As much as I encourage you to grow up your wardrobe and steer you towards the world of suits and sport coats, I feel like I’ve done you a disservice by not fully diving into the subject about proper fit.
In the beginning, it’s a big step introducing suits and sport coats into your regular rotation, so the last thing I’d want to do is overwhelm you.
If you’ve been following EG for a while now, there’s a good chance you’ve acquired your first suit or sport coat, or are on the hunt for your first one.
It’s important you school yourself on the finer details, especially if you’ve taken a liking to wearing sport coats more regularly. I always stress the importance of fit, and nowhere is poor fit more obvious than in suit jackets and sport coats.
In this article, we’ll cover a few lesser-known indications of poor fit. Hopefully the next time you’re out shopping for a suit, you can recognize these problems in the mirror and either swap for a different size, or shop at a different store, if necessary.
First, the justification for bespoke
There is a reason why full bespoke suiting can cost upwards of $5000+. In addition to materials, constructing the garment itself is very, very time-consuming. It’s meticulously done by hand, requires multiple fittings, and can take a tailor anywhere from 50-100 working hours for one suit.
The benefit of this? A garment that fits like a second skin, something that masks bodily imperfections (e.g. uneven shoulders, odd shape, broad chest, large gut, etc.) and enhances your best features.
The shortcoming? An empty wallet, for one. Bespoke suiting isn’t cheap, and the option isn’t even available to everyone… not only because of prohibitive costs, but also because there just aren’t that many bespoke tailors around anymore. It’s a craft in which few still participate.
Nevertheless, going bespoke is one way to avoid the most common problems I’ve listed below. In case that isn’t an option for you, well… read on and we’ll figure out a workaround.
Two more obvious signs of bad fit
You may already know of these telltale signs. When trying on suits or sport coats in a store, stand straight with arms at your sides. If you see these, it most likely doesn’t fit you correctly.
The Dreaded X
Put on your favorite sport coat and button the top button (or the middle button if it’s a three-button).
Does the fabric pull at the fastening point, forming an X with the wrinkles? This means the jacket is too snug.
There should be no pulling where your jacket buttons. Some trendy, fashion-forward suits are slimmer and may be more snug, but from the standpoint of classic suiting, this isn’t a correct fit.
Do the test: One open hand, palm down, should fit between your buttoned jacket and your shirt. If you make a fist, the jacket should pull and become snug.
You may need to go up a size, or lose some of that belly. If you’re going up a size, the shoulders may be too big. If that’s the case, try your size at a different store, or look for a different cut of suit (e.g. “traditional” cut instead of modern cut, which tends to have less waist suppression).
Shoulder divots form when a suit jacket’s shoulders are too big and extend past your natural shoulder. It becomes extremely visible right below the shoulder seam when you lift your arms even slightly.
Another cause of shoulder divots is when the wearer has sloping shoulders or a slightly hunched-over stance, but the jacket is constructed with more square shoulders, or designed for a man with an upright stance.
The most common test for correct shoulder pad fit: With your jacket on and arms at your side, touch a wall with your arm like you’re about to lean up against it. You should feel the padding touch the wall, followed almost immediately by your upper arm. The jacket should follow the lines of your body smoothly.
Go down a size, and / or try on other brands that have a more relaxed, less structured shoulder.
Three other signs of bad fit you may not be aware of
Here’s where things get interesting. You probably have heard of the X and shoulder divots before, but I’m about to list a few things you may not have considered. Pay attention.
Also known as Prole Gap (go look that one up), collar gap refers to the gap between the back of your shirt collar and the jacket’s collar. Ideally, there should be no gap at all.
Your jacket’s collar should follow the line of your shirt collar exactly, almost as if they’re stuck together. The jacket’s collar should never move away from the back of your shirt collar, even if your arms are flailing above your head.
What causes collar gap? A few possibilities here.
- The jacket doesn’t fit in the chest and / or back
- The neck of the jacket is cut too big for your body shape
- You may have forward-leaning shoulders (if you slouch a bit) and the jacket was constructed for someone with a more neutral, upright stance
- One of your shoulders may be lower than the other (more common than you’d think)
This is why proper shoulder fit is monumentally important when it comes to suit jackets and sport coats. Take a long look at the collar area and see if there’s any gap.
