Body Size Measurements

My method of determining your body’s strengths is all rather wishy-washy, touchy-feely, horseshoes and hand grenades (see the stick-figures here), which might drive some people a bit crazy.

This is for those who want hard facts and figures.

How to Take Basic Body Measurements:

Follow this link for the dummies’ guide to taking body measurements (for women).

If you want to get a full set of measurements like a seamstress would take, try the instructions here.


Average Size Chart Examples:

You will find a simple size chart with size measurements here.

It is for US sizes, and the measurements are in inches, but as you are using this to find out how far off the average you are, it doesn’t matter what the size is.  The first chart (“US Standard Women’s Sizes”) is for a wide range of heights and gives a waist-hip difference of 11 inches, which is quite hourglass.  This chart is designed to fit the widest possible range of women.  The third chart, however, is pure averages, with a height range of only 5ft 5in – 5ft 6in (165-168cm) and only a 9-inch difference between hips and waist.  The general wisdom handed down to me by my elders is that a 10-inch (25cm) difference between hip and waist measurements is standard, what would be expected of a model.  A difference of 12 inches (30cm) is “hourglass,” or what would be expected of a model for Playboy or Victoria’s Secret.

If you don’t like the sizes listed on this chart, try going to the website for your favorite shop.  They should have a size chart which may seem more agreeable to you, and should work just as well for our purposes.


Frame Size

I also ran across this Frame Size Calculator, which I found very interesting.  With just a couple of measurements, it will tell you whether you really are small- or big-boned.  Obviously if you’re small-boned, you’re more likely to have delicate wrists, ankles, hands, and/or fingers.


How to Measure Your Torso Length:

  1. Locate the bone at the base of your neck. This will be at the point where the slope of your shoulders meet your neck. Tilt your head forward to help you identify it easily.
  2. Locate the base of your back. To find this location put your hands on your hips (on the hip-bones) so that your thumbs are on your back.  Your thumbs will point to the end point on your spine.
  3. Place the end of the measuring tape at the point you located in step 1.  Measure down the middle of your back, along your spine, to the end point you located in step 2 (you may need to ask a friend to help you with this).  Write this length down.
  4. Compare this number to these averages (for women of Height 5’2″ (157cm) to 5’6″ (168cm)):
  • Short: torso up to 15.5 inches (39cm)
  • Average: 15 to 17 inches (38-43cm)
  • Long: torso over 17 inches (43cm +)

For example, I find that most clothes are made for a torso of length 17 inches.  My torso measures 19 inches, so the waist on most shirts and dresses hit me 2 inches ABOVE my waist, which is not only uncomfortable, but makes my waist appear thicker as well.

Women with proportionately shorter torsos tend to have thicker waistlines, as the waist is be closer to the ribs.  Women with longer torsos may have smaller waistlines.


A Word About Inseam Length:

The length from your groin to the ground obviously varies greatly from woman to woman.  Most mass-produced trousers are cut with a 32″ (81cm) inseam, which means that this is what the companies have determined will fit the largest number of women.  So if you are 5’5″-5’6″ tall (165-168cm) and this works for you, congratulations – you are average.  If you are this height but require a 30″ (76cm) inseam, then your legs are slightly shorter than standard for your height, and you will most likely have a longer torso.  Similarly, if you are this height but require trousers longer than 32″, you have longer-than-average legs and it follows that you will have a shorter torso.

If you are 5ft 4in tall (163cm), the average height of an American woman today, then the average inseam length you are measuring against is 30″.  Take 2″ off for every 2″ shorter you are, or add 2″ for every 2″ taller you are.



Proportion: You’re Only Comparing to Yourself

Remember that you are only measuring against yourself.  For example, I have a 33″ inseam barefoot (34″ in a flat shoe), which makes my legs very long.  My torso is also 2″ longer than average.  However, I am 5’8″ tall.  Exactly 4″ taller than average.  2 + 2 = 4.  In other words, while my body and legs are most likely longer than yours, if you look at a photo of me, I look proportionate.

I have a friend who is 5’6″ and has the same torso length as me.  Her legs, however, are 2″ shorter.  This means that she has a proportionately long torso, but proportionately short legs… even though her legs are probably longer than yours.  As a result, she looks best when she dresses to elongate her legs.

My mother, on the other hand, is 5’6″ (2″ shorter than me) and has an even LONGER inseam than I do.  Her legs are proportionately very long, and her torso is quite short (I talked about this quite a bit here).  She looks best when she draws attention to her amazing pins without highlighting her lack of a waistline and the shortness of her torso.


Hope this helps!  If you think I’ve left out something significant or useful, or you know of a better link for some of these measurements, please let me know.



on “Body Size Measurements
2 Comments on “Body Size Measurements
  1. Very useful information, if I can’t find my tape measure then I’ll have my tailor take my exact measurements at our next meeting. Just a point to, “The average size of a US Woman…,” the stylists here say average American Woman is 5’4″ (as you noted), and a size 12/14. Theoretically, I am average at 5’4″ & size 12; however, no two bodies are the same, again as you have said. I am long waisted, short in the stride & legs with narrow shoulders & a bit more cushion on my hips & buttocks than I’d prefer, so I KNOW I’m not average. I apologize if you’ve covered this point, but I learned to make my tailor my best friend; and, it’s worth buying less clothing to afford him to fit it to my body! Pants ALWAYS need hemming & fitting my largest part (hips, thighs, & butt) then having a couple of tucks at the waist creates a longer leg line & gives me the hour glass shape with a smaller-looking waist! :-) Wide or V-neck blouses give the illusion of broader shoulders for better overall proportion; and, I use the “divide & conquer” rule for tops & jackets. They should rest at the halfway point of the hip line, never cover the backside, thus creating that cute tushie we all want.

    Sorry again, if you’ve covered all of this info or if I’ve jumped ahead, however, the info you’ve provided in this post is invaluable! Now my approach to clothing I consider not by the label’s size, but more like as close to couture dressing I’ll ever get! It’s quite liberating!!

  2. Pingback: Dana Forlano | Dressing Well is Part Magic: a tutorial with terrible stick-figure drawings

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