Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Brief Guide: A Suit That Fits

Tasha comments on the number of men in this city wearing ill-fitting suits.  She is a smart lady, and she is on to something.  You should listen.

I've written before about how to pick out a suit that is the right size, but that's only the first step.  You must get the suit tailored.  Gentlemen: You need to find a tailor (not the one who works at Jos. A. Bank) and build a working relationship with him or her.  I cannot over-stress this, particularly if you own more than one suit and wear them with any frequency.

When you take the suit to the tailor, be sure to wear dress shoes, dress socks, and a dress shirt to accurately simulate actual wear.  Once you get up on the box, there are several things you need to think about.  I will treat each of them in loving detail at some point in the future, but here's the nut graf for each.

Put on the pants.  Situate the waist where you like your pants to sit.  I like them a little bit low, that is, resting just above my hip bones.
  1. Break: How much distance between your sole and the bottom edge of your slacks?  This is personal preference.  Every tailor has a different definition of "full break" and "no break", so have him/her fiddle with the length until it's where you like.  I prefer the lower edge to firmly brush the laces of my shoes.
  2. Cuff: Or no cuff?  Generally, cuff for pleated slacks, no cuff for flat-front.  No cuff means you can get away with a higher break, if you are so inclined.
  3. Taper: How baggy are the legs?  Material can be taken out of the vertical seam running down the pants' outside edge.  I prefer a slimmer silhouette.  See what works for you.
  4. Seat: Does it look like you are wearing an adult diaper?  Have the tailor take in some fabric at the vertical seam running between your legs at the crotch.  Sometimes, taking some out of the seat resolves a taper problem, so you may be able to save money by trying to fix the seat first.
Put on the jacket.  Move your shoulders a bit until it drapes them properly.
  1. Sleeve: Between 1/4 and 1/2 inch of shirtsleeve should show when you stand naturally.  Move the jacket sleeve ends up a little bit to produce this effect.
  2. Waist: Jackets tend to fit baggy on me, so I have material taken out of the waist (a visual element known in the industry as "waist suppression").  But if you remove too much, the bottom button and its buttonhole will be too far apart and look funny when the other buttons are buttoned.
  3. Neck roll: On the back, below the collar, there may be excess material that bunches up.  Have it removed.
  4. Button placement: Now try to button the coat.  Sometimes, you'll need to move the buttons up or down to align with their buttonholes.
Finally: Expect your tailor to fight you on some and/or all of these points.  Tailors do this.  I do not know why, but it is a crucial and enjoyable component of the tailor-customer relationship.  (I once suggested a ticket pocket for a new suit; my tailor's head nearly exploded.)  Tailors especially resist shortening a suit jacket's sleeves.  Maybe they lose money on this alteration--but I doubt it.

At first, you should listen to your tailor to some extent.  They have enough experience to know what they are doing.  As you gain experience, you can be more insistent.  You will have enough experience to know what you want from the suit's fit.


    1. Dear Lee,

      See, I find this famously useful and am already composing the e-mai for forwarding it to my gentleman friend.

      Now I just need to find myself a proper seamstress and resist having her make me Victorian riding jackets.

    2. Rabbit: Resistance is futile.

    3. Dear Anonymous:

      Thank you so much for pointing out my copywriting error. I have edited the post and am going to leave your comment unpublished in the hopes that no one noticed and that you and I will be the only two witnesses to my shame. Thank you again.


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