
Technically, the bony points where you start and stop the measurement are called the acromion bones. These bones have a squarish shape and sit above the joint that connects your shoulder to the humerus bone in your arm. In other words, they tell you where your shoulder ends and your arm begins!
This kind of shoulder-to-shoulder measurement is what most tailors, sizing charts, and clothing brands mean when they use the term “shoulder width.” In some cases, you can also find two other types of shoulder width measurement.
One kind of measurement spans from the outer edge of your triceps arm muscle, across your upper back, and to the outer edge of the triceps on the other side. The measurement typically has medical purposes rather than relating to fitting clothing, though.
Second, in some cases, you may see a “front shoulder width” called for. While less common, this measurement can play a role in designing necklines, especially for women’s clothing. Front shoulder width reaches across the front of the body from one shoulder point to the other and molds to the curve of the neckline.
How to Measure Shoulder Width for Clothes: Four Methods
You can measure shoulder width for clothes using several techniques, including asking a friend for help, using a wall, or using a well-fitted shirt. The best way to get an accurate shoulder measurement is to have someone else help you since you will find it tricky to measure across the back of your shoulders.
1. For Men
Most men’s clothing uses a standard shoulder width measurement taken between the pointed ends of each acromion shoulder bone. This measurement has the technical name of the biacromial measurement since it reaches between the two acromion bones. Getting this measurement yourself usually doesn’t work very well.
If you don’t have a friend or family member handy, consider going to a tailor and getting a full set of body measurements professionally taken! You can also use the “measuring a shirt” method, which provides accurate results as long as you select a well-fitted shirt.
To take a shoulder width measurement for men’s clothing:
- Plant your feet flat on the floor, about hip distance apart. Stand up straight but make sure you relax your shoulders into your normal standing posture. If you hold your shoulders more rigidly than you normally do, you will not get clothes that also fit you!
- Ask your friend to stand behind you and find the end of your shoulder at either side of your upper back. The easiest way to do this is to start at the outer side of your arm and work in, looking for the point where the square acromion bone reaches the end of the shoulder. It may also help to think of the line of the shoulder measurement falling an inch or two below the base of the neck.
- As a pro tip, you could take this measurement while wearing a perfectly fitting dress shirt. In this case, the shoulder seams of the shirt should fall exactly at these points, making it easier to find the shoulder points!
- Next, give your friend a flexible tape measure and ask them to measure between those two points. As they take this measurement, the flexible tape should lie flat on your upper back. You do not want to pull the tape tight in a straight line–it should mold to the shape of your shoulders.
- Write down your shoulder width measurement and keep it handy for the next time you buy a shirt or jacket.
Both men and women can use this measurement method. But you will see it asked for much more often in men’s attire like button-down shirts, blazers, and suits. This measurement falls where the yoke seam will lie across the back of a men’s dress shirt.
2. For Women
Women’s clothing sometimes calls for a front shoulder measurement, which can help with the placement of certain neckline styles. You can easily learn how to take that measurement here!
Most of the time, women’s clothing charts do not offer a shoulder width measurement. If you want to buy a blazer or suit jacket, you may see a column listed for it. In that case, the shoulder width probably means the distance across the broadest part of your upper back, from one shoulder point to the other shoulder point. For that measurement, follow the steps laid out in the previous section.
If you need a front shoulder measurement, the clothing seller will always specify that it is a front shoulder measurement, so keep that in mind!
To take a front shoulder measurement for women’s clothes:
- Stand in a loose, relaxed posture with your arms hanging at your sides, hands open, and feet spread slightly apart. Most importantly, make sure your shoulders feel relaxed! Because you must maintain this relaxed posture, you will need a friend to help take the actual measurement.
- Ask your helper to locate the ends of the shoulder bones by gently probing the point where your shoulder bones come together. Usually, this point falls an inch or two below the top of your shoulder on the inside of your arm. You can also think of this as the farthest edge of your shoulder that can hold a bra strap without sliding off your arm.
- Now ask your friend to measure between these two points using a flexible tape measure. You do not want a completely horizontal measurement here, though–you want the tape to follow the contours of your neckline as it stretches from one front shoulder point to the other.
- Write down the front shoulder width measurement.
Front shoulder width can help you know where to place straps on shirts, bras, or dresses. It can also help design necklines that fit your particular body.
3. On Shirt
The easiest way to get a fairly accurate shoulder width measurement is to use a button-down shirt that fits you perfectly. Both men and women can use this technique, and you do not need extra help!
- Start by ironing or steaming the shirt to take out any wrinkles. Try it on to check if the shoulder seams align exactly with your back shoulder points at the tips of those square acromion bones. On a well-fitted dress shirt, the shoulder seams should lie exactly at the edge of your shoulder.
- Spread the shirt face-down on a flat surface, smoothing away any wrinkles.
- Measure from shoulder seam to shoulder seam just below the collar of the shirt.
- Write down the results.
Though it does not work perfectly, if you’re in a hurry and need to measure your own shoulder width, you can also use a wall and a pencil to take your own shoulder width measurement.
