Style Q&A: Proper Fitting Pants, Moving Beyond Plaid Button Up’s, Correct Sleeve Length for Shirts and Outerwear, and Shrinking a Leather Jacket

Professional style consultant Grant Harris answers your questions regarding pants that fit your thighs, a broader wardrobe than plaid shirts and graphic tees, how long your sleeves should be, and whether it’s worth it to salvage a roomy leather jacket.

1. I can’t seem to find any pants that fit me well. I have really slender thighs so most pants are incredibly too wide for me, even if the waist and length are perfect. Am I destined to make a trip to the tailor every time I buy pants?

- Matt

It sounds like you’re actually a good candidate for the slim fit trend that has been so pervasive over the last few years.  I said slim, not skinny.  Those jeggings and spandex-like pants aren’t what you need.  You may be wearing relaxed, or loose fit trousers and jeans without knowing it.  Study the brands you wear while shopping and ask the store associates which models offer a slimmer fit through the thigh.  Most department stores and designers offer a loose or relaxed fit, a straight fit, and a slim fit.  Make sure you’re wearing straight or slim and you should get a better fit.

If all else fails hit the gym and do some squats to fill out your thighs.

2. I’m a 24 year old working student and can’t seem to get past the plaid button up/graphic tee, Levis, and sneakers phase. I feel tired with that look, but not sure where I should turn to without falling into the all the trends and end up looking like all the rest. Any suggestions for originality on a budget?

- Sully P.

Unfortunately, you’ve already fallen into a trend.  The good news is you’re ready for a new look.  You may not be ready for suits and wingtips so the easiest transition for you will be gradual.  Start with wearing the opposite of what you’ve been wearing.  Burn the graphic tees and go for solids.  Keep the plaid button ups but incorporate solids and stripes.  Save your Levi’s for the weekend and upgrade to chinos during the week.  Sneakers are for relaxing and play time so invest in some footwear options you can’t wear on a basketball court like loafers, desert boots, and at least one pair of plain dress shoes.

These small changes will make a world of difference.  In your case change is good.  Take a look at these shops for guys like yourself with limited funds.

3. I’m having trouble with sleeves. How long should sleeves be (shirt, sweater, suit jacket, and overcoat) and how big should the arm holes be?

- Rich

It’s agreed upon by many in the world of style and fashion that most men wear their jacket sleeves too long.  Most guys walk around with their jacket sleeves covering their knuckles and end up looking vertically challenged.  On the other hand most men wear the shirt sleeves too short.  This is bad on top of worse.

Shortening your shirt, jacket and coat sleeves will create the illusion of a longer arm therefore making you look taller overall.  Your shirt sleeve should fall to the first bone of your thumb when unbuttoned.  Your jacket and sweater sleeves should be short enough to allow 1/2 to ¾ inches –depending on how flashy you are–of shirt cuff to show when your hands are at your sides.  Your overcoat should fit as well as your jacket.  No shorter than your wrist bone and no longer than your first thumb knuckle.

You bring up a good point about the arm hole. The width of the armhole and the sleeve itself plays a large role in keeping the overall silhouette slim and trim.  You want a high armhole which will allow easier movement and provides space between your arm and your body creating a slimmer frame.  Also you want the sleeves themselves to be narrow with minimal excess fabric.  Ask your tailor to narrow the sleeves and you’ll knock ten pounds off your frame.

shirt sleeve fit

4. I’ve started to become more aware of the basics of fit and other fashion guidelines, and I’m realizing that my leather jacket is a bit large on me. I know that I really should have bought one that fit me in the first place but I was wondering if there was anything I could do. I’ve read online about washing leather jackets in warm water and there seems to be a bit of debate about it. I know conventional wisdom says it will ruin the jacket, but I’ve yet to really hear a reason behind that. Leather garments existed far before dry cleaning. Can I attempt to shrink it, or is this jacket a loss?

- Garrett

There’s been a movement toward the distressed, worn-in, shruken feel in garments today.  See J. Crew.  It’s gone past shorts and t-shirts and has evolved to bags, and yes leather jackets.  I like the idea of pre-distressed clothing, but when it comes to jackets and leather goods I prefer to break them in myself over time.  I have a butter soft brown leather biker jacket I got in Italy back in 2007.  It’s served me well and I can’t wear it without getting a compliment, but I broke it in on my own.  A man in a broken-in leather jacket has a story to tell.  Better to earn that story over time than to buy it up front at the store.

However, you want to wash your jacket not to distress it but to shrink it.  If this is your goal I say buy a new jacket.  It’s good that you’ve been paying more attention to fit.  Next time, pick a jacket that’s one size smaller than what you normally wear and it will probably be the best fit.

Grant Harris is Owner & Chief Style Consultant at Image Granted; a Washington, DC based Image Consulting Company dedicated to solving the complex image, style & fashion issues of today's professional man. He has a healthy obsession with socks. Follow him on Twitter & Facebook.

  • stevo

    For question number 1, what if you have the exact OPPOSITE problem? I naturally carry most of my weight in my thighs and rear. Add to that the fact that I hit the gym quite a bit and include squats and deadlifts regularly. Typically, the current trend of very slim fits make pants that fit my waist and lower leg perfectly but feel tight everywhere else. I have been sizing up my waist a little to get the fit in the thighs, but that comes with the problem of the waist bunching when I put my belt on. Seems I can’t really win outside of getting all of my pants (dress or casual) tailored…

  • Ryan