While folk wisdom dictates that we not judge a book by its cover, the truth is that covers are useful little things— they tell you just enough about what’s inside while leaving the interior an untapped mystery. For us humans, it’s inevitable that we are judged by our appearances, and for a gentleman, this is doubly so.
In a fast-paced world, a gentleman’s look has to convey certain qualities in an instant. His clothes have to show that he is disciplined, thoughtful, and interested in self-betterment, while leaving the finer details as a mystery for open for further exploration. Whether it’s in a boardroom or a barroom, the clothes you wear have to do a lot of heavy lifting. So, in the interest of appearing interesting, here’s our guide to making sure you put your best front forward.
A suit is the gentleman’s not-so-secret weapon, his ideal form, his monument to masculinity. Suits conjure such associations because of their roots in the military uniforms of yesteryear, and while the connotations have shifted, a good suit should be treated with a similar reverence. It is, in many ways, a uniform after all— a good suit will guide you through job interviews, weddings, and revelry alike.
The important part here is “good”. Putting together a well-tailored suit is no easy process. If you’re going to feel good in your uniform, you’ll have to know what to expect ahead of time. Luckily, you’re not alone— we’ve listed the most important things to keep in mind when heading to the tailor. Follow our advice, and you’ll have a suit that will keep you looking sharp through whatever life brings your way.
The most important part of the jacket is the shoulder or yoke. You want that to fit correctly above all else— while it’s possible to alter the shoulder, it’s considerably more expensive than tailoring other aspects. The fabric along your shoulder and upper back should lie flat, not bunched uptight or hanging off the edges of your frame.
Next up are the armholes. They should be spacious enough that you can lay your arms flat at your side without the seam digging into your armpits. If you can’t put your arms all the way down, the suit is too tight! The armholes, like the yoke, require a lot of fabric to alter, so it’s best to start with a suit jacket you can slip into with ease.
After getting the yoke down pat, it’s time to get a feel for the jacket’s drape. It should hang comfortably off the front, but not with so much billow that it looks like you raided your dad’s closet. Conversely, if the lapels don’t lay flat on your chest, then your jacket is too small. Same goes for your rear— the jacket’s back vents should lie flat, so if your butt is sticking out, it’s too snug.
Equally important is the jacket length. While drape is a measure of how the fabric hangs, the length is how you determine where that hanging fabric ends. The key to length is balance— it’s ultimately your choice, and norms have shifted since the time of our forefathers. In granddad’s day, the length was determined by the curve of the fingers when held at your side. For the modern gentleman, though, a better bet is to go by the back end: your jacket should cover your butt but not more than that.
The last aspect is the sleeve length. This is the easiest to alter, so don’t get too hung up on an off-the-rack fit, but the aspect to measure against here is your wrist. The ideal jacket sleeve leaves a quarter-inch of shirtsleeve showing— too much more than that, you’re a geezer trying to fit into a young man’s suit, while not enough leaves you back in dad’s closet territory.
First things first: let’s talk waists. Your waist is not your hips, gentlemen. No, those are further down. Your waist is navel-level, it is generally narrower than the hips, and it is the place where your suit pants should be worn. The past few decades have seen a general lowering of pant placement, and while this works just fine for jeans, chinos and the sort, trousers are made to be worn at the waist. Remember this: your suit pants sit at a higher level because they are a higher level of pants.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to talk break. The break is the point at which the hem of your pants falls on your shoes. The break, like most aspects of suitcraft, is a matter of balance. Too high, you look like Steve Urkel, but too low, you’ll look like a member of the 2003 NBA Draft. While that’s ultimately your choice, it’s best to at least know how to achieve the desired look of your pants. Your break options generally fall into the categories: the full break, the medium break, and the no break.
In the full break, the bottom of the hem covers the heel of the shoe. The advantage here is a longer covering, which can keep the socks hidden while walking. The medium break finds the hem in the middle of the heel. This option can leave space for some sock slippage, but it also keeps the fabric further off the floor, keeping your trousers clean and your stride trip-free.