I love wearing jackets. Either as the top half of a suit or with a pair of jeans, the jacket provides an iconically masculine shape that always works. It also gives me a place to put things: glasses, pen, notepad, iPhone, business cards and the occasional cigarette. I also love wearing it unbuttoned as I ride my bike around town because it flaps in the wind like a cape, giving me a little escape into my childhood superhero fantasies. I know: “Get therapy, George…”
There have been several times in my younger, less discerning, less sober years when I found a garment (like a jacket) that fit imperfectly but bought anyway because it was so “fabulous” or au currant I had to have it or merely because it was on sale. Like many American men, I bought too large, incorrectly thinking I was a 40 or even a 42 regular (I’m really closer to a 38). In some old photos, I see jackets that were too long on me, both in the overall length and the sleeve length, covering my shirt cuffs. Fortunately, those sartorial misfires are behind me.
I blame Mad Men and Casino Royale for initially tuning me into the details in recent years, forcing me to address the question: “Why don’t my suits fit like that?” The basic answer is simple: proper fit and tailoring.
Below, I share a few things I’ve learned over the years, detailing my fit preferences with specific areas of the jacket…
The shoulders are literally the area from which a proper-fitting jacket hangs and perhaps the one area of a jacket where it must fit properly at the store or out of the box. Even the most skilled and experienced master tailor might (and I stress might) be able to tighten the shoulders of a jacket that’s slightly too large, but the odds aren’t good. And if the shoulders happen to be too tight, forget about it.
I’m a fan of the more structured British tailoring, as opposed to the more relaxed Italian school. The shoulders are one area where this distinction is evident. Most American men tend to go too large here, thinking wider shoulders makes one look more formidable (it actually has the opposite effect). On the opposite end of the spectrum, the current super-tight, shrunken-fit trend among urban hipsters often shows one’s actual shoulder bulging further than the jacket’s shoulder seam. I like the shoulder of my jackets to be the same width as my actual shoulder – no wider, no tighter.
The chest is the measurement that dictates the jacket size. The measurement around my chest is about 38 and a half inches, which means I’m closest to a 38 off the peg. (39 would probably work well, but odd sizes are harder to find.) The right fit from a store-bought jacket can also depend on the manufacturer and the design. Some more modern collections are cut slimmer, while the fit known to most American men is much roomier. James Bond needed a little extra accommodation in the chest to discretely pack a Beretta or a Walther. As a non-gun owner who packs his heat elsewhere, I like my jackets to be snug in the chest, not tight.
And speaking of snug, I’m grateful that many makers are reeling in the width of the arm hole and the sleeve. Most men aren’t built like Daniel Craig, myself included. I’m a relatively slim guy whose shoulders and arms got lost in boxy cuts for years. Nowadays, if the jacket weren’t custom, t would have a tailor cut the excess fabric from around the armpit and from the width of the sleeve, leaving enough room at the cuff to comfortably accommodate a French-cuff shirt without “grabbing” it. But, again, this would depend on whether the initial design of the jacket were particularly slim or roomy.
The waist and hips
The waist is – bar none – the part of an off-the-rack jacket where most of the air needs to be sucked out. When I stand in a new jacket in front of my tailor, the seams in the back in the midsection are the ones that get the most pins. The finished fit yields another mark of British tailoring tradition, with a slightly “corseted” fit in the middle that widens slightly over the hips and butt. Again… snug, not tight. The fabric or the seams should never look stressed. The jacket should merely conform to the body, without divulging exact contours of the physique underneath it.
This one is basic. The overall jacket length should reach my thumb knuckle with my arms relaxed at my sides. This length also covers my ass, literally. The sleeve length should reveal about a quarter to half an inch of shirt cuff below it.
Custom suit with a polo shirt.
Custom jacket with a t-shirt and jeans.
About that super-short jacket trend…
Ever since Thom Browne pulled his First Communion suit out of the dryer and put it on, super-short jackets and blazers are all the rage. The male equivalent of the mini-skirt, perhaps. It works for Mr. Browne, since he is a.) a famous designer, and b.) the physical result of 70 minute daily runs that help him maintain a trim, firm posterior off which one could bounce a quarter. And since his ass is in the same shape and place it’s been since eighth grade, he and a very small group of others can get away with it. (Nick Wooster is another one.)
But if I’m going to be rigorously honest (and I will be), the vast majority of people – which includes most people who are wrapped-up in “fashion” – don’t have an amazing ass worth flaunting. I suppose mine is maybe okay-ish, but my mid-western Catholic upbringing informs a certain modesty about it. In light of these truths, I will never be an advocate, a fan or a wearer of the now-ubiquitous shrunken blazers and jackets of an abbreviated length that reveals said ass. Long live the trend-proof jacket length that extends to the thumb knuckle and, of course, covers one’s ass.
There may be some who disagree with what I’ve described here. These are merely my own preferences. At the end of the day, my goal is an honest fit that conforms to my form, but doesn’t hug and squeeze it. To me, it should be slightly constricting, designed to keep me upright, held together and walking tall. I heard someone say once that if a buttoned jacket fits correctly, you shouldn’t be able to throw a football in it. I haven’t thrown a football since junior high, but I suppose that sounds about right.