The Size Guide – An Introduction to American Clothing Sizes

The Size Guide - An Introduction to American Clothing Sizes

You are in the T-shirt aisle at Lululemon. You spot a size 4 shirt, and find it two times larger than the size 4 Lululemon T-shirt that you wore back in the U.K. This is not a surprising situation, but it is inconvenient for sure.

A U.K. size 4 is equivalent to a U.S. size 2, and a European size 32. But, how were you to know this?

Clothing sizes are perplexing as it is, but it gets even more challenging when you move to a foreign country and have to adjust to their sizing system. Now, every time you visit a mall you are mentally converting the American clothing sizes to your country’s sizing system. That, or you are hopelessly dependent on the salesperson.

We suggest to cut out the mental calculation and the middle person.

Familiarize yourself with American sizes once and for all, so that you see the size tag and instantly know the estimated measurements. Whether it’ll fit you or not is a different story. But hey, at least you’ll be on the right track.

First, Get Your Body Measurements Right

We’ll teach you the correct way to measure your body so that you get consistent measurements every time. Then, we’ll guide you through the process of reading those measurements. After that, finding your American clothing size will be a breeze. 

All you need is a measuring tape and a dash of motivation.

If you think you already know your measurements well, and clothes always fit you perfectly, you can skip this part. Otherwise, stick around. You might learn something you were doing wrong while measuring yourself.

A few guidelines before we begin:

  • Use only a cloth measuring tape. Not the metal kind.
  • Measure yourself on bare skin. Don’t do it on top of clothes. You will definitely get erroneous results.
  • When you surround a part of your body with the tape, keep it level. If it’s tilted, the measurement will be incorrect. The tape should also neither be too tight, nor too loose for optimum comfort.
  • Never trust your memory when it comes to your body measurements. Our minds have a way of jumbling up numbers. Write it down and keep a record.
  • American clothing sizes are measured in inches. So, write down your measurements in inches.
  • Measure yourself from time to time. Be it in six-month intervals or 12. Body size won’t remain the same throughout your life; it changes more frequently than you’d expect.
  • If you have a garment that fits just right, measure that instead of your body.

Let’s begin with the measuring techniques:

1. Neck

Neck measurements are required for formal dress shirts. Wrap the tape around your neck, above your Adam’s apple. This is your true neck size.

For a comfortable fit, add half an inch to this measurement if it’s a round digit (13 becomes 13.5). Otherwise, just round off to the nearest half-inch (12.25 becomes 12.5).

2. Chest

Women should wrap the tape around the fullest part of their chest for their bust size. Note that this is not your bra size.

The principle is the same for men. Just measure around the center of your chest. Going horizontally around your nipple line is best.

Your chest size is just for tops, shirts, and dresses; not for undergarments.

3. Sleeve

Detailed arm and sleeve measurements are usually required for men’s dress shirts. Normally your tailor will do this for you, but you should know how to do it, nevertheless.

Your upper arm size is simply the circumference of the widest part of your arm—the biceps. For your sleeve length, you’ll need help. It is the distance from the middle of the back of your neck, down the shoulder, and to just below your wrist bone. Your hand should be resting on your waist at a 90° angle. Repeat for both arms.

4. Waist

Your natural waistline is located right above your belly button, and below the ribcage. A quick way to pinpoint it is to bend sideways; the crease that forms is your waistline.

Measuring the circumference is easy after that. Don’t suck in your stomach to avoid getting a false measurement.

Also, if you are measuring for low-rise garments, you need to measure at the spot where your pants usually ride. In other words, the place you like your pants to hang from.

5. Hips

Wrap the tape from one hip to the other and back, around the fullest part of your butt. Make sure the tape lines up straight and fits securely. You should be standing straight with your legs together. If you bend forwards, you might mess up the measurement. For accuracy, do this in front of a mirror.

6. Thigh

Take the circumference of the widest part of the thigh. It might be wider than you expected, but don’t be tempted to cheat on this one. Always do this while standing. The sitting position gives an erroneous reading.

7. Inseam

If you find your trousers and jeans are often too long or too short, you have an incorrect inseam length. Beware, it has nothing to do with your height.

Inseam length is the distance from your crotch to your ankle. Since you have to do this while standing up, it might be challenging. We recommend taking a pair of perfectly fitting pants and measuring from the highest point of the inner thigh down to the hem. Round off to the nearest half-inch.

U.S. Size Guide for Female Bodies

American clothing sizes are complicated, and this applies in double measure when it comes to women’s sizing.

If you are used to letter sizing (S, M, L), get ready for an uncomfortable change. Most well-fitting clothes are categorized in numbers, starting from zero. A letter sizing will give you a range of sizes, so the clothes may be a little too tight or loose, but a number size is supposed to fit you like a glove.

But wait, it gets more complicated.

When shopping for clothes in America, there are some terms you will come across that won’t make sense. So, let us decode those first.

1. Misses

All even number sizes starting from zero (0, 2, 4, 6). They usually go up to 16. This is the letter equivalent of XS (extra-small) to XL (extra-large). This sizing refers to the assumed body proportions of the average American woman, which is an hourglass shape.

