This week, we’ll be chatting about how to measure your body. Grab some tea — there’s a lot of info in this one, and as I often find that diagrams are hard to follow when describing an action, there will be plenty of photos and short videos here to help with the process.
It’s super important to be able to detach a bit here, and assess your body without judgement. This is about learning about your shapes, so you can better fit your garments, and identifying areas on your body that you usually make adjustments for. Taking a full set of measurements will help you start to begin to proactively problem-solve patterns and fitting — once you have an idea of numbers that work for you, you can apply them going forward. For example, I have a full bust, and the right side of my body is higher than my left. Knowing this, I can adjust the shoulders and balance on the patterns of my makes to make sure everything drapes evenly, before I cut my fabric. Alternately, I can leave extra seam allowances at the shoulders when I make a muslin, in case I want to adjust my necklines and increase the amount of a forward shoulder seam. The key is knowing my body and my numbers, so I can reduce the amount of muslins I need to make, and be able to adjust patterns before I start my project.
I’ve created a measurement chart you can download and reuse for your projects — it’s a good idea to measure yourself every once in a while, and use it to measure your fit form so you have an idea of where your body differs, if you use a fit form to fit. (It’s linked below. Save and print out as many as you want!)
The chart is created for a person with breasts, however if anyone would like a more customized version, or something for men’s or kids, please reach out!
Additionally, I’m based in the US, so I’ll be speaking in inches, but the chart itself has two pages: one for US standard, the other for metric. The only place on the chart where I call out a specific number placement is for the high and low hip circumferences. You can adjust those hip placements as you need. The most important thing about any vertical placement is to stay consistent with how you measure, and take a note so you can measure the same way throughout your project.
What do you need?
- Measuring Tape
- Length of 1/4″ Elastic
- Safety Pins
- Washable Marker
- Writing Utensil
- Measurement Chart
- A Measuring Partner
- There are spaces for you to note what you’re working on, and what day/time you measured your body. I like to note the time of day, because throughout the day everyone’s measurements increase, due to eating, water retention, etc… It’s the same reason people recommend trying on shoes at night — that’s when your feet are biggest, so the style you pick theoretically won’t pinch as the day goes on.
- There is a place to note your bra/cup information if applicable, and what type of undergarments you are wearing while you measure. For instance, as a nursing mom, while my nursing bra totally suits my practical needs, my breast apex (center of breast/center of the nipple) measures a full 1″ lower on my body, compared to when I’m wearing one of my non-nursing bras. Also, if you measure yourself while wearing a shaper, for example, you’ll get smaller waist/hip measurements than if you wear cotton underwear.
- There are columns for right and left sides, because everyone’s body is asymmetrical in some way. One of my breasts is larger than the other. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Everyone is just living in their bodies! I’ve added dashes to the chart where a measurement isn’t needed.
- Terminology: Msmt means Measurement. HPS means High Point Shoulder, CBN means center back neck. CF and CB are center front and center back, respectively.
Measuring your body:
Grab a friend! A lot of these you can do on your own, but there are a couple of tricky ones. We’ll start from the top.
And now, circumference measurements! Make sure your tape measure isn’t twisting as you bring it around your body, and try to keep it as parallel to the floor as possible. These are pretty straightforward — just try to stay relaxed, and don’t pull the tape too tight. You’ll finish the arm measurements on both sides, and then move to the trunk of your body.
I’ve called out space to measure your front and back bust (you don’t actually need to measure the back). Here, start your tape measure at where you feel is the true middle of your side at your full bust. Bring it over your breast area, as if you’re measuring your bust circumference, but stop at the other side. This is your front bust measurement. It’s important to note this, because the front body is generally fuller than the back (breast and muscle tissue, lungs/ribs/guts ‘n’ stuff). Now, subtract your front bust measurement from your full bust circumference, and you have your back bust measurement. My front bust is roughly 2″ bigger than my back.
