It’s time for you to buy a new suit. Maybe you’re about to have your first big job interview. Perhaps you’re tired of wearing ill-fitting suits that have brought down your looks and confidence so now you’re looking to upgrade. Whatever your reason, it’s important for you to buy wisely because the suit is the quintessential uniform for a man. It represents class, sophistication, elegance and authority. For young men, it represents a transition from adolescence to manhood; for grown men, it solidifies his place in society. The suit is an extension of you and as such, should enhance your features and give you that extra bit of confidence to take on the world. As a result, you want your suit to fit you just right.
The suit has the ability to enhance your physical attributes while masking any shortcomings that throw off your proportions. Unfortunately, most men do not know how a suit should fit and as a result, wear poorly fitting suits that make them look worse than if they had gone suit-less. After reading this article, you will have a complete understanding of the basics of how a suit should fit and will be able to avoid the blunders that most men make.
I want to say that that I do believe that if you have the means, you should spend a bit more to buy a high quality suit over a low quality suit. I will explain in a future article why you should buy a quality suit, but the reality is that a high quality suit, which costs $1000+, might not be financially feasible for most men. Also, it might not make sense to spend a bunch of money to buy a high quality suit if you won’t be wearing it other than for the few special occasions. With that said, fit trumps quality especially when it comes to suiting. A $300 suit that fits you just right is worth exponentially more than a $2000 suit that won’t ever fit you properly. As long as you follow this guide, you can wear a $300 suit and still look sharp.
I must warn you that the following will be a lot of info to absorb so you might want to read this over a couple of sittings. On that note, let us begin.
Get a Good Tailor
I want to mention that you WILL need a tailor. There’s no way around this. If you are not spending money on suits that are constructed based on your measurements (these are called made-to-measure or bespoke, and don’t worry, we’ll have an article in the near future explaining the differences between each type), you will be buying a suit “off-the-rack.” An off the rack suit is made from pre-cut patterns that are derived from the measurement of “average” man. This means the suit made to fit as many people as possible which results in it not fitting anyone well. As a result, you WILL have to make alterations on an off-the-rack suit. If you’re going the off-the-rack route, the key is to try on many different brands/names that fit your body best which results in the least amount of alterations. You also have to understand that a suit can only be altered so much before losing its integrity so finding a suit that fits you reasonably well before alterations is paramount. If you are a trimmer individual, you should find brands that make “slimmer cut” suits. It would not make sense to go to a store that caters to an older population as their proportions will be off from yours.
An important thing you should note is although a great tailor can work miracles, there is a limit to what he can do. Generally, a suit can be altered to accommodate between 10-15lbs of weight gain/loss before losing its integrity. If you’re in the midst of packing on a lot of muscle or losing a lot of weight, I would hold off on buying a suit –especially and expensive one- until you reach your stable weight.
The specifics of fit:
Before I begin breaking down how each component of a suit should fit, I want you to keep the following pictures in mind so you have a reference point. The following pictures will give you a holistic picture of how a suit should fit and shouldn’t fit and it will help you understand the bigger picture as I go through each aspect of the suit.
The following picture shows you exactly how a suit shouldn’t fit:
This picture on the other hand, shows 2 suits that fit well:
Now that you have a general idea of how a suit should fit, let’s get into the specifics so you can achieve a perfect fit:
The collar should hug the neck (but not be tight) and the back of the collar should be at a height that allows for approximately half an inch of your shirt collar to show above it.
Common mistakes you will see when it comes to the collar include the following:
- The collar stands away from the neck.
- Bunching of horizontal ridges just beneath the collar
- The back of the collar is either too high resulting it riding up your neck, or it’s too low which reveals too much of your shirt.
You MUST ensure that the shoulders of a suit fit you when you buy it. The only part of a suit that shouldn’t be altered is the shoulders simply because of the cost of restructuring a jacket’s shoulders.
