Well-fitting clothes have long been a hallmark of the well-dressed person.  Sleeves that sit correctly, waistbands that don’t bind, hems that hit at just the right height – all impact how well you present yourself.  When everything you wear looks like it was made for you, you come across as being sharp and into details.  When your clothes pinch, bind, or hang loosely, you don’t.  It’s as simple as that.

But how can you find custom-looking clothes in our off-the-rack world?  You have to look A LOT. Find the brands that fit you best and stick with them.  Everyone is going to have her own favorites.

For example, I like Dockersâ„¢ for casual pants because they offer three different leg lengths for each size:  short, average, and tall.  I can pop into my local Kohl’s and grab the size and leg length I need without even having to try them on anymore.  That’s how to true to size this brand runs for me.

But how can YOU find the brands and styles that work best on YOU? 

Here are some guidelines for what you should be looking for when you try on clothes:


* It should lay flat against your body with no gapping or puckering, particularly when buttoned. If you can’t get it buttoned, it doesn’t fit.  

*The jacket shoulder should be 1/4″-1/2″ wider than your shirt or blouse shoulder so that it can accommodate that first layer.  

* The jacket sleeve length should reach to the wristbone, allowing 1/4″-1/2″ of the shirt or blouse sleeve to peek out.  Too long a sleeve looks sloppy, too short looks ill-fitting.  

* The side seams of the jacket should fall straight.


* The neckline should hug the base of the neck without wrinkling, gapping, or making you feel like your being strangled.  

* The top of the sleeve seam should sit at your pivot bone. (Where’s the pivot bone?  If you put your left hand on your right shoulder and raise your right arm straight out, the bone you feel moving is the pivot bone.)  

* The sleeve length should reach 1/4″-1/2″ beyond the wristbone.


* They should allow enough “wiggle room” in the waist band to slip in two fingers.

* You should be able to pinch a little fabric at the fullest part of your hips.  

* Pleats should lay flat.  Better yet, skip the pleats altogether and opt for flat front, which tends to be less bulky and more flattering on most women.  

* Side pockets shouldn’t gap.   

* The crotch should be a comfortable length whether you’re sitting or standing.   It should not be close-cut and binding nor loose-cut and hanging mid-way to your knees.

* Any creases should fall straight.  

* For full length pants, the hemline should hit the top of the shoe/midway down the foot. 


* As with pants, there should be some “wiggle room” in your waist band.  

* The side seams should fall straight.  

* Any pleats or vents should lay flat.

* The hemline should be even and parallel to the floor – not riding up in front or back.    

So what are some tell-tale signs that a garment doesn’t fit well?

* It’s too tight or too loose.

* It’s uncomfortable to sit in.  

* It fits one part of the body (like shoulders or hips), but not another (like tummy or waist).

* It rides up during normal wear.

* It restricts regular movement like raising arms or bending knees.  

* It puckers or strains at the widest part of your body, like the chest, belly, hips, or thighs. 

* It’s too short or too long.  

If you have clothes in your closet that you’ve only worn once or twice because they don’t feel good when you wear them, chances are that they don’t fit correctly. Some of the most common fitting mistakes I see include:

* Wearing too large a shirt, where the top sleeve seam hits at the mid-upper arm instead of at the shoulder pivot bone.  

* Buying too small a garment so that it strains and puckers across the chest, tummy, hips, and bottom.  

* Sleeves and pant legs that are too short or too long.

* Jackets that fit shoulders but that can’t be buttoned over chests or tummies.

* Low-rise waist bands that are too low and too small, creating a “muffin top” look around the waist. 

* Wearing clothes that are just too big or too baggy.  

* Skirt hems that ride up in the back.

What can you do if you can’t find clothes or brands that fit you well?  I’ll say up front that that’s not that uncommon.  Most good men’s stores have tailors standing by to customize clothes, but few women’s retailers do.

So what are your options?

1.  Have your clothes custom made. 

(This newsletter archive discusses custom clothes in detail:


2.  Buy ready-to-wear apparel and have it altered

3.  Make or alter your own clothes

Otherwise, keep a good list of the ready-to-wear apparel that fits you best.  Again, it may take time to build this list, particularly if you have a hard-to-fit body.  But it’s worth it.  Once you find the brands that suit you best, you can return to them again and again to replenish your wardrobe.   

Good fitting clothes are like a good set of skills:  they may take time to acquire, but they will always make you look your best.  So take the time.  Because looking good and being skillful are an unbeatable combination.  Try it for yourself and see!


Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a wardrobe and image consultant and author of “Wardrobe Magic,” an ebook that shows women how to transform their unruly closets into workable, wearable wardrobes. Visit her online at www.fashionforrealwomen.com .

    10 replies to "How to Tell if Clothes Fit Properly"

    • Linda Adams

      All very good points. For jackets, I would add the following: Try on lots of different lengths. Just because all of the other items listed fit correctly doesn’t mean that jacket actually does fit correctly. It took me a long time to figure out that the standard jacket length really does not look good on me–makes me look short. Through a lot of trying on, I discovered that an inch or two made a big difference. Yet, that same trying on told me that the cropped jackets popular right now look horrible on me. But a knee length jacket also looked great.

      I also have to pay attention to one other thing when I shop. There are a couple of colors I look really fantastic in, and when I try something on, I have to make sure that it’s the fit I’m reacting positively to, not just the color.

    • R. Ramirez

      Know which colors look best on you, know your body type (take measurements), shop with fabric swatches and a tape measure, and try garments on (in the dressing room) to make sure they fit. Yes, this shopping approach takes time, but in the long run it actually saves time and money.

      If ordering clothing online, always look at the size charts. Size charts vary depending on the brand and the store. If you are not sure which size to order, call the store (there should be an 800 number) and ask the representative for the actual garment measurements. If you already know your own body measurements (and you should) and you know what the actual garment measurements are, then you’ll know whether or not the clothing will fit. If the representative can’t give you the actual garment measurements, then make sure the store has a good return policy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Security Code: