The secret to looking sharp isn't just about the clothes you're wearing—it's about how well they fit you. A tailored suit, dress shirt, and pants look even more polished when they fit you to perfection. Just think of Don Draper, who somehow managed to always look classy and elegant no matter what drama life threw at him. (And let's face it, there was a lot of drama.)
While you could go the custom-made route and have a tailor take your measurements in person and build a suit from scratch, you can also get a similar result shopping online from the comfort of your living room. All you need are your measurements and body type. But how exactly do you work those out?
We talked to sartorial savant Onyx Martinez, lead stylist and made-to-measure specialist at Tie Bar, for the lowdown on how to take measurements for men and shop for tailored clothing online.
How to determine your body type
The shape of your body has a big impact on fit, so it's important to understand what type you have.
"If you're someone who's really skinny, you'll want to look for a slim fit, whereas if you're larger, you'll want more relaxed cuts," Martinez says. "If you have an athletic build, aim for athletic-cut pants, which are roomier."
Most men's clothing brands offer two types of fit—standard and slim—so it's helpful to know which fit you prefer.
Martinez suggests paying attention to the body type of models used in a brand's advertising, which can indicate how their sizing runs and which body types they cater to. "Knowing your measurements will help you find your size, but it won't help you find your brand," he says. "Because all brands make something different."
How to measure for a suit jacket
The fit expert recommends taking measurements with a soft tape measure for the most precise fit. For a men's suit jacket, determine your chest size by measuring the full circumference around your chest (under your armpit) with one finger room of space.
"If it's an even number, like 40, you'll take a 40 jacket," Martinez says. "If you land on a number such as 41 or 43, most stores don't carry odd sizes, so you can scale up or scale down depending on your preferred fit."
How to measure for a men's dress shirt
Because men's dress shirts come in neck and sleeve lengths, you'll need both measurements before shopping for new shirts. To measure your neck, place the tape measure just below the Adam's apple, and wrap it around the neck where the collar would rest, Martinez says.
"The sleeve length is how tall you are," he notes. "A 5'7" and under guy is going to wear a 32" to 33" sleeve length, from 5'8" to 6'1", a 34" to 35" sleeve, and anyone above 6'2", will be 36" to 37" sleeve. In general, 95% of the time this is true unless someone has long arms."
Just to be sure, you can also measure your sleeve length. To do this, place the tape measure at the center back point of the neck, measure across your shoulder, then all the way down to the wrist bone, Martinez says.
How to measure men's pants
Shopping for pants requires a waist and inseam measurement, the latter of which denotes the pants' length.
Most men know their waist size in pants, but you can measure your waist by taking a tape measure around where you would wear a belt and leave one finger room of space, Martinez says.
For your inseam, measure from your crotch on the inside of the pants down to the floor, he says.
How to measure yourself for a suit
There's a simple way to determine your suit jacket size based on your pants waist size, since most men's suiting is sold as a jacket and pants set.
A set will usually come with either a 6- or 7-inch drop, which is the difference between your jacket and pant size. For standard fits, this means you would add six inches to your waist measurement to determine your chest measurement, or jacket size.
"So if you're a 42 jacket, it will come with 36 pants," Martinez says.
To determine your pant length, or inseam length, consider your height. Suits tend to come in three lengths: short, regular, and long.
"If you're 5'7" and under, on average, you'll be a short, if you're 6'2" and up, you'll be looking at a long, in the middle of these heights, you're a regular," Martinez says.
If you know you don't fit into off-the-rack sizing—for example, if your chest is much larger than your waist—he recommends shopping for separates.
Refine your look with alterations
Alterations, such as the tailoring services offered at Nordstrom, can fine-tune and create a more polished and customized look—whether it's taking in the sleeve length of a jacket, or shortening the hemline on pants.
"Fit is king in whatever you wear," Martinez says. "If you take a suit to a tailor, you'll have a garment that you love to wear for years to come."
In addition to shortening the length on sleeves and pants, adjustments include taking in or letting out the waist and tapering the leg.
A jacket may fit, but the width still may need tailoring, he says. "When I measure very large gentlemen, the bicep and shoulders will fit, but it may look like a big piece of fabric at the wrist—so it's important to tailor that," he says. "The sleeves should fit, not just length-wise, but width-wise."
If you're in between sizes, Martinez recommends sizing up when shopping. And that also goes for winter coats, since you want the coat to fit comfortably over a suit jacket and not feel tight. "If you're a 42 jacket, go with a 44 coat."