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How Should a Suit Fit? Your Easy-to-Follow Visual Guide

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If you’re dressing on a budget, one of the most popular pieces of advice out there is to buy off-the-rack suits in the best fit you can get, and then take them to a tailor for custom adjustments.

That’s good advice. You’ll find it in several articles right here on the Art of Manliness.

But if you’re really going to get any benefit out of having your suits adjusted, you need to know a little bit about tailors and the kinds of adjustments they can (and can’t) make.

You also need to know what a “good” fit actually looks like.

Tailors vary in skill and in how they communicate the work they’re doing, so getting a suit adjusted is only going to deliver a good return if you can make your exact needs clear.

Below, we give you an easy-to-follow rundown on how your suit should fit.

What a “Good Fit” Looks Like


Can you guess which man had his suit tailored to fit?

When you try on a suit, you’re looking for a good fit in what’s called your “natural stance.”

That means standing up straight, preferably in the kind of dress shoes you’ll be wearing with your suits, with your arms relaxed at your side.

It’s not actually a very natural posture for a lot of us, but it is the base from which most of our movement flows. If the suit doesn’t fit well in this stance, it’s not going to move comfortably with your body either.

Practice standing in that relaxed, upright pose, and then start trying on suits in that posture. Look for a good fit in the following areas when you’re in your natural stance:

The Shoulder


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.

If the seam that connects the sleeve to the jacket is hiked up along your shoulder bone, or dangling down on your upper bicep, the jacket is never going to sit properly. In these instances, you’ll see “ripple effects” that create lumps or wrinkles on the sleeve and the top of the jacket.

Shoulders are one of the hardest parts of a jacket to adjust after construction, so don’t buy a piece with an ill-fitted shoulder. Odds are you’ll never be able to get it quite right with post-purchase alterations.

The Seat


The back of your trousers should be a smooth drape over the shape of your rear end — whatever that happens to be.

A good fit in the seat will lie loosely against your underwear, without pulling tight against your butt or draping loosely down your thighs.

You can spot a bad fit in the seat when there are horizontal wrinkles just under the buttocks (caused by too tight of a fit), or by loose, U-shaped sags on the backs of the thighs (caused by too loose of a fit).

A tailor can “take in” a seat to make it tighter in the back without too much difficulty, but there’s a limit to how far he can go. If the seat was way too loose to begin with, it’s not possible to adjust it to fit without pulling the pockets out of place.

Unless the pants have an unusual amount of spare cloth on the inside, seats can’t be “let out” very far to make the fit looser. Err on the side of too loose rather than too tight when buying.

Trouser Break


The “break” is the small wrinkle caused when the top of your shoe stops your trouser cuff from falling to its full length.

This should be a small, subtle feature. One horizontal dimple or crease is usually ideal. The cuff should indeed rest on the top of your shoe — there needs to be contact — but it shouldn’t do much more than that. The trouser can fall a touch longer in the back than in front, so long as it’s still above the heel of the shoe (the actual heel, not just the back of the shoe).

This is one of the easiest adjustments to make, so you can rely on making some changes here if you need to. In fact, dress pants are often sold unhemmed, with the assumption that the purchaser will take the trousers to a tailor (or make use of the store’s tailor if there is one) to have the cuffs fitted.

The Jacket Closure


When you are wearing a suit and standing, you should have the jacket buttoned (you know the jacket buttoning rules, right? Click here to learn!).

This means that part of the trying-on process is checking how the front of the jacket closes over your body.

Close a single-breasted jacket with only one button when you’re testing the fit, even if it’s a three-button jacket. You’re looking to see if the two sides meet neatly without the lapels hanging forward off your body (too loose) or the lower edges of the jacket flaring out like a skirt (too tight).

The button should close without strain, and there should be no wrinkles radiating out from the closure. A little bit of an opening at the bottom of the suit is fine, but the two halves beneath the button shouldn’t pull apart so far that you can see a large triangle of shirt above your trousers. (Ideally, you shouldn’t see any, though a bit is socially acceptable, especially when you move.)

Taking in or letting out the waist to help the jacket close more comfortably is not a difficult adjustment, but it’s one with limits. Don’t expect a tailor to be able to make huge changes here. If the jacket closure looks really bad unaltered, it’s probably due to problems beyond the waist measurement, and you should be looking for a different jacket rather than planning on getting that one altered.

