You've probably heard this before: with vintage clothes, the size tag doesn't always mean what it says. Designs from different eras, multiple wears, multiple washes, the possibility that fibres might have shrunk or relaxed, alterations, etc, etc...You might think that this, coupled with buying online, might make it nigh on impossible to find an item that will fit to perfection. But trust me: there is a way, and that is knowing your measurements.
Wait...before you run away thinking this is going to be hard, and you need to either have completed your apprenteship as a tailor or do weird contorsions to measure around your own body - it is both easier and quicker than you think. I promise you that after this brief, painless task you'll be able to buy vintage online with confidence like never before. And the best part? You'll only have to take your measurements once - then you'll have them handy whenever you need them!
1) LET'S PREP: you will need a measuring tape - this doesn't need to be fancy. Grab one those flimsy paper ones from Ikea we all have knocking around in our drawers, or those yellow retractable ones from DIY stores, even a long ruler will do. You will be measuring flat, so any of those will do. Make sure to also have a piece of paper and a pen (or your phone) handy to take down your measurements as you go.
2) PICK YOUR ITEM: next, head to your wardrobe and pick out an item that roughly resembles the item you'd like to purchase. Make sure that the basic design is similar, and that it fits you well. Say you're interested in a non-stretch pencil skirt: pick a skirt that is also non-stretch (measuring a similar fabric is always helpful) and make sure the waistline sits roughly at the same level as the one you intend to purchase. If length matters to you, pick a similar length (i.e. mini/ midi/ maxi).
3) LET'S GET MEASURING: lay your garment down on a flat surface (a bed, the floor, a table) with your paper and pen beside you, and get measuring. To do this, follow these guidelines:
SHOULDERS: measure in a straight line from shoulder seam to shoulder seam, across
CHEST: measure in a straight line from underarm to underarm, across WAIST: find the narrowest point of the garment, and measure across HIPS: find the widest point of the garment at hips level and measure across LENGTH: measure from the top of the left shoulder to the bottom hem SLEEVES: measure from the outer shoulder seam to outer cuff, following the outer diagonal line HEM: to measure the 'sweep' or width of the hem, measure across from side seam to side seam
Always measure flat, seam-to-seam, without stretching the fabric. Most online vintage shops will provide flat measurements, but should you need your full body measurements simply multiply the above x2.
4) CHECK THOSE LISTINGS. All done? Great! The final step is to simply go back to the online listing you're interested in, and check your measurements against them.
Tip: if your measurements are in centimetres (cm) and those provided are in inches (in), simply use an online converter like this one and away you go.
If the measurements are a close match, fantastic! You can purchase with confidence. If you are unsure, always err on the side of larger rather than smaller (an item can always be taken in if needs be, but it can't grow any extra fabric!)
If the listing doesn't provide measurements, do not hesitate to contact the vintage seller (I am always happy to provide additional measurements or photos or just give general fitting advice, and I know most sellers feel the same.)
...And that's it! You did it. Now simply store your measurements somwhere you can easily access them (such as a note doc on your laptop or your phone). Before you know it you might even know them by heart, and you'll soon be able to tell at a glance if your coveted vintage item is a good fit!
I hope you found this helpful - with vintage we try to encourage deliberate, considerate, slow shopping, in opposition to the impulsive, wear-it-once-then-throw-it-away buys of fast fashion. Taking a moment to take your measurements ensures that you can buy with confidence and also reduce the need of returns as much as possible, making your purchase as efficient and as sustainable as it can possibly be.