December 2, 2011

The list of clothing measurements I never leave home without

Day 336 of Vintage 365

As sewers of their own clothing everywhere will attest, in order to guarantee a proper fitting garment, it's crucial that one knows their body's measurements. Regardless of if you craft your own garments or not though, every last one of us can benefit from keeping a handy dandy list of our measurements at the ready.

I've been carrying just such a list for several years now and have found it immensely helpful on many occasions while out shopping for clothing, buying items online, or talking to a seamstress about having a piece altered.

When we (ladies) think of our measurements the big three that generally spring to mind are our bust, waist and hips. While these are certainly extremely useful to know, they're not the only numbers that are worth being aware of (and checking periodically - say twice a year - as most everyone's weight and body shape fluctuates a bit over time, especially if you've recently lost/gained weight, given birth, or - for teenage readers - gone through a growth spurt).

Below is a list of measurements that I keep neatly typed up on a little piece of paper in my handbag. It only took a few minutes to take these measurements and since the original document is stored online, I can edit it in mere moments and print out an updated copy any time I want.


Clothing Measurement Checklist

-Hat size (measured around the middle of your forehead)

-Neck circumference (useful for both garments and jewelry alike)

-Arm length (good to know in case you need to have the sleeve length of a garment altered)

-Wrist circumference (measure both wrists in case you have one that's a tad larger than its mate)

-Glove size (taken at the widest part of your palm; measure both hands as - just like feet - some people have one hand that's slightly larger than the other)

-Ring sizes (especially important for those who may be planning on getting married in the near future)

-Shoulders (width from one shoulder to the other)

-Bust (measured across the fullest part of the bust while wearing a well fitting bra)

-Waist (taken at the narrowest spot on my natural waist where I wear my pants/skirts)

-Hips (as with the bust, taken at the fullest part)

-Inseam (especially important for those like me who are petite, or for those lucky tall gals on the other end of the spectrum)

-Stockings/nylons size (both vintage and modern)

-Calves (important for those who live wearing tall boots)

-Shoe size and width (in both American and European sizes)

-Current height (without shoes on)

(Note that if you often wear figure enhancing undergarments such as girdles or Spanx, you may wish to keep two sets of measurements on hand for those parts of the body which would be affected by having these types of items on: one taken with your supportive undergarments on and another without.)

{Whether for the purpose of sewing or for when you're purchasing ready made items of clothing, it's always wonderfully useful to have a list of your own measurements on hand. Vintage photograph of a woman making a dress sourced from Slow Sewing.}

This list (which assumes all measurements were taken without clothing, save for undergarments, on) is geared more towards to information that I might need when clothes shopping, as opposed to sewing a garment from scratch, in which case you may want to add in further measurements, too, such as your outseam, upper arm/bicep circumference, and your back height and width.

If you frequently shop internationally (be it online or in person) or otherwise tend to encounter two measurement systems, take a moment and include both inches/feet and centimeters/meters for your measurements.

In addition, it doesn't hurt to keep a concise list of what sizes you generally wear (taking into account how widely most modern garment sizes vary from brand to brand) for certain items of clothing (I keep both my vintage 1940s/50s sizes and modern ones listed with the information above).

While I certainly have some of my measurements memorized by heart, it can be easy to forget those (like glove, hat, and calf) that you may not refer to very frequently, so keeping a list like this to hand at all times is a must if you want to help ensure you get the best possible fit that you can from the clothing (be it vintage or modern) that you buy.

One last note...and perhaps this is just the Girl Guide in me being overly prepared, but I try to always carry a flexible tape measure in my purse, too, so that if I run into a garment that I'm interested in but not able to try on (for example at an outdoor yard sale), I can quickly measure it to help determine (especially if the original sizing tag is gone or completely faded) if it’s  likely to work for my body or not.


  1. That is such a good idea! I know my basic measurements but having a detailed list would come in handy. And I also keep a flexible tape measure in my purse :)

  2. I am going to actually have my hubby print this post out for me so I can one by one have my proper measurements taken of myself bc this is a fantastic tip-very handy to have. Now I need to figure out how to get my UK measurements hehee xox

  3. this is a wonderful post. with little changes here and there these will also be useful for men. thank u very much.

  4. What a great post Jessica :) I will now keep this info in my iphone for future shopping reference! Love your site !!

    1. Thank you very much, dear lady, I'm delighted to know you found this post helpful.

      ♥ Jessica

  5. I am size 00 in pants, 4'11", 32D, and shirts rang from xs-m. I have been measured multiple times and clothes still never fit right. Any suggestions

    1. Hello my fellow petite lady (I'm barely 5'2"), thank you for your comment and question. For those of us who don't fall into the most common sizes (I'm short and curvy, a combo that the modern fashion industry rarely accounts for, though thankfully I do have a lot better luck with 40s and 50s garments on that front), often alterations become a must.

      Aside from that, I would suggest fabrics with a degree of stretch to them, as they're often a good choice for smaller women with sizable busts, because the fabric will expand to cover your chest, but still "hug" your torso, too.

      Layering can help, as can tucking in tops and shirt. Both are handy for helping to disguise pieces that a are whisper too big (I do this often myself). In the case of the outer layer, you'll want it to either fit perfectly or be so intentionally large (say, like a slouchy cardigan) that one doesn't notice the layer below it is a touch too big (because the overall picture created is so flattering).

      Skirts, I find, often work better than pants, as they're more forgiving in terms of where they hit your legs (whereas pants are more apt to need hemming, be to baggy, gap in the back at the waist, etc), ditto with certain dress styles such as classic shirtwaist dresses and sheath styles.

      I hope these suggestions help and welcome any and all other vintage/fashion related questions you may have.

      ♥ Jessica

  6. Thank you for this, and for your great article on the difference in sizes from previous decades, and today.
    When I proudly say I was a Size 10 all my adult life (until menopause hit me), some young people think it means I was overweight! :-))

    When I became a plus size woman with very large boobs, I quickly learned that plus-size sizing from other world countries isn't. So, like you, I took my bust, waist, and hip measurements, but then I halved them, and now I always have a tape measure with me, which I use to measure clothes on the rack. Saves SO MUCH time, frustration, annoyance, and talking to myself in dressing rooms. :-)

    Keep up the good work!

    1. You're very welcome. I'm delighted to know that this post (as well as my one on vintage sizing) resonated with you and really appreciate your lovely comment. Tape measures should come with wallets. They're so incredibly useful to have on hand. I've put mine to work both for clothing and other things (such as furniture, appliances, and Christmas trees) more times than I can recall.

      Have a beautiful and very happy Easter celebration,
      ♥ Jessica