Laura’s 21 Top Tips on Measuring

by Laura Ulak

Having the correct measurements can make fitting an outfit a successful or agonizing experience.  These are some of the things that I do and recommend to others.

  1. Always make sure the person to be measured is wearing the correct undergarments.  I cannot stress this enough.  If you are making a bridal outfit, something for cosplay, a historical outfit, whatever – if the person being measured is not wearing the correct undergarments, you will not get the correct measurements.  If you are making a French gown, do not measure the person in their Elizabethan corset.  It will not give you the same measurements.  If the person is wearing “an old bra” that day that does not give them the same amount of lift, you will not get the correct measurements.  And it is OK to request that the person return wearing the correct undergarments to be measured again.  Also – if the person being measured is a woman, ask them when they had their last bra fitting.  If it is over 6-9 months ago, recommend that they have one as soon as possible.
  2. Make sure the person being measured is wearing the correct footwear.  If you are making an outfit for someone who will be wearing 2 inch heels or large boots, make sure they are wearing those shoes.
  3. Request that the person being measured arrives in a fitted top and pants.  Loose layers and skirts do not allow you to see the shape of the person properly.
  4. Take a photo of the person you are measuring.  You might have measurements and notes after your measurement session, but it is useful to have a visual of the person that allows you to take into account their actual body shape.  It is helpful to take photos during each fitting as well.
  5. Make sure that the person understands that they must NOT look down while being measured.  This will change the measurement of any lengths you are measuring, such as waist to floor.  I find this most often with children, but adults need to be reminded just as frequently.
  6. Measure both sides of the body.  This means both arms, both shoulder to waist measurements, both arms, both waist to floor measurements, etc.  No person is built perfectly symmetrical, and often there is a difference in hip height, back curvature, or shoulder heights.
  7. If there is a significant difference in measurement from one side of the body to the other, you will need to made adjustments to the garment to compensate for this.  For uneven shoulders, often a shoulder pad on the lower shoulder can make up the difference.  For uneven hips, skirts or pants should always be marked for hemming on the body.  You may not notice a difference while the person is standing, but after having someone walk in pants for a minute or so the pants will settle into place and you might discover that one side needs to be shorter than the other.
  8. Stand back and look at the shape of the person to be measured.  Often you will discover that people have built up muscle on one shoulder near their neck.  Usually this is the shoulder women carry their purses on, or where men carry their laptop bags.  You need to note this in your measurements, as this can affect the way a neckline will lay on the body and how a collar might fit.  If fabric is pulling on one side, or the person says they can never get their necklines to fit properly, this is often the reason why.  If a woman complains that her bra straps slide off all the time, a sloping shoulder can be the culprit.
  9. Make sure when measuring someone that you measure at their natural waist, not at their belly button, and not the top of their pants.  The natural waist is where the body naturally bends in when a person bends from side to side.  It is often right underneath the bottom of the ribcage.  Most people don’t understand that their waist is much higher up than what they think is normal.  However, garments will not fit properly if they are not fitted to this measurement.
  10. Note whether the person is long-waisted or short-waisted.  Typically short-waisted people have their belly button much closer to their natural waist and have long legs.  Long waisted people have a much greater distance between their natural waist and their belly button and have shorter legs.  Knowing this for the person being measured can be the difference between having a properly fitting doublet and having a bare midriff.
  11. When asking someone their measurements via e-mail or phone, ask women for their full bust measurement.  Specify that it goes over the fullest part of the bust.  A bra measurement is not the same thing as a full bust measurement.  Especially since 8 out of 10 women are usually wearing the wrong size bra.
  12. Recognize that for women, not all breasts are built the same.  Note if the person’s bust wraps around their body more, or is mostly on the front of their body.  This can make a difference in how clothing fits under the arms, and can help you to alleviate the pull marks that you see on clothing on the side of the bust in bustier women.
  13. When measuring men, make sure to get a waist measurement under the belly, as well as over the belly if the gentleman is large waisted.  Most men are wearing pants that are sizes smaller than they think they are, even under the belly.  Clarify with the person where they are going to wear their pants – at waist level, or under the belly.  This will make a huge difference in the amount of fabric needed at the front of the pants.  If you make it for over the belly and they wear it under, there will be a lot of fabric bunching in front.
  14. When measuring the rise (from the natural waist in front, through the legs and to the natural waist in back), note where the inside side seams of the pants intersect with the rise measurement.  It is helpful to know the measurement from the waist in front to the intersection and from the waist in back to the intersection.  In someone with a larger behind, the back number will be larger.  In someone with extra girth in front, the front number will be larger.  Make sure to adjust your pattern accordingly to those numbers so that any pants you make will not ride up or down.
