How Should a Suit Fit? Your Easy-to-Follow Visual Guide

by Antonio on September 25, 2013 · 47 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

If you’re dressing on a budget, one of the most popular pieces of advice out there is to buy off-the-rack suits in the best fit you can get, and then take them to a tailor for custom adjustments.

That’s good advice. You’ll find it in several articles right here on the Art of Manliness.

But if you’re really going to get any benefit out of having your suits adjusted, you need to know a little bit about tailors and the kinds of adjustments they can (and can’t) make.

You also need to know what a “good” fit actually looks like.

Tailors vary in skill and in how they communicate the work they’re doing, so getting a suit adjusted is only going to deliver a good return if you can make your exact needs clear.

Below, we give you an easy-to-follow rundown on how your suit should fit.

What a “Good Fit” Looks Like

Good-Fit-vs-Bad-Fit-400-AOM

Can you guess which man had his suit tailored to fit?

When you try on a suit, you’re looking for a good fit in what’s called your “natural stance.”

That means standing up straight, preferably in the kind of dress shoes you’ll be wearing with your suits, with your arms relaxed at your side.

It’s not actually a very natural posture for a lot of us, but it is the base from which most of our movement flows. If the suit doesn’t fit well in this stance, it’s not going to move comfortably with your body either.

Practice standing in that relaxed, upright pose, and then start trying on suits in that posture. Look for a good fit in the following areas when you’re in your natural stance:

The Shoulder

Shoulder_cAOM&RMRS_400

A well-fitted shoulder lies flat. The seam on top of the shoulder should be the same length as the bone under it, and should meet the sleeve of the suit right where your arm meets your shoulder.

If the seam that connects the sleeve to the jacket is hiked up along your shoulder bone, or dangling down on your upper bicep, the jacket is never going to sit properly. In these instances, you’ll see “ripple effects” that create lumps or wrinkles on the sleeve and the top of the jacket.

Shoulders are one of the hardest parts of a jacket to adjust after construction, so don’t buy a piece with an ill-fitted shoulder. Odds are you’ll never be able to get it quite right with post-purchase alterations.

The Seat

Seat_cAOM&RMRS_400

The back of your trousers should be a smooth drape over the shape of your rear end — whatever that happens to be.

A good fit in the seat will lie loosely against your underwear, without pulling tight against your butt or draping loosely down your thighs.

You can spot a bad fit in the seat when there are horizontal wrinkles just under the buttocks (caused by too tight of a fit), or by loose, U-shaped sags on the backs of the thighs (caused by too loose of a fit).

A tailor can “take in” a seat to make it tighter in the back without too much difficulty, but there’s a limit to how far he can go. If the seat was way too loose to begin with, it’s not possible to adjust it to fit without pulling the pockets out of place.

Unless the pants have an unusual amount of spare cloth on the inside, seats can’t be “let out” very far to make the fit looser. Err on the side of too loose rather than too tight when buying.

Trouser Break

Trouser-Break_cAOM&RMRS_400

The “break” is the small wrinkle caused when the top of your shoe stops your trouser cuff from falling to its full length.

This should be a small, subtle feature. One horizontal dimple or crease is usually ideal. The cuff should indeed rest on the top of your shoe — there needs to be contact — but it shouldn’t do much more than that. The trouser can fall a touch longer in the back than in front, so long as it’s still above the heel of the shoe (the actual heel, not just the back of the shoe).

This is one of the easiest adjustments to make, so you can rely on making some changes here if you need to. In fact, dress pants are often sold unhemmed, with the assumption that the purchaser will take the trousers to a tailor (or make use of the store’s tailor if there is one) to have the cuffs fitted.

The Jacket Closure

Jacket-Closure_cAOM&RMRS_400

When you are wearing a suit and standing, you should have the jacket buttoned (you know the jacket buttoning rules, right? Click here to learn!).

This means that part of the trying-on process is checking how the front of the jacket closes over your body.

Close a single-breasted jacket with only one button when you’re testing the fit, even if it’s a three-button jacket. You’re looking to see if the two sides meet neatly without the lapels hanging forward off your body (too loose) or the lower edges of the jacket flaring out like a skirt (too tight).

