How to take measurements to buy clothes online (the obvious vs. the easy way)

There's no such thing as a Standard size chart.

Human bodies don't follow fabricated proportions like dressmaker's dummies or show dogs, so it's normal that each brand will define their own standards according to their style and their customer base. That's why I'd feel short and pudgy trying jeans at Acne Studios, while my friends from dance class get disappointed that even my size S won't be very revealing.

Trying on clothes can be a frustrating experience - especially when you add stuck-up shop staff, bad lighting and covid - so online shopping can be your salvation, if you're willing to learn a new skill: taking measurements.

(oh you'll also have to buy a new tool, a soft tape measure/ measuring tape. Or use that paper tape you get for free at IKEA)

This won't take more than 20 minutes of your life each time, so let's start with… 

The obvious-but-hard way: taking your own measurements

This will require you to wear tight fitting clothes, or strip down to your underwear.

Special bonus: you'll also get to face petty insecurities about your body, that you may have even if everyone else says you're a hot piece of ass.

I tied a string to my waist to serve as a guideline for the narrowest part of my torso. It's useful for taking a whole bunch of very specific measurements, but for the other main ones it'll be more of a guesstimate in front of a mirror:

Taking measurements with measuring tape
  • Bust (or chest, if you're male): measure over the fullest part of your chest. Try to keep the measuring tape level;
  • Underbust: useful for calculating your bra size, measure it right under your boobs;
  • Waist: don't squeeze it too tight unless you're planning to wear spanx or a corset under your clothes; 
  • Hip: the roundest part of your bum. Again, try to keep it level;
  • Height: you know that one.

Measurements can get really complicated, but leave that for professional dressmakers. Don't turn this into rocket science and give up altogether because there is a better method.

Tricky measurements to take
Adapted image from a Bunka Fashion College textbook on the left; me acting a fool on the right, to show you shouldn't try to take these other measurements without assistance.

The easy-and-professional way: measure your own clothes

Body measurements only tell half of the story.

Not only do you need more than your actual measurements to be able to function in your clothes (aka ease), but skin tight pieces with a lot of stretch will be smaller when lying flat, oversized pieces will have much more generous proportions, trousers will be more complicated to figure out than skirts… 

If you're buying something similar to what you already have in your closet, it's easier to measure that.

This is actually how Fashion designers work, since there are more exciting ways to be creative than trying to calculate t-shirt measurements from scratch every time.

And you, as Designer of your own looks and Investment Manager deciding which pieces will wield the most satisfaction in the long run, should be just as clever.

Here are the basic ones, and PLEEEAASEE don't think this is too complicated. Taking measurements for quality control is the job of garment workers with the least experience in an apparel making factory, so if you were clever enough to find this article, you sure as hell can learn this:

Tops and t-shirts 

Product measurements - t-shirt

 Find where the seams meet and they'll be the starting point to take all your measurements.

  • A. Body length or Full length: from the highest seam on the neck, all the way to the bottom;
  • B. Bust/ chest width: armpit to armpit (see picture on the right);
  • C. Shoulder width: join the dots where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve;
  • D. Neck width: join the dots where the shoulder seam meets the neckline trim;
  • E. Sleeve length: from the shoulder seam to the bottom of the sleeve;
  • F. Bottom or hem width: you got this, just follow the picture;

Some online shops will have more or less measurements, or some variations (Length at the Back, instead of Body length, for example). So always check for their specific instructions.

And for the love of God, get your clothes flat but don't stretch the fabric!

Trousers/ pants

Product measurements - trousers
  • A. Outer leg: longest measurement from the top of the waistband all the way to the bottom;
  • B. Inseam: from the point where all the seams join under the crotch (see picture) until the hem;
  • C. Front rise: the seam in front of your crotch, measured from the top of the waistband until the point on the picture;
  • D. Waistband width: from side to side, and not always a straight line so sometimes will be replaced by Waist circumferenceAlso, one of the rare occasions when you might have to stretch to get the proper measurement (in case of elastic waistbands);
  • E. Back rise: the seam in the middle of your butt, from the top of the waistband all the way down to the point on the picture;
  • F. leg opening: follow the picture;

Once you have your clothes measurements, you can compare them with what's on the product's description, and it'll be easier to figure out how it'll fit.

Maybe it's a hassle, but think of when people had all their clothes custom-made at the dressmaker's and had to go for multiple fittings every time.

Or just think of the pain of having to go to the post office just to return stuff.

Now what if...? 

You don't own anything similar to compare? What if the measurements on the online shop are a bit obscure (to avoid copying, I suppose. Not that me or any Fashion designer's ever done that, obviously)?

Try contacting their customer support - their willingness to assist you also says a lot about the brand or shop you wanna give your money to.

And remember: when in doubt, get in the mood, make yourself pretty and go to a physical store to try on the pieces you wanna buy. Specially the expensive ones, fancy stores know that even loyal customers take a little time to gather the money and courage to treat themselves.

Interested in one of my pieces? Now you can check them out in my home studio, if you're in Lisbon!

Get in touch to schedule a visit. I'm really nice 😆

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