Slimmer Clothes Don’t Necessarily Make You Look Slimmer
There’s no bigger myth in menswear today than the idea that slim clothes will make you look slimmer (or conversely, more voluminous clothes will make you look fatter). And since everyone wants to look like one of The Beautiful People, fashion writers keep churning out this terrible idea that slim clothes are for everyone, no matter how each of us are actually built.
Truthfully, I think clothes do very little to change how your body looks. A large guy will look large, and a short guy will look short, regardless of what they put on. The only thing clothes can do is not call attention to these facts. There are of course, a few exceptions – and they usually deal with sport coats or suit jackets, and how they can make a man look slightly more athletic or symmetrical than he really is – but for the most part, it’s true. Clothes will not make you look like a different person. 
Take a look at the photo above, for example, which shows France’s President Hollande shaking hands with Japan’s Emperor Akihito. Hollande’s suit demonstrates some of the problems that slim fitting clothes can have on a guy that’s neither slim nor athletically built. Slim jackets pucker and pull more easily, which can make your body look fatter than it actually is. Similarly, you’ll often see the same thing in trousers, where an overly slim cut can make your trousers catch on the back of your calves and ripple under your seat – neither of which will make you look particularly good.
Hollande’s trousers here fall cleaner, but they still make his feet look long and his torso heavy. For many guys, a slim suit can give them a silhouette that looks vaguely like a double Popsicle stick.
Emperor Akihito, on the other hand, is wearing a much fuller cut suit. Granted, he’s no Adonis himself, but the clean lines don’t call attention to this fact. Notice how his trousers, even if not fashionably slim, are well proportioned with his torso, and how his jacket give him a flattering build.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that slim fitted suits are bad. On the right guys (usually slim or athletically built men), they look fantastic. For everyone else, tread lightly. As usual, you should always value fit over everything else, and for the most part, that means avoiding clothes that pull, pucker, bag, or otherwise create lines where there shouldn’t be. Slim clothes won’t necessarily make you look slimmer, but good tailoring will always make you look better.  
(Photo via Ivory Tower Style)

Slimmer Clothes Don’t Necessarily Make You Look Slimmer

There’s no bigger myth in menswear today than the idea that slim clothes will make you look slimmer (or conversely, more voluminous clothes will make you look fatter). And since everyone wants to look like one of The Beautiful People, fashion writers keep churning out this terrible idea that slim clothes are for everyone, no matter how each of us are actually built.

Truthfully, I think clothes do very little to change how your body looks. A large guy will look large, and a short guy will look short, regardless of what they put on. The only thing clothes can do is not call attention to these facts. There are of course, a few exceptions – and they usually deal with sport coats or suit jackets, and how they can make a man look slightly more athletic or symmetrical than he really is – but for the most part, it’s true. Clothes will not make you look like a different person. 

Take a look at the photo above, for example, which shows France’s President Hollande shaking hands with Japan’s Emperor Akihito. Hollande’s suit demonstrates some of the problems that slim fitting clothes can have on a guy that’s neither slim nor athletically built. Slim jackets pucker and pull more easily, which can make your body look fatter than it actually is. Similarly, you’ll often see the same thing in trousers, where an overly slim cut can make your trousers catch on the back of your calves and ripple under your seat – neither of which will make you look particularly good.

Hollande’s trousers here fall cleaner, but they still make his feet look long and his torso heavy. For many guys, a slim suit can give them a silhouette that looks vaguely like a double Popsicle stick.

Emperor Akihito, on the other hand, is wearing a much fuller cut suit. Granted, he’s no Adonis himself, but the clean lines don’t call attention to this fact. Notice how his trousers, even if not fashionably slim, are well proportioned with his torso, and how his jacket give him a flattering build.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that slim fitted suits are bad. On the right guys (usually slim or athletically built men), they look fantastic. For everyone else, tread lightly. As usual, you should always value fit over everything else, and for the most part, that means avoiding clothes that pull, pucker, bag, or otherwise create lines where there shouldn’t be. Slim clothes won’t necessarily make you look slimmer, but good tailoring will always make you look better.  