The button should close without strain, and there should be no wrinkles radiating out from the closure. A little bit of an opening at the bottom of the suit is fine, but the two halves beneath the button shouldn’t pull apart so far that you can see a large triangle of shirt above your trousers. (Ideally, you shouldn’t see any, though a bit is socially acceptable, especially when you move.)

Taking in or letting out the waist to help the jacket close more comfortably is not a difficult adjustment, but it’s one with limits. Don’t expect a tailor to be able to make huge changes here. If the jacket closure looks really bad unaltered, it’s probably due to problems beyond the waist measurement, and you should be looking for a different jacket rather than planning on getting that one altered.

Jacket Sleeve Length

J.SleeveLength_cAOM&RMRS_400

“A half-inch of linen” is a good, old-fashioned guideline for the relationship between a suit jacket and the shirt worn under it — about half an inch of the shirt cuff should be visible beyond the jacket cuff.

That said, it’s a general guideline, and you don’t need to get too obsessive. What you do need to be sure of is that the suit sleeve doesn’t rise above the cuff entirely — the seam where the shirt cuff joins the shirt sleeve should never be visible.

Similarly, the jacket sleeve should never hide the shirt sleeve entirely. At least a small band of shirt cuff should always be visible.

For most men, that ends up being a jacket sleeve that terminates just above the large bone in the wrist. But everyone’s arms are slightly different, and sleeve length is a very easy adjustment for a tailor to make, so get the best sleeve length you can (erring on the side of too long if possible) and then have it adjusted to fit.

Jacket Length

Jacket-Length_cAOM&RMRS_400

Not enough time or writing gets devoted to the overall length of men’s jackets. It’s more important than most people think!

A good suit or sports jacket should fall past the waist and drape over the top of the curve formed by the buttocks. An ideal fit will cover a man down to the point where his butt starts to curve back inward, and stop there (but anywhere in that general region is okay).

The hands are also a good marker here, and this is why it’s important to have your arms relaxed in your natural stance. The hem of the jacket should hit right around the middle of your hand — at or just past where the fingers meet the palm.

If the hem of the jacket is sitting on top of the butt, with a small little flare in the back, it’s too short. If it falls past the bottom entirely, longer than the arms, it’s too long. The hem can be adjusted upward without too much trouble, but if you go too far the front pockets start to look out of proportion, so don’t count on more than an inch or two of adjustment here.

Jacket Collar

Jacket-Collar_cAOM&RMRS_400

It’s easy to tell a well-fitted collar from a poorly-fitted one, although identifying the cause of the bad fit can be challenging.

Your jacket collar should rest against your shirt collar, which in turn should rest against the back of your neck. All of these should touch lightly, without significant gaps in between.

If the collar is too loose, it’s very easy to spot — there will be a gap where it’s flopping back off your neck.

A tight collar is a little harder to spot on a jacket, since (unlike a shirt collar) it’s almost all in the back. Turn from side to side as needed and check it out in a mirror. A tight collar will create bunching and folds just beneath it, and often wrinkles the shirt collar underneath it as well.

Bad collar fit could just mean the neck size is wrong for you, but it’s often caused by a larger fit issue: bad shoulder sizing, a back panel that’s too small for you, or even a jacket that’s constructed with more of a forward or backward tilt than your neutral stance.

Since these adjustments cost time and money to fix, you want to get as good of a fit in the original jacket as possible at the collar.

Four Automatic “Bad Fit” Warnings

There are a couple of easy to spot problems that are major warning signs. A suit with these “bad fit” signs is one that you probably won’t ever be able to adjust to a really good fit.

Unfortunately, most of them are caused by the core structure of the suit — and that means that your body just isn’t a good match for the way that particular brand makes its pieces.

Be patient, try on lots of brands, and don’t compromise (unless you know it can be fixed!).

If you can’t afford bespoke (made to order), an adjusted off-the-rack suit can work — but you have to start with a pretty good fit in the first place, or it’s never going to get the results you want.

Unless you want to pay for alterations, be careful buying any jacket that’s showing these serious warning signs:

The Dreaded X-Shaped Button Strain

Dreaded-X_cAOM&RMRS_400

If you can see wrinkled lines radiating outward from your jacket button when you close the jacket, it’s too tight and will need adjustment.

