The fitting process described here for an off-the-rack
suit will obviously differ for a custom-made
model. In this case the
first stage will consist of being measured rather than
trying on an actual suit. However, the checklist
here can still be utilized for the second stage when you try
on the completed suit. If any of the fit criteria are not
met then you should insist the suit be corrected
A Lamentable Legacy
1990 photo showing a tuxedo in the 1980s baggy
In the 1980s designer Giorgio Armani
popularized the "power suit" with exaggerated shoulders, low
waist line and swaths of excess fabric. Although this style
is long gone many American men continue to believe that
suits should fit like oversized pajamas.
Dressing the Wrist
Another unfortunate by-product of the
'80s power suit is the tendency to treat jacket sleeves as
palm warmers, just as if they were overcoat sleeves. Consequently, few other tailoring
details separate the boys from men more
than properly exposed shirt cuffs.
You may want to sew
shut your tuxedo's besomed hip
pockets tend to sag over time and
formal versions do not have a flap to hide the resulting gap
at the opening. A tuxedo still has plenty of other
places to store your opera tickets.
Most men have one arm that hangs slightly lower (or
“longer”) than the other so competent tailors will always
measure both arms for jacket sleeve
No-one is Exempt
Altered photo on right shows impact of a properly fitted
Normally impeccable when it comes to
formal wear, Brad Pitt looks more like a prom date than an
Oscar nominee in this picture thanks to overly long trouser
legs and jacket sleeves.
The bunching of the legs can also be a result of poor
trouser suspension. If your trousers are cut to be worn at the waist
(as they should be) make
sure they stay there.
If trousers are to be worn with
make sure to wear suspenders
during the fitting since they
affect the fit of the waist, back
rise and inseam.
The tailoring world's best kept secret is the
ridiculously low price of custom-made shirts. For as little as
$45 (at online retailers) you can get not only the perfect fit but
also choose exactly the type of fabric, collar, cuff, pocket and
placket that you desire.
Fit is the single most important consideration for any garment.
Clothing that does not fit, no matter how beautiful its color and
pattern, how expensive its cloth, or how expertly made it may be, is
Fit is especially
important with tailored clothing which is designed to artfully
conceal the wearer's shortcomings and emphasize his assets.
Moreover, unlike knitted garments such as sweaters or polo shirts,
tailored garments don’t stretch. They either lay correctly on
the body or they don’t. This page will explain how to
determine the difference.
A Proper Fitting Session
There are two stages to
getting fitted for a ready-to-wear suit: trying on and altering.
The initial phase consists of trying on suits
to determine whether what looks good on the rack looks good on you.
You can do this by consulting the proper fit criteria for jackets,
trousers and waistcoats below. Most criteria pertain to
features which cannot be corrected through alterations and if a suit
does not meet some of these criteria (and no suit is likely to meet
them all) then you will have to judge for yourself the relevance of
After a suit has been selected based on the fixed criteria, the next phase is to have the adjustable criteria altered
as necessary. The latter are clearly indicated within the
When shopping in person, a
sales person will assist with the first fitting stage (trying on) and a store
tailor will usually manage the second (alterations).
When renting, a sales person
will typically handle both phases by marking the suit for someone
else to alter.
In either case these employees unfortunately often have
ulterior motives – making a sale and minimizing
alterations – that conflict with their responsibility to provide the
customer with the best fit possible. Therefore the onus is on
you. If you think something doesn’t look right then be sure to ask about it because many easily-made
upfront corrections become
difficult or impossible after the first round of alterations.
If shopping online both fitting stages will need to be
combined during a visit to an independent tailor after the purchase. This can
actually be beneficial as such a tailor has no incentive to convince
the buyer to keep a badly fitting suit nor to minimize necessary
During both stages of fitting it is important
to recreate the real-world conditions in which the suit will
actually be worn:
assume a normal stance when
trying on the clothes; the mirror is often a shocking reminder of
how poor one's posture is but resist the urge to stand at attention
unless planning to wear the suit solely for marching purposes
move around with the clothes
on; if a suit truly fits then it will stay in place when the wearer
is active, not just when he is standing still in front of a store
every decent men’s store
should have a three-way mirror to allow the buyer to see how the
back of the suit fits; bring a reliable friend for the stores that
fasten your shirt’s top
button so that the shirt collar sits against the back of your neck;
this is necessary to ensure that the jacket collar fits properly
wear a French cuff shirt if
such a shirt will ever be worn with the suit (which is obviously the
case for dinner jackets); this will ensure the jacket sleeves are
wide enough to accommodate the extra bulk
wear suspenders when trying
on trousers that require them (the store should be able to provide a
pair for fitting purposes)
wear dress shoes for the
fitting because the bottoms of the trouser legs will fit differently with them than
it will with other types of shoes
transfer wallets, keys, cell
phones, etc. to the jacket and trouser pockets to see how they
affect fit; in some case the garments can be altered to hide the
bulges caused by these personal effects
Thanks to the Armani power suit of the 1980s and today's
general ignorance of tailored clothing, many American men buy
suits that are too large. In general, most well-fitting suits
cleanly and smoothly on the body. With the exception of the
jacket’s fullness over the shoulder blades, there should be very
little rippling anywhere in the suit. Puckering and
pulling are signs that a suit is too small.
