In menswear, one of the most discussed topics is the correct sleeve length of shirts, jackets and the combination thereof.
Unfortunately, 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 between the two garments.
Therefore, it was about time to create 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.
Also, we discuss 8 different sleeve length mistakes you should avoid. To get the most out of this guide, watch the video and read the article.
Video – Sleeve Length Guide
1. The Correct Shirt Sleeve Length – The Base Of The Thumb
Ideally, a French cuff shirt should reach to the root of the thumb at all times, even when you move. If your cuff moves when you lift your arms, you have a problem with the armhole or not enough shirt length. Your shirt armholes could be too big, or they could be bigger than your sleeve, thus pulling the shirt sleeve up when you move. To avoid that, opt for a shirt armhole that is big enough to make you comfortable but small enough to keep the shirt cuff at the right length.
2. French Cuff Needs A Horseshoe Shape
A French cuff or double cuff for cufflinks should neither fit too tightly nor too loose. It should sit tightly so that the cuff forms a horseshoe shape around the wrist. This way, the cuff will not move up or down, even if you have a bit of an extra length in your sleeves.
3. Buttonhole Should Be Positioned Closely To The Edge
The buttonhole should be located in the middle of the cuff and positioned rather closely to the edge because otherwise it is too tight and looks odd.
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 or morning dress rather than on general day shirts. What you prefer is simply a matter of taste.
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.
4. Shirt Cuff Must Not Be Too Wide Otherwise It Slides Down
If your shirt cuff is so wide that you can slide your hand through with the cufflinks in it, you will likely have the problem that your cuff slides onto your hand. Not only does that look like you got a shirt from your older brother, but it also results in unsightly wrinkles.
The other problem you might experience is that the shirt cuff is wider than the jacket sleeve, causing it to catch the sleeve.
5. Shirt Cuff Must Not Be Too Narrow Otherwise It Throws Off Proportions
If your shirt cuff is too tight and narrow, it may throw off the proportion to the shirt sleeve, and you almost looks like a child because it throws off proper proportions.
6. The Proper Jacket / Suit Sleeve Length
While things are relatively 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 it is between 1/2 inch (1.25 cm)
- according to Alan Flusser – and 1 cm (2/5″).
- according to Roetzel – at least 1 cm (2/5″) of the cuff should visible but more can be ok as well.
- Bert Bacharach claimed it should be just 1/4″ (0.64cm) in 1953.
- Baron von Eelking suggests to show 2cm (4/5″) of cuff if they are soft, and 1cm (2/5″) for stiff cuffs you’d wear with white tie or black tie. Therefore the buttonholes were moved towards the front.
- 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
- Nicholas Storey remarks in the History of Men’s Fashion, that some British bespoke tailors often prefer not to show any shirt cuff at all.
- C. Northcote Parkinson wrote in the publication Parkinson’s Law that Americans show cuff and the British do not.
- Showing more than 4cm (1.25″ ) makes you look like you borrowed a jacket from your younger brother, which looks simply bad.
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.
Matching the Amount of Cuff To The Shirt Collar
At the Gentleman’s Gazette, we prefer to show about 0.5″ & 1.25cm or a little more because we believe it looks best when the amount of shirt cuff visible matches the amount of shirt collar that is visible in the back of the neck. Again it is all about proportions and creating harmony in an outfit. Please watch the video for more details.
7. Sleeve Width
No matter whether you decide to show some shirt cuff or not, it is important that the jacket sleeve harmonizes with the shirt sleeve. Older jackets sometimes have a very wide sleeve hem that even shows the sleeve lining. That is simply too big and it makes your hands appear small and disproportional. Therefore pay attention to the balance between shirt cuff width and jacket cuff width.
8. Shirt – Jacket Harmony
Because the balance of both the shirt and jacket sleeve can only be perfect if they work together, you have to pay attention to both when you buy a garment.
For the best results, we suggest to get the fit of the shirt cuff right and to choose or tailor the jacket sleeve width accordingly.
9. Button / Barrel Cuffs
Button cuffs are narrower 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.
Ideally, a barrel cuff should fit closely to your wrist.
If you wear a wristwatch you need a little bit of extra space.
In any case, avoid wide shirt cuffs because they either slide up or down your arm.
What Sleeve Length is Right For You?
As you can see, there is more to a sleeve than just the proper length. At the end of the day, a lot boils down to taste. If you focus on proportion and harmony, you will always be well dressed. If you show cuff, make sure that it is not too short and focus on the fit as outlined above.