Of the variety of considerations that mark an item of clothing “worthy” versus “deplorable,” no single aspect is as important as fit. Colour, fabric, even the nebulous “style” – none of these are as vital as how the article in question sits on your body. Don’t believe me? Take an item of clothing in a colour that makes your eyes water but that fits you. Now compare how you look in that to how you look in an item made of the loveliest fabrics in the perfect colour, only its two sizes too big. Take a photo of each and post them online so we can all get a good look at you. (Why not use Chictopia? I hear it’s very good.)
Use this maxim as a guide when buying anything you wear, but give it particular credence when shopping for a suit. It avails you no end to spend upwards of $500 on a suit that doesn’t fit you, yet considering the number of poorly-fitted versions I see in the office this must be happening quite a lot. I see men taking obvious care in picking a shirt and tie, and then covering it in the suit equivalent of a muumuu.
So how should a suit fit? First, let’s leave aside the argument that fit – like colour schemes – is merely relative, subject to the whims of a fickle fashion world throughout the ages. Who are you, Thomas Kuhn? Yes, the notion of fit does change depending on what age you were born into, but unless you’re trying to be deliberately anachronistic, or are an anarchist (and probably aren’t wearing suits), or are dead, there is a way for your suits to fit that will have you looking good right now – which is presumably the point.
Where were we? Ah yes, fit. There are four parts of a suit that need to fit you. Bespoke tailors will tell you there are many more, but if you have the cheddar to afford bespoke you’re probably not reading this or are reading it and cackling over us poor unfortunates. First, the shoulders need to fit. The jacket should hug you like a good friend you see every so often – if you’re getting the “it’s been years” treatment the suit is too small; if the friend seems strangely cold, you’re suit is too big. While a tailor can and probably will need to make several alterations, changing the width of the shoulders is not one of them. The jacket length should hit somewhere in the middle of your hand (hand, not palm) when your arms are straight, although with the current “shrunken” trend the jacket can probably be smaller. And the sleeves should show some cuff, how much depending on whether you happen to sport cufflinks.
Which brings us to pant length. There was a time, not too long ago, when most men could agree, give or take an inch, on how long suit pants should be. They got a little slouchy in the early 90’s, but reached a consensus shortly thereafter of a nice break just at the shoe. And then Thom Browne showed up and all hell broke loose. Now I like Thom Browne and what he’s done for menswear, but the truth is few men look good in his cut of suit. So go ahead and get your pants hemmed to three inches above your ankle and lose the socks, provided you have the ankles of a Greek god.
Here’s how this plays out in the real world:
Sleeves too long, jacket too long, pants bunching around the shoes – a poorly-fitted suit (that I continue to wear because I am poor.)
Unfortunately you can’t see my feet, but if you could you would see a perfect break right on top of the shoe. Good friend shoulders and cufflinks. This suit fits.