I know it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post, but I do have a bit more to say on the subject of thrifting.

Today let’s focus on how to figure out if a suit fits you and, more importantly, whether it can be made to fit you affordably.  The fact is, almost no suit fits anyone perfectly straight off the rack, new or used.  You do get lucky sometimes and pull down a piece that fits like it was made for you with no alterations needed, but those will be rare and you should expect to spend at least a little money on alterations.

For a jacket, remember the following sequence:
– Length
– Shoulders
– Chest
– Waist
– Sleeves
The higher you go on this list, the harder (and more expensive) it is to alter those items.  And vice versa.  Therefore, when you’re thrifting and trying to figure out whether a jacket fits you, start at the top of the list and move down.  If it’s significantly too long or too short (more on that in a minute), or if the shoulders are too big or too small (ditto), forget it.  It’s not worth the tailoring investment, and it might not be able to be fixed anyway.  If the shoulders and length are good, but the chest is a bit loose, a good tailor can take it in but it still won’t be cheap.  If length, shoulders, and chest are fine and it’s just a bit loose or snug in the waist, you’re getting into very doable territory.  Sleeves are the easiest (and cheapest) of all to alter.

Length: The best way to determine the right length is proportion to the rest of your body. Measuring from the jacket’s collar to the floor, the ideal jacket length is exactly half that distance.  Less precisely, the jacket should cover your buttocks without extending too much below that.

















Shoulders: The jacket’s shoulder pads should end right about where your should ends, leaving enough room for the top of the sleeve to hang down straight.  If you can press down on the end of the shoulder and the shoulder pad bends down towards your upper arm, it’s too big.  Conversely, if there’s a horizontal wrinkle at the top of the sleeve (the sleevehead) and your upper arm is sticking out, the shoulders are too narrow. Like this:
















Chest: The jacket should hug the curve of your chest smoothly without pulling or feeling uncomfortable.  If the lapels bow outward rather than laying flat on your chest, it’s probably too small.  If you get a big vertical fold of extra material at the side of the chest, it’s probably too big.  This jacket is too small – see how the chest is bowing out and the fabric is pulling around my midsection?

















Waist: This is pretty easy to figure out.  Button the jacket at the waist – that’s the top button on a 2-button jacket or the middle one on a 3-button jacket.  If it’s snug and pulls around the waist, it’s too tight.  Now gently pull on that waist button – pulling it away from your belly button.  It should have an inch or so of room to move; if there’s much more than that, it’s too big.

This jacket, a size 44 Regular, is way too big for my mannequin, which is about a 40R.  The shoulders are drooping at the ends, and there’s a big mess of extra fabric at the chest and waist.

















Sleeves: The jacket’s sleeves should end around your wristbone, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ of your shirt sleeve showing.  If more than that shows, the sleeves are too short; if none shows and the jacket sleeve falls down on to your hands, they’re too long.

This jacket is just a bit too big for me all around.  The body and sleeves are too long, and there’s enough extra material around the chest and waist that it doesn’t fit well.  This one is pretty close, actually – if I wanted to spend the money, I could have this altered to fit me.  But it would cost at least $100-125, maybe more, at my tailor, and it isn’t a nice enough jacket for me to want to invest that much money.

















Pants: These are easier, as most guys already have a general sense of how pants should fit. Just be careful they aren’t too baggy or too long – they should break just slightly over the top of the shoes.

This suit is one of my best-fitting suits.  The shoulders, chest, and waist all fit well with no pulling or bunching, the sleeves show just the right amount of shirt cuff, and the pants hang straight and smooth with just a bit of break over the shoes.  When I bought this one, it fit well in the shoulders and chest but the waist on both the jacket and pants were really tight.  I spend about $85 having those let out, and now it fits perfectly.

















There are a lot more subtle fit issues that can be influenced by your posture and your body’s symmetry (or lack thereof), and maybe I’ll talk about those later.  But this covers the most important things to look for when you’re trying to decide whether a suit fits well enough to buy it.

For more on fit, balance, and proportion, you can check out the following books:
Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion, by Alan Flusser
Clothes and the Man, also by Flusser (out of print)
Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion, by Bernhard Roetzel

Any questions?

This entry was posted in "How To Thrift" Series, Sportcoats, Suits. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to How to Thrift, Part 4: Fit

  1. Aliotsy says:

    This was a fantastic primer. Most guides focus on jackets and trousers that fit too large (which most men are wont to do), and not enough on jackets that are too small (a mistake that’s occurring more frequently due to current trends).

    The pictures showing how a too-small jacket fits are very helpful.

    Thank you!

  2. Lauren says:

    This is so helpful. I’m pretty sure none of Tyes’ suits fit him properly because neither of us really knew how suits were supposed to fit.

    PS…Thanks for including the word “buttocks” in your post.

  3. Thank you! Your comments about dressing being a form of non-verbal communication a few blog posts back inspired me to think about considering my dress more. With all the options out there (from oxfords to penny loafers, french cuffs to normal cuffs) how would you recommend refreshing a wardrobe?

    • Corey says:

      Start by evaluating what you already have and see what can work with the style you are striving for. Clothing that you seldom wear or does not fit proper;y anymore can be sold, traded, or given away.

      Update by adding versatile pieces that will work with what you decide to keep. I certainly would invest in a great pair of leather soled brown or burgundy colored penny loafers (Bass makes a great shoe) and a black pair of leather lace up oxfords or wingtips. The penny loafers are universal and work dressed up or casual, while the black oxfords go well with a suit.

      A new belt or some interesting ties and pocket squares can really take your wardrobe to the next level.

      If you usually wear solid colored shirts, try stripes on for a change with a well-coordinated tie. French cuffed shirts are great, especially when worn with interesting cufflinks (I especially like the multi-colored silk knot cufflinks).

      I strongly suggest spending time looking at how different men dress for inspiration…taking ideas from what you see and like and cultivating them into what works for you.

      Building a proper wardrobe, in my opinion, should be done carefully and should be done with thought, so I would go about buying clothing in such a way that slowly builds your wardrobe by making a list of what you need and what you want.

  4. Emily O. says:

    I’m glad your little sister wasn’t the only one who enjoyed (laughed at) the use of the word “buttocks” in your post.

    And seriously, thank you for all these posts. I know they’re going to help Scott, and they already helped several friends I have sent here.

  5. Richard says:

    Any future plans for more in this series? Very informative and useful. I would like to know about how to spot quality shoes.

  6. Dan P. says:

    For pant alterations, how many inches can be taken in to attain a good fit w/out impacting the overall appearance?

    • Jeff says:

      Dan, I’d say 2-3 inches at most. More than that and the back pockets get too close together. At that point you’re talking about having a tailor take them apart completely and recut them, and that’s likely more expensive than buying new pants.

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