Online services use a combination of body measurements and finished garment measurements to size your suit. Most ask for about 20 measurements to ensure a proper fit and they are usually entered via web form. Dimensions like "pants hem width"use finished measure while other aspects like "chest size" can use either method. Photos and video clips are usually available to demonstrate how to properly measure each dimension.
While the process is advertised as straightforward, ensuring that the measurements you take translates into a great fitting suit is harder than it appears. When measuring yourself for your first custom suit, be sure to pay extra attention to the accuracy of your measurements. Learn how those measurements are interpreted by the suit maker, and recognize the quirks of your body.
Regardless of how detailed the instructions, there is always a significant amount of room for customer error when taking measurements on your own. Patterns use very specific points of reference to determine the proportions of the finished garment, so measuring slightly above or slightly below the specified point on your bicep may result in a large variation in the size of the sleeve.
While getting the help of a (close) friend or--better yet--a tailor can help mitigate accuracy errors, it still provides no guarantee that the points you measure are consistent with where the company expects them to be.
Body measurements can be adjusted by pre-defined amounts to keep the style of the suit consistent across all shapes and sizes. For example, a brand may decide that the finished chest measurement may always equal your chest’s circumference plus 3”--a relatively small allowance--which ensures that the body of the suit is slim, no matter the size. This allows a custom suit brand to establish a certain “look," but generally there is no transparency for the customers about how these measurements are interpreted, removing the ability to make adjustments or tweaks to the design.
A downfall of body measurement method is the lack of transparency that exists between the customer’s measurements. If your bicep has a 15” circumference, Company A may interpret it as a 16” sleeve, while Company B as 17”. Neither measurement is right or wrong. Instead, they have translated your measurements to a finished garment using different allowances.
Measurements can give a suit maker the general size and shape of your body, but they fail to capture subtle details that would be picked up by a trained tailor. As most of us have experienced, our bodies aren’t completely symmetrical, whether it’s one leg that’s slightly longer than the other, a foot that is slightly bigger, or your posture isn’t the best.
In my case, my right shoulder is pitched slightly forward compared to my left. Without adjustments to the pattern, it results in a noticeable ripple in the right shoulder of the suit. To compensate for it one must first recognize the issue--which is hard for the untrained eye to recognize--then understand the adjustments that must be made to fix it. Online services don’t always allow for such fine grain adjustments and, even if they do, leave it to you to identify and adjust.
Getting accurate and consistent measurements are the primary requirements to ensure a great fit. Custom suit makers who rely on self-measuring shift the burden of accuracy from the tailor to the customer.