Three Basic Points of Fit: Waist, Shoulder & Length

I want to highlight a few fit mistakes I see all too often on men in the street - and even in professionally-styled photos. To help, I’ve created one of the most brilliant Photoshop illustrations of all time to serve as guide - I call him Nude Dude. I’ve also presented a professionally-shot and styled photo that mostly gets it wrong (Pro Photo), and a picture of our friend Mistah Wong getting it right.

Here are three important points of fit:

  1. The waist. The center button of a three-button jacket and the top button of a two-button jacket serve as fastening point. Their placement is vitally important. It should be on the waist. See that red line running across the top of Nude Dude’s hips, right around his belly button? That’s the waist. This is where you want the sides of your jacket coming together, just above the hips, where your body heads back out. Remember that a longer line in the upper body makes you look taller and stronger.

    If you look at Pro Photo, you’ll see that the waist button is nearly at the model’s sternum. If you’re thin and have narrow shoulders, your jacket will hang more or less straight down, and this will be less of an issue, but if you’re a man, with a little extra volume in the chest or gut, it’s a problem. Current fashion favors high-to-very-high waist buttons. You can see that even this model looks awkward.

    Compare to our friend MW. His buttoning point is still on the high side in a nod to current styles, but not absurdly so. Keeping it around the waist flatters his grown-up body. MW isn’t a skinny teenager, and he has no reason to want to look like one. Or worse, like he’s trying to squeeze into a teenager’s ill-fitting clothes.
  2. The length. The general rule of thumb is that a jacket should cover your rear. I’ve drawn a big red line on Nude Dude to illustrate the approximate placement. You can go a little longer, but you should be careful to make sure your legs don’t look shorter than your upper body.

    Our friend Pro Photo’s jacket barely reaches the bottom of his fly. It’s a little unflattering to a model, but very unflattering to anyone with some meat on their bones.

    MW’s coat is similarly styled - but it actually fits his body. Note that even from the front view we can see that it’s relatively longer. This makes him look leaner. MW isn’t especially tall, so he wants to balance a longer torso and a longer legline, and he does it very well here.

  3. The shoulders. Like all these elements, shoulder width is affected by style and trends. No matter what the style, though, the fit of your jacket’s shoulder should flatter your natural shoulder line without looking artificial.

    If you pat the side of your shoulder, with your hand perpendicular to the ground, you should be able to feel first the jacket shoulder, then within half an inch or so, your actual shoulder. A soft shoulder must be very close, a more padded shoulder has a bit more leeway - but it should still be extremely close, even in an exaggerated silhouette.

    A stronger shoulder, as was favored in the 30s & 40s and again in the 70s and 80s, makes for a strong silhouette. Still, the shoulder line should be clean and natural-looking. All the tucking and pulling going on in Pro Photo makes it tough to tell for sure, but those weird ripples may be a sign of a shoulder that’s a little big and a little ill-fitting. Either way, he’s not too far off in this department.

    Mistah Wong’s shoulder line is very soft - both the Neopolitan and American Ivy League styles favor soft shoulders, in contrast to the British - but see how it naturally follows his real shoulder line? At the same time, it smooths and flatters that line. With a soft, sloping shoulder he looks less “strong,” but more relaxed and comfortable.

These are three points of fit that are essentially inalterable, and they’re three I see men blithely ignoring every day. Hopefully this will help you look your best!

mostexerent:

Hiking boots…
Via novh:

There’s always been something powerfully appealing to me about this look.  It’s a sort of Dustin Hoffman, “All the President’s Men,” mid-70s, turtleneck, Elliot Gould type thing that can really look wonderful on the right guy.  Of course, on Robert Redford, a Snuggie would look wonderful.

mostexerent:

Hiking boots…

Via novh:

There’s always been something powerfully appealing to me about this look.  It’s a sort of Dustin Hoffman, “All the President’s Men,” mid-70s, turtleneck, Elliot Gould type thing that can really look wonderful on the right guy.  Of course, on Robert Redford, a Snuggie would look wonderful.

