As a rule of thumb if you take a tape measure to your trousers they will measure 2-4 inches bigger than the labeled size. So a trouser labeled waist size 30 normally measures 32-34 inches. Generally plus 2 for the UK & plus 3-4 for the USA. There are some exceptions; India, China and most parts of Asia don't bother with vanity sizing.
Couple of fun antidotes!
A few years ago I was shopping in the US and visited Levi's. I found my size was 29, in the UK I normally buy size 32 Levi's. I bought 4 pairs knowing the sizing means nothing but they do put the size label on the outside - clever.
A friend bought a pair of secondhand designer trousers online that didn't fit. He measured them at 36 but the label said 32 so he returned them and got a refund. Neither seller nor buyer understood the above.
Next difference is where the trousers sit on your waist will mean a different actual measurement but normally not the size. You should be able to buy the same size high or low waisted trousers but the actual measurement will be different.
This lower/higher waist can be a difference of only half an inch but I have also seen a difference of up to 4 inches, it varies person to person depending on your build.
One exception to this that springs to mind are portly guys who wear lower waisted trousers under their tummy and higher waisted trousers over the tummy.
So how to determine your actual waist measurement?
1. Visit a tailor.
2. If doing it yourself at home find your best fitting trouser on the waist. Ignore the other areas, if it is tight on the thigh for example that doesn't matter here.
Find your trouser that is comfortable on the waist to wear all day long and you generally do not have to pull up after walking or after sitting. The trouser that sits on your waist at the level you want, not higher or lower.
Then measure it.
Fully fasten and pull the waistband in a straight line so front and back match up. Like the photo below.
This pant is 18 inches flat. Double it so you get the full circumference measurement. This trouser in the photo is actual waist measurement 36. These are newly tailored & fit me perfectly, I usually buy size 33-34 waist.
If the pant you are measuring is a little snug or a little loose you can adjust a little +/- to get the perfect measurement.
I know my lower waisted trouser measurement and higher waisted trouser measurement. For me there is a 1 inch difference and if I had a pair of higher waisted trousers made to my low waist measurement they'd fall down all the time.
If you also wear trousers at different waist heights you can check your high, normal and low waist measurements the same way just with different trousers.
If you feel confident to take the actual measurements on your body then enlist the help of a friend.
With trousers on
One final tip.
As a general rule of thumb a man's neck measurement equates to half his waist measurement. This is traditional trouser waist, not high nor low.
This is handy to know if you're in a rush and have no time to try on a trouser, just wrap it around your neck to get an idea if it will fit. Exception to this is for overly portly/skinny guys.
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