Bespoke tailoring is the pinnacle of men’s attire in terms of customization, time commitment, and cost. In today’s article, our resident expert in bespoke tailoring and author of the influential The Gentleman book, Bernhard Roetzel, will share the basics of why bespoke is worth the money and how to get started. Read more
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You can hear it every time a suit is discussed – what matters most is the fit. The problem is, apart from shoulder width, sleeve and pants length the details are not really discussed. Therefore, we thought it was time to create a comprehensive Guide on How A Suit Should Fit.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to properly describe the fit of a suit without a moving picture. Therefore, it is essential to watch the videos, even if you normally prefer to read. Don’t miss out on the second video here.
Why Should You Care About Fit? Comfort & Looks!
First of all, a well-fitting suit is almost as comfortable as wearing a sweater and sweatpants. Second of all, it makes you really stand out from the crowd and people will look at you and think you’re really dapper but they can’t pinpoint that it’s a fit of your suit.
Why Does A Properly Fitting Suit Make You Look Better? Symmetry!
The answer is actually quite simple; a suit hides everything that’s asymmetrical about your body and hides all the flaws, at the same time highlighting features such as your shoulders and your chest, giving you a natural v-shape that’s very flattering and attractive. So if you feel more comfortable, it has an impact on the way you look, the way you stand, and the way you walk. Everything says I’m more confident and that little extra notch will help you to land that job or get that respect that you deserve.
So What’s The Big Problem? 99% Of All Suits Don’t Fit
When I’m on the street, I see 99% of the men wearing suits that fit not so well or terribly ill and even sometimes when people tell me “Oh I found a suit that fits like a glove”, chances are their standards are not high enough so they just are satisfied with something that is not really a proper fit.
What Exactly Is A Suit? Matching Pants & Jacket
A suit means it is a matching garment of jacket and pants made of the same cloth. You can add a vest, you don’t have to, if you do it’s called a three-piece suit; if not, it’s called a two-piece suit. It’s double-breasted or single-breasted, doesn’t matter. The term suit comes from the French “suivre” which means to follow. That means the jackets follows the trousers or the pants follow the jacket.
Aspects Of A Well-Fitting Suit Jacket
The first thing you can look at when you buy a suit or have a suit made is the collar of the suit. It should fit snugly against your neck without being overly tight and it should never stand away or gap. If you have a round shoulder the way I do, chances that your jackets gap more easily are much higher than if you have a straight posture. Because of that, you always have to go to the alterations tailor or talk to your made to measure provider or tailor and make sure you get a proper fit.
The problem is when you stand, most jackets look good, the issue starts when you start moving when you lift your arms and you still want that jacket collar to sit tight against your shirt collar. So your natural movements, sit down, move your arms, drink something from a bottle, maybe eat, and if it stays in the back and it stays by your shirt tips, you know you’ve got a well-fitting collar. Even if you have an ill-fitting collar, the good news is it can be fixed by an alteration tailor so just pay attention to that. It’s not an easy fix but it can be done.
Ideally, you want the shoulder seam on top to be just slightly extended from the bone on your shoulder. Unlike a dress shirt which ends exactly at the bone, you want it to be slightly hanging over to give you a broader look and enable a range of movement because when you have multiple layers of fabric, the outer layer always has to be a little longer to be comfortable, you want the top part at your shoulder to be smooth and not puddling.
If you encounter a jacket that has puddles, it’s too big, you should leave it behind because changing it is almost impossible. You also have a poorly fitting shoulder if you see huge dents right underneath the top of the padding and your actual arm. It makes you look more like a football player and you should always leave those suits behind.
On the other hand, if your shoulder is too tight, you’ll have a hard time moving forward and moving your arms naturally because it constricts you in the back. If you’re unsure, you can always measure your shoulder width from bone to bone and at about half an inch or a centimeter to get the right shoulder width that you should have in a suit.
Most armholes in suits are too big because suits are industrially made and they want to have a one size that fits it all, the problem is if you have huge arm holes, it may seem like it’s more comfortable but it actually isn’t because as soon as you move, your entire jacket moves with you and constricts you. On the other hand, if you have a tight armhole that ends just below your armpit, you can easily move and comfortably wave for a cab and look dapper all day without feeling constricted. If you have an armhole that is too small, you’ll see wrinkles on the sleeve head and it also constricts you when you reach forward because you reach a point here that just makes it impossible to reach forward.
If you go bespoke or made me to measure, you can sometimes ask to give you a little more space in the front the arm hole, in the back, and have it very tight on your armpit; that way you get the range of movement, you get a nice look, the fabric drapes well and it almost feels like a sweater.
