The Best Fit: Suit Jackets and Sports Jackets

Fact: Most men don’t wear a proper fitting suit jacket. Too big here, too small there. We’ll help you get it right.

The fit of a jacket is of special importance because it acts as the foreground of an outfit. The shape of a jacket’s lapels help lead the viewer’s eye up to the face. The length of the jacket affects the appearance of the length of your legs and torso. Your jacket is central in determining whether you appear to have a slim, v-shaped chest. For these reasons, the fit of your jacket is crucial.

What’s the difference between a suit jacket and sports jacket?

Suit jackets are made of lighter worsted wools, although cotton and linen suits are also available. Wool suit jackets will almost always have a bit of a shine to them. The greatest aspect of a suit jacket that distinguishes it from blazers and sportscoats is the fact that it is always paired with matching pants. Even if the jacket has some less suit-like characteristics, if it is paired with matching pants, it is a suit. Note that most suit jackets, but especially worsted wool jackets, should not be worn without their matching pants.

Sportscoats were originally used for sport, especially hunting. Because of this, they are typically made with a thicker fabric than most other lapelled jackets, and are normally made of tweeds or other thick wool fabrics. They tend to be less structured, and they are not expected to be quite as slim or tapered as a blazer or suit jacket–however today a slimmer sportscoat is acceptable. Its pockets usually have flaps, and there may be a ticket pocket. Sportscoats are frequently soft-shouldered.

Blazers are also a type of sports jacket. They are traditionally composed of navy wool with metal buttons. However, more casual blazers may be made of cotton with plastic buttons. Dressier blazers will have sharp padded shoulders while more casual blazers will have soft shoulders. Blazer pockets are typically a flapless patch pocket, which is to say that the pockets are stitched onto the torso rather than cut into the garment, which you find on other lapelled jackets.

Image by Nordstrom

Tuxedo jackets are most similar to suit jackets with a few important differences. Like a suit jacket, tuxedo jacket fabric matches the pants. Tuxedos normally have satin lapels and satin buttons. They frequently have a shawl or peak lapel, rather than a notch lapel. Tuxedos are almost always made of a black worsted wool, and may have other satin trimming. It should be noted that suit pants also have a satin stripe down the sides, and tuxedos are usually worn with patent leather shoes.

How to assess the best fit of a suit jacket or sports jacket

Shoulder

Like a shirt, the shoulder seam should be at the corner of the shoulder, but with enough room for a shirt, and maybe even a slim sweater or cardigan. The shoulder should be smooth, and should not have an indent below the seam (known as a divot) when standing with your arms at the sides. Padded shoulders may be used to accentuate your chest, but make sure they are smooth, rather than misshapen. If you plan on using a sportscoat in particularly cold weather, make sure there is enough room in the shoulders to accommodate thicker layers.

Sleeve

A jacket sleeve should show half an inch of cuff. It should not be so tight that it pulls at your shirt or restricts motion. However, there should not be so much room that your arm moves around loosely in the sleeve. Avoid billowy sleeves – they should follow the contour of your arm. There should not be a significant gap between the shirt cuff and the jacket sleeve. Heavy sportscoats are a bit more rugged, so it is fine if they do not show any cuff.

Collar

The collar should lie close to your shirt collar. Any space between your shirt collar and the jacket collar is known as “collar gap” and indicates a poorly fitting shoulder-collar stance. The jacket collar should go about halfway up your shirt collar – showing some, but not all, of your shirt collar.

Front

Your lapels should lay against your chest, but they should not be tight. Some poorly fitting jackets clearly show space between the wearer’s chest and the front of the jacket (while buttoned). The fastened button of a 1, 2, or 3-button jacket should be ~3-4” above your navel. The importance of this is called “button stance” – a deeper button stance will make you appear to have a longer torso. For 2 or 3-button jackets, the bottom button should be unfastened. The jacket should not be so tight that there is clear pulling at the button when fastened (signified by the fabric forming an X shape).

Sides

For the modern gentlemen, the sides of the suit should not go straight down. There should be a bit of taper that slims to your waist, and bells out slowly to your hips. This is known as “waist suppression,” and it emphasizes the ‘V’ of the chest. This is less necessary in a sportscoat, which is heavier and is shaped to accommodate layers.

Back

In general, the body of the jacket should be loose enough that you can easily perform normal activities, such as tying your shoes. If the back feels as if it is going to rip, this is a red flag. A popular test is the hug test – which is to say, if your jacket feels like it will tear if you were to hug someone, it’s too tight.

Length

There are multiple ways to decide how long a jacket should be. All of these methods should work for the average-proportioned man. The jacket should completely cover your butt, and no more. The jacket should end somewhere between your thumb’s knuckle and your thumb’s base. For measuring purposes, the back length measurement should be approximately equivalent to half the length from (a) the bottom of the back of your shirt collar, down to (b) the bottom of your foot. When in doubt, use the last method, as it takes your entire body into account and does not vary by arm-length.

