For the hundred-plus years that tailors have been making suits, there has been a standard set of measurements used to create clothes for their clientele. Some of these are straightforward and easy to understand and replicate while others are arcane and based on seemingly arbitrary mathematical formulae.
Further complicating the scenario is that not every company uses these classic measuring techniques when it comes to creating their products.
We feel that it’s important to have a working knowledge of the terminology and techniques of classic tailoring measurements. This will put any “non-standard” measurements you see into context.
Most bespoke and made-to-measure houses will use more measurements than this, but the ones below are the most important and comprise a baseline from which you can reasonably assess a suit’s fit.
How To Hold Measuring Tape
All measurements use measuring tape. Be sure to leave about two fingers worth of space between the body and the tape unless otherwise noted as “skin.” As you see in the pictures above, you should actually keep your fingers between the tape and the body.
Generally, you’ll want tape to feel snug on you, but not tight. The pictures above show that you can drastically change measurements by holding the tape too tight. In tailoring, an inch is a mile.
Take measurements more than once to double-check your work and know that experience will breed familiarity along with greater accuracy. Like carpenters say, “measure twice, cut once”.
How To Measure Your Full Jacket Size
Chest: Wrap tape underneath the armpits around the largest part of the chest. Final measurement is taken after the arms are put back down into their resting position. Note: This measurement can be used for shirts as well.
Waist: To be clear, this is a coat waist, not your pant waist (which we’ll show later). Wrap tape around torso just above the hip bones.
Overarm: Same as chest measurement, but over the arms instead of under. Make sure your tape is wrapped around the largest part of the chest, which is typically where the pectoral muscles stick out the most.
Shoulders (Point-To-Point): Distance from one shoulder seam to the other. “Point to point” is taken with a jacket on.
Sleeve Outseam: Distance from top of sleeve cap to hem along the sleeve’s outseam. The outseam is found on the backside of the sleeve (see below). Also done with jacket on.
Coat Length: Traditionally measured from the “center back,” which is the top center of jacket back where it meets the collar seam (see picture on left below), to the floor and then divided by 2. Can also be done from center back to wherever you want the jacket to end length-wise (as done on picture at below right).
How To Determine Your Trouser Measurements
Firstly, remove anything from your pockets before taking these measurements. You don’t want those throwing the results off. As mentioned earlier, an inch is a mile!
Waist: Wrap tape around where you plan to wear the trousers around your waist. For suits, we recommend at or just below the navel.
Seat: Wrap the tape around the most prominent part of your buttocks.
Outseam/Inseam: Outseam is the distance from the top of a trouser’s waistband to its hem. Inseam is the distance from the fork in a trouser’s crotch to the hem. A classic way to calculate rise (distance from top of waistband to fork in the crotch) is this formula: Outseam – Inseam = Rise.
Thigh (skin): Wrap tape tightly around largest part of the thigh. Pull the tape tight for this measurement, and don’t put your fingers between the tape and the thigh.
Knee: Lay a well-fitting pair of pants on its side. Measure the knee horizontally, and double that number.
Bottom: Same as a knee measurement, just down at the leg opening.
Made-To-Measure (MTM) Suits
Companies offering made-to-measure suits online will often ask you to submit the above measurements and then some. They may also call some of these same measurements by different names. We’ve seen measurements referred to as stomach, ankle, shoulder, armpit, front panel, back panel, and more.
The better companies will have detailed instructions for the measurements they want you to take and will ask you to submit photos of yourself for their tailors’ reference. They know that the more complicated they make things, the more likely they are to have to remake garments, which is a lose-lose situation for all involved.
Off The Rack (OTR) Suits
Off-the-rack suits are easier to measure for because they’re much less exacting. The only measurements you’ll likely need are your chest, pant waist, and pant inseam.
If you prefer to buy off-the-rack suits the first thing you’ll want to do is find a brand whose pattern fits your body well and whose aesthetic style suits you (pardon the pun).
You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with their sizing system, how closely their garments fit true to size (meaning, for example, that a 40 jacket in fact fits like a 40 should), and the names of their “fits.” Lots of companies use arbitrary terms like “Modern,” “Athletic,” “Slim,” “Standard,” and “Classic,” but there’s no industry-wide standardization for this.
A helpful thing to do is to take measurements off of your best fitting jacket and trousers. This will give you a starting point off of which you can base future purchases
Vintage (eBay, Etsy, Etc.)
Buying suits on eBay or Etsy is a bit different when it comes to sizing. The measurements that are shown on their sites are sometimes considered “non-standard” as it relates to classic tailoring measurements, but the beauty of this is that they’re easy to replicate and understand.
You’ll often see things like “pit-to-pit across front” for jackets, or “leg width at bottom” for trousers. This is another opportunity to use your best-fitting garments as a reference. Take the same measurements on your favorite suit and see how they compare to what you’re looking to buy from one of these sites. If they’re close enough to alter if need be, buy!
If you need help determining which alterations are feasible versus those which aren’t, see our Men’s Tailoring Guide.
Though it often seems like tailors are using black magic to glean our measurements, you don’t really need to be an expert to take them (though we admit that experience helps). All you need is some patience and care.
If you’re more curious about professionals taking measurements for you, see our pages on bespoke and made-to-measure suits. If you’re not sure which suit to buy, we have various guides for many of the important events and occasions in a man’s life.