As you begin shopping for your wedding gown, there are quite a few measurements you’ll need to keep in mind, like your bust, waist, and hip proportions. However, many brides oftentimes don’t realize that there’s another measurement they’ll need for their dress shopping experience—that being, a hollow-to-hem measurement.
To simply break it down, hollow to hem refers to the distance from the hollow point between your collarbones to the floor (or the point where you’d like your dress hem to end). For custom-made gowns, in particular, having this number is especially important because it “determines the overall length of your dress,” notes Tina Wong, founder and creative director of Grace + Ivory. “When in doubt, always measure a bit longer as you can hem your dress afterward. It’s easy to hem/make the dress shorter, but you cannot add material back,” she adds.
Meet the Expert
Tina Wong is the founder and creative director of Grace + Ivory, a bridal boutique that specializes in made-to-order, customizable wedding dresses.
While this may seem like a straightforward style tip for some, if you’re a bit confused about this particular type of measurement, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Ahead, we explain everything there is to know about hollow to hem—plus, advice on how to take your own measurements for a seamless dress shopping experience.
Understanding Hollow-to-Hem Measurements
If you choose a brand or designer that follows standard sizing, it’s possible your dress will come in a pre-determined length that you can alter if necessary. But, for brides or bridesmaids who opt for a custom-made or made-to-measure gown, your hollow-to-hem will be a key factor in finding the right fit.
“Hollow to hem is helpful to ensure you have a dress that is long enough for your body, like for petite people who don’t need a ton of extra length—and especially for tall people who tend to have dresses be too short on them,” Wong explains. “It’s especially crucial when paired with a hem-to-waist measurement and is used to create an overall better proportional fit.”
What’s more, since a precise hollow-to-hem measurement ensures a better look, it will also decrease your need for any major alterations (though it’s not a guarantee that you won’t have to visit your local tailor for a few small tweaks). “I usually advise that you need to anticipate a final fitting with specialty garments like your wedding dress,” Wong says. “Made-to-measure is great for proportional fit, but that is different than a fully custom process, and you may want to assume some final alterations.”
How to Measure Hollow to Hem
While it’s always best to seek professional help when getting your measurements done for the big day, if you’d like to take your hollow-to-hem measurement at home, the most suitable way to do this is with the help of a friend or family member. As Wong puts it, if you attempt to measure yourself without the help of a friend, “you will typically need to look down to see the number, which will result in an inaccurate measurement because looking down will shorten your measurement.”
Once you have someone on board to help, according to Wong, the process is fairly simple. All you need to do is place a tape measure in the hollow space between your collarbones—between your breasts, not over them—and pull the tape measure straight down to the floor. You should also ensure that you’re standing straight (with your feet one to two inches apart) and looking ahead.
Another tip? Be sure to take your measurement with bare feet, as you should tack on the height of your wedding shoes after obtaining your hollow-to-hem number, explains Wong. “If you’re not sure about shoes, add in a heel height that is the highest you’d go and possibly a little extra because, as I mentioned, it’s easy to hem it up once you receive the dress,” she adds. “You just don’t want to risk going too short.”
With all this in mind, if you’re in a time crunch and absolutely need to take your own hollow-to-hem measurement, use a floor-length mirror to guide your process. Wong suggests holding your tape measure at the hollow of your neck and letting it drop to the floor. “Look ahead and do not look down, take a photo of yourself in the mirror, and zoom in to see the measurement,” she says. “If you do this, I would advise you to measure a little longer to ensure your dress is long enough.”
Additional Hollow-to-Hem Measurement Tips
Whether you’re wearing a mermaid dress or a ball gown, Wong recommends that everyone follow the general steps listed above for all floor-length gowns. There’s no need to worry about the shape of the skirt, voluminous or otherwise, as the pattern of a dress will typically be adjusted based on the measurements you provide.
For those with shorter-length dresses, however, such as tea-length gowns or mini dresses, finding your hollow-to-hem measurement will depend on where you would like the hemline of your frock to end. “The ‘hem’ refers to the bottom of your dress, so for long, floor length dresses such as your wedding dress or bridesmaid dress, this usually refers to a measurement from the hollow all the way down your front to the floor—plus your anticipated heel height,” Wong explains. “For shorter dresses, this is from the hollow to where your dress hem ends.”
In addition to the hem, you’ll also want to keep in mind the length of your desired train. Though it’s not necessary to add it to your hollow-to-hem measurement (otherwise, you may end up with an extra-long gown), it’s still a good idea to know your preferred train length so you can relay it to your dressmaker.