How To Take Your Measurements (Properly)

I was thrilled when I was introduced to Karen Tierney from Studio Trosseau a few weeks ago.  She is an expert dressmaker in the San Francisco Bay area whose specialty is resizing contemporary and vintage wedding gowns.

Karen has graciously offered to share her years of experience  and provide advice and tips for preowned wedding dress buyers and sellers.

Karen’s first post starts –  appropriately – at the beginning.   How to correctly take your measurements.  Here’s her advice.How to Take Your Dress Measurements

“You have fantasized about what you want your dress to be for a long while, but now it’s time to get down to the business at hand. There are a few things you need to do before you go shopping for that perfect gown. One very important bit of information is to know your body size.

It’s very common for people to have misconceptions about the size of their own bodies but when you are considering paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a wedding gown, it’s time to do a reality check. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had brides come to me in tears with a gown that is the wrong size wondering what can be done to ‘make’ it fit. Some I can help, but for others I sadly have to tell them to send the gown back and get a different size. The most important lesson: To circumvent many problems, take accurate measurements of your body. Better yet, have someone else do it for you.

For buyers:
If you have a favorite bra or even better, the undergarment that you intend to wear (this is sometimes difficult until you get your gown), or you have a strapless spanks or corset that you don’t mind spending an entire day in, put that on and take your measurements.

Always use a flexible measuring tape like one you can buy in a fabric store. Put the tape around the area tight enough just to stay in position. It’s better to be a little loose than too tight. The tape measure should be parallel to the floor for all the measurements.

For the bust: Place the tape measure under the arms, across the back and across the largest part of the bust.

For the waist:  Contrary to popular belief, the ‘waist’ is NOT around you at your belly button or across your hipbones. All the young brides and ballerinas I work with go into a panic when I put the tape around their natural waist…which is the smallest part of their torso. The fashion industry uses the natural waist as a base line measurement.  Can you imagine the gown you would get if you gave the belly button measurement as a waist? It’s usually about 6-8 inches bigger. Not good.

For the hip: According to many sewing standards, the ‘hip line’ is equal to 9” below the belly button. Every body is different and if you happen not to fall in the ‘average’ range, you could be way off. Measure around the largest part of your hip…or not so delicately…your butt.

For  sellers:
Same rules apply. Since you are the one who wore the gown you should know where the largest part of the bust and hips and the smallest part of the natural waist fall on the dress. It’s not an exact science but you can do this a few ways. Much depends on the style of the gown and you might have to use both methods to get all the measurements.

Put on the undergarments that you wore for your wedding, try on the dress to make sure it still fits well, then take the dress off and take measurements over just the undergarments exactly as I described for a buyer.

If the dress no longer fits, lie the dress out flat and use a measuring tape to measure across each area, then double the amount. For example, if the waist measures 14 inches across when it’s flat, the waist measurement is 28 inches… and so on. The bust may be a little trickier especially if it has a lot of internal structuring as with a strapless gown. For this, put the start of your measuring tape on the left side of the back closer (zipper?) and carefully trace it around the largest area of the bust line to the right side of the closer.

Some things to consider:
I mentioned ‘industry standards’ …well, in terms of having standards between one design house to another, there are none so don’t depend on this.  Just as an example, if I go to H&M, I wear a 10. If I go to Ralph Lauren, I wear a 2 or 4. Go figure! So don’t go by the size that you think you are or the size you typically buy. Take honest measurements and make sure the seller is giving you the dress measurements and not a number assigned by the manufacturer.

If you are prone to have dramatic shifts in your weight, or you are on a fitness program to loose inches and pounds before the wedding, it’s hard to say how to purchase a dress. Maybe it’s a realistic goal you set or your best guesstimate but, be sure to let your dressmaker know this. They usually have many projects in-house at any given time and this lets them know when to block out the time to do your alterations, which should be closer to your wedding date.

Next, in deciding what is going to fit you best, you have to consider the gown. For example: if you are looking at a gown that has an empire waist (the skirt falls from directly under the bust) then the bust measurement is the most critical, so you should try to fit your bust measurement.  If the gown has a very small waist, then the waist measurement is most critical…you get the idea. It’s good to communicate with the previous owner if they are willing. They can tell you a lot about how the gown fits.

