How to Tell if Your Clothes Fit: Tops and Shirts Edition

How to Tell if Your Clothes Fit: Tops and Shirts Edition

We’ve talked measurements and which ones to use when you’re buying or sewing new clothes. But let’s discuss how to tell whether clothes fit when you have them on your body and are looking at yourself in the mirror.

Looking for proper fit helps you to avoid adding unflattering clothes to your closet at home, or when you’re cleaning out said closet and only keeping what makes you look great. This is also especially important if you’re sewing and trying to figure out what adjustments need to be made to make the pattern fit your body

Even if you don’t have a lot of clothes, ones that fit properly will make you feel fabulous. 40% of fashion is confidence. That explains why some people can carry off combinations of garments that no one else can. It’s about knowing your body, what fits, and learning what style reflects you.

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. There are certain types of garments that “break the rules” on purpose – the flow-y sleeves of a poet’s top, dramatic over-extended shoulders – but for a fairly tailored garment, these fitting tips will apply.


  • The shoulder seams should match with your actual shoulder. There are a few styles of tops that have dramatic over-extended or cut-in shoulders, but all others should line up. If the seam falls off your shoulder, then the garment is too wide in the shoulders and looks sloppy. If the seam is pulling in toward your neck, then the garment is too narrow in the shoulders and will pull the sleeves up and make them uncomfortable and tight. As mentioned previously, if you are sewing the garment, fit for your shoulders, then adjust the pattern to fit your chest area. The shoulders are the more difficult part to alter.
  • Long sleeves should hit right at your wrist bone. The overall sleeve should have a little bit of ease (or space between your arm and the fabric) and not be too tight or too loose. If you are wearing the shirt with a coat jacket or blazer, the sleeve of your shirt should be long enough to just peek out from the sleeve of the jacket.
  • Make sure that button-down shirts don’t gape in the front when you stand normally. If they do, they are too tight in the bust area. Another area to check for gaping is over the stomach or at the hips, especially if you are wider in either (or both!) of those areas. If you walk around the dressing room and notice that the shirt tends to shift up or wrinkle (even when you have stopped walking), chances are it’s too tight at the bottom. It’s best to fit your largest area and then alter the shirt in other areas if needed.
  • Check the back of your shirt to make sure there aren’t any ripples or ridges (in either the shirt or the body underneath showing through) or pulling across the shoulder blades. You should be able to move your arms freely without feeling tightness in the back or worrying about buttons popping open in the front.
  • Check the back of your shirt at the base of your spine. If you have a short back or larger derrière, a lot of times there will be wrinkling just above it. If you are sewing, you will need to do a ‘sway back adjustment’ in the pattern – this will remove the extra fabric there. If you’re looking at purchasing the item, you’ll need to evaluate how much fabric is wrinkling. Once the garment has been made, there’s not much you can do to alter that area unless you purchase a larger size and take other too-large areas in.
  • Put your arms down near your sides. There should be no extra bunching of fabric under your armpits. From experience (because I am shorter than most between my bust and shoulder), this usually means that either the shirt’s darts or seams are not properly placed for your body. You’ll also notice that if the shirt isn’t bunching under the armpits, the neckline is probably rotating back as the shirt settles in the front so that the darts/seams align as they are supposed to. (Ever notice you have shirts you constantly seem to be pulling down in the front? Yep – this is usually what is going on.) Sometimes you can adjust the darts or seams in finished clothing. You can definitely make those adjustments if you are sewing your own garment.
  • Check the hem length. Generally, shirts should hit around the hip bone unless they are tunic-length or cropped on purpose. Too long shirts look frumpy and ill-fitted. Too short shirts can look like you’ve shrunk them in the wash.

Sewist, knitter, reader, dancer. Wife. Lover of things vintage and retro.