Knowing Your Measurements Is The Key To Shopping Vintage

Knowing your size these days is nearly impossible.

image for article Knowing Your Measurements Is The Key To Shopping Vintage

Knowing your size these days is nearly impossible. We’ve all been there, where we are shopping and we are one size in this store and another in that store. Sometimes it’s entirely different from one item to the next in the same store. It’s as frustrating as it is disheartening. Shopping for contemporary clothes sometimes requires you to try on three different sizes to get the right fit.

Shopping vintage is entirely different. A size 10 from 1960 is not a size 10 at Zara. There is also a high concentration of what we think of as “juniors” sizes (7, 9, 11) to throw you for another loop. Luckily, for us, vintage sellers know this, and they are kind enough to give us the basic bust, waist, and hip measurements for most items in the description of the vintage for sale. That is virtually unheard of when buying new clothes.

Now we have to know at least three numbers instead of one to make shopping vintage easier (especially online). Most shoppers have never taken their own measurements and if they have, they don't do it yearly. It's kind of like stepping on a scale -- it's something we try to avoid most of the time because we have a lot of feelings about the numbers.

However, if we don’t know our measurements, we will have a harder time finding vintage clothes that fit, regardless of the number on the tag. Start with these three basic measurements: bust, waist, and hip. While it is definitely better to get someone to help, it can be done on your own. Use a tape measure to measure around the widest part of the bust and hips, and the narrowest part of the waist without squeezing too tightly.

As a wheelchair user, I will say, I have never gotten an accurate hip measurement doing this on my own. It definitely helps to be able to lift yourself a little with a tricep dip if you can, while having someone else get the tape underneath you at the right spot before lowering back down.

There are a lot of other measurements that are very useful to knowing how likely something is to fit, especially if you’re online shopping and unable to try things on. The length of a vintage top or vintage jacket is important depending on the length of your torso. When you are seated, your torso is automatically shortened, no matter how much stability you have or the angle of your chair. I often check the measurements of an item that I think falls exactly at the right length to compare. 

A few measurements that are usually important for a lot of wheelchair users are arm and shoulder related measurements. Using your arms and shoulders as much as you do builds more muscle than maybe the average woman had a few decades ago. This is true for a lot of athletic women with strong arms and broad shoulders. You will need someone to do it but knowing the span between one shoulder and the other will help with any vintage tops, vintage jackets, or vintage dresses that are lacking stretch. The armhole measurement is also one you will want to take if you have more muscular arms, under the armpit and up over the shoulder.

There are some measurements for pants that are also helpful for getting a better fit regardless of disability or body shape. Vintage pants and jeans are often advertised as “high rise” or “low rise,” and while it gives you a general idea it isn’t an exact science (or the same on every body). Low rise on someone tall could be high rise on someone sitting. From the perspective of someone who is seated, regardless of the label, most things fit as high rise is the front, and low to mid-rise in the back. This is because as the front length is shortened, the back length is extended. . It's easiest to measure the rise on your favorite pair of pants to make a comparison.

Not all of these measurements will necessarily be on every listing. I have found that many sellers are more than happy to get you the measurement you need if you just ask nicely. They want to sell their vintage and for you to be happy with your purchase (and not return them). Less tailored items can be more forgiving if your measurements are a little off as well as vintage that contains some stretch that will give you some flexibility, which makes life a little easier.

Even knowing our measurements doesn’t guarantee finding something that is going to fit perfectly. You might find that one in a million piece that was homemade for someone with your exact measurements, but I don’t suggest holding your breath for that miracle. That said, knowing your measurements is still one of the most important parts of vintage shopping, especially online. It makes it that much more likely that when your package arrives you’ll be able to slip into your newest outfit and love every minute of wearing it. has lots of vintage solutions for all your wardrobe needs.

If you have any questions about an item send the item description and question to


Caitlyn Pallas is a guest blogger. Barbies and Stevie Nicks were her first fashion icons, and watching Anthony Bourdain (against parental warnings) inspired an interest in cultural anthropology. She studied textiles, merchandising, and design at University of Rhode Island and received a Master's in dress and textile history from University of Glasgow. "I am still trying to carve out a space for myself in the world of fashion," she says. "I can’t say everything has gone to plan, but as some wise dudes who were probably just stoned once said, 'There are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.'"

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