When it comes to a good fit of the chest it’s always easy to see because some chests are fuller and they have more fabric that drapes well and for that, it’s called Drape. On the other hand, you can have a very lean trim cut chest that is sometimes more popular with slim fit suits but it will never have that same amount of drape. The advantage of folds is that it makes your chest look bigger and it gives you that V shape that’s very attractive to the opposite sex.
In the 1930s, you had drape cut that was very extreme. I think the suit I’m wearing is a little more constricted but you can still see I have excess fabric and it provides a nice silhouette of my body. When your chest width is too tight and you move around, you can see your lapel break a little bit simply because there’s not enough room, also you likely see vertical pleats in the front and in the back.
Ideally, you should always measure your chest at the widest point. In Europe, a size 50 means you double it by 2 which means it’s a hundred centimeters. If you measure 100 centimeters, you probably have a size 50, should be right for you. If you’re in the US and you’re a size 42 regular, for example, it means the chest should be 42 regular.
Now that being said, manufacturers have different ideas of how a suit should fit and sometimes I found old English suits in a size 42 which were way too baggy on me versus other suits are 44 and they’re way too tight. So don’t just rely on the actual number but measure the jacket, measure your chest, and ideally try it on.
Today, most jackets have side vents, they are the most flattering. Ideally, you want high long vents that end exactly where your jacket pocket ends. The last hundred years, center vents have been in and out of fashion but originally, they were meant for horseback riding so unless you wear a jacket on the back of a horse, skip it.
In the 20s and 30s, you would often see ventless jackets and it’s still popular for evening wear because it gives you the ultimate clean line, however, if you sit a lot or if you sometimes put your hands in your pocket, side vents are much more flattering. Personally, I have a big bump and because of that, it’s very easy for vents to gap but you should avoid that. If you have a big bum, you should pay particular attention to keeping your vents closed and I know that because I have one. If you go ventless and it’s too tight, you can actually feel it it’s constricting you and chances are, you will see some wrinkles above your bum.
It’s very important to get it right in the first place because even though you can physically change the length of the jacket, it will always look off if you do so. The proportions will simply not work and the location of your pockets will seem off as well as the buttoning point and therefore if you encounter something that is too short or too long simply leave it behind.
What Exactly Is Too Short Or Too Long?
Most tailors will have jackets that are slightly longer in the front than they are in the back because it provides a flattering silhouette. Sometimes they also do it very flat and that’s something you usually only find at bespoke because even made-to-measure can’t adjust the patterns to that. Also, if you have a round back, for example, the way I do, you need to have extra length in the back to get the right proportion. Traditionally, the proper jacket length always meant that at least your bum was covered.
In recent years, especially with younger men, jacket lengths have become a lot shorter and sometimes you can find older gentleman complaining about that and they say it looks like you got a jacket from your younger brother.
The proper way to look at jacket length is into an optical relation to your entire height and to your pants. So ideally, if you stand and you look at the profile from the side the length from the back of your neck to the bottom of your jacket should be exactly the same length as from the bottom of your jacket to the bottom of your pants. Obviously, you need someone to help you with that because you can’t measure it yourself but if you get those proportions exactly one-to-one, you will always look very well dressed and dapper and timeless.
The problem with going with the jacket is too long means that your torso appears longer and your legs shorter which makes it look goofy. Same thing the other way around, if you have very long legs and a short torso, it just seems off. The great thing about a tailored suit is that it can hide certain flaws. Personally, I have a long torso and short legs but using the suit and using those one-to-one proportions, I can look exactly the same as someone who has long legs and a short torso or someone who has regular long legs and a regular long torso.
A sleeve should always hang very nicely without any wrinkles. If you see all the wrinkles chances are the sleeve pitch is wrong which means the way and the angle the sleeve was set in, that can be fixed by a tailor but they have to be quite skilled. Of course, the sleeve length is often a subject of long discussions, and there are all kinds of opinions and if you want to learn more about them please check out our sleeve length video where I explain everything you need to know about sleeve length of a jacket.
One thing that’s often not talked about when it comes to sleeves is the upper sleeve. If you want to have a great movement and a comfortable jacket, you need some extra fabric on the top of your sleeve simply to reach forward, otherwise, if it’s too tight, it may look great when your arms hang down but as soon as you move, you’re constricted in that area. It’s a fault I see a lot in ready-to-wear jackets to this day, especially now that slim fit suits are trendy. Going made-to-measure or bespoke has a great advantage that you can specify those things and a small armhole in combination with a wider upper sleeve will provide you a much more comfortable jacket that looks the part.
Suit Fitting Secrets Nobody Talks About
Let us move on to the more advanced aspects of a well-fitting suit.
