How to Measure Sleeve Length for a Shirt

Black man grabbing his shirt cuff

Knowing how to measure sleeve length is vital to buying MTM or off-the-rack. Without measuring sleeve length it’s likely that your shirt sleeve length is either going to be inconveniently long or uncomfortably short. Fortunately, taking this measurement is quick and easy, even if you are by yourself. We’ll look at two different methods for how to measure sleeve length, both on your body and on an existing shirt that fits you perfectly. All you need is a soft tape measure that has regular small intervals and a few minutes of spare time.

The first method for figuring out this measurement is to take a tape measure and measure your body. Preferably you have a friend who can help you, but we’ll explain afterwards how you can do it by yourself. The second method is to measure a shirt that already fits you perfectly.

Quick Instructions:

  1. Start measurement from the middle of your back, perpendicular to the top edge of their shoulder.

  2. Take the tape over to their shoulder and secure in place with your right hand.

  3. Release your left hand from the middle of the their back.

  4. Swap your hands over so that your left hand is securing the tape on their shoulder and your right hand is free.

  5. Have the person raise their arm and bend at the elbow as if they were checking the time on their watch.

  6. Take the tape down to the hard bone of the elbow, which should be slightly bent at a normal angle.

  7. Release your left hand and once again swap over so that your left hand is securing the tape at their elbow.

  8. Take the tape down to their wrist or two finger widths further and note the final measurement

  9. Repeat twice for each arm to ensure accuracy and to note any natural irregularity in arm length on either size.

Presuming you have a friend to help, to start you need to find the middle of their back. If the shirt has a yoke, a small stitch is often found in the middle, which you can use. Otherwise, measure their shoulder width and then take the middle point. Alternatively, you can find a bone at the bottom of the back of their neck which is roughly the center. Start your tape measure at this point and go exactly horizontally to the top edge of their shoulder.

Hold onto the tape at the shoulder and shift your hands so that you can carry it on down the arm. Have them raise and bend their arm as if they were checking a watch, take the tape down so that it makes contact with the point of their elbow joint, rather than crossing over the arm itself. Hold the tape in place at the elbow and release it at the shoulder, swapping hands and taking it down to their wrist. Finish the measurement at either the wrist bone, or two finger widths after the bone.

Measuring Sleeve Length By Yourself

Doing this all by yourself is tough, but it is possible. You need to follow the same strategy, except starting on your chest instead of your back. Finding the center point is easiest if you have a buttoned-up shirt because you can take the middle of the placket as the center. Take the tape over to your shoulder and allow it to dangle.

This is the hard part, you need to grab the end of the tape in your other hand and wiggle it into position so that it’s locked on your elbow with your arm up as if it check your watch. Rather than releasing the hand which is holding it on your shoulder, walk your fingers down the tape towards your elbow and secure it in place. From here you can keep hold of the tape and continue to walk your fingers down to the wrist and note the final length.

Measuring an Existing Shirt

If you have a shirt, either dress or a casual Oxford shirt , that fits you perfectly then you would be wise to figure out the length from this rather than your body, especially if you don’t have a friend to help. The process for this is precisely the same as you would do on your body. Lay the shirt down flat so that the buttons are touching the table and pull the sleeve out so that it is not wrinkled, at about a 45 degree angle.

Start from the center of the back, go across to the shoulder and then to the end of the cuff. When you are using this method you should be careful to ensure that you are sticking to the outside of the material rather than cutting corners and taking a shorter path. Try this a few times and take an average of the results if they differ slightly.

About the author

Jack Prenter

Jack has been fascinated by fashion for decades and spent huge amounts of time researching it and becoming an expert. He's written for many well-known publications and is in the process of opening an online clothing store for men. Jack studied at the University of Nottingham and is now based out of Toronto, Canada.