Growing up as a boy and throughout your teenage years, you don’t need to think too much about the measuring the size of your chest. Want a new shirt? Just flick through the racks of S, M, L, and XL until you’ve found one that will do a good job of covering your torso.
This type of sizing is known as alpha sizing. It’s a pretty uncomplicated system which makes picking out a shirt an easy process.
But when you go to pick out a dress shirt, you’ll suddenly be assaulted by different numbers which might leave you wishing for the simplicity of the alpha sizing days of your youth.
The reasons for all this added complexity boil down to the fact that those seeking a dress shirt are usually hoping to look a bit sharper than someone sporting a simple tee. Dress shirts are measured in four places to give an exact profile of their fit.
In theory, this lets you pick out a well-fitting dress shirt right off the rack.
While it’s not as precise as tailoring or custom made clothing, knowing your measurements allows you to slip into a well-fitting shirt at a fraction of the cost of having a tailor do alterations.
For that reason alone, it’s worth taking some time to know your measurements.
Just like understanding your body type, having precise measurements is vital to dressing snazzy. It’s also a pretty straightforward process to take measurements. Let’s take a look at what you need to measure and the best way to get the job done.
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Understanding Your Chest, Neck, Sleeve, and Waist Measurements
To get the ideal fit from a shirt or jacket right off the rack, you need to keep track of four measurements.
You also need to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily want these numbers to correspond exactly to the size of the shirt or jacket.
For example, if you get a shirt with a neck size which precisely matches your neck measurement, it’s almost guaranteed to be too tight and restricting. You need to leave some room to breathe (literally) and a little wiggle room as well.
While it’s possible to take all of these measurements yourself, it’s almost always more accurate to have someone else hold the measuring tape and provide some outside perspective.
If you’re in a pinch and don’t have a tape measure or time to measure yourself, you can often get some help from a clerk at a clothing store to get your measurements before you buy.
It’s also important to keep in mind the type of dress shirt you’re picking out and how that can affect the fit. After you take some measurements, take a little bit to learn some dress shirt essentials before your next shopping trip.
But here are the four measurements you need to be aware of, and how to measure them yourself.
1. Chest Measurements
You’ll find chest measurements listed on dress shirts and sports jackets. They’ll usually be something like 40R or 42L.
The number corresponds to your chest size (in inches) while the letter corresponds to your height.
For gents who stand between 5’7” and 6’ tall, you’ll be a Regular (R,) while the taller fellows who stand between 6’1” and 6’3” will be a Long (L.)
To find out your chest size, take a tape measure and wrap it under your armpits at the fullest part of your chest.
Stand straight and don’t puff out your chest. Keep the tape measure taut, but not constricting. It shouldn’t be squeezing down your chest, just resting.
Take the number in inches and voila, you’ve found your chest size! Since you already know how tall you are (you do know how tall you are, right?) you’ve now found your chest size.
2. Neck Measurements
The neck measurement is the most important measurement for any shirt or jacket.
Get it wrong and you’ll look like a fool buried deep in his oversized collar, or find yourself chaffed and struggling to breathe through a shirt which is too tight.
Measuring your neck is simple, you just need to remember to add a bit of a buffer to keep yourself breathing easy. Especially if you’ll be wearing a tie along with your shirt, your collar can stand to be a little loose.
Take your tape measure and wrap it around your neck about an inch below your Adam’s Apple, about where you expect the neck of the shirt to rest. Place two fingers between the tape measure and your neck.
Don’t choke yourself or constrict your neck with the tape measure, but make sure it is taut enough to get a good measurement.
Note down the measurement and add about an extra half inch to the number. Look for shirts with this neck size or even slightly larger.
3. Sleeve Measurements
Knowing your sleeve length is vital for getting a well-fitting shirt which can accentuate your arms and shoulders.
While you might be tempted to just take the length of your arm, your sleeve length actually starts at the back of your neck.
Take your tape measure and place one end at the center of the back of your neck. Run the tape measure over your shoulder and down your arm to your wrist (about where the cuff of your shirt will stop.)
This will give you an accurate sleeve measurement. For the most accurate measurement, bend your arm slightly at the elbow.
For sleeve length, it can help a lot to have someone help measure you. If you’re doing it yourself, make sure you’re getting the end of the tape measure dead center on your neck and stopping properly at the wrist.
4. Waist Measurements
You measure your waist just as you would for a pair of pants.
This is an important number to know, since it’s vital not only for dress shirts, but for your pant size as well!
Take your tape measure and wrap it just below your waist at the top of your pant line. Keep one finger between the tape measure and your body.
This little buffer zone will ensure you’re not getting pants that are too tight. Having some wiggle room in your pants is good, but unless you’re trying to get a baggy look, stick close to your measurements.
Always Try Before You Buy
While it is always a good idea to be well prepared by knowing your measurements, don’t be tempted to just grab any shirt with the right numbers off the rack and take it home.
Measurements on clothing sizes aren’t always super accurate.
Each garment can vary subtly or substantially, and sometimes clothing manufacturers can get things wrong. Two shirts with the exact same measurements might not always fit you exactly the same, so it’s important to try on every garment before you purchase it.
Having accurate measurements is a great start to picking out the right clothes, but think of it just like that: a good start, not the end all be all!
However, once you’ve found a brand of shirts which you know have reliable measurements, being aware of your measurements and how those specific shirts work with your body can open up some serious doors. It can even make it possible for you to buy your dress shirts online, giving you all sorts of options you’re not likely to find by going to the shop.
Dress Shirt Alpha Size Comparison Chart
If you’re looking at nice dress clothing, it is unlikely to be listed in alpha sizes.
But occasionally lower cost dress shirts and jackets will not include measurements, just an alpha size listing.
Here’s a quick chart for converting your measurements into alpha sizes, or getting a rough idea of your measurements based on your alpha sizes alone.
|32″ – 34″
|13″ – 13 ½”
|26″ – 28″
|35″ – 37″
|14″ – 14 ½”
|29″ – 31″
|38″ – 40″
|15″ – 15 ½”
|32″ – 34″
|41″ – 43″
|16″ – 16 ½”
|35″ – 37″
|44″ – 46″
|17″ – 17 ½”
|38″ – 40″
|47″ – 49″
|18″ – 18 ½”
|41″ – 43″