Of the people who come to our stores to shop for tablecloths, probably four out of five admit that they have no idea what size their table is. This should be no cause for embarrassment, because who knows offhand what size any of their furniture is? However, one of the rare times when you actually need this information is when you go shopping for a tablecloth.
A tablecloth should hang more or less evenly over all sides of the table. The technical term for the amount of overhang is drop. Conventional wisdom says that the longer the drop, the more formal the table, but for most purposes you just want something that is neither too short nor too long.
It looks as if this table tried to put on its younger sibling’s outfit:
A major safety hazard for guests trying to stand up after a long wine-fueled dinner:
Ideally, the tablecloth will provide something in the neighborhood of an 8-10” drop on each side. This means that the tablecloth should be about 16-20” longer and wider than the table, and look like this:
Let's do a little arithmetic with a dining table measuring 42” x 84”. This typical size provides roomy seating for six, adequate seating for eight, and hellishly cramped seating for ten on holidays when the smallest people in the family are forced to sit two to a bench on both ends. Whatever tablecloth goes onto this table should be 58-62” wide and 100-104” long.
Considering the ubiquity of standards for things like USB ports, we may wonder how civilization advanced this far without the makers of tables and tablecloths ever apparently speaking to each other. There is only the most general correlation between table and tablecloth sizes. A perfect fit is a happy accident. Most often you will find yourself with a choice between a tablecloth that's a little too small and one that's a little too large. If they are made of machine-washable cotton and you plan to wash the one you take home, get the larger size as it will probably shrink a bit in the laundry.
If you have an oval table and just need to solve this whole problem in a hurry, measure the central length and width and get the corresponding size of rectangular tablecloth (16-20” longer and wider). The drop will not be perfectly even all the way around, but many people find that they can live with this. You may want to seat your most graceful guests wherever the drop is longest. Likewise, you can put a square tablecloth on a round table by measuring the diameter and adding accordingly (plus 16-20). Round and oval tablecloths exist, of course. They are more expensive but the sizing process is exactly the same.