(Photo via Ivory Tower Style)

“If it is flattering, then it is a good fit. Good fit does not necessarily mean following every contour of the body.” — Jeffery Diduch (via voxsart)

Q & Answer: How Do You Pick the Right Shoe Size Online?

Zack writes to us to ask: I’m interested in buying a pair of shoes online, but am having trouble figuring out if they’d fit. I emailed the manufacturer and they gave me the length and width measurements in millimeters. The problem is, I don’t know whether the longest part of my foot aligns with the longest part of the shoe. Do you have any suggestions for what measurements I should ask for, so I can make an educated guess?

I’m not a big fan of measurements for shoes. Like you, I never know what I’m supposed to do with them. 

The length of a shoe can vary depending on a few factors.

  • Size, most obviously. But you’d be surprised how little changes from size to size. The difference can be as small as an eighth of an inch.
  • Welting technique. By welting technique, I mean how the sole was attached to the uppers. The length of your shoes — as measured from the bottom of your soles — can vary depending on the welting technique, as well as within the same kind of construction. Check out the two shoes above, for example. One is from Allen Edmonds, the other from Edward Green. Both are made with Goodyear welts, but the heel on the Allen Edmonds sticks out a bit more from the heel cup, while the heel of the Edward Greens hugs the shoe. 
  • Heel design. Although not as common, some shoes will have what’s known as a canted or Cuban heel, such as these from Saint Crispin’s. Again, compare them to the straight-down heel of the Allen Edmonds shoe above, and you can see how this would affect the measurement of the shoes at the bottom of the sole. 
  • Most importantly, the last. The last is the wooden form on which the leather is pulled over so that it can take a certain shape. You can have lasts in all sorts of shapes. Some shoes can be round and stubby (like Alden); some can be very long and pointy (like Gaziano & Girling). This will affect the length of a shoe more than anything else. You can have two perfectly fitting shoes, but one might be slightly longer simply because the toes were designed to look sleeker. 

In the end, it’s not even the length of your shoes that matter, but rather the heel-to-ball measurement. Critical to your fit is where the heel and ball of your feet sit in your shoes, not whether the ends of your shoe come within a certain distance to your toes.

There’s really only one way to figure out your size online, assuming you can’t try stuff on first.

  • Figure out your Brannock size. Go to a place like Nordstrom and ask someone to measure you. It’s sometimes good to get both feet measured, as few people have the same sized feet. 
  • Ask the store or manufacturer for advice. Not all salespeople will know what they’re talking about, so take their advice with a grain of salt. That said, there are few better places to get sizing advice than from the store or manufacturer you’re buying from. They’re the ones who are likely to be most knowledgeable. Tell them your Brannock size, and if you have other high-end shoes, your size in other brands and models. I don’t mean sneakers like Nike, but rather dress shoes from companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, etc. 
  • Check this advice against the forum threads. Styleforum has the biggest archive of all clothing forums, but depending on what kind of shoes you’re buying, Superfuture and Ask Andy About Clothes can be useful as well. Iron Heart and Denimbro are also good for workwear type stuff. The key here is to search the archives before posting anything, as there’s usually a wealth of information you can mine. 

Finally, once you get your shoes, you can check to see if they fit according to this post.

Long story short: measurements are good for clothes, but bad for shoes. To find your size, you have to do some other stuff.

(Photos via Leffot, The Shoe Buff, and Bengal Stripe)

The Silhouettes of Jackets

I’ve paid less and less attention to Pitti Uomo photos over the years, largely because so much of it gets monotonous. This past tradeshow, however, I caught these three photos from Tommy Ton over at GQ and thought they’re worth highlighting, if only to underscore the importance of how a suit is styled and shaped — two aspects which are just as important as how a suit fits. 