Never choose a
jacket size or trouser size based solely on garments that you already
own. Each manufacturer measures differently and one designer's 42
regular may easily be another's 40 long.
the jacket's shoulder line
(from the collar to the top of the sleeve) should be a smooth line,
if the wearer's shoulders
naturally arch forward or back then the jacket will need to account for
so that they are not seen to be pushing against the front or back of
there should be enough
material over the shoulder blades for a slight fold of fabric to
extend up from below the armholes; this is necessary to provide
freedom of movement for the arms
the lapels should lie flat
on the chest and not gape open
the jacket should conform with
the profile of the wearer’s back by curving gently into the lower
if there are horizontal
creases pulling across the back then it is too tight – this can be
corrected by having the jacket “let out”
diagonal creases stretching out from the (fastened) waist
button are another sign that the jacket is too tight, as is a fully
exposed bottom button (it should be half covered by the front of the
jacket) – this can also be corrected by letting the jacket out
conversely, vertical creases
in the middle of the back or under the arms indicates that the
jacket is too loose – this can be corrected by having the jacket
the jacket collar must lie
flat against the shirt collar (which in turns sits against the back
of the neck); if it stands away or if there are horizontal creases
just below it then the collar is too high – this can be corrected by
having the collar lowered
the jacket collar should show about half an inch of shirt
collar – this can be corrected by having the collar adjusted to show
more or less shirt collar
The most common rule of
thumb (quite literally) is that the bottom of the jacket should be
parallel with the bottom of your thumb when your arm is hanging at
side. However, classic couturier and author Alan Flusser
points out that this method is flawed because different men have
different arm lengths (relative to their torso) and that a skilled
tailor will take other factors into account. Generally, if the
jacket is longer than the half-way point between the bottom of the
collar and the floor then it is too long. And if it does not
cover the wearer’s seat then it is too short.
sleeves should hang straight
with no horizontal wrinkles appearing on the upper arm; if they show
creases then they are not aligned with the wearer’s hanging arm –
this can be corrected by having the sleevehead rotated clockwise or
counter-clockwise accordingly (if the store tailor says this is not
possible it actually means it is not preferable to invest the time
needed for such a major alteration)
jacket sleeve length begins
with shirt sleeve length: shirt sleeves should end at the wearer's
wrist (i.e. bottom of the palm) and jacket sleeves should be short
enough to reveal at about half an inch of shirt cuff depending on
his height (formal shirt cuffs usually show a little more); this
serves to slightly exaggerate arm length – jacket sleeves
are meant to be hemmed after purchase (the buttons may have to be
moved if the sleeves require considerable shortening)
whether center or side,
vents should hang in a straight line perpendicular to the floor; if
they splay open the jacket is too tight – this can be corrected by
having the jacket let out
Pockets should lie flat and smooth against the body of the jacket
Another casualty of casual
Mondays to Fridays is that young men don’t know how to properly wear
dress trousers. Dress trousers are constructed to sit at the
waist which can range anywhere from the natural waist to just below
the navel. If they are slung down around the hips like casual
pants (such as jeans or khakis) they will look messy as
explained in the trouser
Make sure that the trousers
have ample room at the hip and thigh by trying them on in standing,
sitting and legs-crossed positions. If there are horizontal
creases around the fly, or the pockets or pleats splay out when
standing then the trousers are too tight – this can be corrected by
having the seat of the trousers let out.
Like the penchant for
excessively long jacket sleeves, American men’s desire for
voluminous swaths of fabric bunched up at the bottom of the trouser
leg has its roots in the exaggerated power suits of the 1980s.
It also taps into their subconscious terror of revealing even the
slightest glimpse of white sports socks when wearing casual pants.