The Dreaded X, as my friend Barron over at Effortless Gent likes to call it — is not a look you seek in a well-fitted jacket.

Front button strain is indicative of a bad fit in the torso, and it can go beyond just the waist size — you’re probably straining at the shoulders or in the back, too. On a more basic note, it also means the button is going to be prone to popping off.

Don’t buy a jacket that shows strain lines radiating outward from the button. If you’ve got an old jacket that used to fit but has started showing them, it’s possible that you’ve either gained weight or accidentally shrunk the jacket in a wash — in that case (assuming the fit was good before), you may be able to have the waist let out a little and keep the jacket in use.

Shoulder Divots & Upper Arm Wrinkles

Shoulder-Divots_cAOM&RMRS400

If the sleeve of the jacket seems to dip in slightly just under the shoulder, and then flare back out again, the shoulders are too big. What you’re seeing is the shoulder padding protruding beyond your arm, and the cloth of the sleeve tucking back in underneath it.

You can also get those wrinkles if you’ve got a somewhat slouched stance and the jacket is stiffly-constructed for a more upright posture. In either case you’ll need to get a smaller size, so that the seam where the shoulder meets the sleeve matches up with your body’s shoulder, or give up and try a different brand.

Shoulder Wrinkles — Top Rumpling

ShoulderRumpling_cAOM&RMR400

If you’re getting noticeable bunching on top of your shoulder, rather than on the upper sleeve, the jacket is too large in the shoulders.

This could be a simple length problem, but more likely it’s that the interior space is simply too large — your shoulders aren’t broad enough, front to back, to fill out the jacket.

Try a slimmer fit, if the manufacturer offers multiple styles, or a smaller size. If you’re still seeing wrinkles on the tops of your shoulders, the brand probably isn’t going to work for you.

Twisted Sleeves — Bad Sleeve Pitch

Sleeve-Pitch_cAOM&RMRS400

Faint spiraling wrinkles on the outside of the sleeve occur when the angle of your arm in its natural stance doesn’t match the angle that the sleeve was constructed with. The result is a sleeve that looks slightly twisted even when your arms are hanging still at your sides.

A tailor can theoretically remove the sleeves and reattach them at a slightly different angle, but it’s not a simple or a cheap fix. Generally speaking, you can consider this one a deal-breaker. Keep trying until you find a jacket where the sleeves fall smooth and straight when your arms are resting in their natural stance.

Watch a Video Summary of This Post


_______________________________________

Written By:
Antonio Centeno
Founder of Real Men Real Style
Creator of The Style System – a college-level course that teaches the foundations of professional dressing so you control the message your image sends.

{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim September 25, 2013 at 5:13 pm

Great post Antonio- Brett thanks for letting guys like this post

I have found out buy fewer suits from reputable places and they make you look good. Quality just never goes out of style

tim

2 Jeremy C. September 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Good article! Wish I could wear a suit everyday.

3 John September 25, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Nice guide! The trouble with knowing how a suit *should* fit, is then never being happy with one that *almost* fits.

A word of warning- if your cuff has working buttons, sleeve length adjustment becomes slightly less simple.

Also, before you buy it, think of how the jacket sits around your backside. If you have a “prominent seat” as I do, a single vent will sit open, and look bad. I always go for twin vents.

4 Matthew Perryman September 25, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Hey, a very good article.
I am a man who was about 220lbs and lost 30lbs recently so all of my suits were too big and also as a Masters Student with a limited Budget I couldnt afford 4 new suits so I went to a local tailor in my market and as I am interested in looking good I asked him pointers on fitted suits and this article was pretty much what he told me.