In fact, check right now, with the suit hanging in your closet. Put on the jacket and see if you recognize any collar gap. It’s one of those things that once you see, you can never un-see, especially when looking at other guys in suits.
Going bespoke. Alternatively, trying on many, many different jacket models from various brands to see whose drape and general construction works best for your body.
The more I pay attention to collar gap, the more I wonder if this is ever 100% avoidable.
More on collar gap
Weird Shoulder Rumpling
This is somewhat related to the shoulder divot, but is noticeable at the top of the shoulder, from the lapel all the way to the sleeve cap. Rumpling can happen when the jacket’s shoulders are too big for the wearer, or if the jacket wasn’t constructed to accommodate the wearer’s natural stance.
It could also appear when the wearer’s actual shoulders don’t fill out the jacket’s shoulder area. This causes the fabric to dip, collapse, or display a generally wrinkled appearance.
Always remember the line that forms atop your shoulders and down your arms should be as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.
Try on a few jackets from a few different brands. Some jackets are made for men with a more upright stance or straight shoulders, while others can be more forgiving.
Keep in mind, though, that sometimes, it’s simply unavoidable when buying off-the-rack suiting.
I’ve tried on many jackets that fit perfectly in the shoulders and body, yet I still get a bit of rumpling. Do the best you can.
Also remember that the amount of padding will affect the shoulder’s smoothness. If your jacket fits well and has a really structured shoulder, you should see less rumpling. If you have an unstructured, unpadded jacket, you may see more, but that’s just the nature of the garment.
Sleeve pitch refers to the positioning of the jacket’s sleeve relative to your arm’s neutral position. You can expect wrinkling in the sleeves as you move your arms around, but if you find wrinkling when in a neutral stance, there’s a good chance your sleeve pitch is off.
Not everyone’s arms and shoulders have the same neutral position, and wrinkling can occur if both the sleeve’s positioning and the arms’ neutral positioning don’t sync up.
If you’re in the market for a new suit, pay attention to the fabric when you are standing straight with arms at your sides. Check out a side view, and a back view of yourself if possible. If there’s wrinkling at the arm, you should try on a different jacket, model, or brand.
If you already own a suit and noticed excessive wrinkling when your arms are in neutral position, sleeve pitch can be fixed. But, as with all a tailor’s alterations, it comes with a price.
Hopefully you can find a brand whose jacket construction has the correct pitch, but if not, you have to take it to a tailor.
More on sleeve pitch
“How can I avoid all these issues?!?”
The best solution I can suggest, other than going fully bespoke, is to simply try on many, many jackets. You’ll get the feel for correct fit and what brands and models suit you best (ha! pun.)
Another good idea: go to a high-end department store with knowledgable salespeople (Neiman Marcus, Barney’s, etc.) or a high-end specialty men’s boutique specializing in suiting. The “knowledgable salespeople” bit is important. Here’s why.
If you do this, be honest with the guy. Tell him you’re interested in learning about properly-fitting suits and what best fits your body. Ask him for his help and opinion as to what looks best. Most good sales guys will be happy to exhibit their vast knowledge of proper fit.
You can be upfront with the salesperson if that makes you feel better. Tell him that you’re not planning on buying today, but wanted to try jackets on so you know what fits you best.
If you get an asshole assisting you, don’t be discouraged. Just come back next time and ask someone else. If you have the slightest suspicion that the salesman doesn’t know what he’s talking about (or if he’s dressed poorly himself), continue to nod in agreement as you back away slowly, then run out the door as swiftly as possible.
I hope this helps you recognize signs of improper fit the next time you’re out and about shopping for a suit. Now that you’re aware, your shopping experience should be much better.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, I hope it’s this: Everything should be smooth. Smooth, clean, fluid lines, from the shoulders all the way down to the hem.
If you pay attention to how the jacket drapes (i.e. lays) on your shoulders and body, it should be smooth. No crazy wrinkling, no mountains of puckering fabric, no fabric tugging at the fastening points.
Now I want to hear from you
Have you bought a suit or sport coat recently, or are you looking to buy a suit soon? Did you look for these signs of bad fit? Looking forward to hearing from you in the comments.
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