You need to know how to pick the right clothing size whether you want to cut out a sewing pattern to make your own blouse or order the blouse online. The best way to make or buy clothes that fit you perfectly is to take good measurements. But to do that, you need to know how to measure your body for clothes.
Important body measurements for clothes include the neck, chest, and waist circumference for a shirt or dress. Waist and hip circumference plus inner leg length determine pants sizes. Certain types of clothing, such as suit jackets, use special measurements such as the jacket length measurement as well.
In this article, you will learn how to take key body measurements for clothes. You will learn how to measure your body for clothes in six different methods. Finally, you will find tips on how to know if your clothing fits you well.
Key Body Measurements for Clothes
Knowing the basic steps for measuring key parts of your body will help you find clothes that fit. Once you take these measurements, write them down for future reference.
Your neck size helps you find the right men’s dress shirt and can also help you find comfortable women’s blouses and dresses. To take this measurement, place the tip of a flexible tape measure at the base of your throat, below the Adam’s Apple for men. Using a mirror to help you keep the tape level, wrap it around your neck and then note down the number in inches where the ends of the tape meet.
Your chest measurement plays a key role in helping you find shirts that fit comfortably without straining at the armholes as you move. You want to measure the widest portion of your chest for this sizing element, so you usually start by placing one end of the tape at armpit level and wrapping the tape levelly around your torso at that point. Even if it is tempting, do not flex your muscles as you take this measurement!
A waist measurement forms part of the pants size for men and can also help women find pants, skirts, and dresses that fit at the most narrow part of the body. Taking a waist measurement gets a little tricky because you need to use your natural waist rather than whatever point usually feels like the place you wear the waistband of your pants. Locate either the most narrow part of your torso or a point about two inches below your navel to find the natural waistline, then wrap a flexible tape levelly around your body and note down the measurement.
For women’s clothing, the bust often forms one of the widest areas of a garment, second only to the hips. This makes the bust measurement crucial to a good fit for everything from women’s t-shirts to dresses, blouses, and underwear. To take this measurement, wrap a flexible tape levelly around the fullest portion of the bust, taking care not to pull the tape too snuggly as it crosses the bust.
To measure for a bra:
- Start by finding the band size by measuring around your torso at a point directly beneath your bust.
- Measure the fullest part of the bust, not pulling the measuring tape too tightly.
- Subtract the band measurement from the bust measurement, and compare that number to a sizing chart posted by the company you want to buy a bra from to determine cup size.
Knowing your shoulder width can help you buy fitted dress shirts and suit jackets. This measurement works best if someone else can help you by measuring the distance across the top of your back, from the tip of one shoulder blade directly across to the tip of the other shoulder blade. If you need to do this yourself, try taping one end of the tape measure to your shoulder, and then use a mirror to help you form a straight line across your upper back with the tape.
If you know the length of your arm, you will not end up with shirt cuffs that hike up too high or floppy sleeves that hang too long! To measure yourself to find the best sleeve length for your body, place one end of a tape measure at the end of your shoulder, right where your shoulder meets your arm. Then trace the tape down the outside of your arm to the base of your writs or the first knuckle of your thumb for men’s dress shirts.
The hip measurement plays an important role in finding the right size for women’s clothing, such as pants, skirts, and dresses, because the hips usually form the widest portion of the female body. To take this measurement, circle a tape measure levelly around yourself at the fullest portion of the hips and seat.
The inseam forms part of the official pant size for men’s pants and jeans and can also help women find pants that fit well. To take this measurement, run a tape measure from the crotch to the ankle along your inner leg.
Knowing the length of your outer leg can help you buy different styles of pants that suit your body, such as bootcut vs straight leg pants. This measurement runs from the top of the waistband down the side seam on the outside of the pant leg, all the way to the hem. It helps you understand how much the pants flare out.
You occasionally need to measure the circumference of your ankle if you plan to buy tapered, very tailored pants such as dress pants or skinny jeans. To take this measurement, wrap tape around your ankle just above your ankle bone, keeping the tape level.
Sometimes clothes like dresses or bodysuits require a body length measurement, which describes the distance from the shoulder seam or the top of your shoulder down to the hem of the garment often at the ankle. Other garments have special length measurements, too. Jackets use a back-of-the-neck-to-hem measurement to determine length, for example.
The leg opening on a pair of pants or shorts tells you the circumference of the hem at the bottom of the leg. You can easily measure this on any pair of pants yourself by laying the pants flat, measuring across the hem, and then doubling that number. This tells you how loosely the pant leg will fit around your ankle.