Q and Answer: What’s the Difference Between a Suit Jacket and an Odd Jacket or Sportcoat?
Mike from Michigan asks: You shouldn’t wear a suit jacket without its matching pants. I  understand the rule, but why? What’s the actual difference between a  suit jacket and a blazer or odd jacket? What about odd vests? Wouldn’t  they almost always come from a three piece suit?
Suit jackets and odd jackets are very different beasts.
A suit jacket is more formal, and generally designed for business.  That means harder, smoother finishes on the fabric (typically worsted wool), more sober colors, business patterning (like pinstripes or chalk stripes), and buttons that roughly match the color of the jacket.
In contrast, odd jackets are more casual - they’re often called sportcoats because they were originally worn for sport.  Patterns and colors can be much bolder.  Fabrics are usually more textured.  For blazers, the fabric may be solid in color, but there is often significant texture, and almost always contrasting buttons (be they metal, horn or even white mother of pearl).  You won’t see stripes on an odd jacket unless they’re the stripes of your boat club and you’re bound for the regatta (like the fellow pictured above). 
There are some suit jackets that can be worn as odd jackets, but if you want a general rule - just don’t do it.  Sometimes a bold country suit - say in corduroy or tweed - could be separated, for example.  Cotton or linen suits can often be separated as well - think of their natural textures as a “goes both ways” feature.  Of course, you then run into the problem of your pants and jacket soiling and wearing at different rates, which you don’t want.
As for odd vests or waistcoats… they certainly can be purchased individually, particularly in the UK.  Generally speaking, wearing an odd vest is such a bold statement that it should only be undertaken if you live across the pond, or if your personal inclination is towards the dandy.  Tattersall waistcoats have a long equestrian history, but otherwise most odd waistcoats are in solid, contrasting colors.  The StyleForum member ManOfKent is a great example of how they’re worn.

Q and Answer: What’s the Difference Between a Suit Jacket and an Odd Jacket or Sportcoat?

Mike from Michigan asks: You shouldn’t wear a suit jacket without its matching pants. I understand the rule, but why? What’s the actual difference between a suit jacket and a blazer or odd jacket? What about odd vests? Wouldn’t they almost always come from a three piece suit?

Suit jackets and odd jackets are very different beasts.

A suit jacket is more formal, and generally designed for business.  That means harder, smoother finishes on the fabric (typically worsted wool), more sober colors, business patterning (like pinstripes or chalk stripes), and buttons that roughly match the color of the jacket.

In contrast, odd jackets are more casual - they’re often called sportcoats because they were originally worn for sport.  Patterns and colors can be much bolder.  Fabrics are usually more textured.  For blazers, the fabric may be solid in color, but there is often significant texture, and almost always contrasting buttons (be they metal, horn or even white mother of pearl).  You won’t see stripes on an odd jacket unless they’re the stripes of your boat club and you’re bound for the regatta (like the fellow pictured above). 

There are some suit jackets that can be worn as odd jackets, but if you want a general rule - just don’t do it.  Sometimes a bold country suit - say in corduroy or tweed - could be separated, for example.  Cotton or linen suits can often be separated as well - think of their natural textures as a “goes both ways” feature.  Of course, you then run into the problem of your pants and jacket soiling and wearing at different rates, which you don’t want.

As for odd vests or waistcoats… they certainly can be purchased individually, particularly in the UK.  Generally speaking, wearing an odd vest is such a bold statement that it should only be undertaken if you live across the pond, or if your personal inclination is towards the dandy.  Tattersall waistcoats have a long equestrian history, but otherwise most odd waistcoats are in solid, contrasting colors.  The StyleForum member ManOfKent is a great example of how they’re worn.

(via free-man)
These are fall colors, but it’s such a wonderful combination, I thought I’d repost it now.

(via free-man)

These are fall colors, but it’s such a wonderful combination, I thought I’d repost it now.

This, from “Old Dog,” is a wonderful example of a well-matched combination of patterns and colors.  The solid-color knit tie allows Old Dog to wear a bolder blue striped shirt.  Note that the color, type of pattern and scale are all different on the shirt and coat.  The bolder blue of the shirt and purple/yellow of the square make an outfit built around tan and brown feel Spring-y.

This, from “Old Dog,” is a wonderful example of a well-matched combination of patterns and colors.  The solid-color knit tie allows Old Dog to wear a bolder blue striped shirt.  Note that the color, type of pattern and scale are all different on the shirt and coat.  The bolder blue of the shirt and purple/yellow of the square make an outfit built around tan and brown feel Spring-y.