Jacket Sleeve Length


“A half-inch of linen” is a good, old-fashioned guideline for the relationship between a suit jacket and the shirt worn under it — about half an inch of the shirt cuff should be visible beyond the jacket cuff.

That said, it’s a general guideline, and you don’t need to get too obsessive. What you do need to be sure of is that the suit sleeve doesn’t rise above the cuff entirely — the seam where the shirt cuff joins the shirt sleeve should never be visible.

Similarly, the jacket sleeve should never hide the shirt sleeve entirely. At least a small band of shirt cuff should always be visible.

For most men, that ends up being a jacket sleeve that terminates just above the large bone in the wrist. But everyone’s arms are slightly different, and sleeve length is a very easy adjustment for a tailor to make, so get the best sleeve length you can (erring on the side of too long if possible) and then have it adjusted to fit.

Jacket Length


Not enough time or writing gets devoted to the overall length of men’s jackets. It’s more important than most people think!

A good suit or sports jacket should fall past the waist and drape over the top of the curve formed by the buttocks. An ideal fit will cover a man down to the point where his butt starts to curve back inward, and stop there (but anywhere in that general region is okay).

The hands are also a good marker here, and this is why it’s important to have your arms relaxed in your natural stance. The hem of the jacket should hit right around the middle of your hand — at or just past where the fingers meet the palm.

If the hem of the jacket is sitting on top of the butt, with a small little flare in the back, it’s too short. If it falls past the bottom entirely, longer than the arms, it’s too long. The hem can be adjusted upward without too much trouble, but if you go too far the front pockets start to look out of proportion, so don’t count on more than an inch or two of adjustment here.

Jacket Collar


It’s easy to tell a well-fitted collar from a poorly-fitted one, although identifying the cause of the bad fit can be challenging.

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.

If the collar is too loose, it’s very easy to spot — there will be a gap where it’s flopping back off your neck.

A tight collar is a little harder to spot on a jacket, since (unlike a shirt collar) it’s almost all in the back. Turn from side to side as needed and check it out in a mirror. A tight collar will create bunching and folds just beneath it, and often wrinkles the shirt collar underneath it as well.

Bad collar fit could just mean the neck size is wrong for you, but it’s often caused by a larger fit issue: bad shoulder sizing, a back panel that’s too small for you, or even a jacket that’s constructed with more of a forward or backward tilt than your neutral stance.

Since these adjustments cost time and money to fix, you want to get as good of a fit in the original jacket as possible at the collar.

Four Automatic “Bad Fit” Warnings

There are a couple of easy to spot problems that are major warning signs. A suit with these “bad fit” signs is one that you probably won’t ever be able to adjust to a really good fit.

Unfortunately, most of them are caused by the core structure of the suit — and that means that your body just isn’t a good match for the way that particular brand makes its pieces.

Be patient, try on lots of brands, and don’t compromise (unless you know it can be fixed!).

If you can’t afford bespoke (made to order), an adjusted off-the-rack suit can work — but you have to start with a pretty good fit in the first place, or it’s never going to get the results you want.

Unless you want to pay for alterations, be careful buying any jacket that’s showing these serious warning signs:

The Dreaded X-Shaped Button Strain


If you can see wrinkled lines radiating outward from your jacket button when you close the jacket, it’s too tight and will need adjustment.

The Dreaded X, as my friend Barron over at Effortless Gent likes to call it — is not a look you seek in a well-fitted jacket.

Front button strain is indicative of a bad fit in the torso, and it can go beyond just the waist size — you’re probably straining at the shoulders or in the back, too. On a more basic note, it also means the button is going to be prone to popping off.

Don’t buy a jacket that shows strain lines radiating outward from the button. If you’ve got an old jacket that used to fit but has started showing them, it’s possible that you’ve either gained weight or accidentally shrunk the jacket in a wash — in that case (assuming the fit was good before), you may be able to have the waist let out a little and keep the jacket in use.

Shoulder Divots & Upper Arm Wrinkles


If the sleeve of the jacket seems to dip in slightly just under the shoulder, and then flare back out again, the shoulders are too big. What you’re seeing is the shoulder padding protruding beyond your arm, and the cloth of the sleeve tucking back in underneath it.

