When it comes to your suit or tuxedo, you probably know that fit is important, and you don’t want to sabotage your look by taking the wrong measurements.
Perhaps you’re renting the traditional brick-and-mortar way, and trying to decide whether you should learn how to measure for a suit yourself, or trek to the mall to have your inner thigh measured by a surly sales associate. (Truly formalwear’s Sophie’s Choice if ever there was one.)
Or maybe you’re buying a suit online. That can feel risky, and you wouldn’t be the first person to stand in front of your full-length mirror, mouth agape, asking yourself “What is my suit size? And… who am I, really?” We can’t help you with the second part of your literal self-reflection, but we can help you find the suit size you need.
The most exciting part? You may not actually need to measure for a suit at all. From the basics (“How should a suit fit?” or “How should a tux fit?”) to the specifics (“How do I measure for a tux?”), we’ve got the answers. Read on to find your fit.
Table of Contents
Understanding Suit Sizes
Before you dig in to find your fit and measure for a suit, there are a few things you should understand about how to read suit sizes. Without getting too deep in the weeds, let’s get you up to speed.
The size label on a suit jacket will include a number—typically between 34 and 52—and a letter or two. The numbers are the chest size of the jacket (not to be confused with your chest measurement, which is different—more on that later), and usually they’re offered in even sizes.
Jackets typically come in short (S), regular (R), and long (L) lengths, although some brands offer extra short (XS) and extra long (XL) lengths as well. Usually, these lengths correspond with your overall height.
This one’s tricky. Typically, the first number on a label for dress pants or denim is the waist size, while the second is the length size (AKA the inseam). But when it comes to suit pants, you’ll often only be provided with a waist size. That’s because with traditional suiting, you’ll have the pants hemmed to your desired length. More often than not, waist sizes tend to come in even sizing (32, 34, 36, etc.). If a suit pant inseam is offered, they’ll typically be even sizes as well.
Casual Clothing vs. Formalwear
If your go-to jeans are a size 32 waist, you’d probably assume you wear the same size in suit pants, but that’s rarely the case. Casual clothing, like denim and chinos, typically have a little more stretch in the waist. That means your suit pants, which have less give, will likely need to be a larger size.
Similarly, the fabrics used for suit pants don’t bunch up as easily as casual fabrics. That means your 32 length jeans fit shorter than their size. When you try on a 32 length pair of suit pants, you’ll probably find them to be too long.
To recap: Suit pants fit tighter and longer than casual pants in the same size.
Brand to Brand Size Differences
While big differences in sizing from brand to brand are unusual, sizing can vary—think +/- a size or length. Your favorite suit jacket might be (for example) a 38L and fit you perfectly, but a 38L in another brand could be too tight or too short. This shouldn’t stop you from shopping a variety of brands, but it’s important to keep it in mind if you shop online—ordering the tag size may not equate to an identical fit. This also means a sales associate (or online size predictor) could provide a sizing recommendation that differs from what you’d normally expect.
How Should a Suit Fit?
The fit of your suit really comes down to personal preference. If it helps, think about the fit of a suit like you’d think about eggs: not everyone loves them the same way, so unless you specify, you might get scrambled when you’re expecting sunny side up.
Classic vs. Regular vs. Slim vs. Skinny Fits
Each brand will interpret fit types in different ways, but generally, there are some assumptions you can make about classic, regular, slim and skinny fits.
A “classic” fit will be more generous in size overall. Rather than having a contoured cut, you’ll find the waist of the jacket and leg of the pants to have a pretty even cut without much tapering. This fit had its heyday in the ’80s and ’90s, but some brands offer a modern version of the classic fit that’s just a little more generous in the seat and thigh of the pants, and in the arms of the jacket. You can expect the same from a “regular” fit.
