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.
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 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
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 an 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 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.
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.
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 the cuff is visible. Older guides, such as the one written by American Bert Bacharach from 1953, claim it should be just 1/4
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.
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 middle of your hand.
Showing Shirt Cuff On a Lounge Suit
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 someone else.
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,
which makes the shirt’s structure under the sleeve obvious, and often sleeves that are too wide as well.
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.
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.
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 in this article is based on magazine articles and books about classic men’s clothing from the 1910’s – 1960’s. For example, the drawings were published in a menswear magazine in 1950.
If you enjoyed this guide, you might also like our 25 Tips to Dress More Elegantly.