While most people look at the front, a back can really tell you if a jacket fits perfectly or not. First, the top of your back right underneath the collar; you shouldn’t have any lines that are horizontal or vertical. Same thing all the way down. The only area where you can have a few wrinkles is around your armpit underneath the shoulders simply because you need that for the range movement, otherwise, if you see a suit from the back and it’s very clean and hangs very neat and the vents don’t gap, I can bet you that the rest of the suit will fit well because something like that will never fit like that off the rack. You’ll always have to have either some alterations or it’s a made to measure or bespoke garment.
At this day and age, many men have sloped shoulders and in my case, my right shoulder is more sloped than the other. So if I take a ready-to-wear garment, I can always see wrinkles directly underneath my armpit simply because my shoulder hangs lower by about 2 inches or 5 centimeters and I can also see concentric wrinkles under my right shoulder. That’s something I can only fix by either changing the entire jacket or I can add in a little bit of padding on one side which then gives you the issue that you may see a little gap on the sleeve, otherwise, you have to go with a customized pattern that will deviate the flaws of your body and make you look dapper.
We move to the front of the jacket. You ideally want to see an hourglass shape or a v-shape on top and then a skirt that drapes slightly out in the bottom, it’s very flattering. In the US, there used to be a sack suit style but that’s not really flattering because it makes you actually look like a potato sack. If you see X wrinkles, that means your jacket is too tight especially around the buttoning point. If you see vertical wrinkles in the front on your chest, that means it’s too big.
One thing that’s often never talked about is balance and by that, I mean the length and the proportions of the front and the back when looked at from the side. As I mentioned before, most of the time, the back is shorter than the front and getting it completely level is very hard to achieve and usually only something you find with bespoke tailors.
One thing that has a huge impact on the way your jacket looks are the front quarters and how they’re cut. Traditionally, the quarters are much more closed which in my opinion, provides an old man look versus if you have more open rounded quarters that are cut up slightly, It provides a certain dynamic. Now, if you open your quarters too much, you may actually end up seeing the tip of your tie or maybe even your dress shirt from underneath the buttoning point which is a bad look. So you always have to coordinate the quarters with the rise of your pants. If you have more open quarters, you want higher rise pants. If you have a lower and more close quarters, it doesn’t matter.
If your tie pokes out from underneath the buttoning point, the fit is off. In most cases, the buttoning point should be around your natural waist which is usually the belly button were slightly above the buttoning point can have a huge impact on how you’re perceived visually. Let’s say you’re a shorter guy, you can slightly elevate that buttoning point because it will give you the appearance of having slightly longer legs. The same is true for my body type; I have a long torso and relatively short legs, so I bring up the buttoning point ever so slightly, that way I look pretty proportional I get that one to one aspect ratio in my length and I’m just dapper and people would never assume that I have shorter legs than another man of my height. It works the same the other way around, if you have long legs in a short torso and you want to balance it, you can bring the buttoning point a little lower.
Now, don’t go too extreme because otherwise, you easily look like a guy in the 90s when they had very wide jackets with lots of excess fabric and a very low buttoning point. Also, when your jacket is buttoned, you want to be able to pull it a little bit and have about two inches of five centimeters of room. Sometimes it can be a little less but you don’t want it to be too tight otherwise it’s uncomfortable; and if it’s too wide, you get puddling creases. Note, when you wear a three-piece suit, you should wear your jacket unbuttoned versus if you have a two-piece suit it should be buttoned. Of course, we could talk about buttoning points but it’s gonna be a subject of another video so stay tuned.
As you know the jacket is only one part of the suit, so let’s talk about the trousers or dress pants. They should never be too tight nor too baggy. They must have the proper inseam length which means a slight break or no break.
Pants must have the right circumference around your waist, bum, thigh, knee, and ankle. You always want clean lines and no wrinkles although it’s very difficult to achieve, your pleats should never gap and I believe that a higher rise trouser has it’s unnatural ways which is slightly lower above, is much more flattering, and comfortable to wear especially with the suit. If you’re either not in perfect shape, or your clothes are not tailored, you probably will need either a belt or suspenders. I think suspenders are better for suits because they’re more comfortable unless you mind that weight in your shoulders, otherwise, they will keep your pants at the same height all day long versus with a belt chances are your pants will slide down a little. Now, what does it mean not too long or just right? We already created an in-depth guide about how pants should fit and that applies for all suit pants and dress pants as well.
Now that you know all the important aspects of how a suit should fit, it’s important to keep in mind that a heavier fabric drapes always better than a similar cut or the same kind of a suit in a thinner fabric. It’s just the added weight shows wrinkles less and it hides more tailoring flaws or flaws of your body versus a very thin fabric, highlights every issue there is in your body and the tailoring. So, if you really want to test the tailor and see how good they are, go with a very lightweight thin fabric.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss how to dress if you’re a shorter gentleman and we’re going to cover tips, tricks, and recommendations for making sure you look great.