5 Terrence Higgins September 25, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I have been selling suits for 35 years and I couldn’t agree with you more, you are right on target about everything. The trick is to convey this message to the man buying the suit, but all salesman should know these facts. Those who don’t should be avoided as amateurs. The dreaded X shape is not correctable and when I see it I shudder. Usually very skinny men have this problem. I also rarely find a man that is actually the size they think they are as pertains to the drop. Muscular men have an illusion of themselves being smaller in the waist then they really are. Remember suit trousers are different than slacks. Too skinny of a leg creates a bell look to the suit. I also hate too long of sleeves and too long of trousers. Instructing men in this requires tact, which you possess. I shall inform all my colleagues of your sight as it is elementary.
Thank you for your insight,
Terry Higgins

6 josh_k September 25, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I bought a new suit for my graduation from seminary this past April. For the first time I stepped up a to a real quality men’s store and got some alterations done. The guy was a magician and the suit fits incredibly well.

I know some of us won’t wear a suit on an ever day basis, but whatever your needs it really is worth going quality and getting a few adjustments rather than just picking up the generic special off the rack. Also, the salesmen at a quality store know clothes a lot better than the college kid working at the department store. They’ll help you find something that looks good on you and is practical for your needs.

Also, John, you are so right about the single vs. double vents in the jacket. I have the same problem.

7 Wolfgang September 25, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I love everything about this post. Details on what a tailor can and can’t do with a suit is exactly what I’ve been looking for.

8 Caleb September 25, 2013 at 9:18 pm

In reference to the jacket length, this is a good post if this is your first suit or you only plan on having one. However, shorter jackets are very stylish if worn properly.

9 Brock September 25, 2013 at 9:20 pm

This is a pillar post, Antonio and Brett. Love the illustration style! Keep ‘em coming.

Oh, and I see lots of guys these days with their pants hemmed extra short, showing some colorful sock. It’s trendy, for sure, but kind of cool, especially for shorter guys (it gives an appearance of extra height).

What do you think about this?

-B

10 Shane September 25, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I would love to go out and buy myself a suit as I am nearing the end of my part-time job for college looking into start my career, but I never know where to go for good quality, yet affordable suits. This is a good start for me at least to know what to look for in a suit to fit right.
Thanks!

11 Brian September 25, 2013 at 10:09 pm

My problem with buying suits is my built: just shy of 50 inches in the chest and very meaty in the glutes and legs. Every suit I can find that will fit me seems to be built for someone 6′ 5″ and I’m only 5′ 8″!

Usually I can do okay with the jackets, but every pair of trousers has the crotch somewhere down by my knees!.

12 David Tong | September 26, 2013 at 2:07 am

Excellent as always, Antonio.

Having lost a few inches off my gut and added some width to my shoulder/chest, I found a couple of my jackets ill-fitting.

Good thing they weren’t/aren’t exactly expensive but still annoying.

The problem with cheaper jackets is that I always struggle to justify the cost of altering them.

At 5’7, it’s hard finding off-the-rack jackets that fit reasonably well yet not too long for my frame. After a while, it seems to make more sense having them made, though the thought of changing body size in the future bothers me (still trying to shed an inch or two).

Dave

13 Aless September 26, 2013 at 4:25 am

THIS IS WONDERFULL I TELL YOU ! Sry for caps, but it was needed.

14 Eddie September 26, 2013 at 7:14 am

I have the same issue as Brian. I am 68.5″ tall and about 200lbs even. I have a 34in waist, 17.5 in neck and a broad chest and wide shoulders. I love lifting weights but heaven forbid I get any bigger, I’ll never find anything nice to wear. If I buy any thing in large, its too tight, XL is too long.

15 Tomas September 26, 2013 at 9:53 am

Spot on: informative, easy to read and very useful in everyday life. This sort of articles is the reason I became a fan of the site. Thanks an keep them coming!

16 Rick John September 26, 2013 at 10:28 am

If you need advice contact me. I was in the clothing business for many years. Pro Bono

17 Lindsey September 26, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Wonderful article! One thing to add to the pants portion. Please explain how suit trousers should be worn at the natural waist. It does no good to get them hemmed in this position and then wear them around your hips. The mulitple breaks, oh how they drive me crazy!

18 Larry September 26, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’ve worn a suit maybe twice in the past fifteen years, but I’ll keep in mind for the next time! )))

19 Steve September 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Although I don’t need this information myself, this is a great guide for the beginner/person buying their first suit who needs a few pointers.

