Perhaps the most elegant and flattering outfit any man can wear is a well-tailored suit (you can quote me on that). Since the early 1900s, the silhouette of a fine-fitting suit has been synonymous with the American elite, and even today, it remains apparent that men from virtually anywhere ought to invest in and own a well-fitted suit to complete their wardrobe.
This article will teach you how a man's suit should fit and provide some insight into how steps should be taken to ensure success if you are someone looking to make your first suit purchase or perhaps rectify the dilemma of owning a suit that does not flatter your frame.
WHAT IS A SUIT?
A suit is defined as a garment comprised of two separate and matching pieces: the jacket and trousers, the materials of which match in both fabrics and patterns. If you were to add a vest, this would be defined as a three-piece suit.
Not to be confused with a blazer or a sports jacket; these are often used interchangeably, and I have found that not many people understand the differences. I know that it sounds pretentious, but terms matter because when you know what you're wearing, you are better equipped to pull off wearing it well and in the right situations.
FIT IS KING
Above anything, as men, our clothes must fit us properly, with no exceptions. To accept ill-fitting garments is to sacrifice what it truly means to dress well. If you have the choice between a high-end, well-constructed garment that does not fit you very well or a cheaper, potentially lesser-known brand piece that fits you perfectly, your decision ten times out of ten ought to be the clothing articles that fit you better (no exceptions).
When finding the right suit, there are eight key aspects that every man must understand to nail the fit of arguably your most crucial outfit:
- Dress Shirt Collar
- Suit Jacket Collar & Lapel
- Jacket Waist
- Arms & Wrists
- Overall Length
Before we dive into these eight areas, I would like to offer some preliminary advice I have learned when getting fitted for suits and exchanging dialogue with my tailor.
WHEN IN THE FITTING ROOM...
A great lesson I learned when venturing into the fitting rooms of past menswear outlets is that your average floor tailor will usually try to serve their customers in the most expeditious way possible. After all, these stores are running a business, alterations take time, and time is money. In some cases, and as a direct result of the time restrictions, floor tailors are often directed by store owners to make as few alterations as possible to get you out the door quicker; that's just reality.
This is an essential consideration for a few reasons; firstly, it allows for you to prepare yourself better as you invest in arguably your most essential wardrobe piece. Secondly, it helps you to manage your expectations so that you don't feel underwhelmed when you try on the first suit that was tailored to you. Lastly, it solidifies the necessity for finding a tailor you can build a relationship with and learn to trust. This last point is critical and genuinely separates the boys from the men regarding a gentleman's style.
This experience will help you learn better about your body and how clothes must be altered to fit your build and flatter your frame. Very few men find clothes that fit them perfectly every time off the rack, and when it comes to suits, we must never compromise on fit.
Before stepping into the fitting room with a typical tailor, I recommend the following:
- Wear a standard pair of dress shoes so that you and the tailor can see how the trousers will fit in relation to the appropriate footwear.
- Bring a belt to pair with the pants to see how it will fit with the final product (assuming that your suit will include belt loops and not side adjusters).
- Bring a well-fitting dress shirt to wear with the suit to give you and the tailor an idea of how it will pair with the jacket (more on this in later sections of the article).
- Keep your keys, wallet, and everyday items in your pockets which you would normally have on you when wearing the suit. This ensures that when you do end up wearing the suit, you're refraining from creating unnecessary bulges that disrupt the harmony in your overall appearance.
With all that out of the way, let's dive into the eight focus areas for your stylish suit!
1. DRESS SHIRT COLLAR
We are most concerned with the dress shirt itself when discussing the neck. Even though this is technically a separate component of the overall suit make-up, it is a logical and standard complement to any man's first actual suit. Therefore it demands attention.
When buttoned up to fashion a tie around the neck, the dress shirt collar shouldn't be choking you; instead, it should feel natural around your neck. A general rule to abide by is to retain the ability to slide a finger or two between the dress-shirt collar and your neck with reasonable ease. Hold it there for a bit, and if you feel too much pressure (trust me, you'll know), the collar is too tight. By the same token, if the collar is buttoned and there is enough visible room for your neck to move freely (exposing excess fabric), it is too loose.