You can also get those wrinkles if you’ve got a somewhat slouched stance and the jacket is stiffly-constructed for a more upright posture. In either case you’ll need to get a smaller size, so that the seam where the shoulder meets the sleeve matches up with your body’s shoulder, or give up and try a different brand.

Shoulder Wrinkles — Top Rumpling


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.

This could be a simple length problem, but more likely it’s that the interior space is simply too large — your shoulders aren’t broad enough, front to back, to fill out the jacket.

Try a slimmer fit, if the manufacturer offers multiple styles, or a smaller size. If you’re still seeing wrinkles on the tops of your shoulders, the brand probably isn’t going to work for you.

Twisted Sleeves — Bad Sleeve Pitch


Faint spiraling wrinkles on the outside of the sleeve occur when the angle of your arm in its natural stance doesn’t match the angle that the sleeve was constructed with. The result is a sleeve that looks slightly twisted even when your arms are hanging still at your sides.

A tailor can theoretically remove the sleeves and reattach them at a slightly different angle, but it’s not a simple or a cheap fix. Generally speaking, you can consider this one a deal-breaker. Keep trying until you find a jacket where the sleeves fall smooth and straight when your arms are resting in their natural stance.

Watch a Video Summary of This Post


Written By:
Antonio Centeno
Founder of Real Men Real Style
Creator of The Style System – a college-level course that teaches the foundations of professional dressing so you control the message your image sends.


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3948 days ago
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3 public comments
3947 days ago
Never hurts to know how to dress well
Monterrey, Mx
3948 days ago
On the one hand, I like to read things like this so I can imagine I can dress with a modicum of style. On the other, as a result of reading things like this, I usually feel bad about how I am dressed.
Sherman, TX
3948 days ago
Always a good thing to know

Generation Why

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Generation Why

“What I meant to say was, ‘You can be anything you want to be when you grow up, except happy.”

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3953 days ago
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4 public comments
3950 days ago
So true!
3953 days ago
When I grow up, I want to be Debt free
3953 days ago
"You can be anything you want!"
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
3954 days ago
Well, yeah.

Hogwarts In Manhattan: The 1,000 Gargoyles & Grotesques of City College

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Last week, I took a trip up to 138th Street and Amsterdam to scout a location I’ve been meaning to visit for the longest time: the City College of New York.


City College is one of those great places in the city where you step through the gates…


…and suddenly feel like you’ve been transported far, far from Manhattan.


I was walking around the north quadrangle, which consists of the original four campus buildings built in 1906…


…and as I was heading into Harris Hall, I suddenly got the strangest feeling that I was being watched. I turned to my right…


…and this guy was sticking his tongue out at me!


And he wasn’t alone. Above me, a frowning professor-type was beckoning me in…


…while on my left, I was being laughed at:


There were even more faces buried in the arch…


…all watching with mocking stares.


Finally, two owl statues were positioned on either side of the door.


In total, that’s 9 bits of statuary crammed around a single entrance. Amazed, I stepped back and looked up…


…and realized I was being watched…


…from every direction I turned.


City College has over 1,000 (yes, 1,000!) grotesques and gargoyles covering its buildings, and each has such individual character that it’s hard to kick the feeling they’re on the verge of coming to life Hogwarts-style to mock you as you walk around the campus.

I spent about an hour or so trying to find as many of the bizarre and wonderful creatures as I could – here are some of my favorites.


When it comes to the traditional demon-style grotesques and gargoyles, City College has some great examples. Several winged creatures are perched around the top of the tower at Compton Hall…


…each a completely different style from the next.


The most haunting, in my opinion, is the gargoyle on the west-side, which features a human head disturbingly attached to an eagle-like body, its mouth agape in a pained screech:


Another favorite demon can be found perched on the corner of Harris Hall…

160 - HH01

…a horned figure holding a book with the initials FD written inside. I’d love to know who or what this is in reference to (thought for a minute the F might be for Faust, but as far as I know, Faust never had a surname beginning with D).

161 - HH

Another demon can be found above the clock on Harris Hall…


…a strange robed figure leaning in an ear to hear the students below:


A shield-holding demon:


But there are more than just demons at City College. In fact, much the statuary follows a particular theme. For example, look closely…


…and you’ll see a laborer drilling into the side of the building:


Another literally screws into the corner of the building:


This guy is yanking out a stray nail with a hammer:


Another is hammering on an anvil:


Still another has at it with a sledge-hammer.