How a suit fits and how it’s styled are two different things. Fit can be basic and not so basic, and we’ve written a ton about the subjectFor a suit jacket or sport coat, having a good fit means making sure the collar stays on your neck (even as you move your arms), the chest doesn’t buckle away from your body, the shoulders end near your natural shoulder joints, and that there aren’t any ripples or pulls anywhere. Somewhat straightforward. 

Style is different. Style is not just about the fabric chosen and pocket details, but also about how the jacket is shaped and cut. 

Take the first photo, for example, of the three young guys in blue suits. All three wearing slim, columnar silhouettes, with low rise trousers and narrow shoulders. The lapels are a bit wider than what’s normal for such looks, but it’s a style that was made popular by Hedi Slimane when he designed for Dior Homme. These kinds of suits have been tremendously popular for over a decade now, but they only really look good on very skinny guys, such as these three. 

In the next photo, we have Mark and Jake from The Armoury, who are wearing something a bit more comfortable and relaxed looking. On Jake (the dude in the darker grey suit and pink shirt), the shoulders are a bit extended, the trousers come up higher, and the notches on the lapel are a bit lower than what’s popular nowadays. Still soft shouldered like everyone else’s jackets at the tradeshow, but the overall effect is different. Perhaps more Armani than Slimane. 

Lastly, Antonio from Eidos Napoli in the third photo is wearing a dark brown suit that he designed himself. Slim fitting, like the first photo we saw, but less columnar, as the chest looks slightly more relaxed (giving the illusion of a more nipped waist), and the quarters (which is that part of the jacket just below the middle button) sweep away as it falls towards the hips. The overall line, going from the top of the lapel down to the hem, is a lot more curved. 

A suit should always fit well, but how it’s styled is a totally open question. Pay attention to the different shapes that a tailored jacket can take, and you’ll notice that they can be framed like As, Vs, Xs, or columnar Is. Some shapes will look good on you, some will not, but that’s where the fun really begins — finding the style that’s right for you. 

To learn more about silhouettes, you can read our old post here

(Photos via Tommy Ton)

How To Size Shoes
If you’re anything like me, you buy most of your clothes online. It’s easy, convenient, and a great way to comparison shop. The problem, of course, is that you can’t try things on, so you don’t know how things will fit before they arrive. Most of us just hit checkout and pray for the best. 
With shoes, things can be especially dicey. They need to fit right, but it’s not always so obvious whether they do when you try them on. You can walk around a bit to see if they’re comfortable, but comfort is subjective (especially when you really, really like the style and they were on sale). Plus, shoes often need a breaking in period to feel just-right anyway. Which is why it’s not that surprising when you hear about guys spending a pretty penny on a nice shoe collection, only to find out a year or two later that they bought everything in the wrong size. 
So, to avoid that, here’s a quick and dirty guide on how shoes should fit. From the basics to the less-known pointers. 
Figure Out Your True Size
As Jesse noted, if you’ve never been professionally measured with a Brannock device, the chances that you know your real size are slim. Most guys assume they’re whatever size they picked for sneakers in high school, but sneakers are sized differently than dress shoes, and most are very cushy. Which means, if you’re a half size off, it might not be a big deal. Dress shoes, on the other hand, are a lot less forgiving, so you need to know your true size. To find it, go somewhere like Nordstrom to get measured. 
Once you know your true size, you can use that as a baseline for getting sizing advice. If you’re buying from a store, ask a sales rep; if you’re shopping on eBay, turn to StyleForum (where there’s a wealth of advice in the archives). Remember: different shoes fit differently, so sometimes you’ll have to size up or down (although, most dress shoes do fit true-to-size). 
The Basics of Fit
As you know, shoes are sized by length and width. Let’s start with length. Except for certain slip-ons, there should always be a bit of space between the ends of your shoes and your toes, which means if your toes are butting up against the shoe, you need to size up in length. Similarly, make sure the ball of your feet match up with the ball of the shoe. 
Width, as we’ve mentioned, is more about the total circumference of the shoe, as measured around the ball, rather than just the width itself. So if your shoes feel tight at the sides or top, then size up in width. Remember: leather breaks in pretty easily, so don’t worry if they’re a touch snug. They just shouldn’t feel painful when you walk.
The Most Obvious Giveaways
Perhaps the best way to tell if your shoes fit is by seeing how the eyelets look when you lace them up. If the eyelets are really far apart, like you see above, then you’ll need to size up (most likely in width). If they come crashing together, then you’ll need to size down. 
Additionally, check to see where your shoes bend as you walk. Proper fitting shoes should flex pretty close to where your foot naturally flexes. If you see the creasing creep up too close to the toes, you’ll want to size down (this is easiest to tell on cap toe shoes, where the creases should never cross into the cap itself). If the leather is cutting into your foot as it bends, then you’ll want to size up. 
A Note About Heel Slippage 
Finally, a word about heel slippage. Don’t think that just because your heel slips a little that your shoes are too big (obviously, the term “a little” can be subjective, so use your best judgment). Some shoes have really stiff soles, and they’ll need a little breaking in before they feel right (this is mostly true for slip-ons, such as double monks and loafers). If they slip just a tiny bit, but everything else above checks in nicely, then trust that you probably have the right size. 