2. Junior

All odd number sizes from one onward (1, 3, 5, 7). This sizing is usually given to women who have fewer curves and a smaller bust. Junior clothing is slightly smaller and slimmer in fit than the misses. It is sometimes denoted with the letter “J.”

3. Plus/Women’s Size

Sizes from 18 upwards are categorized as plus sizes. But, this rule is not consistent across brands. You may find some stores starting the plus-size range from 14 onwards. Women’s sizes are denoted with a “W.”

This category is for women who are bigger than the assumed average. This idea of what is average varies from brand to brand.

4. Petite

Petite is not a denotation of the body shape, but rather the height. It is a standard American clothing size designed to fit women who are 5’4” or less.

Petite sizes are available for all three of the above body types. It is represented by a “P.”

5. Tall

Again, a term for denoting height. Tall sizes are used for women who are considered taller than the “regular” height which is between 5′5″ and 5′7″. Women who are 5′8″ or taller fall under this category. 

Just like petite, tall sizes also apply to misses, junior, and plus body types. They are represented by a “T.”

Here is a chart to put things into perspective:

US SizeLetter SizeBustWaistHips
00XXS28 – 2922 – 2330 – 31
00 (J)XXS (J)29.5 – 30.522 – 2331.5 – 32.5
0XS30 – 3123 – 2432 – 33
0 (J)XS (J)30.5 – 3124 – 24.534 – 34.5
1XS (J)31.5 – 3225 – 25.535 – 35.5
2XS31 – 3225 – 2633 – 34
3S (J)32.5 – 3326 – 26.536 – 36.5
4S32 – 332735 – 36
5S (J)33.5 – 3427 – 27.537 – 37.5
6S34 – 3527 – 2836 – 37
7M (J)34.5 – 3528 – 28.538 – 38.5
8M35 – 3629 – 3038 – 39
9M (J)35.5 – 36.529 – 29.539 – 39.5
10M37 – 3830 – 3139 – 41
11L (J)37 – 37.530 – 3140 – 41
12L38 – 4032 – 3341 – 42
13L (J)38 – 3931.5 – 32.541.5 – 42.5
14L41 – 4234 – 3543 – 44
15XL (J)39.5 – 40.533 – 3443 – 44
16XL42 – 4335 – 3645 – 46
17XL (J)41 – 42.534.5 – 3644.5 – 45.5
18XL44 – 4537  -3847 – 48
19XXL (J)43 – 4536.5 – 3846 – 48
20XXL46 – 4839 – 4049 – 50
14W1X42 – 4334 – 3544 – 46
16W1X43 – 4535 – 3645 – 47
18W2X45 – 4736 – 3847 – 49
20W2X47 – 4938 – 4149 – 51
22W3X49 – 5141 – 4451 – 53
24W3X51 – 5343 – 4753 – 56
26W4X53 – 5545 – 4955 – 58
16W – 18W1X (J)42 – 4634.5 – 38.544.5 – 48.5
20W – 22W2X (J)46 – 5038.5 – 42.548.5 – 52.5
24W – 26W3X (J)50 – 5442.5 – 46.552.5 – 56.5

Please note that all the terms discussed here, along with the given chart, are only average estimates. Actual store sizing may differ drastically. Knowing your exact body measurements is your only saving grace. If you know your measurements, you can easily convert those to the brand sizing you’re shopping for.

U.S. Size Guide for Male Bodies

Thankfully for men, America doesn’t impose the horrendous and confusing number sizing system. This is due to an assumption that men generally don’t wear tight-fitting clothes, and on the rare occasions when they do, they usually go to the tailor, not a retail store.

So, we only have the letter sizing system for men. Also, no more confounding terminology here.

Here is a (far simpler) chart for your reference:

US SizeNeckChestSleeveWaist
XS13 – 13.533 – 3431.5 – 3227 – 28
S14 – 14.535 – 3732.5 – 3329 – 31
M15 – 15.538 – 4033.5 – 3432 – 34
L16 – 16.542 – 4434.5 – 3536 – 38
XL17 – 17.546 – 4835.5 – 3640 – 42
2X18 – 18.550 – 5236 – 36.544 – 46
3X19 – 19.554 – 5636.5 – 3750 – 52

It should be noted that most men’s trousers designed for daily wear, such as jeans and chinos, are sized using a simple waist and inseam measurement. If you go to a store and see a pair of jeans marked “32-30,” it usually means they measure 32 inches in the waist, and 30 inches in the inseam. By using the measuring techniques described above, sizing for trousers is quite simple.

Just as for women, American clothing sizes vary for men from brand to brand, as well. The chart provided above is only an arbitrary estimate.

Your Clothes Are Supposed To Fit You, Not the Other Way Around

Even if the world of American clothing sizes and body standards seem too daunting to grasp, we hope you don’t settle for less. Hunt down that dress or that shirt that is made for your body. Don’t try to fit into something that is not for you.

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