Working the bellows (thanks, Martin & Violetsrose!):

Not sure what this one is up to:


Whereas these literally seem to be taking part in the construction (or deconstruction?) of the building, still another group of grotesques are meant to represent the various disciplines and arts at the university.


It starts simple, with a basic professorial-type reading a book:


I love this glasses-clad professor leering down at students entering the building:


A mathematician. If you notice some of the grotesques have a decidedly more human appearance than the typical caricatures, there’s a good chance they were based on members of the faculty.


Then we hit the music department…


…and you have nearly a full band…


…playing above you:


My favorite is the drummer:


Then on to the sciences: love this guy examining a butterfly with a magnifying glass:


A Dumbledore-like chemist mixes a potion:


And of course, painting, represented by quite possibly the angriest-looking artist in New York:


I’m guessing that this figure contemplating an hourglass represents philosophy:


Another figure, clearly based on a real person (how great would it be to be forever immortalized as a grotesque?):


Still more fascinating examples can be found surrounding the entrances to buildings. Above the door to Baskeville…


…is a professor holding out what appears to be a test in geometry:


A key-holder…


…and beside him, another life-like representation:


There’s something so wonderful about mixing such staid architecture with such whimsical figures. This guy may be in charge of holding a formal shield, for example, but he could care less about it:


Perhaps he’s having a conversation with his neighbor?


In fact, no one’s all that happy at this entrance:


A few final ones. In the corner of Wingate Hall…

200 - HH

….a guy flips his feet over his head while precariously holding on:


Nearby, an impish-looking fellow holds onto a ring:


And beside him, an older-looking grotesque holds the seal of the college:


In fact, quite a lot of the figures are being acrobatic on Wingate, which makes sense since it used to be the original gym (thanks, EG!): Wingate:


As you head into the main entrance at Harris…


…this guy is screaming at you:


If the grotesques look to be in immaculate shape, it’s thanks to a restoration program that began in 1986. At the time, many of the terra cotta figures had fallen into total disrepair (some had even smashed after falling from their perches).


Each figure was restored to its original condition, recast by hand, and returned to its place, at the time considered to be the largest terra cotta preservation effort in the country. You can see a bit of the process in this Facebook post – the picture below shows just how badly this particular figure had deteriorated (the white areas are the restored pieces that had broken off):


The replacements should weather the elements much longer than their predecessors.






These pictures show a mere 50 or 60 of the 1,000 grotesques and gargoyles covering the north quad at City College – and I didn’t even get into the cathedral-like Shephard Hall.


The campus is open to the public, and is absolutely worth a trip to admire these amazing works of art. If Hogwarts had a satellite campus in New York City, I’m pretty sure City College would be it.


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3957 days ago
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3957 days ago
It says something about the density of STUFF in Manhattan that I used to live 30 blocks south of this and had *no idea*.
Pittsburgh, PA
3958 days ago
How do I go back in time and attend college here?
Wake Forest, North Carolina
3958 days ago
Princeton, NJ
3958 days ago
Too bad he didn't show the actual main building ;) The NAC may not be as beautiful, but just as interesting, having been designed by prison architects (at least I was told that it was).
3958 days ago
OK, I finally followed this blog. It's so good!
Brooklyn, NY
3959 days ago
CCNY as Hogwarts. Awesome.
New York, NY
3958 days ago
Maybe Faust and Dante?

Bee Orchid

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In sixty million years aliens will know humans only by a fuzzy clip of a woman in an Axe commercial.
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3972 days ago
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3970 days ago
3971 days ago
Greater Bostonia
3972 days ago
The beauty of nature in all its brutality.
Arlington, VA
3972 days ago
And a painting only intended to be viewed by the sitter, at that.
Madrid, Spain
3972 days ago
Dear Universe; Dude, this is pretty brutal. Not cool.
Denver, CO
3972 days ago
Wow... Mind blowing...
FourSquare, qv
3972 days ago
FlorID Expressionism!
3972 days ago
Bangkok, Thailand
3973 days ago
omg, best XKCD in a while. What a trippy concept.
3973 days ago
Seattle, WA
3973 days ago
Mouseover: "In sixty million years aliens will know humans only by a fuzzy clip of a woman in an Axe commercial."