- First, find a pencil or a piece of chalk and a tape measure.
- Position yourself with your back pressed firmly to a wall. Plant your feet slightly apart, relax your shoulders, and take a breath.
- Use the pencil or chalk to reach up and mark the wall at on shoulder point.
- Switch hands and rhea up to mark above the other shoulder point.
- Finally, turn around and use the tape measure to measure between your two markings.
This method does not perfectly translate to your shoulder width because it does not allow for the curve of muscles or sloped shoulders, but it will give you a decently close measurement in a pinch!
4. For Bodybuilders
Bodybuilders often log body measurements on a regular basis to track progress as they work out. Unfortunately, there is no standard way to track shoulder width for bodybuilders, as different workout methods recommend three different strategies:
- Many bodybuilders use the traditional ends of the shoulder across the upper back method, technically referred to as the biacromial measurement. However, some use a big set of calipers instead of flexible tape for this process. Technically, shoulder width that simply measures your skeleton will never change, though, so most bodybuilders do use a flexible tape that can trace the curve and growth of muscles.
- Other bodybuilders prefer to measure from deltoid to deltoid, circling the upper shoulders and counting the entire circumference as shoulder width. This does more obviously track progress in shoulder muscle definition.
- Finally, you can also find a school of thought that prefers the triceps-to-triceps approach. One of the benefits here is that you can easily use calipers and measure yourself.
If you do want to track shoulder width as you work on bodybuilding, you will also want to keep a few tips in mind:
- First, do not work out before taking the measurement. This will increase blood flow throughout your body and give you boosted results.
- Likewise, don’t flex your muscles while taking measurements.
- On the other hand, you also do not want to pull the tape measure too tight, which will subtract from the measurement inaccurately.
What is Average Shoulder Width?
The average shoulder width for men is roughly 16.2 inches and for women averages roughly 14.4 inches. Many factors such as age and height can also impact shoulder width for both men and women.
It is worth noting that there is little objective data collected in the past thirty years, though. We know that both average height and average shoulder width have increased for men and women in America over the past three decades. This probably relates to better diets as nutritional science has also developed a lot in the last few decades!
Average Shoulder Width by Height
There is no clear correlation between height and shoulder width, as some people with a shorter height will have the same shoulder width as people with a taller height!
However, you can count on the fact that clothing manufacturers will increase the shoulder width in a garment for larger sizes, so check out this guide to approximate shoulder widths and sizes. Keep in mind that there is no standard measurement used from one brand to another, but you can expect to find measurements quite close to this in general.
What is a Normal Shoulder Width?
The average shoulder width for men over the age of 20 measures just over 16 inches, though some estimates put this number closer to 17 inches. The average shoulder width for women in the United States falls around 14.5 inches.
If by “normal,” you mean what is the shoulder width the biggest number of people tend to have, you can go by these averages!
But this does not mean that you should consider yourself abnormal if you have a different shoulder width. For instance, if you have a petite frame, you will have a lower-than-average height and smaller-than-average shoulder width. Or, if you have a stockier frame, you may have shoulders that measure more than the average distance but a shorter height to go with them.
How Many Inches is a Broad Shoulder?
Theoretically, any shoulder width longer than the average measurements of 16 inches for men and 14.5 inches for women could be termed “broad.” In practice, broad shoulders have more to do with the waist-to-shoulder ratio and less to do with an actual measurement.
This makes sense when you realize that the contrast between the narrowest part of the body (the waist) and the broadest part (the shoulders, at least in most men) makes the shoulders look broad. You can find out more about the “golden ratio” that marks the perfect waist-to-shoulder measurements later in this article!
If you want to increase your shoulder width, you can find a variety of bodybuilding programs that focus on nutrition and a robust exercise regimen.
Alternatively, you can also increase the appearance of your shoulder width by fixing your posture. By their late twenties and early thirties, many men and women have already developed sloped shoulders and curved spines. You can gradually begin to correct this by trying a variety of posture exercises throughout the day.
A few simple exercises you can try include easy yoga poses like Child’s Pose or High Plank.
What is Considered Broad Shoulders for a Woman?
There is no one measurement that indicates broad shoulders in a woman, but the general rule of thumb holds that if a woman has shoulders with a wider width than her hips, she will appear as if she has broad shoulders.
Unlike men, the widest part of most women’s bodies usually lies at the hips. This means that if your shoulders extend from your body farther than your hips, you may look as if you have broad shoulders.
Another metric you can use is to measure whether your shoulders and your body form a 90° angle. Women’s bodies often have curved shoulders, so sometimes, sharply angled shoulders can appear broader as well.
Shoulder to Waist Measurement
One of the metrics people use to measure the “perfect” body shape is called the shoulder to waist measurement, the golden ratio, or the Adonis Index. All of these terms refer to the difference between the circumference of the waist and the shoulders. The basic idea behind this concept is that the ideal or perfect form for the human body has a specific ratio between the size of the shoulders and the size of the waist.
For men, this Adonis Index equals a 1.6 ratio, meaning that the shoulders measure 1.6 times more than the waist circumference. The golden ratio varies this just a bit, with shoulders measuring in at 1.618 times bigger than the waist circumference.