Looking good on this front should never be uncomfortable (you'll hear this a lot throughout the article).
2. SUIT JACKET COLLAR & LAPEL
Too often do men select a suit pattern or color that they fancy but overlook the size of the jacket collar and lapel. If this occurs, then what inevitably follows is a disruption in the harmony of the outfit. From there, it can be a very slippery slope.
A smaller-framed man requires a thinner lapel (albeit not too narrow). By the same token, a burlier or broader gentleman thus requires a thicker jacket collar with an appropriately proportionate dress shirt. In other words, the collar and lapel proportions should be similar to your build. Wide collars and lapels on small men diminish their stature, and conversely, more prominent men with smaller lapels betray their physical presence.
This is about embracing your stature by selecting the appropriate lapel to compliment and flatter your body.
The jacket collar should sit well upon your shoulders. Ensure that it does not stack or bundle against the shirt collar and doesn't stand away from or even conceal the dress shirt collar. When observing a rearview from behind the neck to check the fit, ensure that half an inch of the dress shirt collar is visible from the back; if the jacket collar is higher than the shirt collar, the jacket is too big.
On the flip-side, if too much of the dress shirt is exposed (i.e., an excessive amount of the dress shirt is protruding out from the jacket collar when viewed from the rear), this indicates that the jacket is too tight and will result in restriction of movement.
Avoid Collar Gap
The jacket collar leading into the lapel should fit tight around the collar when buttoned at the waist. Any gapping between the dress shirt collar and the jacket collar will result in a sartorial term known as "collar gap," which is precisely as it sounds. An experienced tailor can fix this, but if done incorrectly can lead to other issues concerning alterations; (so best to catch it early).
Here are some examples of collar gaps:
Here is how it SHOULD look:
Not all suits require neckties these days, but to own a suit is to own a dress shirt and thus a necktie (ideally more than one). Much like the collars mentioned above, your build will dictate the size and overall width of the necktie. A narrow-shouldered gentleman would require a thinner tie due to his less pronounced chest and torso dimensions, just as a broader man would require a thicker tie to better compliment the thickness of his lapels.
Ensure that the length of the tie is correct once you have fastened it around your neck, that is, falling just over the top of the belt buckle (or where one would be). Anything past this point is too long; anything shy of this point is too short.
Here is where we get into the thick of it. Any tailor worth their salt will tell you that if the shoulders of any suit jacket do not fit well, then there is only so much that they can do to alter it to fit you on the whole. If you happen to find yourself shopping for a suit jacket and attempt to purchase something off the rack (meaning you are selecting from a variety of pre-cut pieces in-store), then at the very least, do well to ensure that the shoulders fit you before anything else. So long as this condition is met, a well-trained and experienced tailor can do wonders for your jacket.
The shoulders should never droop over your sleeves; if this occurs, then the suit is too big. Instead, the shoulders should rest naturally on your body and be comfortable. If they hang over your body, then the suit looks like it's wearing you and not the other way around. On the other hand, if the suit restricts your upper torso and arm movements, then the jacket is too tight. Again, looking dapper shouldn't come at the expense of comfort.
The seam which connects the shoulder with the jacket sleeve should rest just past your shoulder bone (no more than three-fourths of an inch). This is to ensure that there is sufficient room to include any additional layers of fabric which you might wish to add under the suit jacket as well as to refrain from being too tight.
Another byproduct of the suit jacket being too tight is that it will cause the lapel to bend in unsavory ways. This just looks bad (see below):
5. JACKET WAIST
When you wear the suit jacket, the top button, when fastened, should have a slight pull, but never too many ripples or creases emanating from the button. An easy visual reference to look for is an "X" shape when standing naturally. If you have measured your waste correctly and still encounter this, size up or lose weight.