Finally, if you get a gown that works over your largest measurement, it’s far easier for a dressmaker (and less expensive) for you to make something smaller than it is to try to make it bigger.

Good luck and if you have any questions about taking measurements, please send them to me!

Next Post: Shapes of bodies and shapes of gowns. Doing your research on what will look the best on you.

Karen Tierney Studio TrousseauAbout: Karen Tierney of Studio Trousseau specializes in restoration, alterations of vintage to modern wedding gowns, custom gowns and corsets in the San Francisco Bay Area. With a background in historic costuming, Karen can offer many options to make the gown unique to you using attention to detail and traditional french tailoring.

  1. Thank you. I also heard that I should not tailor a sample size dress (8 or 10) to my size (my dress size / street size is 2 or petite 4). Is that too much alteration?

  2. Dear Inge,

    Much of it depends on the style of the dress and your shape, of course, but generally it’s pretty easy for your dressmaker to adjust down 2 sizes. If the sample is a 10 and you are a 2, that’s too much of a difference IMO. If it were a 6 to a 2, that could be done without destroying the design integrity and fit of the gown. If you looked at how the dresses laid out in a pattern, you would see a big difference between an 10 and a 2 especially around curves like the arms, bust and length of waist.

  3. I had the same question! But isn’t a designer’s size 10 more like a real 6 or an 8 anyway? Would that mean that you could do it? How could I tell for sure?

  4. Dear Marjorie,

    The truthful answer here is that you can’t tell for sure. As I mentioned, it’s not safe to go by numbers assigned to the dress by the manufacturers. Most designer gowns will also indicate the optimum measurements for the gown. The best way to go about it is by taking accurate measurements of your body as I have described and comparing them to the gown’s. The person selling the gown will be able to help you here.

    If you are asking how much can you count on to alter to fit you, part of it goes back to my previous comment…it depends on the gown and what area has to be altered. In general, I have been able to reduce the size by as much as 4″ by taking in the side seams 2″ each…or pinched an inch. It’s a bit complex, but if you start to take a dress in too much at any point, it throws the line of the dress off on other areas…like the bust line. This doesn’t even take into consideration any decorative elements that may be on the dress. That’s another consideration that you should look out for.

  5. Question about measurements…I have augmented breast, so I am a 36C or 34DD. When I take measurements I am 37 inches around my chest. Should I be looking for a dress with a bust of 37 inches or more?

    1. Hi Tiffany,

      Yes, you should be looking fora gown with a 37″ bust measurement or more. It is always easier to take gown in, than to enlarge it. So if you were to find a dress with a bust measurement of 38 or 39- that could more easily work for you instead of 35 or 36″.


  6. Hi,

    I saw a dress on here that I like that was altered down from its original size…can a dress be re-altered back up to its original size?


    1. Hi Krista,

      That all depends on how the seamstress who altered down did it. If she removed the excess fabric, then no, it can’t go back to its original size. If the extra fabric was left, then it can be increased in size.

  7. Hi,

    I’m not sure if this thread is still active, but I also had a question about measurements.
    How tight do you wrap the measuring tape around your body? I’m trying to decide which dress to order and I’m not sure if I should go with an 8 or a 10. According to the designer sizing chart, the 8 measures 34-26-35, and the 10 measures 35-27-36. My measurements are 33/34-27-33. I have tried a the sample dress in a 10 and the waist did not fit, but was actually a little big. Should I order the 8 or the 10? (btw the dress is biased cut with silk organza layers)

    1. Ruby, definitely order the 10. The dress needs to fit your biggest measurement. While the sample may have been big, the 8 may be to small (and making a dress larger is more costly and difficult).

      And to answer your question, the tape should be as loose as possible without having any slack in it.

      Happy wedding 🙂

  8. Thank you that was very helpful!

    I kept hearing that ordering to fit the biggest measurement is what you should do, but i was confused because I asked a local seamstress and she said I should get the 8 and that she had experience making a size 8 to a 14, so it shouldn’t be a problem. But I guess if making a dress larger is more costly, that would make sense why she said that…

    Thanks for the advice!

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