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How masculine clothing should fit, according to experts

Two expert tailors share their tips for finding a good fit in men's clothing.

A colorful illustration showing a diverse crowd of people wearing masculine and men's clothing in front of a purple background. Credit: Julia Bianchi

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Menswear and masculine clothing have their own distinct traits over clothes for women. Generally speaking, men’s sized clothing features straighter cuts, roomier sleeves, and—more or less—consistent waistlines for bottoms. When it comes to button-up shirts and pants, or more formal attire like suit jackets, achieving a flattering fit—one fit to your body—is one of the most important aspects of looking good in men’s clothing. But how do you know if men’s clothing fits?

Furthermore, how do you determine if masculine clothing fits right on you? We asked two experts within the independent tailoring world to help answer these questions and give us style tips: Stacie Pettersen, head stylist and manager at Beyond Bespoke Tailors in Manhattan, and Joe Holsgrove, coatmaker and tailor at coat maker at Dege & Skinner located on Savile Row, a central London, that has been known for its traditional men’s tailoring since the late 18th century.

How should a men’s dress shirt fit?

An illustration showing off a person wearing a suit jacket, followed by their arm extended with the sleeve of a shirt barely visible underneath the wrist.
Credit: Julia Bianchi

For button-down shirts, there should be one finger’s worth of room between the collar and your neck.

Here's a cheat code to knowing if a button-up or dress shirt fits just right: Pettersen says that there should be one finger’s worth of room between the shirt’s collar and your neck. If you’re able to comfortably fit your finger in, then it’s likely you’re not choking yourself in proper attire.
The sleeve length of a men’s dress shirt should land where the base of your wrist meets your hand. There must also be a half-inch of gathered fabric near your wrist so that when you extend your hand, it doesn’t show forearm. Holsgrove, however, advises that sleeves should meet the triangular depression at the base of one’s thumb—called the radial fossa—without the need to pull them down. A shirt’s sleeves must be tapered to fit your body. You should be able to bend your arms and move comfortably.

For those who have broader shoulders, a larger torso, or are barrel-chested, finding a button-down shirt with a good fit can sometimes be difficult. Pettersen suggests buying a shirt that fits well around your largest areas and then making adjustments to it later with the help of a tailor. Work can be done to remove excess fabric, easily sizing down the piece for a perfect fit.

A buildup of extra fabric can sometimes gather in the back of a shirt. This is a common thing and can be a result of a curved spine, uneven shoulders, one arm that’s longer than the other, or a medical condition. A tailor can help clean up the unwanted appearance with tapering and by adding darts, or small tucks of fabric, into the shirt to make you appear symmetrical. The body of the shirt should be comfortable and offer an ease of movement that doesn’t show straining at the buttons.

How should a men’s suit jacket fit?

An illustration showing a person stuffing their fist inside of a suit jacket to check if it's too big.
Credit: Julia Bianchi

For a well-fitted jacket body, you should be able to grab the lapel and fit one fist inside the front of the jacket near the top button. If there’s room for more than your fist, it’s too big.

Need a quick way to see if that suit jacket is right for you? Here’s another easy cheat, according to Holsgrove: If a suit jacket looks visibly strained, it’s too small. He also says the top of the sleeves is another indicator of a small jacket; if the shoulders break out beyond the shoulder seam, it’s cramped. When in doubt, it’s best to get a larger-sized jacket and have a tailor taper it and bring in shoulder seams than a smaller jacket that can’t be worked on.

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The most important parts of a jacket’s fit, Pettersen explains, are in the sleeves, shoulders, and body. The shoulders must fit flush to your upper bicep while the sleeves should be fitted without any rippling of fabric. For a well-fitted masculine jacket body, you should be able to grab the lapel and fit one fist inside the front of the jacket near the top button. Any room that fits more than your fist indicates that it’s too big.

How should a vest fit?

As Pettersen states, a vest should fit like a mini jacket. It’s important to capture a solid great fit around the chest and sides.

Similar to button-down shirts, Holsgrove has an easy way to see if a vest fits well: There must never be a gap between the bottom of the vest and the top of your trouser waistband. In other words, hide your belly button. “Seeing a small amount of somebody’s shirt here is greatly unflattering, and can totally distract from a whole outfit,” he says. Although vests are typically close-fitting, you still need to appear and feel comfortable. A fit that remains snug without putting any strain on buttons is best. He adds: "There should be a strap and buckle on the back of a vest to allow for size adjustment at the waist—which can also be loosened after a good meal!”

