November 28, 2012

The Art of Fit Pt 8 – The Suit

There comes a time in every man’s life where, for one reason or another, he needs to buy a suit. Some men will own dozens of suits, while others may only ever need one. It is often a major investment, which is why proper fit is even more important. Now, many of the basics have been covered in my previous posts on trousers and sport jackets, but there are a few important points that are worth repeating and some considerations that differ when it comes to suiting that you should be aware of before you start shopping.

Off the rack suiting will come with a jacket and pants paired together and will be sized based on the jacket measurement (which is derived from your chest measurement). The size of the pant will be determined by what is known as the drop, which is the difference in size between the jacket and the pant. For example, if the suit jacket is a size 40R and the pants are a 33W, there is a 7-inch drop. 6-8 inches is the standard range you will generally encounter when it comes to drops, but there are some designers who venture outside of this so be sure to double check. As with sport jackets, the measurement on a jacket will be larger than the size itself, so a size 40 will actually measure around 42” to give you room to move and accommodate the clothes you’ll be wearing underneath.

If you have difficulty finding the proper jacket/pant pairing with off the rack suits, you have a couple options. Suit separates offer the pants, jacket, and often vest sold separately so that you can mix and match for the closest fit. Another option is made-to-measure which involves a standard pattern being altered to fit your measurements. This can get pricey, but there are a lot of reasonably priced made-to-measure that are popping up as of late. Lastly, you can go fully custom with a bespoke suit. This will be patterned to your measurements and basically built from scratch to fit you.

When it comes to finding the proper size for your suit, the most important thing to pay attention to is the fit in the shoulders. A tailor can do many wonderful things, but short of what amounts to major reconstructive work, there is nothing they can really do if the shoulders are too big (and definitely nothing if they are too small). The seam should hit basically at the bone of your shoulder (or just the teeniest bit off depending on cut) to allow enough room for comfortable movement.

The next thing to consider is the letters that you will often see after the chest size – R(egular), S(hort), and L(ong). The quickest way to determine what fits you best is to just try it on. Sleeves can always be shortened, so the jacket length is the important thing to get right here. With your hands at your side, the length of a standard suit jacket should fall to just about the second knuckle of your thumb, which should also be just below the bottom of your butt. A standard jacket length should allow you to wrap the tip of your fingers around the bottom of the jacket. Technically, you can have the length itself shortened by a tailor, but it will skew the proper placement of the lapels, pockets, vents, etc., so I really wouldn’t recommend it.

This becomes infinitely more complicated with the recent popularity of cropped suits, but if you are new to suit buying, you are always better off sticking with a classic styling. A Short jacket will generally fit a man 5’5” – 5’8”; 5’8” – 5’11” for a Regular; and 5’11” – 6’2” for a Long. This is by no means an exact science as it varies based on the length of your arms and torso, so while I shouldn’t have to say it – TRY EVERYTHING ON. This is an expensive mistake to make.

If you are spending your hard-earned money on a suit, you should pay the extra money and have it properly tailored to you, as virtually no one gets a perfect fit off the rack. How short you have the sleeves taken up will vary based on your personal style. The suit that I shot for this post is my black suit for slightly more formal occasions (weddings, funerals, galas, etc) so I have the cuffs a bit longer than I normally would to avoid flashing too much cuff. If you wear a lot of double cuff shirts, you will probably want to show ½” – 1” of shirt cuff. Otherwise, I would recommend about ¼” but the jacket sleeve should never be longer than the indent between your wrist bone and the beginning of your hand.

When it comes to your pants, my trouser post pretty much covers it, so I won’t rehash too much. The major difference that you will encounter between most trousers and the pants that come with a suit is that the latter will be unfinished. This means that there will not be a finished hem, instead the leg will have either been cut off with pinking shears or serged to prevent the fabric from fraying (usually at a 36” inseam). As a result, you will have to make the decision about how you want your pants to fall because they will need to be cut and hemmed.

Suit by Ermenegildo Zegna; Shirt by Brooks Brothers; Shoes by Allen Edmonds;
Tie by Paul Smith; Tie bar by Link Up; Pocket Square by Giorgio Armani

As I have mentioned, I prefer a single break because I think it is both the most versatile and best looking. This is, however, a much-contested personal preference that will vary based on what you like best and what kind of shoes you are planning to wear with it. I recommend looking at pictures and bringing in the ones you like to be able to show the tailor exactly what you are looking for (the same goes for sleeve length).

When you go to shop for a suit and have it tailored, it is incredibly important to wear a dress shirt and dress shoes because these will make it much easier for you, your salesperson, and your tailor to determine what you really want. Like with anything else you invest in, the least guess work you can give yourself the better the result.

Stay stylish,
- JJ


  1. The spread collar is not working with your face and neck, it is making you look fatter. The jacket is too tight and sitting off your chest. The lapels are not in proportion to your body. Please see a good tailor and get a critique.

    Chris Fields

    1. Thanks for your comment, it actually lets me address some wonderful points.

      Collars - Spread collars are not for everyone, I'll give you that. People with a round or square face should generally avoid them. However, an oval face tends to work with every collar type. The spread collar, in this instance, was chosen to pair with the more traditional suit.

      Jacket Fit - The jacket is actually not at all too tight. I have very broad shoulders and a fairly developed chest from years of training for various sports (it's why I can't wear most AllSaints shirts, much to my chagrin). What I assume you are interpreting as the jacket sitting off my chest is actually the jacket hugging the slope of my chest as any well-tailored garment should.

      Lapel Size - I'm not sure what you mean when you say the lapels are not in proportion to my body, would you care to elaborate? This is my traditional suit, reserved for slightly more formal occasions which is why I gave the pants a more generous break. The lapels are 3.5", which is a classic measurement that will never be out of style regardless of what trends may come to pass.

      I do have a fantastic tailor, as should every man. Rarely will something fit you perfectly off the rack, so a couple tweaks every now and then can make a world of difference. Thanks for reading!

      - JJ