Friday, August 19, 2011

The Measure of a Man

 (Part Ten of the series "Dressing the Average Guy.")
Chapter 28
For those of you who have only recently joined us on our odyssey of sartorial superiority, here at Dress Like A Grownup!  we follow along several concurrent curricula, in order to help the greatest number of people at different levels of erudition. While we gladly plunge into topics at the advanced levels of your M.S. (Master of Sartoriality) right up to your Ph.D. (Philosopher Dandy), we mustn't forget that everyone must at one point start at the beginning. It is at this most basic matriculation, the young (or not so young) man who has just discovered the Great Secrets of dressing well for himself, to whom we dedicate this week's installment.

And hello again to my esteemed Average Guys! Lest you become overwhelmed by the minutia of dressing well, let's take a step back and breathe easy for a moment. All the theory and fluff in the world isn't going to help you actually find a good suit without a little help. You already have the weapons in your arsenal to discover what style will work most effectively, how a good suit is supposed to fit, and what the basics of dressing well actually entail in broad strokes, as we have covered this in our series over the previous months.

You are looking down the barrel of Autumn, with a universe of suit choices ahead of you. Perhaps you have already found a good secondhand shop or estate sale that has offered up a good, stout, vintage classic suit that is right up your alley. If you are like most members of the male of your species (and you are), you are a hunter. You like nothing more than to walk into a shop, look for Something, find it, pay for it, and leave with it. An indescribable sense of accomplishment floods your soul, and life is good.

Not so good is shopping with a foraging female of the species. They walk into a shop looking for nothing in particular, and after wandering every aisle -- twice, -- they collect a cart-full of items that MIGHT fit. After trying everything on, they put half of it back, forage some more, try on more stuff, and after an hour or two may have decided to purchase something...or maybe not.

Ripping your hair out and seething in silence is not healthy for your constitution, your relationships, or your hairline. Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about shopping with your gal; but I can make life easier for you when you hunt for your own clothes.

Most references will tell you to buy suits using sizes. In answer to the question, "What size am I," those same sources will tell you to use the size of a suit that already fits you, in a stunning display of circular reasoning. What are you to do if you're an Average Guy, starting out from the singular piece of information that his tee-shirt size is "M"? No fear -- I shall show you everything you need to know.

In addition to the circular reasoning problem of not knowing what suit fits you until you have a suit that fits you, even if you did know your suit size -- what do you do with vintage suits that have had their labels removed, or were originally made bespoke and never had labels? Or a suit that has been altered, and the size isn't actually the size at all? The simple solution is to find and know some of your basic measurements. You can then, with a small tape measure carried in your pocket, quick-check a suit's measurements while still on the hanger, obviating the forage-guess-try-on-and-discard cycle we men despise so much, in favor of the clean and quick on-the-rack suit hunt.

You can take these measurements on the tailor's form we discussed a couple of weeks ago, or right on yourself with the help of an assistant. It is possible for you to take direct measures on yourself, but some of these measurements are easier than others.

First, we'll take the measures for a proper shirt.

First, get your actual chest measurement. This is taken around the chest just under the arms. Hold the tape loosely and inhale -- you want this measure to be a little "easy," not too tight. This measure will come in handy later.

Measure across the yoke, from shoulder-seam to shoulder-seam. If you don't have a dress shirt, just measure between both shoulder points.

Then measure down the length of the sleeve. (Since my tailor's form has no arms, I've shown you this measure as taken on myself.) One person can manage it as shown: pin the top of the tape measure at the top of the shoulder seam (or at the shoulder point,) and let the tape fall through your hand as shown. The cuff should sit just below your wristbone, so measure to that point.

To find the "measured size" of a dress shirt, add the sleeve length you just took to half of the yoke measurement -- the sleeve is measured from the back of the neck out to the cuff. In this example, my yoke is 17 inches, and my sleeve is 25½ inches. Half the yoke is 8½ inches, added to the 17 inch sleeve, which reveals this shirt to be a size 34.


