06 September 2014

Size Matters

As the author of this blog and a seller of second hand menswear, I am frequently asked questions regarding the measurement and sizing of old garments. In the age of the internet, more clothing than ever is bought and sold sight unseen via places like ebay and online shops like my own. In the interest of a "Reader Questions" style post, here's a guide and explanation of how sizing works and how to use measurements to successfully shop for old clothes.

Most modern clothes are sized on a tag. These measurements can be anything as vague as "alpha sizing" (S,M,L,XL) or as specific as tailored sizing (42 Reg., for example). While helpful, these sizes are best used as a guide rather than a rigid fact. In truth, there is fluidity in such sizes, and different manufacturers or brands often use the same numbers on clothes which are not physically the same size. Add to that the fact that many older and vintage clothes are either missing these tags or were never sized that way in the first place, and things can get pretty confusing. While it's helpful to know about what "size" you are, it is infinitely more helpful to know your measurements, or even just the measurements of an article of clothing that fits well. The numbers on a measuring tape are marked out in inches (or centimeters if you live anywhere but here), and there is no arguing with them.

Most suit jackets and sport coats are sized by chest measurement and length. For example, I generally wear a 42 Regular. The number (42) refers to the circumference of the chest, in this case 42 inches, while "Regular" refers to the length of the jacket measured down the back. Generally speaking, there are five measurements to know on a tailored jacket. The chest can measured by laying a jacket flat and measuring from armpit to armpit, or "pit to pit" as you'll often read in online listing, then doubling. Bear in mind that is a differential to be considered, and few extra inches need to be left for freedom of movement. The jackets I have that I consider 42 chest measure between 22 and 23 inches across, or between 44-45 inches around. Shoulders are measured across the back from point to point. This can vary between makers and styles, but it can't be altered, so know what fits.A little variance is ok here. For example, I can wear anything from 18-19 inches in the shoulder. Length is usually listed as Short, Regular, and Long. While there is no hard rule about these lengths, I generally consider a "regular" to be about 31 inches from the bottom of the collar to the hem of the coat, short to be about 30, and long to be about 32. Again, the terms are subjective, but the numbers are not. Sleeve length is measured from shoulder to cuff, and sometimes a waist measurement will be given by measuring across the closed buttoning  point. These can be helpful, but remember too that sleeve length and side seams are easily altered. A good seller will list how much cloth there is to accommodate these alterations, or at least be able to tell you should you ask.

Trousers are easier, with the most important measurement of course being at the waist. This is measured much the same way as the chest of a jacket, across the waistband, doubled, with room to move. For example, what I would consider a 36 waist would actually measure about 37 inches. Length is measured from the crotch to the hem down the seam. This is easily alterable in most cases and a good seller will tell how much extra cloth there is to make adjustments. If you're looking for trim or fuller cut trousers, it's helpful to know the leg opening and thigh measurement. A leg opening between 9 and 10 inches is fairly classic, with 8 inches being trim. 13-14 inches at the thigh is classic, less would be considered trim cut. If you like a trimmer look, trousers can often be tapered in a bit, but you'll need a good tailor, not just the local dry cleaner. Remember that honesty with oneself is important. You may like to say you wear a 34 waist when you really need 36. Vanity is a funny thing. It should motivate you to wear clothes that look good rather than squeeze into uncomfortable clothing that's too tight.

These things are not only helpful in the world of online shopping, but also in the physical realm. Take a measuring tape with you to the thrift store and ignore tagged sizing. If you see something you like, measure it and see how close it comes to the measurements taken from a well fitting garment you already have. With experience, you'll begin to see the relativity in tagged sizing. I personally own and wear trousers sized from 34 to 38 inches, and jackets ranging from 40 to 44 in tagged sizes, and yet they all fit. Know measurements, not your "sizes".

p.s. A Note on Blog Posts

You may have noticed that posting here has become less frequent, lately only happening once a week, usually on Saturday. As some of you may know, I have taken a writing job with the style blog at ehow.com. This job, paired with the running of both my online and brick and mortar shop, has made it difficult to keep posting here as frequently as I would like. Going forward, I will be working out a more regular posting schedule for the blog, likely twice a week. Until then keep checking in and bear with me. I truly appreciate your readership and will continue to offer the kind of content you've come to expect. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

Post when you can, it's always interesting, inspiring or just plain entertaining.
Glad the plates are all spinning for you.

MythReindeer said...

Getting one's measurements done by a tailor is always a good idea, too. Maybe more than one tailor.

I find it useful to measure pants that fit me well and use that number rather than going off a body measurement. The waistband that fits me best doesn't seem to exactly match up with what measuring my body would yield--it's smaller than I would predict. Perhaps that's just me, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, have you ever considered taking your frugalness to another level? What I mean is learning some basic tailoring skills to save you a few bucks? My cheapskateness has lead me to learn to hem pant legs, take in jackets along the sides, shorten jacket sleeves, sew buttons, take in shirts in the sides, shorten sleeves on shirts. All with the help of about $20 in tools and a hand me down sewing machine!
- Bob, St. Louis, Mo

Joe said...

While I understand your point and applaude your resourcefullness, as the grandson of a real tailor I am happy to support what remains of that profession. Besides, I relish my trips to the tailor shop, it's a kind of therapy.

Roger v.d. Velde said...

Measuring "pit-to-pit" is not entirely reliable, since the fronts on a coat are larger than the back.

There is no actual side-seam on most coats now as they have a side body and those with the sack cut with an underarm dart seam, accounts for nearly two-thirds of the entire coat. Still, it's mostly the only guide if you're buying unseen.

Remember also the seat measurement for trousers. This is important for comfort - either too little or too much cloth. Taking in the waist on trousers with the latter issue (especially for men of slimmer build) leaves you with surplus in the lap when sitting.

Nick said...

"...centimetres anywhere but here".

Well, excuse us, but 60 million Britons might be a tad surprised by that assertion (or at least the informed subset who read this blog). It is called "Imperial Measurement", after all.

Thanks for good piece otherwise.

Anonymous said...

So you are replacing an expensive therapist with relatively inexpensive tailor? A tip of the hat on your thrifty ways my friend! LOL
-Bob, St. Louis

Joe said...


Anywhere but there it's called the metric system.