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Suits 101: Elements of a properly fitting suit

March 6, 2013

Suit waistGray three piece suit. Coat cut perfectly around the chest with the correct shoulder width. Sleeves too long and pant legs too short (high water possibly). Otherwise, everything else fit just right. No tie. This describes a man I observed on a return flight home a few weeks back. Not sure why he chose to wear a three piece with no tie. It looked like he missed a step. Moreover, I don’t think he even knew about the sleeves and pants. If only he realized he stood a few tweaks away from a truly marvelous presentation.

As I discussed in Where do I start? Tips for launching your fashion journey, the fit of your clothes and suits in particular will always remain of utmost importance. Grab a hold of this and your fashion sense will work to your advantage. For suits, it is time to dive into the basics of how they should fit. Observe these pertinent areas:

full-suit-fit 21. Chest – The coat should lay smoothly on your chest without engulfing you, pushing the collar away from your neck, or buckling in front a lot. To know your chest size, measure the perimeter of your body in inches around your chest and under your arms (usually ranges from 38 to 50). Many off the rack suits have this number listed with a letter after (i.e. 42R or 42 Regular).

2. Waist – When buttoned, the coat should allow for an inch or so of room. The more space, the more you look like you are wearing your dad’s suit (in other words, too big). Too tight and you’re busting out with buttons straining.

3. Sleeve length – The sleeve should allow ½ inch of the shirt cuff to show. This provides a proper transition from the suit to the hand.

4. Shoulder width – Too small and people begin to wonder how your body supports your head. Too wide and your head appears disproportionately small. Generally, the suit should extend to a smidge past the end of the shoulders. This may vary depending on your frame. Bear this in mind when admiring your potential suit in the mirror.

5. Collar – Allow ½ inch of shirt collar to show above the suit collar. When trying on suit coats, wear a nice dress shirt (Something to keep in mind when heading out the door to shop for a suit).

6. Back length – Measuring from the low part of the collar to the floor, the bottom of the coat should generally fall to about the midpoint. Depending on your height, you will find off the rack suits labeled in one of three ways – short, regular, or long (i.e. 42R or 42 Regular). Overall, the coat bottom should land at about the about the knuckle of the thumb (keep this in mind if you have an odd body type).

7. Pant waist – To find your waist size, measure around the perimeter of your waist in inches above your hips where the pant waist will rest (or try various pant sizes until you find the size that fits best. Allow two fingers inside the waist band.)

8. Pant length – Your pants should extend to just above the heel in the back. You will have a slight buckle in the front two to five inches above the shoe as the pants cover greater than half of the top part of the shoe. In general, the length should keep your socks mostly covered as you walk.

Pay attention to the details with a suit as it should present you in the best possible light – better than any other clothes. Take note: An improperly fitting suit of quality appears worse than a properly fitting suit of less quality. What’s the best of all? A properly fitting suit of high quality.

I also recommend reading:

Dress Shirt Basics (Part 1): Fit

Dress Shirt Basics (Part 2): Style

© Copyright 2013 Fashion for the average man.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2013 6:49 pm

    Just an idea – can we get tips on how different body builds can try to dress (eg how to ‘carry off’ a belly?) and what kind of colour combination men with dark hair and warm skin should choose (eh.. my husband.. 😉 ?

    • March 8, 2013 7:14 pm

      Absolutely. I actually talk about body types in my book. What body type is your husband?

  2. March 11, 2013 2:11 am

    Nothing better than a properly fitted suit on a man… :))

  3. March 23, 2013 8:47 pm

    I learned the coat should just about cover the buttocks (which pretty much equates to your thumb knuckle rule). I like that you emphasize that, because people with long torsos (like me) often need Long length suits, even when they aren’t that tall.

  4. homeflair permalink
    August 12, 2013 9:58 am

    Great post:)

  5. January 9, 2014 5:48 pm

    The only way for most men to get a properly fitted suit is through alterations. If they are not available at the store where you purchase the suit, find a seamstress. It will be the best money you spend! Thanks for liking my post, “Variety Jams Were A White Elephant.”

  6. May 18, 2014 4:04 pm

    Hi Jeremy, absolutely love your posts every single of them! nothing worse than seeing a man swimming in clothes or barely fitting in them.. thank you for stopping by our blog!

  7. antonmarshall permalink
    January 7, 2015 4:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Anton Marshall and commented:
    It’s been a while since I’ve worn a suit that I thought I looked good in.Check out Jeremy Gradney’s cool piece on the matter.

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