The Sleeve Length Guide

Sleeve Length Guide for Suits, Jackets and Shirts

Whenever I post a picture on Facebook or stumble upon interesting outfits in fashion forums, chances are someone is criticizing the sleeve length of the jacket and the amount of visible cuff in question.

Cuff in Horse Shoe Shape With Buttonhole Close to Edge

Cuff in Horse Shoe Shape With Buttonhole Close to Edge

Sleeve length seems to be a gray area in which anyone can claim to be an expert, no matter how much or how little they actually know about dressing well. Often, rules are cited and absolute measurements are provided, though most forget that the look of the sleeve-cuff conjunction is not only about the length. It is also about the right fit and the harmony of the interaction with between the two garments. Therefore, I thought it was about time to write a comprehensive article about the “correct jacket sleeve length“,  which will explain in depth the different options and styles to make sure you look your best.

The Correct Shirt Sleeve Length & Cuff

Sleeve Too Wide

Sleeve Too Wide

Buttonhole Too Far Away From The Edge Making It Tight

Buttonhole Too Far Away From The Edge Making It Tight

First, let’s discuss the shirt sleeve length. Ideally, a French cuff shirt should reach to the root of the thumb at all times. It should sit tightly so that the cuff forms a horseshoe shape around the wrist. This way, the cuff will not travel beyond the wrist, even if you have a bit of extra length in your sleeves. The buttonhole should be located in the middle of the cuff and positioned rather closely to the edge. Otherwise, the extra material past your cufflink will protrude awkwardly and the cuff may be fit too tightly. In Britain, sometimes the buttonhole is located at the front of the cuff in order to display more of your cufflinks. In continental Europe, and especially in Germany, this feature was usually only seen on evening shirts rather than on day shirts. Personally, I do not like the look of the cufflinks at the front of the cuff, but each to their own.

Sleeve Cuffs Too Wide Revealing the Lining

Sleeve Cuffs Too Wide Revealing the Lining

Button cuffs should have the same length and fit rather tightly around your wrist.

Of course, if you are a watch wearer, make sure to leave enough space beneath your cuff for the biggest wrist watch you would wear with that particular shirt. Sizing one cuff slightly larger is a feature that can only be accomplished with custom shirts. Even then, there are sometimes huge differences in the size of watches, which means that some watches can only be paired with some of your shirts.

Proper Sleeve Look Illustrated

Proper Sleeve Look Illustrated

The Proper Jacket /

Suit Sleeve Length

While things are quite straight forward with shirt sleeves, length seems to be a little bit more complicated with coat sleeves.

To Show Cuff or Not to Show Cuff?

Today, it seems like quite a few menswear guides claim that the proper jacket sleeve length should be chosen so that between 1/2 inch (1.25 cm)  – according to Alan Flusser – and 1 cm (2/5 inch) – according to Roetzel- of cuff is visible. Older guides, such as the one written by American Bert Bacharach from 1953, claim it should be just 1/4

Buttonhole Close To Edge On Double Cuff

Buttonhole Close To Edge On Double Cuff

inch (0.64cm).  Baron von Eelking suggests to show 2cm (4/5 inch) of cuff  if they are soft, and 1cm (2/5 inch) for stiff cuffs you’d wear with white tie. Sydney Barney explains in Clothes and The Man that sleeve length is a matter of taste and that tailors should know about the current trend. Others suggest to show “some” cuff but don’t go into detail. Interestingly, it seems that some British bespoke tailors cut the sleeve so long that no cuff can be seen at all. As Nicholas Storey remarks in the History of Men’s Fashion, C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in the publication Parkinson’s Law  that Americans show cuff and the British do not. In fact, many photographs and fashion illustrations from the US and continental Europe display men showing some cuff but it varies from picture to picture.

As you can see, throughout menswear history, many men wore their coat sleeves short enough to show some cuff, but there were also other dapper gentlemen who chose to do the opposite.

Perfect Sleeve & Double Cuff Combination On The Left, Poor On The Right.

Perfect Sleeve & Double Cuff Combination On The Left, Poor On The Right.

As such, any “rule” about the matter should not be regarded as an absolute, but much rather as a guideline for men who are in the process of learning about classic men’s clothing.

No Visible Cuff

If you decide, not to show any cuff, make sure that the sleeves are neither too wide nor too long. This means they should reach just past the shirt cuff, slightly over the edge of the wrist – but never ending so far as the the middle of your hand.

Showing Shirt Cuff On a Lounge Suit

Correct Sleeve Length and French Cuff

Correct Sleeve Length and French Cuff

If you decide to show some cuff, things are a little more tricky. Bear in mind that wearing your jacket sleeves too short will always look the worst, as it will seem as if you either outgrew your jacket or borrowed it from s

omeone else.

Jacket Sleeve Too Wide

Jacket Sleeve Too Wide

In my opinion, it looks good to match the amount of visible cuff to the amount of visible shirt collar at the back of your neck. Though again, everything in between 0 and 1/2 ” is fine.

The most important factors are, by far, the proper fit of the sleeve and the harmony with the cuff!

The coat sleeve should be filled out by the

shirt cuff so that no lining is visible. From my experience, I can tell that most men wear cuffs that are too wide,

Shirt Sleeve Too Long

Shirt Sleeve Too Long

which which makes the shirt’s structure under the sleeve obvious, and often sleeves that are too wide as well.

Button Cuffs With Sportscoat And Slim Sleeves

Button Cuffs With Sportscoat And Slim Sleeves

Hence, I suggest to get the fit of the shirt cuff right, and to choose or tailor the jacket sleeve width accordingly.