I love the way that Mark from Dallas has transformed the most basic ensemble a man can wear - blue blazer and tan pants.  Not just the gingham shirt, but a pocket square in a completely unexpected color.  Rather than picking up colors from his shirt and tie, he’s picking up the color of his pants and his skin tone.  Well done!

I love the way that Mark from Dallas has transformed the most basic ensemble a man can wear - blue blazer and tan pants.  Not just the gingham shirt, but a pocket square in a completely unexpected color.  Rather than picking up colors from his shirt and tie, he’s picking up the color of his pants and his skin tone.  Well done!

A lovely photo of an ensemble put together by Philip from Toronto.  Texture is so important - even in summer when you’re contrasting, say, nubby linen and smooth cotton - but especially in the winter when you have a whole array at your fingertips.  It’s one of the reasons knit ties are so useful; they add both color and a rich texture.

A lovely photo of an ensemble put together by Philip from Toronto.  Texture is so important - even in summer when you’re contrasting, say, nubby linen and smooth cotton - but especially in the winter when you have a whole array at your fingertips.  It’s one of the reasons knit ties are so useful; they add both color and a rich texture.

What a coat. That’s what a buttonhole looks like, folks.

What a coat. That’s what a buttonhole looks like, folks.

A Trip to the Tailor

I found my tailor the old fashioned way: by passing by while I was walking my dog.  Having a relationship with a tailor is an immense help to any man who wants to dress well — whether he’s a fancy-pants fella making bespoke suiting on Saville Row, or, like mine, a friendly Korean immigrant and his wife whose main work seems to be making Nancy Reagan-like suits for middle-aged Korean ladies who lunch.

I just got back from picking up an order, and I thought you might be interested in what a guy who doesn’t get his suits made at Norton & Sons does there.  So in that spirit, here’s what I got done:

  • I recently scored a pair of Incotex corduroys in a golden wheat color from Loehmann’s for $29.  They needed to be finished, so my tailor marked their length and finished them without cuffs.
  • I purchased two pairs of pants from Ebay recently.  The first was a lovely black watch plaid wool pair, which was probably from the 60s or 70s, but had never been worn or even hemmed.  I had him put some big (1.75”) cuffs on them for me.  Ten bucks or so.
  • The second pair was a beautiful part of black and gray houndstooth checked pants from the old Abercrombie & Fitch.  It turned out when they showed up that they were made by Oxxford Clothes in Chicago, probably the highest-quality American ready-to-wear clothier.  They needed to be shortened a bit, so we took care of that.  About $10.
  • I bought a pair of J. Crew cords when I was a bit wider at the waist.  They’re not the world’s finest pair of pants, but who doesn’t love chocolate brown corduroy in the fall, so rather than give them to Goodwill, I figured they were worth the $10 and had the waist taken in an inch or two.  About $10.
  • A lovely Facconable sportcoat I’d bought at a thrift store had been just a bit short for me in the sleeves, so I had them taken down a little.  I misjudged how the buttons would look, and they were about one button’s-width too high.  I wanted to move the top button down below the bottom, but my tailor told me he couldn’t move just one button down without moving all the buttons - his hand-stitched buttonhole wouldn’t match the machine-stitched ones that were already there.  Buttonholes aren’t too expensive, but 8 of them adds up to about $40.  I compromised - I had him stitch the new buttonhole in a contrasting color.  Cheaper for me, and a little bit of flair.  I was happy with the result.  About $10.
  • I had a piece of patterned wool that my mother had found at an estate sale - about 3 or 4 yards.  I’ve been holding on to it forever, and I finally got it together to make it into something: a pair of pants.  I love Oxxford’s half-waistband style, and the A&F pants fit me wonderfully, so I had my tailor copy them, with big cuffs to finish them off.  It may be the first real item of clothing I’ve commissioned, besides a tie for my wedding and pajamas from my mom when I was little, and I’m very happy with what I got.  This was (obviously) the most expensive, but still only cost me $120 (my mom payed a couple dollars for the fabric).

It all cost me less than $200 out the door, and I got five pairs of pants and a sportcoat that fit me perfectly, and look just how I’d like them to.

Tailors are not just for rich guys!

(horrible photos courtesy of my iPhone; Australia-themed tablecloth courtesy of someone who went to Australia, bought a tablecloth, never used it, then died and left it to someone who sold it to me for a dollar)