With Spring and Summer come all the very special occasions that mark milestones in our lives. Weddings, Communion, Baptisms, Graduations, Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations and all manner of parties dot our calendars. And of course you want the entire family to look their absolute best! Getting a proper fit is so important, for comfort and appearance, and it only takes a little effort to ensure a great fitting dress.
Special Occasion dresses are fully constructed garments and may fit differently from casual clothing. Additionally, most are made of beautiful, traditional fabrics that stretch very little, if at all, so a good fit is important for comfort. Everyone looks better in clothes that fit! If you are ordering online, it pays to have your girl’s measurements in hand when comparing with size charts and guides. A size chart is different from a size guide in that a size chart is a measure of the garment itself, while a size guide is a general guideline of sizing based on height and weight or general measurements of the child. If you are using a size chart, you will add ½-1 inch to the measurement of the child to get the measurement of the dress.
Measuring can be tedious for some children, and they will want to squirm and play around while you are trying to get a good measurement. Be prepared with your measuring tape and paper & pencil to write down the numbers so that you can be as efficient as possible. If you do not have a flexible measuring tape, you can simply take the measurement with a string and then measure the string next to a yardstick. It’s also a good idea to take each measurement twice to ensure accuracy. If the child is slouching, sucking in her tummy or moving, you may not get a good measurement. Make sure to place the tape gently and not pull it tightly around or leave it loose.
To start, the child should be dressed in undergarments or tight-fitting clothing and standing straight. If she is old enough to wear a bra, make sure it is unpadded. If she will be wearing a padded or specialty brassiere with the dress, then ideally measure her while wearing the item. But keep in mind that her measurements will be different without it. Bulky clothing will cause inaccuracies in your measurements, so if she must be dressed, tight-fitting clothing is best. (Imagine if you were trying on clothes while already fully dressed!) She should also remove her shoes if a length, inseam or outseam measurement will be taken.
- Chest/Bust: The bust measurement is the distance around her chest right under the armpits and around the shoulder blades, parallel to the floor.
- Waist: The waist measurement should be taken around her middle at the natural waist, or where she would comfortably wear a belt. For most children, this is right at the navel, or the smallest point of her waist and just above the hip bones. Many younger children have a “chocolate milk tummy,” so make sure you get the largest point around her middle if she has a poochy belly.
- Hips: Measure the child around the widest part of her hips & bottom. It’s important to have enough room here for comfortable movement. Many dresses will have a full skirt, so some may not need this measurement.
Additional measurements that may be useful for particular types of dresses, pants or other clothing:
- Inseam: The inseam is measured from the crotch (where the seams of her pants would come together) to the bottom of the ankle. Inseam measurement is usually rounded to the next half inch. If the child can’t sit still for this one, you can also measure a pair of pants that fit her well.
- Outseam/Leg: Measure from the waist to the bottom of the ankle.
- Arm: There are several arm measurements: upper arm/biceps and wrist circumference, and arm length from the top of the shoulder, down to the bent elbow bone, and then to the wrist bone.
- Shoulder Width: Measure the widest part of the girls shoulders, straight across the back.
- Torso/Back: Start measuring at the seventh vertebra (the most prominent bone at the base of the neck) and continue down the spine to the top of the hip bones.
- Alternate Torso Measurement: For swimwear or leotards, a diagonal measurement is taken starting at the top of the shoulder, down the front over the largest part of the bust and through the crotch and then back around to the top of the shoulder.
- Dress Length: Measure from the top of the shoulder to the ankle (or other hem length).
Special considerations for body type
For the tall girl: If your girl is tall and slender, probably size charts won’t show any combination that will fit her. Choose a style that looks good on a thin girl from a manufacturer with a more slender fit. Brands differ, and your dress shop or retailer should be able to make recommendations. Styles that have mid-length (such as tea length or ballet length), fuller skirts are more forgiving, since the only part of the dress that is fitted right to the body is the bodice. These middle lengths won’t be too short in the smaller sizes. A shorter dress or floor-length dress should be ordered based on her height and altered to fit her chest and waist.
For the big girl: If your girl is a little bit big, you will have similar problems with size charts not representing her. Choose a style that will flatter her body type. Bodices with a little stretch (such as smocking, bias cut fabric or slightly stretchy fabric) will give her room to move, but beware bodices that look “stretched” or tight. Longer bodice styles may be too long in the torso. The chest is the most important measurement, since she will feel uncomfortable if the back is tight and you may have trouble with the zipper. Choose your size based on the chest measurement and have the skirt hemmed to the desired length and waist altered if necessary.
Armed with her measurements, you are ready to shop! Always allow plenty of time for delivery and read item descriptions and delivery times carefully. When in doubt, call customer service for advice. A good dress shop will cheerfully answer your questions. Starting out with the right size and ending with enough time to make any needed alterations will ensure a beautifully fitting dress on your special day.