If you are about to embark on your first suit buying adventure, I can tell you with hand on heart that there is nothing better than walking out in a well fitting suit, I don’t get to do it nearly enough, but when I do, I feel great, and always nice to get compliments from the ladies! Being “suited and booted” is probably the best look we males can get…if our gear fits us properly.

Oh, and Caleb makes a sound point, a lot of modern suits are cut quite short these days, and it is now an acceptable look (which gives the shorter guys a bit more scope/choice when suit hunting)

20 NeoVG September 26, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Funfact: The wrongs are either hipster or hip hop.

21 Darren September 26, 2013 at 7:38 pm

@Brian, you’d be surprised how inexpensive (relatively speaking) custom suits are. I have a tailor in Siena, Italy who makes custom suits for me for 700 Euro (about 1100) in REALLY nice wool. Better one good one than two or three bad ones…

22 Darren September 26, 2013 at 7:40 pm

P.S. My father used to have custom suits made in Singapore. 250 bucks.

23 cbrand September 27, 2013 at 9:50 am

Thanks for yet another great article. My teenage son is in a mixed jazz choir and the young men are required to wear matching suits which were ordered from a well known, men’s retailer.

I went with my son for his “fitting” and I had to practically arm wrestle with the in-house tailor and salesperson to make many of the changes you noted above. They kept saying, “These will be expensive alterations etc. etc. etc.” I said that I was happy to pay for them.

Enough venting…. I have a question about break. My son is small and trim. He seems better served with a more Euro cut suit. Is it acceptable to forego the break? (Note, in the first picture it looks like the trousers have little or no break.). Also, how short is too short in the jacket?

24 Ryan September 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Interesting article, helped pinpoint why wearing suits is always so unpleasant for me. My measurements are so far away from “standard” that (based on the advice here) nothing short of bespoke will ever fit correctly…for the shirt/jacket alone, different measurements put me at everything from M to XXL. Pulled out the one sport coat I own; sure enough, pretty much every “bad fit” indicator in the article was present in one direction or another. Kind of funny. Fortunately, it’s all academic since I’m never called upon to wear them; there’s no way I’d ever be able to justify dropping the scratch for something quality. Even the “inexpensive” suits Darren mentioned are jaw-droppingly pricy for those of us in the thrift store tax bracket.

25 sikandar ali September 29, 2013 at 12:53 am

sir, a very good and informative article. Could you also please keep us updated with the latest fashions/style in vouge ie single breasted ) one button, two buttons, three buttone)/double breasted, the collar/lapple style etc etc . Thanks.

26 Dan Harrison September 29, 2013 at 12:58 am

I am a suit specialist for a British company called TM Lewin, check their youtube channel, in particular the “Know Your Size” videos to see how we do it.
There are also other useful videos on their from style to packing for a business trip presenyed by, our Head of Creative Design, John Francomb.

27 bgl September 29, 2013 at 2:07 am

I wear suits regularly, but here in the south, it’s extremely uncomfortable to wear long sleeved shirts in the summer; ergo, I wear short sleeved dress shirts with suits. Any suggestions for jacket length with short sleeved dress shirts? Forgoing such shirts in a Georgia summer is not an option.

28 Rishi Chullani September 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm

This is a great article. Unfortunately, it seems like while most men pay a lot of attention to that which covers their torso, they don’t pay enough attention to their trousers.

The points you mention about how the trousers should fit on the back side, in addition to the important quarter break as opposed to half or full break have been really well covered and illustrated here.

This is definitely a very comprehensive guide covering how a suit should fit and the elements that need to be paid attention to.

29 Sue October 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

What fitting suggestions or tailoring adjustments are made for osteoporosis? This stooping posture causes an unbuttoned jacket to flare open at the bottom in the front, while the back of the coat sticks out from the waist and hip area.

30 Sean October 4, 2013 at 12:43 am

I think its worth mentioning that certain aspects of the fit may depend on current fashion trends. One that comes to mind is that it has become fashionable for some suits to be just a little bit longer in length nowadays. I purchased a beautiful TM Lewin slim fitting suit just the other day and it fit perfectly with the only adjustment required being hemming of the trousers. The length of the jacket was slightly longer than what I was used to but it was designed this way and looked very sharp!