The end of the shoulder pad should end with your shoulder. The standard test for shoulder fit is with the shoulder-wall test. When wearing jacket, with your arms relaxed at your sides, slowly lean your shoulder into a wall. As you lean in against the wall, your shoulder and the end of the shoulder pad should hit the wall at the same time. If the shoulder pad touches first, then the shoulders are too large. If your shoulder touches first well before the shoulder pad, then the shoulders are too small for you.
With that said, the shoulder-wall test is just a guideline because of people’s unique body shapes. The best way to ensure proper fit at the shoulders is by using your eyes.
The following picture demonstrates where the end of a shoulder pad should optimally sit on shoulder:
Again, the goal is to have the shoulder pad end where your shoulder ends.
The common mistakes you will see are:
- Shoulders are too wide – this is characterized by a pronounced divot. Depending on your physique though, a very slight overhang or “divot” is acceptable.
- Shoulders are too narrow – The shoulder pad ends too high up on the shoulder. This is accompanied by pulling on the arms.
Another issue related to the shoulders is shoulder “rumpling.” If a jacket doesn’t properly fit your posture, or shoulder structure properly, there will be “bulges” along your traps as indicated in the following picture:
Instead, the line of the traps should be as straight as possible as seen in the following pic. Also notice how the end Manny’s shoulders are perfectly aligned with the end of the suit’s shoulder pads:
Fit Across the Shoulder Blades/Fit Across the Back:
There should be enough material across the shoulder blades so that you can make a slight fold in fabric in the area where the arm holes extend up the back to the neck. If there is not enough material here, then the suit is too tight and you will be much too constricted.
As for the fit across the back, there should not be any tugging, pulling or horizontal bunching at the back. If there is, that means your waist suppression is probably too tight. The vents of your suit should hang in a perpendicular line to the ground.
Most men usually wear suits that are too big in the chest area creating an unflattering, boxy silhouette. The chest and lapels of the suit should contour the shape of your chest but it should not be too tight or too loose. The lapels should not bulge nor should they pull on your chest – they should lie flat on the chest and should create a small gap between the stomach and lapel just above the suit’s top button. A good test for a correct fit across the chest is to slide your hand underneath the lapel while your top button is fastened (or middle button if you’re wearing a 3 button suit). While you should be able to do this, it must be snug. If you make a fist however, the jacket should pull at the button. If it doesn’t, there’s too much space in chest area.
There has been a recent trend to a super tight coat waist by celebrities and fashion magazines but this is traditionally not the correct fit. A jacket is too tight if an “X” is created around a fastened top button.
With that said, the waist should have a slight suppression to fit the contour of the body which helps create a “V –taper.” It should be tight enough but not to the point where it creates the “X” effect and it should not be so loose that you can put more than a tennis ball between your navel and the button.
Another important note is the position of the top button. In order to create visual balance and elongate both the legs and the upper body, the top button must be placed correctly. Essentially, the top button acts as a fulcrum. It should be placed around the height of the navel and not lower.
Here is how much waist suppression you should have:
The sleeves should not be boxy/baggy. This one is basically common sense here. You want the sleeves to be trim but not so trim that it’s form fitting or tight when you bend at the elbow. Look back at the bad suit examples from the beginning of the article. Those arm sleeves are much too wide and make the wearer’s arm appear like large cylinders. You don’t want this look.
The sleeves should also hang straight from the shoulder to the wrist. The term “sleeve pitch” refers to the angle at which sleeves are inserted into its armholes. If your shoulders are naturally rotated forwards or backwards, then this will cause horizontal wrinkles causing the sleeves to not lie smoothly. If this is the case, a tailor will have to adjust the positioning of the sleeves to accommodate your physique.
Another example of proper sleeve pitch:
Many men have suit sleeves that are too long. The proper length is dependent on the length of your dress shirt. Assuming that your dress shirt’s sleeve length is the correct, then your suit’s sleeve should allow between ¼ – ½ inch of the shirt’s cuff to be shown.
Typical suits have their armholes placed way too low and this creates an unflattering boxy look. A test for this is the handshake test. If you go to shake someone’s hand and the body of the suit raises up with your arms, then the armholes are too low. Again, refer to the image of poor-looking suits from earlier. Notice that each of the armholes are extremely low on the torso. You want your arms to be allowed to move more or less independently of the suit body. To achieve this, opt for suits with higher arm holes. The area in the underarm should be snug, but not tight and should have enough room for you to wear a dress shirt without digging into your underarms.
Just like with the positioning of the suit’s top button, the goal here is to maximize the length of your torso and your legs. There are generally two tests that used to determine the correct length of the jacket:
- Take the halfway point between the seam of the neck collar and the floor. The end of the jacket should fall here.
- The curled fingers test. In this test, you let your arms hang to the side and curl your fingers as though you’re about to grip something. According to this test, the jacket is the correct length if the bottom of it falls perfectly into the crevice formed by the curled fingers.
The problem with these tests is some people have disproportionally longer legs or longer arms. These two tests will not work for these people. If that’s the case, the seeing-eye test to have a balanced torso/legs would be a wiser choice.
The overall look of your trousers should be trim but not tight. Wearing boxy or baggy pants creates an extremely unappealing visual and makes you look over-weight and short legged. However, make sure that pants are not tight. You should be able to sit down and comfortably cross legs, bend over, and do any type of normal movement.
As for the general look of the trousers, unless you are a very heavy set man, I would stay away from pleats and instead, go for a flat fronted pocket. The flat front creates a more stream-lined and cleaner look and doesn’t add bulk the way pleats do. I would also go cuff-less at the bottom of the pants. Going cuff-less also adds to the stream-lined look and elongates your legs.
Keep in mind that the pockets and the front of the pants should lay flat. If there’s any horizontal pulling or buckling, this means that the pants are too tight and need to be let out. Look at the following pictures as an example. In the top picture, my pockets are flaring out indicating that the trousers need to be let out. In the bottom picture, the pockets of Manny’s trousers lay flat indicating a proper fit.
Since the time I last had the trousers altered until now, I had gained more muscle mass in my glutes and hamstrings which is causing the pockets to flare out as indicated in the following picture:
Another important note is suit trousers are meant to be worn higher up than jeans or chinos. This means they should sit anywhere between your natural waist or just below the belly-button. With that said, where they sit depends on the rise of the pants which is the length of the top of the pants to the bottom of the crotch. Pants with a higher rise should sit higher up on the waist and pants with a lower rise should sit lower. If there is too much space between your actual crotch and the end of the rise, then you’re not wearing the pants high enough which creates a messy look and makes your legs look shorter.
The length of the pants is classified by the break. A common mistake men make is they wear pants that are too long – e.g. it has too much break. This creates a heavy visual at the bottom of your legs and adds unnecessary bulk. The break is essentially how much folding bend is at the end of your pants and dependent on where the pants hit the shoe. If you want to be on the safe side, the gold standard break is the “medium/half” break. You won’t ever have to worry about this going out of style or being too risqué. In this break, there is a noticeable but not significant bend/fold at the end of the pants. This look is created by having the back of your pants sit about half way down the heel of your shoe.
Another viable, more “daring” option is the no break. In this look, there is no bend/fold at the end of your trousers and they sit right at the top of the shoe. Keep in mind though that the less break you have, the more tapered your trousers have to be to maintain a proper balance; this means that to have no break, your pants will have to be tapered at the bottom. The main benefit to this type of break is it creates the cleanest silhouette and elongates your legs compared to any longer break.
Either option of medium break or no break is fine in my opinion. I would strongly suggest sticking to either type of break or something in between. If you have more than a medium break, your pants look too baggy and shorter than no break, you’ll be paying homage to Steve Urkel.
To give you an idea of what these breaks look like, here’s Manny sporting a break that’s halfway between medium break and no break:
A final word:
Remember, the way your suit looks on you will affect not only how others will perceive you, but how you feel about yourself. Now that you’re armed with the necessary info to wear a suit properly, you will look and feel like a million dollars.