A “skinny” fit is probably going to mean what you think it means: it will contour your body closely. This probably isn’t a great fit if you’re planning on… I don’t know, doing the YMCA or entering a limbo contest? That’s because this fit won’t leave you with much extra fabric (literally no wiggle room) in the jacket or pants. But if you’re going for a model-in-a-magazine look, skinny fit probably checks all the boxes. Just don’t plan on lifting any boxes.
A “slim” fit offers the best of both worlds: a contoured cut that looks great, but with just enough room to shake your groove thing. It’s also timeless, so a very safe choice for fit if you’re purchasing a suit. The jacket will have a tapered waist, hugging you in all the right places, and the arm holes will neither feel baggy nor constrict your movement. Plus, the leg of the pant will taper down to your shoe, creating a slimming effect.
A Note on Atypical Body Types
Every body type is unique, but some of us are so unique that it becomes difficult to wear the most accessible brands. If you have a super-athletic build, a tall and thin frame, or you’re shorter with a broad build, you’ll likely get the best results from custom, tailor-made garments. But that can get expensive, and off-the-rack is a non-starter. Instead, buy or rent suit (or tux) separates, and talk to your tailor about the best ways to adjust the fit of the garments you own.
Custom vs. Off-the-Rack
When you buy a suit off the rack, you’re buying a suit with a “standard drop”—the difference between the chest size of your jacket minus the waist size of your pant. The standard drop is 6, which means if you wear a size 38 jacket, the pants will be a size 32 waist (38 – 32 = 6). Unfortunately, not everyone fits neatly into this standard drop. If that’s you, consider having a garment custom made, shop for (or rent) separates, or plan on taking your off-the-rack garment to a tailor for fine-tuning.
What can a tailor adjust?
First, are you renting or buying? If you rent a suit, you’ll probably be limited to temporary sleeve length or pant length hem adjustments. If you own the suit, you have more options, but there are some parts of a suit you shouldn’t touch.
Do not take your suit in for these alterations:
→ Jacket Shoulders
→ Jacket Chest
→ Jacket Body Length
If the suit seems to be your size but something’s just a little off, do tailor:
→ Jacket Sleeve Length
→ Pant Length Hem
→ Jacket Waist
→ Pant Waist
→ Pant Taper
When in doubt, ask your tailor what’s realistic, and manage your expectations accordingly.
How to Find My Size
Try On Suits In a Store
Good old trial and error. Trying on suit separates is a great way to get a ballpark estimate of your sizes. Make sure you’re wearing a dress shirt and dress shoes, and try on as many jackets and pants as you need until you find the right fit. While this method still requires you to head into a store, you’re not in the (sometimes) awkward position of asking an associate to take your measurements.
You’ll also want to pay attention to whether the garment that fits you best is a slim or classic fit. While the definition of these terms can vary from brand to brand, it still helps to know if the size 38 suit jacket you tried on was designed for a more tailored fit or a relaxed fit.
Finally, make sure to write down (or email yourself) the sizes—jacket chest size, jacket length, pant waist size, and, if applicable, inseam length.
How to Measure Yourself for a Suit
We know what you’re about to say—something along the lines of “I’ll mess it up and end up with a bad fit.” This would be a valid concern, but what you may not realize is that the days of asking a friend to measure you for a suit are numbered. Proprietary fit and sizing technology has come a long way, making it easier than ever to find your suit sizes.
Proprietary Sizing and Fit Technology
Getting measured for a suit has been a de facto tradition in our culture for a long time. But then again… so has lining up outside of department stores with bellies full of turkey and carbs to save $75 on a HDTV. There has to be a better way. We realized that it’s asking a lot to have you measure yourself at home, or to send you to tailor or menswear store to get your measurements taken. And if we’re being honest, neither method always results in a great fit.
Instead, we ask simple questions that most people already know the answers to: height, weight, age, body shape, and shoe size. If you know anything about your fit preferences (slim, classic, etc.) or formalwear sizes—like your dress shirt or pant size—we’ll use that info, too. If not, that’s fine. Then, we use data gathered from hundreds of thousands of customers to calculate the most probable sizes for your perfect fit.
