The Single Most Important Thing in Choosing a Suit

When buying a new suit or having one made, for most, the majority of that thought process tends to be around colour and style (style being the suits’ overall aesthetic; notch or peak lapels, single or double breasted, patch or flap pockets etc). Those who have a better knowledge of suiting will also think about the weight they want (lighter weight 8/9oz for warm weather or 12oz + for cooler temps) and the cloth itself, which covers countless more options, from flannel and fresco, to tweed or mohair and everything in between.

Most hi-street brands tend to favour a similar approach, designed at appealing to (read: not offending) the widest range of potential customers (office workers whose interest in suiting is limited, seen as a necessary evil to get through work without raising eyebrows or upsetting the status quo) by making mid-weight worsted wool suits (or awful polyester blends) in safe colours and minimal patterns. What all of this overlooks though, is the single most important factor when choosing a new suit or having one made; fit.

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It’s as simple and as complicated as this: If the fit of a suit is not right, nothing else can save it. A poorly made, but well fitting, high-street suit with a glued canvas, machine made and, sadly, the standard for almost every suit on the market, will always outshine a hand sewn bespoke suit, which fits poorly.

Whilst the considerations of colour, pattern, cloth and style are important and have a significant impact on the how the finished product will look, the combined effect of these factors will still be secondary to how the suit fits. Admittedly, not many people will find someone who’s wearing a pastel pink jacket with a sky blue windowpane check to be overly appealing, but if that feels like a true reflection of your personality (which is a very small percentage of the population) then you’ll be able to wear it and make it work… providing it fits well.

Discussing button position, not dispassionately

Ambrosi, Napoli. Discussing button position, not dispassionately

If, to quote Oscar Wilde “A well tied tie is the first serious step in life”, then a well fitting suit is the second. A poorly fitting jacket or trousers are immediately noticeable and give the impression (whether rightly or wrong) of laziness and sloppiness (if the suit is too big) or vanity (if the suit is too tight). Put simply, a poorly fitting suit can’t be overcome by good cloth or nice details, but a well fitting suit can easily overcome a mediocre cloth. Fortunately, most of the time, fit can be easily fixed.

How to Assess Fit:

Among the simplest guidelines for assessing if fit is too tight is to look for stressed cloth. This is usually most easily identified by looking for horizontal lines which crop up where the cloth is being stretched. At the buttoning point on a tight jacket, 4 lines will form, forming an “X” where the front panels are being pulled. At the back,  lines will form where where back panel meets the sides. The same goes for the thighs on trousers, if the trousers aren’t wide enough to accommodate the legs sitting inside them. So, as a rule, if you’re seeing horizontal lines forming, it’s typically a sign that something needs to be let out.

Shoulders and neck: 

This area matters greatly, as it’s the hardest to fix if it’s not right from the start. A jacket should sit snugly against the neck, flowing down to the lapels which should smoothly follow the curve of the chest. A common mistake with collars is for them to sit back off the neck, leaving a gap between shirt and collar. The shoulders of a jacket should fall just over the tips of your shoulders, leaving the sleeve to hang cleanly without distortion. Too tight and the shoulder bulges out, pushing the sleeve with it and the shoulder can be seen pushing against the cloth. Too big and the cloth will hang over the edge of the shoulder, visibly collapsing whilst widening the silhouette. Both of these options fall into the category of major surgery for any tailor, let alone an alterations shop, which are rarely equipped with the knowledge required to properly fix an issue as complex as this. If the neck and shoulders of a jacket fit well, it’s a great starting point and one from which most other issues can be managed.

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Clean chest

Sleeves and Trousers cuffs:

The most common mistake you’ll see men make is in sleeve and trouser length – too much length is the usual issue. You’ll often see long sleeves which fall over the back and front of the hand, able to be grasped if you were to grab your palm. As a guide, the sleeve of the suit should finish at the point where the wrist meets the hand, with around half an inch of shirt cuff showing. Trousers are often seen pooling around the ankle with inches of extra cloth having no option but to bunch up on top of the shoe. Trousers, if cut slim, should rest just on the tops of the shoes. If they’re cut at a more traditional width (slightly wider) then they should fall onto the front of the shoe with a single clean break at the front and dropping cleanly at the heel.

If these two points alone are properly addressed it would instantly smarten up the standard of most men who ever wear a suit.

The right amount of cuff

The right amount of cuff

Back and Waist:

The waist should have a small amount of suppression, not so tight as to make the jacket look painted on, but not so loose that there’s a lot of excess cloth. Additionally, if the waist and back are too tight, they’ll risk pulling the back or side vents open, which makes you look like Beyonce. And you’re not Beyonce. Look for excess cloth bunching below the collar, too, this means that the cloth needs to be passed up into the collar to clean up the upper back. Additionally, at the base of the shoulder blades it’s not uncommon to find extra cloth here which will need to be passed into the sleeves.

 

 

First fitting. Tightness in the back, sleeve, waist and shoulder padding overhanging shoulders.

First fitting and a long way to go. Tightness in the back, sleeve, waist and shoulder padding overhanging shoulders.

A clean back. We ended up letting it out a little, though, as it was a bit too fitted.

A clean back. We ended up letting it out a little, though, as it was slightly too fitted.

The overall aim: 

Overall, a suit which fits well won’t draw attention to any one area, but it will give an overall impression of being well dressed whilst not trying too hard, or caring too little. When you realise just how many variables affect the fit, it’s a wonder that ready to wear suiting can even exist, but if you know what to look for then you’re in a better position to work with your tailor when making a suit, as well as knowing what you can have altered when buying off the rack.

 

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri.

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