6. ARMS & WRISTS
The sleeves should hang straight, and depending on your body's unique dimensions; the sleeves may need to be removed and rotated to fit better for men who carry their arms too far forward or back. The sartorial term for this is the sleeves "pitch," which indicates noticeable creases that form when the wearer is standing still and upright.
I did not know this was possible until my tailor recommended it to me, which is a testament to her talent.
As far as how the sleeves of the jacket and shirt should look on the wrists, a general rule of thumb is that a quarter to even a half an inch of the shirt should remain visible when protruding from the jacket sleeve; the jacket sleeve, itself, ought to reside about half an inch below your wrist bone.
Most men wear their jacket sleeves too long, don't be one of them.
The general rule for suit pants is to wear as high on the waist as comfortable. If too high, however, you sacrifice movement and comfort; conversely, if worn too low, the excess around the crotch makes you look sloppy and unrefined. So long as movement remains comfortable, unencumbered, and there is no hanging or excess fabric, you are good to go.
As far as length is concerned, it is typical that suit pants ought to rest upon the dress shoes with a slight "break" in fabric. Break refers to the fold or creasing of fabric that forms at the front of your pant leg. Traditionally, the full break has been considered proper in menswear for many decades; however, there are three widely accepted options, and I will even show you a fourth one.
A full break means an excess of fabric (around one inch or so) which results in the shoelaces remaining mostly concealed by the pants, with nothing in excess. With this option, your standard plain-bottom trousers should exhibit a gradual slant downward from the front of your shoes to the backs of your heels and avoid exposing too much of the heels when you are in stride.
A half-break means a slight excess of fabric not exceeding roughly half an inch and results in the shoelaces remaining partially concealed by the pants. With this option, your trousers would exhibit a much slighter slant downward from front to back, exposing more of the heel than a full break length.
No-break is precisely as it sounds. There is no immediate break of fabric from the edge of the trouser, which should barely "kiss" the top of your dress shoe laces, showing a bit of sock in the process. For younger, slimmer, and often men of a more athletic physique, this looks quite nice despite being less traditional and more fashion-forward.
Finally, there is the quarter break, somewhere between a half-break and no-break. I bring this up last because it is my personal favorite. There is minimal contact with the end of the pant legs and the top of the dress shoes but no noticeable slant from the front of the shoe to the heel. I find that this is a great way to look more modern while not leaning too far into the boldness of the no-break look. I also have a more athletic physique, so I find that this look flatters me.
8. OVERALL LENGTH
This final area of focus is perhaps the more nuanced of the eight others in that there are general guidelines to follow, but due to each man's varying shape and size, a singular way is not always the best way. Allow me to explain.
Most men who wear suits are familiar with the general rule that the suit jacket should be long enough to cover the curvature of your rear end while not appearing too long to diminish the appearance of the legs. Indeed, this guideline works but does not necessarily apply to every man's unique dimensions.
To establish a set of standards for men to follow, two techniques have been employed to help men select the right jacket length:
- The first technique uses the arm as the guide for determining, visually, if the jacket's length is copacetic. This is achieved by examining where the hand naturally falls when standing with one's arms resting to the side. The bottom of the jacket should align with the outstretched thumb. However, the issue with this method is that arm length varies from person to person.
- The second technique employs a measurement taken from the back of the jacket collar (where it begins at the body of the coat) and proceeds towards the ground. This total measurement is then divided in half. What follows is a more balanced and even result that prioritizes symmetry, which is why this particular method is how traditional tailors are often formally trained.
As I mentioned previously, finding a good tailor with whom you can trust and build a relationship is paramount. For more info about that, read my separate post here. I can tell you from experience that a quality tailor can help you save money by adjusting the fit of your garments over time. Still, they can also make recommendations to have clothes fit you like a glove by properly accounting for your body's unique dimensions and measurements.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
In conclusion, every man should own a well-fitted two-piece suit. It doesn't have to be the most expensive brand, but it must fit you very well; again, wear the fit and not the label. If you roll up into your local menswear outlet, armed with the knowledge I have just shared, you will look outstanding, and people will undoubtedly notice.
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