A friend of mine recently had to get a new suit for a wedding (not his), and asked for my advice on how to tell if a suit jacket fits. I thought about sending him to the various guides Jesse and I have written on the topic, but realized they might be too much to read for someone who doesn’t have a particular interest in menswear. So I wrote out a very basic checklist – something simple, practical, and easy-to-use for how to evaluate if a suit jacket or sport coat fits, with links to longer articles in case anyone wants to read more.
The guiding principle for how a suit jacket should fit is pretty simple. There should be clean lines all around, with no puckering or pulling anywhere, and the jacket should flatter the body (this doesn’t mean it should be super tight). Looking at photos of our friends Voxsartoria and MostExerent can be instructive.
More specifically …
- Shoulders: The shoulder line should be clean, not lumpy, and the ends of your jacket’s shoulders should generally coincide with the ends of your natural shoulders.
- Chest: Most off-the-rack suits are designed so that the jacket’s chest stays fairly close to your body, but if you see the lapels starting to buckle, that means your jacket is too small.
- Length: If you want something classic, the hem of your jacket should hit roughly midway between your jacket’s collar and the floor.
- Collar: The collar should stay glued to your neck, even when you move your arms about (within reason).
- Sleeves: Make sure the sleeves fall cleanly. There shouldn’t be any divots or wrinkles when you hang your arms naturally by your side.
- Sleeve length: Few jackets will have a perfect sleeve length off-the-rack, so most will need to be altered. Just make sure that after alterations, you have about a quarter inch of shirt cuff peeking out. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be made difficult by what’s called “working buttonholes.”
- Vents: The vents should stay closed when you’re wearing the jacket, but this is hard to tell in a store because vents are usually sewn shut on a new garment. Take a seam ripper and remove these when you’re home, and just make sure they remain fairly closed when you have the jacket on.
- Waist: There’s some wiggle room here. You can have the waist nipped to give the jacket more shape, or let out if it feels too tight. In the end, just make sure the jacket isn’t pulling at the buttoning point.
After that, there are some other details you might want to pay attention to:
- Quarters: This is the colloquial name for the area of your jacket below the buttoning point. Think about whether you like this area closed or open. It can make a big difference in how your jacket looks.
- Buttoning point: On a three-button jacket, button the middle button, and on a two-button jacket, button the top. Notice where this point sits. Ideally, it should be at your natural waist, though fashion designers have been placing it higher and higher. Be aware that an overly high buttoning point can make you look heavier than you are.
- Lapels: Skinny lapels have been en vogue for a few years now (thanks to Mad Men), but are possibly on their way out. I presume the next fad will be wide lapels at some point. For something classic, stick to something that ends half way between your collar and shoulder joint.
- Notch: Pay attention to where the notches are placed on your lapel. It’s been fashionable to have them very high up on the body, sometimes almost near the top of the shoulders, but like low notches in the 1980s, these will probably go out of fashion at some point. Be wary of extremes.
- Balance: When looking at the jacket from the side, the front and back hem should even with each other, or the front should be slightly longer than the back. When viewed from the front, the left and right sides should generally be even. This is called balance. Truthfully, unless you’re getting something bespoke (and even then, this doesn’t always work out), the second part is rare to achieve. If you have a very dropped shoulder, this can affect how the buttons and buttonholes align, which can then throw off how the jacket looks when buttoned.
The second section above is admittedly a bit nit-picky, but it points to some good things to pay attention to when evaluating how a jacket looks on you. Fortunately, there are some workarounds if you see something you don’t like. If the cut of the quarters doesn’t look good, or if the buttoning point is too high, you can always just wear the jacket unbuttoned. And if the balance is a bit off, you can ask an alterations tailor to move the buttons up a bit so that they align with the buttonholes. Finding the perfect jacket can be difficult, so how much you care about getting the perfect fit will greatly depend on how much time and money you want to spend. But at least now you know what to look for.