  15. Most teenagers are very self-conscious about their bodies and are jumpy about being measured.  I usually remind them that measurements are just numbers, and that prior to 100 years ago people had their own clothing made, and there were no such thing as dress sizes.  That no measurement is bad or wrong, it is just the way the person is made.  Be careful not to say things like, “You have very broad shoulders” or “That is quite a difference in shoulder heights” to teenagers.  They are already fairly body conscious, and this can make them more so.
  16. Children usually find being measured a fascinating experience, or if they are particularly small, they don’t really want to be bothered, as there are other more exciting things to do.  I usually turn this into a game and also measure things like the width of their ears, or their nose to the end of their fingers.  I also allow them to measure some part of me, such as my wrist, or my pinky length.  Children are very hesitant to have their rise or girth, (which is from one shoulder, through the legs, and back up to the same shoulder, and is often used for measurement in dancewear) measured because they don’t want anyone near their private parts.  I will say, “OK, this is the SILLIEST measurement ever.  Are you ready for the silliness?”  And this typically relaxes children who then agree that the idea of a rise measurement is indeed very silly.  If the child is very small, it helps to have another person hold the child in place to measure them.  If this is not going to work due to the squirm factor of small children, measure some clothing that you know fits the child well and hope for the best.
  17. Occasionally you may discover a discrepancy in measurements that is alarming (such as an inch or more difference in shoulder height.  If the person is an adult, you may want to mention that they have a larger than typical (never say normal) difference in a particular measurement and suggest that they might want to let their doctor/chiropractor know in the event that they have any back pain, etc.  If you find this in a child/teenager, particularly a child who has not yet been scanned for scoliosis, you will want to mention this to the parent, again by calling the measurement not “typical” and suggesting it might be worth looking into.  The most extreme case I saw was a girl who had an almost 2 inch difference in her shoulder heights and her parents had never noticed, even though she was almost 10.  Unless people are having something custom made, most people don’t notice the odd little idiocyncracies of their bodies, or those of their friends or family.
  18. Many adults are also self conscious about their bodies and their measurements.  I do not ever announce a measurement that I am taking out loud.  I also refrain from saying things like “That can’t be right!  That is much bigger/smaller than it should be.”  Always keep in mind that the person being measured is a person with their own particular body concerns.  Even if the person seems to be very positive about their body they will still have something they are not happy about, and it is your job to help them leave the measuring session feeling good – not bad about their body.
  19. Make sure your measuring tape is long enough.  A basic measuring tape is 60 inches long.  If you are measuring a plus size person, this tape may not be long enough, and there is nothing quite as embarrassing for a person being measured as discovering they are bigger than the measuring tape.  You can find some longer tapes at your local fabric store, or in the hardware section of stores like Home Depot.  Make sure that you are also careful in measuring a larger person.  If you do not think you can fit your arms around them, do not try.  It can cause you pain by reaching, and it can be potentially embarrassing for the person if you can’t reach around them.  I will usually have them hold the tape in one spot and have them spin around.  This also allows me to make sure the tape is going to be lying in the correct spot.  People who are plus size can have rolls of flesh that can change the measurement of a part of the body you are trying to measure if the tape gets caught in the wrong spot.  Walking around the person to wrap the tape around them can make them again feel embarrassed that they are large enough that someone can’t just reach around them.  Spinning seems a little silly and fun, and not as embarrassing.  You can then walk around adjusting the tape, which is not as embarrassing- just let them know that you always check to make sure the tape is in the right spot.
  20. Take more measurements than you think you might need.  You may not plan on making pants this time around, but the person may change their mind, and if you already have the measurements that saves them a trip and you the time of having to work around another measurement appointment.  Better to over-measure than under-measure.
  21. And most importantly, make sure to have a positive attitude while measuring someone.  People find being measured to be slightly embarrassing and they are never completely happy with the results.  If you are unhappy about something, don’t take that feeling into the measuring room with you – people can assume it is a reflection on them and their measurements.  Be positive and affirming of their fabulousness and how great that final garment is going to look on them.  Everyone can use a little positive boost to their self-confidence.

1 Comment

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One response to “Laura’s 21 Top Tips on Measuring

  1. Rae Lundquist

    good summation! I always tell my customers that there may be ‘standard’ sizes in clothing and patterns, but is no such thing as standard size person, so EVERYBODY is going to be a bit off the ‘standard’ measurements.

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