How To Size Shoes

If you’re anything like me, you buy most of your clothes online. It’s easy, convenient, and a great way to comparison shop. The problem, of course, is that you can’t try things on, so you don’t know how things will fit before they arrive. Most of us just hit checkout and pray for the best. 

With shoes, things can be especially dicey. They need to fit right, but it’s not always so obvious whether they do when you try them on. You can walk around a bit to see if they’re comfortable, but comfort is subjective (especially when you really, really like the style and they were on sale). Plus, shoes often need a breaking in period to feel just-right anyway. Which is why it’s not that surprising when you hear about guys spending a pretty penny on a nice shoe collection, only to find out a year or two later that they bought everything in the wrong size. 

So, to avoid that, here’s a quick and dirty guide on how shoes should fit. From the basics to the less-known pointers. 

Figure Out Your True Size

As Jesse noted, if you’ve never been professionally measured with a Brannock device, the chances that you know your real size are slim. Most guys assume they’re whatever size they picked for sneakers in high school, but sneakers are sized differently than dress shoes, and most are very cushy. Which means, if you’re a half size off, it might not be a big deal. Dress shoes, on the other hand, are a lot less forgiving, so you need to know your true size. To find it, go somewhere like Nordstrom to get measured. 

Once you know your true size, you can use that as a baseline for getting sizing advice. If you’re buying from a store, ask a sales rep; if you’re shopping on eBay, turn to StyleForum (where there’s a wealth of advice in the archives). Remember: different shoes fit differently, so sometimes you’ll have to size up or down (although, most dress shoes do fit true-to-size). 

The Basics of Fit

As you know, shoes are sized by length and width. Let’s start with length. Except for certain slip-ons, there should always be a bit of space between the ends of your shoes and your toes, which means if your toes are butting up against the shoe, you need to size up in length. Similarly, make sure the ball of your feet match up with the ball of the shoe. 

Width, as we’ve mentioned, is more about the total circumference of the shoe, as measured around the ball, rather than just the width itself. So if your shoes feel tight at the sides or top, then size up in width. Remember: leather breaks in pretty easily, so don’t worry if they’re a touch snug. They just shouldn’t feel painful when you walk.

The Most Obvious Giveaways

Perhaps the best way to tell if your shoes fit is by seeing how the eyelets look when you lace them up. If the eyelets are really far apart, like you see above, then you’ll need to size up (most likely in width). If they come crashing together, then you’ll need to size down. 

Additionally, check to see where your shoes bend as you walk. Proper fitting shoes should flex pretty close to where your foot naturally flexes. If you see the creasing creep up too close to the toes, you’ll want to size down (this is easiest to tell on cap toe shoes, where the creases should never cross into the cap itself). If the leather is cutting into your foot as it bends, then you’ll want to size up. 