How to Measure Your Body for Clothes: 7 Methods
Now that you know how to take the essential measurements of key portions of your body, look at the best methods to measure your body for clothes for sewing, for an outfit, for men and women, and much more! These seven methods will prepare you to find the best size and fit for any type of clothing.
You can take measurements for sewing clothes in two ways, by using a pattern chart or by creating a block pattern for yourself.
The quickest way to take measurements for sewing and make sure your garment comes out in your size is to compare your measurements to the chart with any sewing pattern.
- Start by finding the sizing chart. This is located on the back of the paper envelope for a printed pattern and is often listed at the top of a digital pattern. Read the chart to see which measurements the pattern uses, such as waist, inseam, etc.
- Find the column listing the largest body part, such as the bust or hip. Trace the measurements until you find yours. For example, if you have a 40” bust, find the row listing 40” in the bust column.
- Make sure the other measurements in that row align with yours.
- Use that pattern size as you cut out the pieces. Remember that pattern sizes have nothing in common with off-the-rack clothing sizes–you could easily fit a Size 4 in women’s retail clothing but wear a size 14 in sewing pattern sizes!
While this is a quick and easy way to make sure you cut out the right size of pattern pieces before you begin sewing, it is not perfect. It assumes that the shape of the pattern itself will fit the shape of your body.
Because of this, the best way to take measurements for sewing clothes is to make your own pattern block or master template. This takes longer and does require some pattern-drafting skills, but you only have to do it once and then you can apply it to any garment you sew for yourself in the future, and always know that your clothes will fit your body just right!
- Start by taking all of the body measurements listed earlier in this article. Depending on what pattern you plan to block out, you may also need specialized measurements such as a “depth of crotch” or “width of thigh” measurement.
- Use a digital pattern creation tool like Seamly2D or trace your measurements in a block onto dotted paper. If you draw a physical pattern, you will need drafting tools to create the curves and angles of the pattern.
- Whether you use digital or paper pattern drafting tools, you will need to “slash” the 2D shapes to add shaping elements like darts and seams to turn the pattern into a 3D shape once you sew it.
- Once you have a master pattern, cut it out of cheap fabric like muslin and baste it together.
- Try it on and pin any necessary fitting alterations.
- Take the muslin pieces apart and lay them flat to draw a new paper pattern using the alterations you noted.
- Once you finish, you will have the perfect master pattern that fits your body!
For an Outfit
The key to measuring yourself for a specific outfit is to know what style guidelines apply to that outfit. You can often figure this out with just a little research!
- Determine what overall style aesthetic the outfit has. For example, “70s hippie” vs “smart casual.”
- Pick what types of garments you want to include in the outfit, such as a dress vs slacks and a blouse.
- Research online to find out how that style and type of garment should fit. For example, should a business casual pencil skirt reach your knee, or can it have a shorter hem? Should formal dress pants have a full or a half break when they reach your shoe?
- Note down important style guidelines for this type of outfit.
- Finally, take your measurements, keeping style guidelines like garment lengths in mind.
- Compare your measurements to an online sizing chart for the garments you want to buy to complete your outfit!
Each type of men’s clothing requires specific measurements, such as the neck and sleeve length, to determine shirt size. Men’s clothing uses a simple sizing system that uses measurements in inches as the garment size. To find the perfect fit for you, make sure you buy garments that use your measurements as the size!
You may also want to check a sizing chart to compare other key measurements of the garment dimensions. For example, even if your neck and sleeve length fits the technical size of a dress shirt, you should check the chest circumference in a sizing chart to make sure that part of the shirt will fit you comfortably.
- The size for men’s dress shirts is listed as the neck size and then the sleeve length. The sleeve length often appears as a range, like 34/35. So for a men’s shirt with a size of 15 34/35, a person with a 15” neck circumference and a shoulder-to-wrist length of 34 inches would fit that shirt.
- The size for men’s pants and jeans lists the waist circumference followed by the inseam length. A 32 X 34 size in men’s pants means pants that will fit someone with a 32” waist and a 34” inseam length.
- Men’s jackets list the chest measurement as the first part of the size and a letter indicating jacket length as the second part. For example, a size 38R means a jacket with a regular or standard length and a chest circumference of 38 inches.
To measure your body for women’s clothes, you should ignore retail sizes and use a sizing chart to find the best fit. Women’s clothing sizes use no industry standard, meaning that a size 4 can have different measurements from one brand to another.
On top of this, women’s clothing can use a variety of sizing systems, such as the even-numbered sizing system starting at 0 and going up to plus sizes like 24. Or they can use a Small, Medium, or Large system that offers even less clarity.
