Prince Charles, whose tailor is typically Anderson & Sheppard, demonstrates a correct sleeve pitch. photo credit : Celebrity Red Carpet.
It's easy to overlook the humble sleeve.
After all, the allure of brimming lapels, marbled horn buttons, milanese buttonholes, and the dizzying fallout from exposure to textured tweeds and lush flannels (not to mention the compelling language of the shoulder), is sure to distract even the most engaged geek, intent on knowing things like how the Cifonelli shoulder has zero roping or padding (as others may think), but instead, the shoulder is built up with the suit fabric itself, at the hands of a able tailor who practices a technique handed down from generations past.
But even with all these welcome distractions, it seems that every good suit aficionado will, eventually...turn his attention towards the illusive coat sleeve.
It's no big secret that the length of the suit coat sleeve should stop at the wrist bone, and should allow around 1/2 inch of shirt sleeve to show beneath the coat. Yet, other than this repetitive dictum on the length of the sleeve, the jacket sleeve is almost a silent subject compared to shoulders, lapels, and fabric choices. Even so, the pitch and positioning of the coat sleeve has a profound effect on the overall look of a jacket.
Common advice on Coat Sleeve Length ... the length of the coat sleeve should stop at the wrist bone. credit : Men of Color Style.
After completing around 50 articles on style and observing the handiwork of Cifonelli, Camps de Luca, Rubinacci, Solito, and an A-list of Savile Row master craftsmen, I've been rather slow to notice how the coat sleeve may interact with the body and potentially make or break a good suit.
My first nudge towards focusing on the coat sleeve, oddly enough, occurred during a recent tour of Suit Supply in Amsterdam. The display of off the peg coats (inspired by the finer aspects of bespoke tailoring) revealed noticeable rows of suit coats with boomerang-inclined shaped coat sleeves draping from the clothes rack, with each coat sleeve cast at a similar sleeve-pitch, lining up in short rows, and giving the vibe of a Martha Stewart display of robin-egg-colored vases lined up like soldiers atop a cupboard in zen-like modality.
As animated by Style Forum's tailorgod
Sleeve pitch : the angle that the sleeve is attached based on a person's neutral arm position and natural posture.
A person with excellent posture needs a LOW sleeve pitch (X3 - shoulder shifts towards the back). A person with a forward-curved posture needs a HIGH sleeve pitch (X2 - shoulder shifts towards the front).
After returning from Suit Supply, the search to understand the coat sleeve felt a bit illusive since not much is out there on the subject. So finally, when coming across an illustration created by tailorgod on Style Forum about sleeve pitch, I felt lucky, like when the all the cherries line up on the slot machine app that came with my phone.
Thomas Mahon, Bespoke Savile Row Tailor, The English Cut
The animated illustration above allows us to immediately perceive the definition of sleeve pitch and makes it easier to have an intelligent discussion on the subject when commissioning a suit.
When considering sleeve pitch, remember:
LOW PITCH = a Back Tilt (think of dropping your shoulders in a low, backwards position for good posture)
HIGH PITCH = a Front Tilt (think of shoulders that curve forward and a bit higher, with a slight hunch)
To see if your coat sleeve is hanging correctly, put on your jacket and view yourself sideways in the mirror.
Notice how the sleeves look when your arms hang down in neutral position, while standing in a natural posture. Do you see any gathering of fabric at the front or the back of the sleeves of your upper arms? If so, then it is possible that the pitch of the sleeve is wrong on your suit coat.
Savile Row Master Tailor Thomas Mahon (whose blog The English Cut we can recommend with enthusiasm) gives an easy look at what happens when sleeve pitch goes wrong. In his blog, he demonstrates how, by shifting his arm from front to back, he can clearly show what can happen when the sleeve pitch does not match a person's neutral arm position and natural body posture:
FURROWING IN FRONT (and too much chest fullness)
An intentional shift of the shoulder FORWARD yields forward bunching. For a forward-curved posture, pitch the shoulder sleeve forward (high pitch).
If you have developed a forward hunch because of excessive computer use, unbalanced body building, heredity, natural posture, or age, then you should have your sleeves pitched forward to match your posture. The correct pitch will avoid fabric gathering at the front of the sleeve and the common problem of too much chest fullness in the coat.
Approach for a posture that curves forwards:
* Pitch the sleeve forward to match the body (avoiding a pitch that is too low).
* Until posture is improved, embrace your forward hunch instead of fighting it--otherwise, you will experience too much chest fullness and fabric gathering on the front of the sleeve, precisely where everyone can see it.
BACK OF SLEEVE FURROWING
An intentional shift of the shoulder BACKWARDS yields backward bunching. For a strong upright posture, pitch the shoulder sleeve backwards (low pitch)
If you have the posture of a soldier or a yoga master, then you should have your sleeves pitched low and backwards to match your posture. The correct backwards pitch will avoid the problem of the back of the sleeve fabric furrowing, and the more obvious problem of a fabric strain on the front of the jacket (aka the dreaded " X " in the waist and chest areas), caused by nicely postured shoulders ' pulling back ' against the front of the coat.
Approach for an upright posture:
* Pitch the sleeve backwards/low to match the body (avoiding a pitch that is too high)
* With a very strong posture, pay close attention that your sleeves are pitched correctly, otherwise you may experience fabric bunching in the back of your coat sleeves, and obvious fabric strain on the front of the jacket.
In the case of RTW jackets and other coats with sleeves that need a rotation adjustment, it is possible for a tailor to remove the coat sleeves and rotate them so that the sleeves are in sync with a person's neutral position and natural posture. And in some cases, a treasured jacket could absolutely justify a trip to the tailor for a sleeve pitch rotation to eliminate anterior or posterior puckering around the sleeve head.
Sonya Glyn Nicholson, Senior Editor