A Note About Heel Slippage 

Finally, a word about heel slippage. Don’t think that just because your heel slips a little that your shoes are too big (obviously, the term “a little” can be subjective, so use your best judgment). Some shoes have really stiff soles, and they’ll need a little breaking in before they feel right (this is mostly true for slip-ons, such as double monks and loafers). If they slip just a tiny bit, but everything else above checks in nicely, then trust that you probably have the right size. 

Q and Answer: Can Shoes Be Stretched?
Daniel writes us to ask: Can shoes be stretched? I recently acquired a really nice pair of penny loafers, but they’re a bit tight. Can these be fixed?
The short answer is: Yes, depending on the material, shoes can be stretched, but only widthwise, not lengthwise. Which means if they’re butting up against your toes, you’ll need to size up, but if they’re a little tight on the sides or top, a good cobbler can fix them for you. 
The long answer is: You can stretch shoes out in any direction, but it’s not advisable to do it lengthwise. That’s because you can’t lengthen the insole, so when you stretch the uppers, you risk damaging the heel and toe stiffeners. Plus, crucial to the fit of your shoes is where the heel and ball of your foot sit. It’s not possible to stretch shoes lengthwise without affecting these positions, and wearing shoes that don’t fit can cause health problems. We don’t recommend it. 
So then, why can you stretch shoes widthwise? Partly because of how shoes are built. The term width is a misnomer, as it doesn’t just measure the width of your shoes at the ball of your foot; it measures the overall circumference. In fact, many manufacturers use the same sole pattern for at least two widths, which means if you take a smaller width, your shoes get shallower, not narrower. Stretching them out widthwise, then, just gives you a bit more volume — allowing your feet to feel more comfortable without affecting the important aspects of fit.
You can have your shoes stretched by a cobbler, but before taking them there, wear your shoes for a week or two. Leather easily stretches anyway, and you may find that your shoes will naturally ease with time. If they don’t, a good cobbler will have more tools than what you can buy on Amazon (which is where you can get simple shoe stretchers). Just note that materials such as suede and calf will be easy to work with, while shell cordovan will not. 

Q and Answer: Can Shoes Be Stretched?

Daniel writes us to ask: Can shoes be stretched? I recently acquired a really nice pair of penny loafers, but they’re a bit tight. Can these be fixed?

The short answer is: Yes, depending on the material, shoes can be stretched, but only widthwise, not lengthwise. Which means if they’re butting up against your toes, you’ll need to size up, but if they’re a little tight on the sides or top, a good cobbler can fix them for you. 

The long answer is: You can stretch shoes out in any direction, but it’s not advisable to do it lengthwise. That’s because you can’t lengthen the insole, so when you stretch the uppers, you risk damaging the heel and toe stiffeners. Plus, crucial to the fit of your shoes is where the heel and ball of your foot sit. It’s not possible to stretch shoes lengthwise without affecting these positions, and wearing shoes that don’t fit can cause health problems. We don’t recommend it. 

So then, why can you stretch shoes widthwise? Partly because of how shoes are built. The term width is a misnomer, as it doesn’t just measure the width of your shoes at the ball of your foot; it measures the overall circumference. In fact, many manufacturers use the same sole pattern for at least two widths, which means if you take a smaller width, your shoes get shallower, not narrower. Stretching them out widthwise, then, just gives you a bit more volume — allowing your feet to feel more comfortable without affecting the important aspects of fit.

You can have your shoes stretched by a cobbler, but before taking them there, wear your shoes for a week or two. Leather easily stretches anyway, and you may find that your shoes will naturally ease with time. If they don’t, a good cobbler will have more tools than what you can buy on Amazon (which is where you can get simple shoe stretchers). Just note that materials such as suede and calf will be easy to work with, while shell cordovan will not. 