To avoid all this confusion, follow these steps to find women’s clothing that fits you:
- Take these body measurements and write them down: bust, underbust, arm length, waist, hip, and inseam.
- Whether you shop online or in a store, do a quick Google or Amazon search for the garment you want to buy. Find the sizing chart provided online by that brand.
- Compare your measurements to the chart. To do this, always start with your largest measurement–either bust or hip. Trace the bust or hip column until you find your measurement.
- Next, trace horizontally across that row to see if the other measurements match yours. If all the measurements in that row match yours, the garment will fit you! If they do not, pass on that garment and try again.
For Online Clothes
The best way to buy online clothes that fit you is to use a sizing chart to compare your body measurements.
Most online stores have an option for the seller or brand to include a sizing chart. This chart will list the body measurement areas across the top, such as the hip, waist, etc. The vertical rows list individual sizes.
This means that you can find your measurement in the chart and then trace across to the far left column to find out what size provides your measurements.
Keep in mind that not every garment will have a size that matches every one of your measurements. A shirt might have your neck size and chest circumference, but a too-short sleeve. This helps you weed out clothing that does not fit your body type.
For Vintage Clothes
The key to measuring your body for vintage clothes is to use physical garment measurements instead of the size to determine fit. You should never go by the listed size for a vintage garment because clothing sizes have changed significantly over time. For example, in the 1950s, the average women’s size 12 would now fit the same as a women’s size 6!
Instead, shop for vintage garments that list the actual measurement of the garment itself, such as a skirt waist circumference or a pants inseam. That way, you can compare and see if the garment measurements match your body measurements.
With an App
One of the easiest ways to measure your body for clothes is to use an app that can guide you through the process. Of course, you will still need to do the legwork of comparing your measurements to a sizing chart before you buy any new clothing, but a good app can help you take precise measurements.
How to Take Clothing Measurements By Yourself
You can take accurate clothing measurements by yourself by using a mirror and a few other techniques.
- Always position yourself in front of a mirror when taking your own measurements. Stand between two mirrors to see if you have kept the measuring tape level as it circles your body.
- In some cases, you may find it easier to take flat measurements on a garment that fits you perfectly rather than measuring your body.
- Use a piece of painter’s tape to help hold the measuring tape in place as you measure awkward parts of your own body, such as the width of your shoulders. You can also use a ribbon or string and safety pin the string to your clothing as you take measurements. Then measure the string against a tape measure to find your measurement.
How to Use a Clothing Measurement Chart
You can use a clothing measurement chart to find clothes that fit you by looking for your measurements in the chart.
Most clothing measurement charts list sizes vertically and measurements horizontally.
- Start with your biggest measurement. For men, this could mean the chest circumference of a shirt. For women, it could mean the hips for pants or the bust for a shirt.
- Find the column for that body part, such as the hip or waist. Then trace down the column until you find your measurement.
- Now trace across that row to see if the other measurements match yours.
- If they do, trace all the way across that row to the size column to see what size to buy!
How to Know if Clothes Fit Properly
While every clothing style has its own specific rules for how your clothes should fit, you can go by a few general guidelines to ensure your clothes fit properly.
- You should never find it impossible to move in well-fitted clothes. You should have enough space and flexibility in your clothes to easily sit, stand, bend, and raise your arms.
- Likewise, well-fitted tops for men and women do not show horizontal stress lines running across the garments because the fit is too tight. Gapping buttons also give an obvious clue that your top fits too tightly.
- Side pockets in pants should lie flat, too. If you see wrinkles around the pockets or vertical wrinkles in the crotch of your pants, you need a bigger size–or just a style of pants that do not fit so tightly in those spots.
- Well-fitted clothes should not gape, slide, or shift so much that you have to adjust them constantly. Sometimes, you may want to use fashion tape to secure a tricky garment in place. But generally speaking, avoid these difficult garments.
- Shoulder seams in coats, jackets, and shirts should always align exactly with the ends of your shoulders. The only exception here is the new trend for oversized sweaters and hoodies, where the shoulder seams often sag down your arms.
The best way to measure your body for clothes is to measure key areas like the neck, chest, and waist circumference, as well as lengths such as arm length and inseam. You can then compare those measurements to sizing charts to buy clothes that fit your body.
When sewing clothes, you can either use the sizing chart on the pattern or create your own master template of a block pattern to create clothing that fits you precisely. For men’s clothing, you can often use the size itself to find clothes that fit your measurements, as mens clothing uses measurement sizes. For women’s clothing, you have to rely on sizing charts because the sizing systems do not provide specificity.
What is your top trick for measuring yourself for clothes? Does it help you buy clothes that fit? Leave a comment below to let us know!