Women’s bodies have a different shape, but you can find some bodybuilding enthusiasts who suggest a ratio of 1.4, meaning that the shoulders measure 1.4 times more than the waist.
In reality, this Golden Ratio concept stems from the ancient Greek culture and its concepts of what defined beauty. The proportions of what makes the perfect face also termed the Golden Ratio, come from this ancient world as well.
Today, the ideal of beauty has expanded in a thousand different directions and embraces many different body shapes and sizes–whether or not your waist and shoulders fit this perfect equation!
Shoulder to Neck Measurement
Shoulder to neck or neck to shoulder measurements span the distance between the base of the neck and the endpoint of the shoulder. In some cases, clothing sizes will use this measurement rather than a full shoulder width measurement to help determine sizes.
You often see this measurement used in sewing patterns or fashion design terminology. It helps people who make clothes create styles and sizes of clothing that fit various body types.
Now that you know how to take a shoulder measurement, check out some common questions about shoulder width!
Are 15-Inch Shoulders Wide?
Fifteen-inch shoulders usually do not look wide for men, as the shoulder width falls below the average width for men. A woman with 15-inch shoulders may look like she has wide shoulders since this measurement falls slightly above the average width for women.
That said, other factors like your height and weight can also play a role in determining whether or not 15-inch shoulders appear wide.
Are 18-Inch Shoulders Broad?
Eighteen-inch shoulders will usually appear broad on both men and women because eighteen inches exceeds the average shoulder width for both men and women. However, your overall frame, such as your height and the shape of your hips, could influence this.
For women, factors like angled vs curved shoulders can also make your shoulders look more or less broad.
For both men and women, the waist-to-shoulder ratio will also play a crucial role in determining how broad your shoulders appear.
Are 20-Inch Shoulders Wide?
Twenty-inch shoulders for men or women will usually look quite wide, as this far exceeds the average shoulder width measurement. Of course, the waist-to-shoulder ratio will still impact how broad your 20-inch shoulders appear. If you have a muscular torso, your shoulders may seem less wide; in contrast, while if you have a narrow waist, your shoulders will seem extra broad.
Is 21-Inch Shoulder Width Good?
A 21-inch shoulder width measurement will usually appear very broad, as this falls three or more inches beyond the average shoulder measurement for men! Since modern concepts of beauty typically value broad, muscular shoulders, you can consider this an appealing body image.
Is 50-Inch Shoulders Wide?
Fifty-inch shoulders will almost certainly like wide or broad. Generally speaking, if you see a 50-inch shoulder measurement that indicates a complete shoulder circumference, meaning the distance of a measuring tape wrapped all the way around the shoulders, back, and chest. Sometimes you will also see this called a “deltoid to deltoid” measurement.
This could still indicate quite broad shoulders, as it would mean a regular shoulder width measurement of well over 20 inches!
Shoulder Width Measurement Chart
Most clothing brands or online sellers will provide a shoulder width measurement chart that helps you match your shoulder width to the size of clothing that offers that exact measurement.
As with most things in ready-wear clothing, there is no standardized measurement used by all clothing brands. This means you can’t predict with certainty what shoulder measurement a size medium t-shirt will have from one brand to another, for example.
But you can feel confident that most upper body garments will offer a shoulder width measurement that you can check before making a purchase. The chart will look similar to this:
How to Measure Shoulder Width for Jacket
The best way to measure shoulder width for a jacket is to use the classic biacromial breadth measurement that reaches across the upper back from one shoulder end to the other. You will find it tricky to get this measurement yourself, so enlist the help of a friend if possible!
Shoulder width is one of the most important measurements you need to check when buying a jacket, blazer, or suit jacket. You want the shoulder seam in the jacket to fall at exactly the right point on your arm without squeezing your arms into your torso. Of course, overly long shoulders in a jacket look equally bad, with the shoulder seam hanging off onto your arm like saggy elephant skin!
All that goes to say that you need to get your measurement and compare it to a sizing chart before making a jacket purchase.
How to Use Shoulder Width Measurement
You can use shoulder width measurement to help you find shirts, jackets, sweaters, and even hoodies that fit you in just the right way.
All you have to do is take your measurement accurately, preferably with the help of a friend. Then look up a sizing chart for the item you want to purchase. Find your measurement on the chart and see what size it correlates to. This way, you will know that you have bought a garment that fits your shoulders!
Remember that you may want to add an inch or two inches to the measurement if you want more relaxed shoulders in garments like a henley or a hoodie.
Shoulder width spans the distance across the upper back from the point of one shoulder to the point of the other. In some cases, you may also need to take a front shoulder width, which takes the same measurement except that it spans the distance between the ends of the shoulders across the collarbones instead. In either case, you can locate the square ends of the acromion bones to find your start and stop point for these measurements.
An accurate shoulder width measurement will help you purchase fitted shirts with a shoulder seam that rests just at the end of your shoulders. It will also help you buy sweaters, hoodies, and suit jackets that fit your shoulders comfortably.