Q and Answer: Where Can I Find Odd-Sized Suits?
Mike asks: Where can I find odd/less common suit sizes (my natural fit is a 45r, which is quite difficult to find)?
Some companies size more specifically than others. Some use S-M-L-XL sizing (blech!), some just go with even number chest sizing (36-38-40), some add short and long sizes and some go whole hog with odd numbers in the mix as well. The very best even offer semi-tall sizing off the rack.
Your best bet for odd sizes are traditional American retailers like Brooks Brothers and Paul Stuart. They consistently carry these sizes up to 46 or so.
After that, consider European-sized coats. You’ll find that the sizing translations are rough, since “subtract ten” rule of thumb is inexact. A size 52 Euro, for example, is actually a size 41, though it’s likely to be labeled a 42. A 54 Euro is about a 42 1/2. You can learn more about how the conversions work here.
And of course there’s always the classic backup option: alterations. Buy something very slightly too large, and have it altered. Remember that the portion of a jacket that’s above the armholes is really tough to alter, but the waist is pretty manageable.
One good bit of news: when you have an unusual size, eBay can really be your friend. Strange sizes mean less inventory, but also much less competition. The odds that someone else is searching for a 45R coat and likes the one you like are relatively slim, so you have a shot at some great bargains in an auction context.

Q and Answer: Where Can I Find Odd-Sized Suits?

Mike asks: Where can I find odd/less common suit sizes (my natural fit is a 45r, which is quite difficult to find)?

Some companies size more specifically than others. Some use S-M-L-XL sizing (blech!), some just go with even number chest sizing (36-38-40), some add short and long sizes and some go whole hog with odd numbers in the mix as well. The very best even offer semi-tall sizing off the rack.

Your best bet for odd sizes are traditional American retailers like Brooks Brothers and Paul Stuart. They consistently carry these sizes up to 46 or so.

After that, consider European-sized coats. You’ll find that the sizing translations are rough, since “subtract ten” rule of thumb is inexact. A size 52 Euro, for example, is actually a size 41, though it’s likely to be labeled a 42. A 54 Euro is about a 42 1/2. You can learn more about how the conversions work here.

And of course there’s always the classic backup option: alterations. Buy something very slightly too large, and have it altered. Remember that the portion of a jacket that’s above the armholes is really tough to alter, but the waist is pretty manageable.

One good bit of news: when you have an unusual size, eBay can really be your friend. Strange sizes mean less inventory, but also much less competition. The odds that someone else is searching for a 45R coat and likes the one you like are relatively slim, so you have a shot at some great bargains in an auction context.

Q and Answer: Where’s My Waist? Where Should My Jacket Button?
Wyatt asks: I’ve heard said both on your blog and elsewhere that a jacket should button at one’s natural waist (about at the belly button) but I’ve had a devil of a time finding jackets that fit me this way. Is a higher buttoning point a current trend? 
And, while we’re discussing the waist, since it also seems that one’s trousers should sit at or close to one’s natural waist, does that mean that the platonic ideal of a suit would have the jacket buttoning at the belt-line?
That’s quite a question, Wyatt. But we can answer it.
Let’s start by getting one thing straight: your waist is not at your navel. Your waist is at the top of your hips.

Finding Your Waist
Make your hand flat, and karate chop your hip with the edge. Then drag that edge of your hand up your side. When the bone ends and your body goes inward, that’s your waist. You may carry some weight on your love handles that makes this a little harder to feel, but you’ll find it. For most people, the waist is a couple inches above the navel.
Take a look at Luciano Barbera above: he’s wearing a very classically-proportioned coat and pants. I’ve used my spectacular art skills to point to his waist, and to draw the side of his body with perfect realism. His tie obscures it slightly, but you can see that even with his coat splayed by his hands, his beltline and buttoning point converge at his waist, and you can’t see his shirt below that point.

