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.
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 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.