Before you even think about buying a garment, you should know your own size. No, that does not mean knowing whether you wear a medium T-shirt or a large—though, depending on the brand and fit, that can help. Rather, it's about knowing your actual body measurements. More importantly, knowing how to accurately measure your body (and which figures apply where) is crucial to navigating any size guide. So, before you try comparing a Japanese size 27 shoe to an EU 41, let’s break down the basics.
Where to Begin
First things, first, you’ll need to buy a tape measure. While you already may have the rigid metallic sort you use to figure out if a couch will fit in your living room, in this case you should purchase a soft vinyl tape measure, the sort tailors and pattern cutters use daily (also sometimes referred to as measuring tape). Though you can technically deduce nearly all the most useful measurements yourself, it is extremely helpful to have some assistance, as the more precise the measurements are the better.
Now that you have your tools in order (and hopefully a friend or family member by your side), it’s important to take
correct measurements. So, some ground rules. Please note that you should always try to use the metric system. While many of you in the US may be more comfortable with our inches-based measurements, the rest of the planet works in centimeters and an outsole length (among other measurements) recored in inches is all but useless. Put another way, unless you measure in centimeters you will constantly be forced to convert, and considering many measurement systems are originally based in centimeters anyways—in Japan, for instance, shoe sizes are literally from your heel to your longest toe in centimeters—its an exceedingly easier measurement system to choose from the jump.
Next, all measurements are for essentially flat garments, so get as close to the body as possible, make sure the tape is tight (but not restrictive), find your mark and lay the tape out flat to figure out the accurate length. Apart from your neck size—used for dress shirts and necessitates the full 360 degree length—every measurement relates to clothing laid flat on the ground, so be considerate while measuring.
While there are dozens of more specific measurements, there are approximately six main measurements that allow you to purchase just about anything. If you have an accurate gage on the following and corresponding size chart, you should know within a relatively negligible margin of error whether or not an item of clothing will fit.
1. Neck Size
As already mentioned, neck size is critical for dress shirts. Historically—at least, in Europe, the UK and the US—dress shirts come with two size demarcations, one for the neck, the other for the sleeve length. If using traditional measurements (e.g. 15 x 30) the first measurement is for the neck circumference, while the second is for the sleeve length from collar to shirt cuff.
Please note that in the US, these measurements are always in inches, the one exception to the rule.
2. Sleeve Size
As mentioned above, the sleeve size is from the collar to the base of the cuff. However, in this case, it is used for pretty much every top and outerwear, outside of short sleeve T-Shirts. For accurate measurements, start at your collar bone and measure with your arm lying flat to the base of your wrist. Then, consider adding a centimeter or two for mobility and comfort.
3. Chest Width
This measurement is particularly important for fitted outerwear and tailoring. Taken from one armpit to the other across the widest part of your chest, chest width is crucial in determining how wide a garment should be to comfortably fit across your body. Often referred to as “pit-to-pit,” chest width, and to a lesser extent shoulder wide, are critical for tops. Most often letter and numerical sizing are directly correlated with chest width, so accurately measuring your own is immensely helpful.
jeans, trousers, shorts and any other sort of bottoms, a waist measurement dictates whether or not pants will fit—despite the fact that most pairs sit well below your natural waist. By wrapping a measuring tape around your “true” waist—essentially your belly button, you can determine what waist size you should be searching for. When wrapping, however, make sure to hold the tape tight and leave enough space for a finger between your body and the tape to compensate for the increasingly popular low-rise.
Measured from the groin to the lower ankle, inseam is arguably the least important measurement, considering that, as long as the prospective pant is, well, longer than your inseam length, you can always have them altered–hence
a need for that good tailor we mentioned earlier. That said, it’s important to have a rough idea so you don’t accidentally purchase cropped pants. Of course, modern taste and personal preference heavily dictate the category, as many men prefer their pant “break” (the bottom of the inseam) to hit at their ankle or above, where others prefer a traditional break, allowing for single fold stacking at the base of the pant. For those purchasing any slim or skinny silhouette, consider the hem width, or the horizontal length across the bottom hem, as well. It’s a more useful barometer as far as fit is concerned.
Lastly, there is the outsole. While many of you may be used to the strange, metal foot measuring contraption at every sporting goods store that never seems to work quite right, the most effective way to ascertain your true shoe size is by measuring one of your own shoes. First, find a pair that you love and then measure on the underside of the sole from heel to toe. The measurement (alongside with footbed width) in centimeters will tell you all you need to know. Sizing between brands—in particular US brands–varies greatly, with men often reporting they range between two full sizes. Knowing your accurate outsole measurement will circumvent size discrepancies.
Know Your Preferences
Now that you have your basic measurements down, consider what you’re into. If you prefer oversized silhouettes, buying vintage T-shirts with an additional couple centimeters across the chest is probably a safe bet. For those that prefer tighter fighting garms, veer closer to your true measurements. Knowing not only your own measurements, but how you want your clothes to fit is crucial to buying the right pieces. Sometimes, the numbers alone are simply not enough information and your personal preference is the deciding factor. Of course, there are times when measurements are unavailable, so you must rely on scales.
While you may be used to the standard "small", "medium", "large" and "extra large" sizing nomenclature, unfortunately across the globe there are numerous different scales of measurement, from a French 38—as opposed to a US 38—to a Japanese 2. While there is some overlap, and in an increasingly global world more brands are embracing standard small through extra large demarcations (of course, fit and brand still play huge factors), many traditional brands prefer to stick to their country’s established systems. So, when you come access a size notation you are unfamiliar with, and specific measurements are not available, it’s time to hit the conversion charts.