Things Change
Fashion has not followed these rules, of course. In the past ten or fifteen years, the rise of trousers (the distance between waistline and crotch) has gotten much smaller. Your pants waist has moved down several inches from your natural waist. Many pants these days barely cover your pubes.
Meanwhile, the buttoning point of jackets has been moving the opposite direction: up towards the sternum. It’s not uncommon to find the functional button on a coat two or three inches above the waist. Press the button on one of these coats, elevator-style, and you’ll feel it in your solar plexus.
Fashion is fashion, and in fashion things change because things change. That’s fine. But there are some practical aesthetic issues with these changes.
Depending on your shape, you can get away with all this stuff. Currently fashion favors a slim, youthful silhouette over a more athletic or portly one. No matter what your silhouette, though, you can end up with a weird triangle of fabric under your coat button and above your belt, which is just plain goofy-looking.

The Upshot
The shape of a coat is meant to flatter and emphasize a man’s natural shape, so the further that button gets from the place an ideal man’s body is naturally narrowest, the more difficult it is to do that.
The lower the trouser waist gets, the more difficult the pants are to wear, and the more difficult it is to hang them flatteringly - soon all that’s holding them up is some friction and your butt.
So: make your choices advisedly. Rules are made to be broken, but they were put in place for a reason.

Q and Answer: Where’s My Waist? Where Should My Jacket Button?

Wyatt asks: I’ve heard said both on your blog and elsewhere that a jacket should button at one’s natural waist (about at the belly button) but I’ve had a devil of a time finding jackets that fit me this way. Is a higher buttoning point a current trend?

And, while we’re discussing the waist, since it also seems that one’s trousers should sit at or close to one’s natural waist, does that mean that the platonic ideal of a suit would have the jacket buttoning at the belt-line?

That’s quite a question, Wyatt. But we can answer it.

Let’s start by getting one thing straight: your waist is not at your navel. Your waist is at the top of your hips.

Finding Your Waist

Make your hand flat, and karate chop your hip with the edge. Then drag that edge of your hand up your side. When the bone ends and your body goes inward, that’s your waist. You may carry some weight on your love handles that makes this a little harder to feel, but you’ll find it. For most people, the waist is a couple inches above the navel.

Take a look at Luciano Barbera above: he’s wearing a very classically-proportioned coat and pants. I’ve used my spectacular art skills to point to his waist, and to draw the side of his body with perfect realism. His tie obscures it slightly, but you can see that even with his coat splayed by his hands, his beltline and buttoning point converge at his waist, and you can’t see his shirt below that point.

Things Change

Fashion has not followed these rules, of course. In the past ten or fifteen years, the rise of trousers (the distance between waistline and crotch) has gotten much smaller. Your pants waist has moved down several inches from your natural waist. Many pants these days barely cover your pubes.

Meanwhile, the buttoning point of jackets has been moving the opposite direction: up towards the sternum. It’s not uncommon to find the functional button on a coat two or three inches above the waist. Press the button on one of these coats, elevator-style, and you’ll feel it in your solar plexus.

Fashion is fashion, and in fashion things change because things change. That’s fine. But there are some practical aesthetic issues with these changes.

Depending on your shape, you can get away with all this stuff. Currently fashion favors a slim, youthful silhouette over a more athletic or portly one. No matter what your silhouette, though, you can end up with a weird triangle of fabric under your coat button and above your belt, which is just plain goofy-looking.

The Upshot

The shape of a coat is meant to flatter and emphasize a man’s natural shape, so the further that button gets from the place an ideal man’s body is naturally narrowest, the more difficult it is to do that.

The lower the trouser waist gets, the more difficult the pants are to wear, and the more difficult it is to hang them flatteringly - soon all that’s holding them up is some friction and your butt.

So: make your choices advisedly. Rules are made to be broken, but they were put in place for a reason.

Q and Answer: How Slim Should Pants Be?

John writes us to ask: Where do you land on the tapering and fullness of trousers? Just yesterday, I came across a really nice flannel suit at a thrift shop. The jacket fits like a glove, and the trousers just need a tiny bit of hemming … but I feel like the legs are practically stovepipes. Maybe I’m too used to wearing skinny trousers, but those big suit legs make me feel like I’m in a 1930s costume. How much can one take out of the legs, and when should you leave well enough alone for fear of ruining the balance of a suit?