31 Justin October 7, 2013 at 11:22 pm

It’s hard to find a suit that fits well without going to a tailor you purchase it, Esp if you buy a suit a zara or TK max

32 Ian ST John October 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

A tailor can only do so much before labour costs start to approach bespoke levels. Nowadays, suit separates are available form several big box brands in both classic (heavy) and modern (slim) fits. This should enable the majority of guys to attain a reasonable initial fit, which may be fine tuned by their tailor. If all else fails, there are always blazer and slacks, Roger Moore is rarely seen in anything else.

33 Gandalf October 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Great post. The illustrations are totally spot on! Even gave me a chuckle.

34 Feminist Kate October 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Is anything in this world more stylish, charismatic and, dare I say it, sexy, than a man in a well-fitted suit?
No, sir, there is not.

35 Captain October 17, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Great post, thanks for sharing. Do the rules for “fitting” change as current fashion trends change?

36 Will November 18, 2013 at 8:38 am

I always love to see a perfect and clean sleeve pitch.

37 AED December 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Great info! I knew a lot, but still a few of these I didn’t know. I’m lucky (in suit shopping terms, anyway) as I have a very ”medium” built. between 5’10” and 5’11”, 32 inch waist, very average arm and leg lengths. Many suits fit very well off the rack. Still even better with some fitting though of course!

38 Daniel January 14, 2014 at 1:54 am

When the article says things like ‘a half inch of the shirt should be visible’ please not that this is a general rule of thumb. Think proportions. Small men may need less than that, some larger men may need more.

39 dave January 14, 2014 at 4:09 pm

A few things: changing up the bottons for genuine bone, antler or shell makes a suit or jacket look more expensive, and is relatively cheap. But get your tailor to do it if you don’t know how to sew bottons properly.

@ Brock – trendy may be fashionable but it’s seldom well dressed. Hipster fit is too Euro fashionista to fly as ‘well dressed in the US’.

40 rahul mishra January 15, 2014 at 12:42 am

Nice informative articles to those who want to know details of tailored clothing!!
Great guide for suit buying as well.

41 Sam disuja January 21, 2014 at 4:36 am

I agree: clothes make a big difference! I find it really hard to find good fitting t-shirts even though I’m not big at all. I just have broad shoulders and a slightly smaller waist. Everything seems to be made for people the other way round.

42 Mark G January 23, 2014 at 9:08 am

Great article! My tailor actually just called as I was reading this to let me know my new suit is ready :)

43 Kay January 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

Hi guys
I live in a suit free environment so can’t ask friends –
Is is normal when wearing a tailored coat or jacket to have rather limited arm movement (After years of wearing duffle coats etc., I have bought a ‘proper’ coat and wonder if it’s too small or if it’s normal that the back feels tight when I lift my arms or stretch them out)? Cheers. Kay

44 Dan DeSantis January 28, 2014 at 10:46 am

I am distressed with the look of men’s suits these days. They look like they don’t fit and are too small. I believe that the suit length should reach the tip of one’s thumb, not the middle of the palm of the hand. Also. to see a tie sticking below the button of the suit jacket is to me, appalling. No matter what the fashion is, I would never where a suit like you describe.

45 Toby flenderson February 2, 2014 at 1:20 am

Speaking of lousy fitting suits, I nominate Joel McHale on The Soup.

His dressers have managed to commit EVERY fitting error listed in this article.

I would bet any random suit found in a Goodwill store would fit better than what this poor guy is made to wear.

46 Scott February 9, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Thank you for your great advice, it really helped me in buying my first suit.

47 Joseph February 17, 2014 at 1:58 am

Nice article to get the basics right.

There is only one thing I would slightly disagree with or at least comment on: In my personal experience the length of jackets has become a little more open to personal tastes. I found several designers to produce jackets today, that are a little shorter than a few years ago and also a little shorter than your suggestion.

I personally find jackets that end around your thumb’s first knuckle (regarding to your pictures exactly between the “perfect” and the “too short” fit) to look a little more fashionable. I had my last tailor made suit made that way and am very happy with the length and receive a lot of compliments. However, this only works with slim-fit, two-button, single-breasted suits. With a conservative suit you might be better off with the “classic” length.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter