Proper Fit


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 useless. 

Nicholas Antongiavanni

Fit Basics

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 those shortcomings.

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 checklists. 

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 alterations.
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 mirror

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 don't 

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

Overall Size

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 should lie 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.

Jacket Fit



the jacket's shoulder line (from the collar to the top of the sleeve) should be a smooth line, not bumpy

if the wearer's shoulders naturally arch forward or back then the jacket will need to account for this so that they are not seen to be pushing against the front or back of the jacket

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 back

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 “taken in”



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 your 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 style description.


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.


Many 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. 

More daring 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 stride.   

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.    

The 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 neck size.   

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 if needed.


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.