Basic Measurements – Taking and Understanding Them- for Best Fit

Basic Measurements – Taking and Understanding Them- for Best Fit

If you’re used to shopping conventional retail then you’re probably familiar with the S/M/L or 6/8/10 sizing systems.  You’ve probably also experienced how variable those scales can be- even within a single brand. I think those systems can be used as general guideline. For instance if you usually wear pieces labeled a large, you probably won’t find a great fit in something labeled an XS or vice versa.

Beyond that, I recommend you become familiar with a few of your basic measurements to use as a guide for determining fit when shopping for vintage online. Most shops post detailed measurements for this exact reason.

Watch the video below to see a step-by-step demonstration of taking my top 5 favorite measurements (we go through it twice!) or read on below!

 To take your measurements you’ll need:

-a measuring tape
-a string to tie around your waist
-a dining chair or similar with flat seat
-typical undergarments for you (for instance, if you usually wear a sports bra, or a padded bra, wear what you are most likely to have on under your clothes on a day-to-day basis)
-a measuring buddy (ideally!)

We’re going to start with the trifecta of measurements:

the bust, waist and hips.

Assume a relaxed, neutral posture with feet hip width apart.

When taking measurements, the tape should be firmly against the skin, but not pulled tight.

Bust: across the nipples and around the chunkiest part of the upper back. You can help your buddy guide the tape or hold the tape in place if you’re bra is slippery. Once tape is in place, relax your arms.

Waist: this is the natural waist, typically the slimmest point of your torso, and usually falls an inch or so above your belly button! Use the string you tied at your waist as a guide for the measuring tape.

Hips: your hips might be lower than you think. The high hip falls right near your hip bones, but for the hip (or you could call it low hip) you actually want to take it at your widest point, sort of the apex of your butt and thighs.

These will be your quick reference for fit on a variety of garments. The next two measurements will help you further hone in on whether something will work for you are not.

Shoulder. Important for gauging fit of tops and dresses with shoulder seams (where sleeve attach to the bodice) to measure:

guide measuring tape across the back from shoulder bone to shoulder bone.

Rise: this is essentially your crotch length and depth, which is really important for gauging fit of pants. to measure:

front: for your front rise, sit on the chair and measure along your outer hip from the waist string to your seat.

full: standing, hold measuring tape at the front of your waist string, loop between the legs and up to the back of the waist string.

KEEP IN MIND:  your measurements reflect your body. The measurements provided by shops reflect the garment itself. You typically should account for at least 1” of wiggle room. The garment’s measurements can and should be a little bigger than yours for best fit.  

To best understand how your personal measurements relate to your clothing, I suggest taking out a handful of your favorite fitting garments and measuring them to compare and see if you can find any patterns. You may also want to grab a few pieces you keep around that you *don’t* like the fit of (we all have them!) to contrast.

To measure your garments:

Lay them on a flat surface. The ground works!

For bust, waist, and hip measure straight across and double the number. Garments should be flat, but not pulled tight. Remember knits have stretch!

Bust: underarm to underarm
Waist: narrowest point, or waist seam if there’s a seam
Hip: approx. 7” below waist.

Shoulder: seam to seam across the top. Do not double!
Front rise: top of waist band at the front straight down to crotch seam
Back rise: same as above, in the back.

adding the front and back rise will give you the full rise of the pant.


Once you’ve measured enough pieces, you might start noticing some helpful patterns!

For instance, I measure:

shoulder: 15”
rise: 30”

I like a relaxed fit through my shoulders, since my upper arms are a bit bulky and I have an active day-to-day with lots of lifting and reaching. Even though I measure 15" I prefer shirts with at least a 16” shoulder measurement, or shirts with dropped shoulder seams (the seam hits lower on the arm) or no seams at all. A shirt that fits everywhere else, but has a 14” shoulder will not work for me. I shouldn’t buy it.

I prefer high rise pants, so I know to look for pants with a total rise that’s at least 27” (close to my 30” full rise).  Knowing the total rise is especially helpful if you are interested in wearing vintage menswear, which is usually cut for fewer curves and might have a different front-to-back-rise ratio than you would expect on a similar women’s garment. If pants fit me everywhere else, but the rise is 26” or lower, I shouldn’t buy them. I also know if the back rise is under 16", they will ride up.

here's a little more on that, and some video of how to measure garments:


 find we, mcgee's full reference chart for measuring our vintage here.

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