Ultimately, when shopping for jackets, make sure you focus on slimness, placement, and comfort. Keep in mind that every person’s proportions are a bit different, as you may need to bend some of these rules if your body differs from the average man.

Nicholas Taverna is a style enthusiast, a writer, and a Financial Planner with Royal Alliance Associates. He works out of his office in Port Jefferson, New York and Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time, he also dabbles in tennis and gourmet cooking.

  • Wilson

    I would also like to add that armscyes (armholes) are something to look out for too.

    I recently bought a suit online, and while I loved it otherwise, the really low armholes just ruined the suit. It pulled at the lapels as well as pushed the suit up at the shoulders, which made it all boxy if I extended my arms out too far (side and forward). The most annoying thing about it is that it’s a “slim fit” suit too. The stupidly low armholes totally negated the fit unless I always had my arms down to my sides. Had to return it because of this very reason.

  • Nicholas

    @Wilson

    Thank you for your comment. Yes, armholes are absolutely crucial, especially since they are essentially untailorable. Borrowing from the suggestions of the shirt guide:

    “Armholes should be comfortable in motion–they should not be so tight that they cut into underarm. However, avoid excessive space. An easy way to check this is… if lifting your arms 45 degrees lifts your [jacket]… more than an inch or so, your armholes are likely too low.”

    Additionally, armholes should be high enough that you can move your arms without the torso of the jacket moving about. This is very important as it pertains to normal movement, otherwise your jacket will lift and pull oddly when walking and making natural movements.

    Cheers

  • http://www.liftluxe.com Andrew

    Good points. I’ve had similar armhole problems as well, so it’s good to see that issue being addressed.

    The two biggest problems I see in suit jackets/ blazers are how they fit in the shoulders (too loose, too much padding) and in the length (I see many men with suits that hang as low as the index finger).

    For a traditional (but fashionable) American look, I like J. Crew’s suit jackets and sport coats. For a look that is a bit more continental – Lubiam makes some beautiful pieces.

  • joe capozzolo

    With a good tailor if the shoulder is a good fit the jacket can be tailored. As a former bodybuilder, I agree with the armholes, though in many good suits they can be relieved 1/4 to 1/2 inch. The length of most of the Armani style suits are usually a bit longer than the hickey freeman, Hart Shaffner, Marx suits. I do believe if it is affordable custom is the only way to go it you are not a perfect 40reg 40long, usually sample sizes! Thanks for the information!

  • Chris

    I do not wear suits everyday, or even once a month for that matter. But the article inspired me to pull out a suit I purchased last year and try it on to check out the fit. A tailor is definitely in order. Good inspiration.

  • Jake

    curious if all of the same applies to Double Breasted suits?

  • Dave

    I’m wondering what your thoughts are on these Rules of Fit where slim-fit suit designs are concerned (English Laundry etc.)?

  • Giuliano Ferrara

    damn, always get the X

  • jen

    Another awesome post, love the pictures to emphasize points. Having worked in men’s clothing from the retail perspective I am so glad you included the shoulder divot. Little details like that make all the difference and are what sets you apart from the average dressed man.

  • Guest

    Can you show how a Vest should fit ?

  • Kim

    Excellent post. About to buy my 17-year old son his first suit and haven’t a clue how to fit a man! This is super helpful.

  • rafizee

    if only the button at the top should be fasten but the bottom one should not be fasten, then what is the purpose of having it in the first place?

    • Guest

      It’s the same idea as having a waistcoat and leaving the bottom button undone. It is traditional. One button would look odd, but showing a respect for tradition is a good sign that you know how to dress yourself properly. Cheers!

  • Matt

    Totally disagree on button placement. The Top button should be just above the navel. 3 or 4 inches, as you say, is way too high.

  • Robert

    Shoulder is the most important factor for the fit of any jacket, the focal point about the jacket you have not briefly defined is that it is most important that your shoulders goes straight towards your arm (with any disturbance), and rest of the part should drape smoothly. Most of the people observe with the shoulder that either suit is bought or borrowed .. Otherwise I am satisfied with your publish.

    3-Roll-2 Button Suit

  • Pingback: Pinoy Men’s Essentials: The Rest | menswear manila

  • John Preston

    At issue is the challenge of those of us with broad shoulders. I have great difficulties with suits and must use separates to get a fit. I often have the armholes cut inside to loosen them and then the collar relaxed to remove a roll. Then the suit is taken in through the body and the button moved a 1/4″ . My point is that proper tailoring is a must to achieve a good look for some and finding a good tailor is vital. I wear a 48 or 50R but my drop is 14-16″ so it is hard to find a nice fitting jacket without tailoring.

  • Help

    Murder yourself if you stand before a mirror and question the silhouette demanded by a tailor’s cut.

  • Host

    “As a former bodybuilder…” Why did you not commit suicide then, instead of plaguing us with your observations now.

  • you

    set fire to your double breasted suit

  • Pingback: What the fit of your suit says to the world