Suit yourself: Part Three
Everything you need to know to ensure a proper fit.
A suit does some very important things for you. Not only does it project an aura of power, professionalism, and authority, it can make you feel pretty good about yourself. It even simplifies your wardrobe choices in the morning. But if your suit doesn’t fit properly, everything in the previous statements goes out the window. A perfectly fitting suit means you can effortlessly hobnob with captains of industry and even get seated on time for your dinner reservation. An ill-fitting suit marks you as someone who just discovered there’s more to style than a T-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops. As they say about winning gracefully: act like you’ve been there before.
So, how should a suit fit? Well, let’s start by saying it’s a certainty that without the help of a knowledgeable salesperson you would likely buy one that’s too big. Why? Because a suit fits differently than anything else you’re used to. Even Sean Connery, who was a jeans and sweatshirt guy before the Bond films, was made to sleep in a tuxedo by his director so he would get used to—and appear effortlessly comfortable—in a suit.
Let’s take a look at some basic things to pay attention to so that if you’re called upon to be the next James Bond, you won’t have to sleep in a tux to get the part.
Suits are sized by combining your jacket measurement with a size category. These categories are Short, Regular, Long, and Extra Long. Generally, this breaks down by height as follows:
Short – Up to 5’9″
Regular – 5’10″ to 6′
Long – 6′ to 6’4″
Extra Long – 6’4″ and up
These sizes determine the length of the arms and of the jacket body itself.
Your jacket measurement is taken by measuring the thickest part of your chest under your arms. Or by taking your waist size and adding six inches. Whichever measurement is largest is the one you should use. So, if your chest measurement is 40, your waist is 33 and you’re 5’10″, you’re likely a 40 Regular. And if you’re 40 Regular, you’re a 40 Regular. But each suit fits differently, which is why trying them on is so important.
Beware of the salesperson that tries to tell you they can shorten a 40 Long to fit you. Don’t believe them. While the sleeves can be shortened, and the waist taken in a little bit, there is no amount of work that can be done to get the proportions right on the body of the jacket. It’s too large or too small from the start.
You typically think of a foundation as being at the bottom of a house, but in a suit, it’s at the top. The fit in the shoulders is the most critical aspect, bar none. If your jacket doesn’t fit, the proportions of the suit will be off. So getting your jacket right is essential.
When you try on the jacket, use the tri-mirror in the fitting room to get a look at your upper back. You’re looking for any exaggerated horizontal or vertical lines in the fabric. If you see horizontal lines, your jacket is too tight. Go up a size. If vertical lines are showing, your jacket is too big. Go down a size.
Next, look at yourself straight on. You want a natural fit at the shoulder. There should be no overhang of the seam where your shoulder ends, meaning it’s too large, and no pulling in the fabric, meaning it’s too small. You should only see a smooth line extending down from the seam to your cuff.
This is something you can get a look at in the tri-mirror as well. Your jacket collar should sit flat against your dress shirt collar. It should also reveal one half inch of your dress shirt collar in the back. Overcoats are made to cover everything; your suit jacket isn’t.
These should always lie flat. If they pucker outward—even slightly—when your jacket is buttoned, then it’s too small. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re a jack-in-the-box about to spring open at any moment.
The jacket should button easily with no pulling or rippling fabric. If you need to breathe in when buttoning it, there’s a problem. Go up a size. If it’s too loose, your tailor will likely recommend taking the waist in. For athletic builds, this is a fairly common alteration.
The jacket cuff.
This is where a lot of guys go wrong. A suit jacket is made to fit shorter than any other jacket you wear, so naturally the sleeves will be shorter. That means your cuff should end right around that knobby wrist bone below your thumb. It allows about a half-inch of your dress shirt to show. Some gentlemen like to show more, and it’s one part of a suit’s fit that’s often debated. But a half-inch is a good place to start, then adjust to your liking.
The bottom of the jacket.
Although this can change a little bit as different style trends come and go, your jacket should end just after your rear does. Unfortunately, there’s really no elegant way of saying that, so there it is.
OK, let’s revisit those suit sizes again. With trousers, the Short, Regular, Long, and Extra Long are going to determine how much length is in the leg as well as the rise. And, with nested suits you typically don’t have a choice between plain or pleated trousers; the suit will come with one or the other. Pleats are slightly more formal than plain-fronts, and, if you’re a bigger guy, they give you more room, which means you’ll be more comfortable. As far as the fit at your waist goes, if you see any horizontal lines, which means the fabric is pulling, your pants are too tight.
How long should your trousers be? Again, it’s a matter of personal preference. The standard is to ask for a one-inch break, which means your pants will end one-inch above the beginning of your shoe’s sole. This causes a slight break in your pants as they crease. If your crease remains razor straight when you’re standing up, your pants are too short for the traditional crowd. And conversely, the baggy jeans effect where guys step on the fabric with their heels is so out of place here, we feel weird even mentioning it.
A tailor may also ask you whether you want a cuff on your trouser hems. The standard rule is cuffs on pleated pants, no cuffs on plain-fronts. Though, again, some gents may have their own take on this.
Remember, a suit should make you look better than anything else in your closet. Even if you’re a body builder, your suit should not follow the lines of your body exactly. It should smooth here, enhance there, and flatter completely. If you look like this, try on another one.
The end result.
This may seem like a lot to pay attention to, but remember, a suit isn’t supposed to fit like anything else you own. And if it fits properly, it can also do more positive things for you than anything else you own. Even Sean Connery benefited from wearing one.
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