There are two ways of wearing a tallit: 1) around the neck and hanging in front only and 2) on the shoulders and down the back.
If you choose the second way, which is the age-old tradition for wearing a tallit, proper sizing also varies a bit depending on whether you want the tallit to cover only the back or drape all the way down to the back of the legs, which looks elegant, but can be a bit unmanageable for a bar mitzvah boy. I generally advise parents to avoid buying a slightly large tallit “for him to grow into,” because introducing a young man to the mitzvah of tzitzit can be a bit cumbersome at first, so I think the bar mitzvah boy should be made to feel as comfortable as possible in his new tallit.
When worn according to the traditional manner, tallit sizes vary from a Size 45 (or even a size 36), all the way up to a Size 70. Some tallit models even come in a Size 80 and Size 90. Typical sizes for a bar mitzvah boy are Size 45, Size 50 and Size 55, while the average adult will choose a Size 55, Size 60 or Size 70 tallit.
If you’re looking for the type of tallit worn only in front, they are commonly referred to as a Size 18, Size 24 or Size 36, which refers to the width in inches. Some tallit manufacturers make in-between sizes. For instance, many Yair Emanuel tallits are 21 inches wide and many Gabrieli tallits are 20 inches wide.
The length for this type of tallit is generally between 72 inches and 80 inches. Sometimes parents want a shorter length tallit for a bar mitzvah boy who is under five feet tall (see “Bar Mitzvah Tallit for the Not-So-Tall Bar Mitzvah Boy“).
If you have specific questions on tallit sizing, feel free to contact us.