How should men’s jeans fit?

An illustration showing off a trio of legs, showcasing many styles of pant breaks and shoes.
Credit: Julia Bianchi

A jeans' fit is beholden to current style trends, but the waistline should fit without the use of a belt.

Achieving the right fit when on the hunt for jeans is important. While Pettersen and Holsgrove both agree that the “correct” fit—like how tapered straight leg jeans should be, or how skinny slim fit jeans should look—is beholden to current styles and trends, looking to your waistline is the best way to achieve your “best” fit for your body.

“The waist should fit completely—there should be no gaps at the waistband,” Pettersen says. A belt, she says, is just jewelry for your clothes. You shouldn’t need one to help keep your pants up. Though Pettersen says how the legs fit is entirely up to the wearer, she prefers a tapered fit while working at Beyond Bespoke Tailors.

With jeans styles ranging from wide leg to slim fit, it’s hard to say what will work for everyone. She says that the hem, however, should appear clean. It should also fit comfortably around boots just as well as flat shoes or sneakers, without any extra fabric hanging out.

Holsgrove advises against skinny jeans that restrict movement or appear “sprayed on”: “There’s nothing worse than being opposite somebody and able to see the contents of their pockets.” He jokes: “You should be able to store things comfortably without people being able to read the dates on your coins.”

A more generous cut of jeans, like a straight or wide leg, is advised for those who have a prominent seat and thigh area who need added comfort. Any unwanted bagginess can be solved with a tailor’s taper from the knee down, which is an alteration that’ll improve the appearance of excess fabric.

For those with wide hips or thick thighs, who wear men’s big and tall sizes and have trouble finding pants or jeans that fit well, Pettersen suggests buying pieces that can comfortably cover the largest part of your body. From there, you can alter the piece and size down in other areas such as the waistline, legs, and hem. You can also have your tailor make you a custom pair of jeans.

How should men’s slacks fit?

Worn in wedding and office environments alike, slacks​​—also referred to as trousers and dress pants—have been a signal of formality since the 19th century. The garment has a longstanding connection with celebrating important events, so it’s a surprise to see Pettersen and Holsgrove disagree on how they should fit on the body.

At Beyond Bespoke Tailors, Pettersen is a fan of men’s dress pants that are tapered, well-fitted, and comfortably close to the leg. Like jeans, belts shouldn’t be required, but a no break or small break—the area between your hem and shoes—is appropriate.

At Dege & Skinner, Holsgrove prefers to see loose and relaxed slacks. “The very term ‘slack’ derives from the Saxon word for ‘loose’, and as such, these garments should fit that way,” he says. “They are usually always a generous cut, but more recently it has been noted that fashion houses have slightly tapered the legs to promote a slimmer profile without being too contoured.”

What is a pant break?

An illustration showing off the different lengths of a pants break.
Credit: Julia Bianchi

Pant breaks from left to right: small break, no break, medium break, large break.

A pant break is the fold of fabric at the bottom of the leg that covers your shoes, and it’s what tailors typically refer to when altering a pair of bottoms. Items like chinos, dress pants, and even jeans can benefit from a tailored pant break. According to Pettersen, your tailor can provide the following breaks:

  • No break: No fabric bunching at the bottom of your hem
  • Small break: A small gathering at the bottom of the pants
  • Medium break: Even more gathering at the hem
  • Large break: A large amount of fabric gathering at the bottom (which, as Pettersen says, looks sloppy)

Pant breaks have no strict rules when it comes to style, but Holsgrove and other Savile Row tailors prefer to see is a very small break with plain bottom (or no cuff) trousers, with the hem meeting the heel of your shoe, and the front of the hem angling upwards about an inch towards the toe box.

What clothing should—and shouldn’t—be tailored?

Holsgrove, who leans on the sartorial side of style, says that a tailor can do much more with their craft than hemming and tapering. “The look and feel of garments can be totally transformed,” he says, “not only from a fit perspective but also physical appearance.” For example, an easy move like changing the buttons on your favorite shirt can bring a new lease of life to it.

Although Holsgrove advises prioritizing your formal garments, anything can be tailored. Beyond Bespoke has seen a rise in tailoring loungewear since the start of the pandemic, including robes and pajama pants. T-shirts, sweatpants, and shorts can be altered. Contrary to the popular belief that tailoring should be reserved for formal events and weddings, Pettersen states: “If you love it, we don’t judge. When your clothes fit you better, you feel better and look better. Why not tailor it if it's important to you?”

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