As you know, button cuffs are smaller than French cuffs because they wrap around your wrist. Consequently, the ideal jacket sleeve width alters with the chosen cuff! Traditionally, button cuffs became the standard for sportscoats and casual garments and French cuffs were worn with more proper town suits. Therefore, it was rather easy to match them to each other.

Watch Too Big For Cuff Resulting in Poor Look

Watch Too Big For Cuff Resulting in Poor Look

Today, men can wear anything they want and consequently either the sleeves seem way too wide, or the wide double cuff catches on the inside of the narrow sleeve. When you choose your shirt and suit or jacket combination in the future, you may want to consider this aspect as well.

Prince Charles is a perfect example for matching the cuff to the sleeve size in his cuffed jacket.

In the following, I want to outline possible pitfalls pictorially.

The shirt sleeve can be too long and the cuff too wide, so it slides down your hand.

Barack Obama with Proper Shirt Cuff Covering Watch But Wide Sleeves

Barack Obama with Proper Shirt Cuff Covering Watch But Wide Sleeves

This cuff is too tight, causing it to wrinkle.

A button cuff does not work with a wide sleeve of a jacket (although it might with a double cuff)

Sometimes, coat sleeves are even too wide for a double cuff.

This happens when you do not account for the wrist watch under your cuff: the watch is prominently revealed. In my opinion, this is a very poor look.

What Sleeve Length is Right For Me?

As you can see, it gets more complicated if you want to show some cuff. However, the choice is entirely up to you if you do or don’t. If you show cuff, make sure that it is not too short and focus on the fit as outlined above.

The information is this article is based on magazine articles and books about classic men’s clothing from the 1910’s – 1960’s and not just my opinion. For example the drawings were published in a menswear magazine in 1950.

If you enjoyed this guide, you may also like our 25 Tips to Dress More Elegantly.

15 replies
  1. Michaël Hanna
    Michaël Hanna says:

    By the way, could you give your opinion on the right suit jacket lenght? Nowadays you see many relatively short jackets, whereas they used to be longer. I tend to like the longer jackets more than the (too) short jackets you see often nowadays.

  2. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken
    Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    Again I’ve learned somthing new. Before all the illustrations are well chosen. Such articles are the very reason why this fine gazette stands out in it’s kind.
    Thank you and keep on the good work.

  3. Hans
    Hans says:

    It’s a good overview, but again it just serves to make miserable all those who don’t have their clothes made for them. Who will now be worrying that they’ll need to have the sleeves of half of their jackets narrowed to look “correct”. And that they can’t pair certain shirts with certain jackets, which I believe to be utter nonsense.

    What puzzles me is that yu start out by declaring it a matter of taste., then conclude with a tutorial on the “proper method”!

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Hans, thanks for your comment. This guide was based on historic facts not the current ready to wear industry and I am sorry to make you feel miserable but it was not my intention, especially since I pointed out, that it is fine not to show any cuff.

      If you read the text again, you will notice that I used “taste” in reference to Mr. Barney. If you do not show any cuff, things are rather simple, aren’t they. However, if you show cuff I outlined how it used to be done properly.
      It seems to me like people often want things to be easy and simple but they are not always that. For example, most people would be probably able to just eat with a fork nevertheless, you will find many pieces of silverware in fine restaurants and in Victorian times, it was not unusual to see over a hundred pieces of silver ware on the table. I am not making a judgment as to what is better but I show how complex things were. That’s why correct is in “correct”. Each to his own but if you care about clothes and their history, here you learn how it was done.

  4. Hans
    Hans says:

    It doesn’t make me miserable personally. I have my own sleeves to the lengths I require because I make them myself.

    The real point is about showing people alleged “correct” methods for showing shirt cuff (or whatever); I don’t believe there is one. And I also believe that most of the advice of this sort is invented from perusing films, photos and drawings that don’t show a completely realistic picture of how people have dressed in the past.

    I’m not saying people didn’t show shirt cuff, but that it has never been a rule or a standard or a widespread common practice. The blogs and forums of today are reinventing the sartorial past with their own rules tacked on. This is why we see people stubbornly insisting that all waistcoats must have the bottom button undone, or that the four-in-hand knot is the ‘only knot you’ll need’, with a photo of some star like Cary Grant wheeled out to “prove” it.

    I agree that you gave all the options, but underneath is also the tacit implication that showing cuff is somehow the more elegant standard. And also you gave only an opinion about how French cuffs are to be worn. Personally I like them somewhat tighter than you seem to, but I don’t think I’m wrong. Having loose French cuffs, in my opinion, looks sloppy. Taste indeed.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Hans,

      This information was all based on different trade publications, menswear magazines and books from the 1910″s – 1960’s and don’t just represent my fantasy. As said before, each to his own but it would be foolish to assume that there were no rules in regards to dress code in society.
      Does that mean, everybody adhered to it back then? Absolutely not, however the fashionable men did. Did it make sense? Not really, but that’s the case with many things in life. As outlined by the different authors, there were different rules at different times in different countries. This shows there is no absolute truth or correct way of doing something. As always, I try to show the different historic options without dictating one particular option. However, people always ask for the proper length and the ultimate shirt, guide, rule etc. and here they can find an article that explains things more detailed, giving everybody the option to wear what they like and the opportunity to learn how men’s did it in the past.

  5. Cameron
    Cameron says:

    Dear Sir,
    I have two sets of books that I use as a reference and guide when drafting and cutting a pattern. One set pre-war the other post-war when British tailoring was at it’s zenith. Sleeve length like any garment is as much about style as it is about taste. We can advise or suggest that a certain cut would suite a client better, but the art of bespoke is that the garment is custom made to the clients requirements whether or not it is deemed poor style or bad taste.
    Kinds regards
    Cameron

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