To find your neck size, simply measure around the base of your own neck. In my case, 15½ inches.
(This is indicated as part of the shirt size: thus, the shirt that fits me best is a 15½ -34.)

Now let's move on to measuring trousers.

To get a waist measurement, take the tape the same way as for the chest measure, but run it 'round at your waist: about two inches above your hipbones, or just below your navel. Add about two inches to this measurement: you want your trousers comfortable enough to breathe and eat in, not too tight.

To find the length, put the end of the tape at the waistband, and let it fall down the outside leg seam of your trousers, while wearing shoes. Running the tape under your instep and pulling it snug with your other foot is a handy way for one person to do this alone. The cuff of the trouser should just cover the top of the shoe as shown, so measure to that point. (This can also be taken without trousers, by just holding the tape in the proper place.)

This measurement is the leg -- but the "measured size" of trousers is the waist seam and the inseam measure. The inseam is difficult to take alone, but the difference between the inseam and leg is the rise, which in most cases is around 8 inches. All this means for you is to subtract 8 from your leg measure to find the trouser size. In this example, my actual "waist measure+2" is 33½ inches, and my "outside leg-8" is 33 inches; so a trouser sized 33½ -33 would fit me. Since trousers don't usually come off-the-rack in half sizes, I would round down to 33-33 to find the best fit.

Now we'll measure for a jacket. 


Take the shoulder measure the same way as for your shirt. If you don't have a jacket, just take your measure across your shoulders as you did for your shirt, and add one inch.

Take the measure across your blades as well, between both shoulder seams. Some people have very prominent shoulder blades, and the jacket must account for the shape of your shoulders. If you don't have a jacket, take this measure over your shirt, from the middle of your arms and across your blades.


The chest measure is taken the same way as for your shirt; under the arms and rather easy. If you don't have a jacket, take the chest measure that you did for your shirt, and add four inches to it.

Next, find the sleeve length. This is taken from the top of the shoulder seam, and straight down to the bottom edge of the cuff nearest the buttons. Notice you are measuring straight down the grain of the fabric, not following the curve of the sleeve. If you do not have a jacket, this measurement is the same as the actual sleeve measure of your shirt.

Next find the length of the jacket. This is taken from the back of the neck right down to the hem.


If you don't have a jacket, there is a work-around: remember that a classically proportioned jacket should be long enough that you can curl your fingers under the hem. Hold the end of the tape at the back of your neck, and let it fall down your back. Curl your fingers, and, while holding a pencil or skewer, point horizontally to the tape. The jacket's length should be no longer than this, and may be no more than three or four inches shorter, according to the vagaries of fashion. (This holds for most sport coats and jackets; obviously, there are specialty coats for winter and formal occasions that may be longer.)

The "measured size" of a jacket is simply the chest measure, with the length of the back and the sleeves estimated by a very inaccurate S, M, L, etc. Having all the additional measurements you've taken here, will help you find a jacket that actually fits, and fits well, without all those excessive try-ons. Trust me now, and thank me later.

When measuring for a waistcoat, there are three measurements with which to be concerned.

The chest measurement is taken the same as for the shirt and jacket. If you don't have a waistcoat, take the chest measure that you did for your shirt, and add one inch to it.

The neck measurement is taken from the shoulder seam and down to the point of the vest's crossover. This is merely for comparison, for convenience's sake later. There is no set point here: it can be as high or low as you wish. (Measuring from the shoulder seam is because we will be taking quick measurements, while the vest hangs on the rack. Bespoke measurement is taken from the back of the neck and around, so this will not give you the "official" size.)

The length is taken from the shoulder seam (again, bespoke is taken from the back of the neck; we shall not) down to the lowest point of the fronts, which should be about four inches below the top button of your trousers. You want to insure your waistband will be covered by your waistcoat at all times. This is another measure taken for convenience's sake.
Armed with this numerical ammunition, and with a small, stealthy tape measure, you will be able to stake out your territory, scope out your quarry, and be able to get a suit in your sights, pull the trigger on your credit card, and be out the door with that suit in your trunk before it knows what hit it.


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