There’s not an easy answer to this, as a lot depends on your body type, sense of style, and whatever is in fashion at the moment. Men wore trousers that were quite full in the ’30s and ‘40s, and then slimmed them down in the ‘50s and ‘60s, only to have them full again in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Throughout these times, however, good tailoring stood as good tailoring – and unless you’re going for much more avant garde looks – that typically means having clean lines all around, with no puckering or pulling on the front or back of your trousers.

How pants should fit, however, is very different from their silhouette, which means as long as you follow those basic principles, how you want your trousers to look is largely about taste. My personal rules of thumb are:

  • Beware of going overly slim: Very slim trousers are in fashion at the moment, but they’re harder to pull off than most people think (perhaps figuratively and literally). I find they look best on men with very skinny frames or middle-of-the-road athletic builds, but not so great on everyone else. When wearing slim trousers, be honest about whether they look flattering on you.
  • Add a little tapering: It’s nice to have a little tapering below the knee, just to add some shape to the legs. If you have pleats, however, be careful about narrowing them too much, lest you want to exaggerate the silhouette. Similarly, pay attention to how your feet look in proportion. Large leg openings can make your feet look unusually small, while narrow ones can make them look unusually big.
  • Keep things proportional to the jacket: Perhaps most obvious, keep things in proportion to your sport coats or suit jackets. I do find, however, that unless you’re at the extremes of silhouettes, there’s a lot of wiggle room to be had here. Slim trousers can really sharpen up a traditionally cut sport coat, so don’t be afraid to slim things down if you think it might make the overall silhouette look better.

In his book Eminently Suitable, one of my favorite menswear writers, Bruce Boyer, wrote: “wearing clothes well is still something of an art – it has not descended to one of the sciences.”  Other than fitting well, there’s no hard rule for how trousers should look, so it’s largely dependent on your body type and sense of style. That doesn’t make things easy, but it does make things more exciting and interesting.

Above: some photos from The Sartorialist that, I think, illustrate how men can look good with slim, full, or middle-of-the-road cuts.    

How Pants Should Fit

We’ve written about how tailored trousers should fit before, but our friend Ed over at Panta Clothing just posted some images of a pair trousers he made for a customer, and nothing beats a great example. 

When trying on pants, most people first look to see if the waist fits comfortably, but the waist is actually one of the easiest things to alter. If they’re a little loose, you can take them in, and if there’s enough material inside, you can let them out. The only exception is maybe cotton, where letting out the waist can leave visible holes where the stitching used to be (this doesn’t happen on wool because of the fuzzy nap). 

Instead of focusing on the waist, look for three things:

  • First, make sure the thighs fit comfortably. The legs can be tapered pretty easily from the knee down, but the thighs should fit fairly perfectly off-the-rack. (You can alter the thighs, but it comes with a bit more risk). 
  • Second, look at the seat. On the Panta trousers above, the seat is perfectly clean, with no rumples or folds. This is the hardest part to get right, not just because everyone is shaped differently, but also because we all stand differently as well. For example, if you stand with your hips forward, you’ll need a pair of trousers with a slightly shorter “rise” at the back (“rise” being the measurement from the crotch seam to the waistband). Note, to see whether the seat fits you, you’ll have to look at yourself in a three way mirror, as twisting your torso around will affect how the pants fit. And don’t get too hung up with whether there are a few folds here and there. It’s better to aim for a cleaner fit than not, but you are moving around in these things, obviously. 
  • Third, see if the pants catch on the back of your calves. This is more of an issue with really slim trousers, particularly if you wear over-the-calf socks. If they do catch, you’ll see a bunch of rippling around your calves. 

Overall, the idea for how pants should fit is very much like the idea for how shirts, sport coats, or suits should fit: there shouldn’t be any puckering or pulling anywhere, and you should have clean lines all around. The ones by Panta above are particularly nice, and unless you’ve having something custom made, it might be hard to achieve something as good. Still, the example above is a great way to show what you should aim for. 

(Photos via pantaclothing)