Ralph Lauren Shirts-01

One of the many shirts I bought online and altered to fit

Everyone experiences buying the wrong size at least once when purchasing online. That’s the common problem when you can’t fit the garment and have to rely on the (largely inaccurate) sizing charts and reviews (from mostly inexperienced people).

These days most, if not all, online retailers allow returns but that becomes more complicated when you’re living in the Philippines, buying from a U.S.-based store and have to send items back. Shipping and taxes quickly add up and suddenly purchasing online is no longer cheap and convenient.

After numerous purchases I can say I have a fair amount of experience to minimize the risk of buying clothes online and make sure that I can wear my purchases when I receive them. This guide should give you the confidence to shop online and skip the costly process of trial and error.

Take Accurate Measurements of Your Body

The first step in becoming better at buying online is getting to know your body. Ask someone — preferably a tailor — to take your measurements. Stand as you would normally do while the measurements are being taken. There’s no need to stand straight and suck in your gut. Doing so will only lead to uncomfortable clothing.

You need to take the following measurements: height, neck, chest (widest part), waist (one inch below the belly button), inseam and sleeve length (below the back of the collar to the end of the shirt cuff). Make sure to have your measurements in both inches (accuracy down to a quarter of an inch) and centimeters as American brands use the former while European and Asian brands use the latter.

Find Brands That Align With Your Personal Style and Body Shape

Now that you have your measurements it’s good to understand what’s out there. I like to classify brands by their origins: American, European and Asian.

American brands are generally boxy and fit loose. Their regular fits are very generous that you can expect to have plenty of extra fabric all around. American brands have started adding slimmer fits over time which fit closer to the body but still have some extra room. They also have a wide range of fits when it comes to trousers which is a good thing.

Land's End Traditional Shirt Sizing and Actual Dimensions

Classic/regular fits from American brands run large (Source: Land’s End)

European brands are known for slimmer silhouettes. I find that even with a few extra pounds clothes from European brands make me look flattering. Their fits are mostly true to size and find that they hardly need any alterations. The trousers are quite slim with a low rise which is not recommended for those with big thighs and calves.

European Actual Dimensions

European brands are true to size (Source: Mr. Porter)

Asian brands are great for those who are slim or don’t meet a western brand’s minimum requirement of a 5’7″ height. I find that Asian brands fit most Asians well with some exceptions. I’m an XL in Asian brands just like in American or European brands but the sleeves and body are always shorter by one to two inches. Trousers from Asian brands are similar to European brands in that they are slim with a low rise. If you are on the skinny side look for slim fit offerings from Asian brands.

Uniqlo Sizing Chart

Asian brands fit most Asians well with some exceptions (Source: UNIQLO)

I describe all three all in broad strokes but you will find that brands tweak their fits constantly and sometimes even introduce new lines that fit differently from the main line. When a high profile designer is involved you can be sure that the clothes will be slimmer and less democratic and that the difference between sizes is either very big or very small.

Understand How Sizing Works and Check The Charts

American and Asian brands use either XS/S/M/L/XL for sizing. Note that the former uses inches while the latter uses centimeters. European brands use either collar (shirts) or chest size (jackets) in centimeters for sizing.

Both American and European brands are made for men who stand at least 5’7″ to 6′ which fall under “Regular”. It is denoted with an “R” and can be seen in jacket sizing such as “54R”. If there is no “R” it is probably Regular.

Sometimes American and European brands make a version for those shorter than 5’7″ which falls under “Short”. It is denoted with an “S” and can be seen in jacket sizing such as “34S”. Those taller than 6′ will find that brands make jackets that are “Long”. It is denoted with an “L” and can be seen in jacket sizing such as “56L”.

When shopping for shirts you will see occasionally see two numbers e.g. 17 35 or 17 x 35. This means that the shirt has a 17″ collar and a sleeve length of 35″.

If you can’t find the exact dimensions of a garment it’s a good idea to contact customer service via email or chat.

A Tailor Is Your Best Friend

One of the best things about living in the Philippines is that for $10 you can get some major alterations done on a ready to wear shirt or pair of trousers. I’ve written about how I solved my problem with ready to wear shirts and followed it up with my approach to shirt alterations.

Trousers are relatively easy to get hemmed and if they are chinos or dress trousers they can be easily slimmed down or let out as long as there is extra cloth in the seams.

Jackets are an entirely different matter and I recommend buying them with an almost perfect fit. I don’t trust tailors here to alter jackets (which sometimes carry a hefty price tag) and would want to avoid the risk of ruining it.