However, excessive break (the folding of the trouser leg fabric
above the top of the shoe) should be avoided because it distorts the
otherwise clean lines of the suit’s silhouette and makes the
wearer's legs look shorter.
store tailors will determine proper trouser length by simply hemming
it at the level of the shoe’s heel but this fixed rule does not take
into account variable factors that are unique to each man. At their
longest, trouser legs should fall just low enough to conceal the
sock when walking. Uncuffed trousers should be hemmed on a slant to
that they are lower at the back than at the front. This will
minimize the amount of break at the front of the leg while at the
same time maximize the weight of the trouser leg so it won’t flap about
at the heel when walking.
dressers (particularly the Italians) often prefer to have the bottom of
the leg just “kiss” the top of the shoe in order to reduce the break
even further or eliminate it altogether. They recognize that proper
dress socks are supposed to match the accompanying trouser and so
there is nothing to be feared by exposing them slightly when in
Shorter men and heavier men will both benefit
from trousers cut on the shorter end of the spectrum because the
unbroken trouser line will help emphasize verticality. In the case
of the shorter man, the lack of excess fabric will also prevent the
impression that he is borrowing his father’s suit.
protocol regarding cuffs (turnups in UK) is not included here as
this feature is inappropriate on formal trousers.
In order to fit
comfortably, a shirt’s collar size should be determined by fit and
not by measurement. Shirt makers are supposed to allow for
about a half inch of shrinkage but some manufacturers provide much
less leeway which means that a perfectly fitting new shirt will end
up choking the wearer after several washes. To confirm that
there is room for shrinkage in a new shirt, try it on and make sure
you can easily slip two fingers between your neck and the collar.
Another method is to lay out the shirt and actually measure the
distance from the center of the button to the outer edge of the
button hole to make sure it is half an inch more than your actual
If wearing a turndown collar
that is semi-spread or spread style, the points of the collar should
end beneath the jacket. The collar should also remain flat
against the body no matter how far the head is turned.
The majority of
ready-to-wear shirts are made to fit obese men. As a result,
everyone else has to put up with a sea of excess fabric or pay a
tailor to alter the shirt. The most basic alteration involves
taking in the shirt along the side seams of the body and the arms.
For a truly form fitting garment, two darts will have to be added in
the back. While the feminine aesthetics of darted shirts are a
matter of debate, this is a moot point with formal wear because it
is not good form to remove one’s jacket at a black-tie event.
What’s important is that the less excess fabric there is, the
smoother the shirt will lie against the body and the neater the
overall outfit will appear.
The shirt's shoulder seam
should sit on top of the curve of the natural shoulder, not down the
side of the upper arm.
The shirt’s sleeves should
be just long enough that they don’t pull back from the wrist when
the wearer extends his arms fully when wearing a jacket (the
jacket’s armhole will impact the practical length of the shirt
sleeve). Because mainstream shirt-makers save money by offering shirts
only in odd numbered sleeve lengths half of all men will likely end
up with a sleeve that is too long and subsequently too blousy. (A
so-called “34/35” sleeve is really a 35 – it can’t be both.)
This excess fabric can bunch up within a narrow jacket sleeve
causing it to pull back the shirt sleeve when the arm is extended.
Fortunately, a good tailor or dry cleaner seamstress will be able to shorten a shirt’s sleeves
In order to stay put at the
wrist, sleeve cuffs – both French (double) and single – should button snugly.
If your hand can slide through a fastened cuff then it is too loose
and the buttons or link holes need to be adjusted.
A French cuff's bulk
should also be able to fit easily inside your jacket sleeve to allow
the latter to move independently of the shirt sleeve for reasons
explained above. If it doesn’t then find another shirt.
Buying a suit takes money, investing in a suit
A typical example of a young man wearing a suit
that is at least one size too large.
A well-fitting suit will contour to the body's
natural shape and should not pull or sag anywhere.
If a jacket pulls at the waist button then it
needs to be let out.
The collar should not sit too high on the neck
nor should it stand away from it.
The same jacket sleeve before (left) and after
(right) it was rotated to conform with the wearer's natural arm
Dress trousers worn too low can give the
impression of wearing diapers.
Trousers hemmed with virtually no break.
The more noticeable the break, the more
interference with the vertical line of the trousers (and the suit).
Even after natural shrinking, the shirt collar
should not feel tight.
Regular shirts will billow out at the waist and
sides. Fitted shirts (like this one) not only look neater but
they stay tucked in better.
A snug fit will prevent the cuff from sliding over the wrist (but a
too-short sleeve will pull the cuff away from the hand).