Art of Manliness Suit School - The Alterations Everyone Needs

This is the second in a series of posts about how to look your best in a suit, and to provide some general tips for your suiting needs.

Today we're going to talk about fit and alterations.

When you try on a suit jacket off the rack, you're mainly checking for a fit in the shoulders. Pretty much any other alteration on a jacket is possible and not terribly expensive. To get shoulders taken in could cost upwards of $100.00, and is rarely worth it.

Try on that jacket. The shoulder of the jacket should end where your shoulders naturally end- linebacker shoulders are a throwback to the 80s and look generally atrocious, unless you're trying to be this guy:


Generally, it's not helpful to remind your interviewer of Patrick Bateman. Side note: Don't comment on their business cards.

Want you do want is a shoulder that ends naturally where yours does. This is the most important part of fitting a suit. If it looks strange, then don't buy it, despite the assertions of whatever salesperson that it fits your perfectly.

Once you have a jacket that fits you in the shoulders, we're ready to go to the tailor. Eschew in-house department-store tailors or your local dry cleaner. Instead, find a local tailor that has positive reviews and whose work you can see.

You are going to want at least two of three things done:
1) Sleeves Shortened
2) Pants Hemmed
3) Waist Suppressed



1) Sleeves Shortened

Many off the rack suits have sleeves that are many inches too long. The ideal sleeve length should allow 1/4" to 1/2" of shirt cuff to show when you rest your hands at your side. In most people, this equates to having the suit jacket end at the bump on the pinky side on your wrist, where your arm meets your hand. It will look something like this:


This is classic and timeless. It will show just enough shirt to look clean and put together. Look around and you'll notice scores of people. men and women, who leave their sleeves too long- they look like they are playing dress-up in their parent's suits. Avoid this and you'll look grown up and professional, making yourself stand out from others who've neglected to do so. It's a small detail that makes a huge difference.


2) Pants Hemmed

Normally, pants on off the rack suits are unfinished and about 6-8" too long for anyone to wear. You need to have these hemmed. You have a few choices to make when getting pants hemmed.

The first decision to make is cuffed v. non-cuffed pants.

Cuffed pants are more traditional. They add weight to the bottom of the pant and allow the fabric to drape more naturally. Cuffed pants work best with pleated pants. Pleated pants generally are wider in the leg and often can look sloppy. But the added weight of the cuff gives the pleats a better shape. It looks clean and more traditional. If you do wear pleated pants, though, make sure that you're wearing them at the proper height! Pleated pants should not be worn at the same height as jeans. Hike the waistband up to around your navel to avoid looking like you have about 30 extra pounds in your hips and thighs.

Non-cuffed pants are generally better suited for slim, plain front pants. Slim legs hug your body better and don't require the extra weight at the bottom to make them drape properly. That said, cuffs can look excellent on straight leg pants too. It's a matter of your preference.

The next decision you need to make is the break of the pant.

The break is the degree to which a pant extends down your leg. This ranges from a full-break to no-break.

Full-break hems extend to the top of the heel on your shoe. The cuff generally covers about 2/3 to 3/4 of the laces on your shoe. The pants neatly fold once where they meet the top of the shoe. Your socks generally do not show, even while walking. A full-break is best for wider-legged, pleated pants. It's traditional and classic. You will see a lot of senior men and executives with a full break trouser.

A half-break is a hem that's slightly shorter than a full-break. Instead of the pant hem ending at the top of the heel, it ends about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way down. You socks may show while you walk. This is a younger look that is suited for either flat front or pleated trousers.

A trouser with no break is known as a "flood trouser." The pant neatly ends at the top of the shoe. This is a look that is best suited if you wear a slim, flat front trouser. Your socks are pretty much out there for everyone to see, so this can be a good look for you if you like wacky socks. This is not a terribly traditional look. If you decide to go this route, you are going to have to do it with confidence. Otherwise, you run the risk of looking like a dweeb who doesn't know what he's doing. The master of the flood pant right now is Thom Browne. This is Thom Browne:


I do not recommend being this extreme. I don't think anyone does. It's definitely not suitable for business environments, unless you're in the fashion industry.


3) Waist Suppression


Waist suppression is a fancy term for bringing in the waist of a suit jacket to accentuate the ideal "V" of the male torso. Many off the rack suits are rather boxy. By asking your tailor to suppress the waist, you will have him bring in the waist of the jacket a little to help create this image. Generally, this makes the jacket look cleaner and more form-fitting (not tight, but fitted). You'll look less like a burlap sack and more like a human with shoulders and a waist. This Ralph Lauren Black Label suit has rather aggressive waist suppression (which I personally like), but it gives you an idea what I'm talking about.



Compare that jacket to this, which has very little to no waist suppression.


Take out your suits, try them on, see if you need any of these alterations done. If you do, take a trip to your tailor and see what he/she can do for you!

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Tags: Alterations, School, Suit, Tailor

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Comment by Wayne W. on December 27, 2010 at 12:20am
Yet another great post.  Why are you in law school and not working in the fashion industry?  Is there a way for you to blend the two?
Comment by Leo Doom Occulta on August 18, 2009 at 10:44pm
Waist suppression is a good thing regardless of your waist size. It'll give you a nice "manly" triangle shape. Just as long as it's not too severe, it'll look great! Beats a boxy suit no matter what! :)
Comment by Russel G. on August 18, 2009 at 7:40pm
Great post, Leo! I'll be looking for new suits in the next few months, and these suggestions are perfect.

Right now, I won't worry about "waist suppression" though, as I'm a little more rotund than I was a few years ago. But if I stick to the plan, I'll need it when I'm ready to buy my suits.

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