Next you’ll see callouts for breast apex measurements. The apex is the point where the fullest bust circumference is measured, the center of the breast. This is usually the center of the nipple. Again, this can change depending on if you’re wearing a bra and what kind it is, so I recommend wearing the type of undergarments you’ll wear for the make you are working on. (Example, if you’re doing a strapless wedding gown, you’d want to wear a longline strapless bra — the one you’d wear under the dress). Please see the photos below for how to measure these points.
Halter is measured from one apex around the neck, to the other apex. This measurement is used to help when fitting things like swim (strap lengths) and halter necklines. High Point Shoulder to apex is used to get accurate bust fullness, dart placements, and button spacing. Apex to apex will help inform front waist dart placements.
Now for your waist! Tie your elastic around your middle, and find your bend spot. Your natural waist is the point on your body where you bend — I find it’s easiest to find this by striking a pose and using my hand to feel where my waist is bending. Your elastic will always try to shift to sit at the narrowest point, but your natural waist may not actually be your narrowest point, so try to keep your elastic at your bend point.
I’ve called out to measure your waist placement from your high point shoulder, and CF and CB neck. We’ve already marked the HPS, so just measure straight down over your bust to the waist elastic.
The CF neck point is right at the top center of your sternum at your neck — I like to measure from the hollow of the bone. Make sure the tape is sitting as flush to your body as you can.
The CB neck point is at the top of your back vertebrae where your body meets your neck. Again, try to keep the tape as flush to your body as you can. Any of the back measurements are a great place for your Measuring Partner to help out.
Your high and low hip circumferences should be measured at consistent points throughout your project. I’ve called out industry standard for hip placements, but you can adjust these based on your height and shape. Just make sure to measure at the same points every time. You will measure down from your waist elastic, and mark the points with safety pins at your sides or front and back to make sure your tape measure is staying straight all the way around. *Always* use safety pins if you are marking placements this way! Using straight pins for this is a fast track to accidentally stabbing yourself.
You’ll see that on sizes 20 and beyond the hip placement is lower — when the body increases in mass, it doesn’t just move out side to side evenly, which is a very common mistake in RTW, and a very lazy way to grade. People grow with curves, not straight lines, and when you are patterning or draping over a curve you need to add more length for proper shaping and proportion. Vertical measurements are essential for a good fit!
Now for everything below the crotch. Again, make sure you are keeping a note of where you are measuring your circumferences. Thigh is typically measured between 1-2″ below the crotch (to capture the fullness of your front leg), knee is typically measured at the center of your knee, and the calf should be measured at the widest point. I’ll measure down from my crotch and mark on my leg where to take those points — see below. I’m marking my tights with safety pins, but if you are measuring just in your undergarments, pull out that handy washable marker!
A typical problem in American RTW is that a lot of brands fit on models who have a calf circumference of around 14″ for a women’s size 8/10. However, most of our population has a fuller calf (I think realistically for a size 8/10, the calf averages around 15 1/2″). On a garment, you will see this fit issue present as the lower part of the pant leg very tight at the back calf, with fullness and draglines at the back of the knee.
*As an aside — I will generalize measurements a bit, this is because I have personally measured hundreds of fit models, as well as hundreds of wear testers and customers in my career, all with different shapes and body types, and analyzed what feels like millions of garments. The great part about this community, however, is that everyone is different and we can custom fit to ourselves!
It can be a bit tricky to fit a leg skimming silhouette, because pant leg shaping comes only from the inseam and the outseam, but an actual person’s leg grows fullness front to back. Knowing your leg measurements will make fitting things like jeggings or a cigarette pant so much simpler, since you will be able to shape the in-/outseams with the correct fullness at the correct vertical points.
I like to take my measurements before a big project, and specifically if I’m doing a fitted woven, so I can add appropriate ease. I also like to know what’s going on with my body — I’m in the midst of postpartum and breastfeeding, so my body has changed majorly at least three times in the past year, and probably will again when I stop breastfeeding. I’ll take my measurements again after my body has settled down in about three months. The more I know about myself, the better I can tailor my makes for my current needs. By utilizing these tools, you’ll be able to do the same thing!
In my next posts, we’ll discuss how to measure patterns and garments, and how to use all these measurements in concert to figure out potential fit issues.
Gabby is a technical fashion designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.