How to buy a suit that fits – 6 things to remember

Anybody can look good with a little care and attention.

“A man should look as if he had bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them.”

As dressmaker for the Queen for the best part of four decades, a stalwart on Savile Row and the author of ‘ABC of Men’s Fashion’, Sir Edwin Hardy Amies knew what he was talking about on the subject of looking good…

One of the first European designers to venture into the ready-to-wear market he was also a man who believed in the democratisation of style.

Indeed, as his famous quote suggests, anybody can look good with a little care and attention. So when it comes to buying a suit, what’s the most important thing to get right? Fit.

1. Shoulders

Arguably the hardest part of a jacket to adjust after construction, it’s essential that the shoulders of your suit fit perfectly straight off the rack. Get it wrong and even the best tailor will struggle to have you looking spick-and-span. A well-fitted shoulder lies flat. The seam on top of the shoulder should be the same length as the bone under it, and should meet the sleeve of the suit right where your arm meets your shoulder. Minimal or no padding on the shoulder offers versatility and gives a cleaner shape to the suit. If you’re getting noticeable bunching on top of your shoulder, rather than on the upper sleeve, the jacket is too large in the shoulders; your best bet is to try a slimmer fit.

2. Sleeve length

The basic rule is that your jacket sleeve should never be longer than the shirt you’re sporting underneath. The display of half an inch of shirt fabric is the acceptable norm, although more exuberant characters may dare to flash an extra half-inch of cuff without too much tut-tutting from their peers. Any longer than that will suggest the sleeves are too short. Everyone’s arms are different lengths but for most men a well fitting jacket will end just above the large bone in the wrist.

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3. Jacket collar and lapel

Your jacket collar should rest against your shirt collar, which in turn should rest against the back of your neck. All of these should touch lightly, without significant gaps in between. As with shoulder fit, adjustment in this area costs time and money so it’s best to ensure you find as good as fit as possible off the rack. A basic notch lapel is always appropriate; the width of which should correspond directly to the width of your tie. Neckwear shouldn’t be too skinny or too wide.

4. Button Up

First things first, when you are wearing a suit and standing, you should have the jacket buttoned. Generally, this is the rule to live by, top to bottom: Sometimes (for those harder-to-find three-button jackets), Always (middle, top, or only button), Never (bottom button, as long as there’s more than one, naturally). When you’re selecting a jacket, a low button stance will give the appearance of a longer torso and allow you to show off more shirt and tie. Remember, the button should close without strain, and there should be no wrinkles radiating out from the closure. If the lapels hang from the body when you have one button done up, the suit is too big for you.

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5. Jacket length and vents

A good suit should fall past the waist and drape over the top of the curve formed by the buttocks. If the hem of the jacket is sitting on top of the bottom, with a small flare in the back, it’s too short. If it falls past the bottom entirely, longer than the wearer’s arms, it’s too long. For mobility purposes most jackets are designed with either a centre or double vent. The double vent is a traditionally European style and one with serious pedigree in the fashion stakes.

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6. Break

The ‘break’ is the small wrinkle caused when the top of your shoe stops your trouser cuff from falling to its full length. The modern trend has moved towards very little ‘break’ in trousers, meaning the fabric never touches the wearer’s shoe. For a perfect ‘no break’ fit aim for an inch of space between hem and shoe. If you’re after a more traditional look, the cuff should rest on the top of your shoe, but it shouldn’t do much more than that. In many cases trousers will have an unfinished hem allowing you the opportunity to have them tailored to your tastes.

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Andrew Allen / Editor

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