What Do Clothing Measurements Mean?


Clothing measurements seem to differ between labels, countries, and even stores, making it challenging to understand which size to pick. Since the early 2000s, studies have shown a marked increase in online clothing sales. While a 2019 report by First Insight suggests that “71 percent of all shoppers surveyed spent [an additional] $50 or more when shopping in-store” when compared to shopping online, the current trend can’t hide that millennials make about 60% of their purchases online, this includes shopping for clothes. As malls across the United States shutter their doors for good and retailers shift clothing sales online, having a clear understanding of what clothing measurements mean can help consumers make better decisions.

However, buying clothes online has drawbacks. Despite generous online return policies, trying on clothes in person offers benefits beyond the ease of trying clothes on in private, at-home. Trying clothes off the rack means consumers know what fits without the hassle of returning clothes that don’t fit. Long gone are the days when your size in one store was the same in another store. As a result, it’s hard to predict your size across different companies; you likely have a range of sizes in your closet.

In the United States, clothing sizes tend to be more general to accommodate a wide range of people. This is why American sizing depends more on sizes that range from Extra Small to Extra Large rather than European and international sizing, which usually depends on precise measurements. American companies typically offer clothing size scales on their website or in-store to help consumers translate sizes from Small to Large into specific body measurements.

That’s why it’s essential to understand your body measurements to navigate clothing sizes with more ease regardless of where you shop.

General Rules of Thumb

Taking accurate body measurements is straightforward and easier than most people realize. All you need is a cloth tape measure, keeping the tape level and firm, but not too tight. Make sure to measure over bare skin or tight clothing, but never over loose clothing.

Sizing Differences for Women and Men

Measuring for women’s clothing requires bust, waist, and hip circumference, while men’s clothing measurements emphasize chest, waist, and hip circumference, in addition to neck size, arm length, and potentially shoulder width, if measuring for jackets and dress shirts. Some of these measurements can apply to women’s clothing as well if shopping for a suit or tailored dress shirt rather than a typical blouse.

In contrast, unisex sizing refers to clothing that can be worn by either women or men. Unisex sizing occurs when a label or clothing seller offers the same cut of a style in the broader size scale than typically offered for men or women exclusively. For example, rather than just ranging from Small to Large sizing, unisex sizing typically includes XXS-XXL. Women usually buy clothing in the lower range, men in the higher, but this is not a hard and fast rule.

How to Measure for Clothing Size

Chest: Measuring the chest area will be slightly different between men and women. For men, measure firmly underneath your armpits and around the widest part of your chest. For women, the chest area refers to the flat part slightly above your breasts, which requires a separate bust measurement, where the chest is fullest. If you’re a woman, bring the measuring tape directly under your armpits, but make sure to place the tape above your breast area.

In either case, make sure to keep your back straight and arms relaxed for the most accurate measurement.

Bust: Measure at the fullest part of the bust and measure around the body, from your armpits and shoulder blades back to the front. Keep the tape snug but not too tight. Pro tip: wear a non-padded bra for more accurate measurements.

Waist: Measure the waist where your body bends. This is usually located about 2 inches above your belly button. To check, bend side to side to figure out where the body creases. Pro-tip: Don’t suck in your stomach, which will only give you inaccurate results, providing a too-tight fit.

Hip: Stand with feet together, making sure to keep your back and pelvis straight. Measure at the fullest part of your hips, usually around the buttocks, roughly 8 inches below your natural waist. Pro-tip: For slim-fitting pants or dresses, take a second measurement, about three or so inches below the waist, for the high-hip area.

Inseam: Measure the distance from the uppermost inner part of your groin to the bottom of your ankle. Pro-tip: Ask someone to help you. If no one is available, measure the inseam on a pair of proper length pants that you already own.

Shoulder Width: Measure from shoulder to shoulder with your back straight, wrapping the tape around the circumference of your body.  

Sleeve length: Measure from the top of your shoulder to the cuff of your sleeve, or where your wrist is.

Neck: Measure at the base where your neck connects to your shoulders, right below the Adam’s apple, for men. Look forward and stand relaxed. Pro-tip: Place a finger between your throat and tape to make sure the collar won’t be too tight.

Clothing measurements don’t have to be complicated; they require some patience (and a little bit of help). With Clothing Shop Online’s guide to clothing measurement insights, you’ll be better equipped to find the perfect fit in any store!

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