The Whacky World of Military Surplus Sizing

The United States of America is a unique place. It always has been, and from what I can tell it always will be. From the "we are not going to take it" attitude of the American Revolution to the "don't mess with Texas" sentiment that exists today, America is truly one of a kind – and it shows.

When it comes to sports, America reigns supreme. Baseball is far and away the best sport in the world. Unsurprisingly, it originated in America and though it has found its way to all corners of the planet, cricket is still the bat-and-ball sport of choice in Europe and in many other heavily populated areas. Then there are America's other popular sports: football, hockey and basketball. Europe's top three other sports? Soccer (no, I am not calling it football because I live in America), rugby and tennis. I think this picture speaks for itself.

How else is America different from the rest of the world? Ever heard of the United States customary units? It is the primary system of measurements used in America that is based on the imperial system. When you think about it, the United States customary units are not really advantageous in any way; America just wants to be different. In fact, America is one of three countries worldwide that has resisted the International System of Units, which is based on the much more user-friendly metric system.

Then there is the sizing system used in America. For most things in America, especially food and clothing, sizing exists in the following format: small, medium large, extra-large and so on until the "X's" that represent just how extra-large something is push the "L's" out of sight.

Luckily, there seems to be an established standard regarding those sizes, though most companies seem to prefer not to use it. But when that established standard revolves around the United States customary units, it makes it hard for those not familiar with American ways to buy American clothing. Ordinarily, I would not care one lick about foreigners buying American clothing, but since the reverse holds true as well, I must. Those in America looking to buy European clothing, military surplus to be specific, can become easily confused by their sizing standards, which revolve around the International System of Units rather than the United States customary units.

What is going to do about it?

I would be lying if I said that customers did not call constantly asking questions about the sizing for many of our products. The fact that much of our surplus comes from European countries makes it a bit difficult for some to convert their sizes into standard American sizes. And I would be lying if I told you that we are able to accurately answer all of those sizing calls. So what is going to do about it? is going to pen a blog post about American versus European sizing in an effort to clear up the confusion.

American Sizing

As noted, America established a set of standards regarding clothing sizes that companies choose to follow or not to follow. Unfortunately, those standards were established in the middle of the 20th century. And in case you have somehow failed to notice, body sizes in 2012 are not too comparable to body sizes in the 1950s – so follow these standards at your own risk.

A men's size small is categorized as a 34 to 36-inch chest and a 28 to 30-inch waist. Medium is 38-41/32-34. Large is 42-44/36-38. Extra-large is 46-48/40-42. Double extra-large, triple extra-large and quadruple extra-large all increase by the same increments. Of course, there are also standards for the seat/hips, neck size, shirt sleeve and inseam. If you want to go that in depth, then I suggest you pay a visit to your old friend Google and search something along the lines of "U.S. standard clothing sizing."

European Sizing

Unsurprisingly, Europe has a set of standards regarding clothing sizes as well – EN 13402. EN 13402 is the European standard for labeling clothing sizes and is based on body dimensions measured in centimeters, which is where much of the confusion regarding conversions arises.

There are a wealth of body dimensions used in deciding sizes for EN 13402, including head girth, neck girth, chest girth, height, arm length and many more. As noted, these dimensions are measured in centimeters and each different type of clothing uses a different set of body dimensions. Look at jackets for an example. Sizing labels in European jackets will typically list two numbers. The larger number, usually listed first, corresponds to height in centimeters. The smaller number, usually listed second, corresponds to waist girth in centimeters. Pants are much the same, with the first number corresponding to height and the second corresponding to inseam, both in centimeters.

To save time and consolidate space, you can check out this website for a collection of all the different types of clothing and all of the body dimensions that are used in sizing each of them. It is a true lifesaver when shopping for clothing with European labeling.


Now that you are equipped with all of the necessary knowledge available regarding American and European sizing, conversions will be simple. Ordering a European jacket? Check which body dimensions correspond to the sizing labels and convert those numbers from centimeters to inches. Compare these new numbers to your personal body dimensions and order your heart out. Remember, one centimeter is equal to roughly 0.393701 inches. But why do it by hand when conversion tables exist?