Think of it as the modern tape measure—something anyone can use to find the right fit. In fact, you can try it out now, for free.
How to Measure for a Suit Using a Tape Measure
Maybe the old way has worked for you before. Maybe your buddy asked you to rent from a brick and mortar tux shop, and these measurements are required. Whatever the case, you’ll need accuracy if you’re using a tape measure to measure for a suit. These are the most common measurements you’ll need to take and how to take them.
Measure around the fullest part of your neck, but don’t measure too tightly—a finger or two should fit between the measuring tape and your neck.
Wearing a shirt that fits you well helps with this measurement, as you’re pretty much just measuring the distance between armhole seams across your back.
Keeping your shoulders relaxed and arms down at your sides, hold the measuring tape at the edge of your shoulder, at the armhole. Measure straight down to the wrist, just where it meets your hand.
Chest Underarm Measurement
Wrap the measuring tape under your arms, measuring around the widest part of your chest. As tempting as it is, don’t puff out your chest or flex.
Chest Overarm Measurement
Measure around the widest part of your chest, but this time, wrap the tape measure all the way around your arms. Again, try to stay relaxed for this measurement.
Wrap the measuring tape around your waist, just above your hips, where dress pants would normally sit. If you’re wearing jeans or casual pants, aim for just above the waist of the pant, but don’t go over the top, where a belt would sit.
Measure from the top of your waistband, straight down to the ground. You can either subtract 1″-2″ from the total measurement, or eyeball the spot where your pants hit your shoe. If you tend to wear your pants with a larger break (more pant fabric gathered on the shoe), just subtract 1″-2″ from the total waist-to-floor measurement.
Bonus: Inseam Measurement
Most suiting brands won’t request an inseam measurement, but they’ll usually take one during a fitting. First, wear pants that fit you well, without a lot of loose fabric. Then, measure the inside seam of your pant leg, from the highest point to the edge of your dress shoes. Don’t measure to the end of the pants you’re wearing
As you take your measurements, keep in mind that these raw numbers don’t always translate into garment sizes. For example, your waist measurement may be 33”, but that doesn’t mean you’re a size 33 waist. #MindBlown
How to Have Measurements Taken for a Suit
If you’ve ever rented a suit from a traditional brick-and-mortar menswear store, you probably have a very specific memory of getting measured for a suit. While it’s probably not something you’ll journal about over a glass of cabernet, there are benefits to stopping into a store.
If the brand you’re buying or renting from doesn’t offer sizing or fit technology, and you’re not confident in your ability to accurately measure yourself, you should visit the store. Whenever possible, go to the same store you’re buying or renting from. If you ask to have measurements taken someplace else, you’ll find that commissioned sales associates tend to get annoyed, which can lead to mixed fit results.
Quick Tips for Getting Fitted
1. Always wear a dress shirt and dress shoes to get fitted.
Without over-explaining, this is all about precision. Flip flops and t-shirts aren’t the same.
2. Communicate your preferred fit (or bring a photo).
We each have our own definition of what looks good and fits correctly, so speak up so the pro’s can dial it in for you. Not sure how to describe your preference? Show them a photo of a celeb wearing a suit the way you like it.
3. But don’t argue with the pros.
If they’re making a recommendation, there’s probably a good reason—maybe they know something about the fit of their suits that you don’t. Just know that they want you to look good. Treat it like a trust fall, but for your suit.
Suits by The Black Tux
Taking measurements for a suit or tuxedo can be a hassle, but more importantly, it’s just not always reliable. We decided it was time to think about fit a different way—one better suited to the experience of renting or shopping online. Using a combination of data science, machine learning, and good-old-fashioned formalwear expertise, we realized that the best way to measure for a suit doesn’t require a tape measure.
When you’re ready to never be awkwardly hugged/measured by a menswear sales associate again, you can start finding your suit sizes here.