If you like tailored clothes, knowing how to spot faults in crafting will prevent you from rebuying a better version of the same item.
Recently I tried on a jacket I hadn’t worn in years and noticed my collar was gapping at the back of my neck, the waist button “buttoned” far too high, and my jacket pockets were set so high I needed to contort my shoulders to put a business card inside my pocket.
Why didn’t I notice these things before now? The truth is that it can take years of studying suit construction and design to recognize those things which will become obvious later.
Every “body” has different proportions, one ear may be lower than the other ear, a torso may be oddly long or even truncated, shoulders may slope downwards or be straight edged like a soldier. It is a tailor’s job to work with different morphologies by adjusting elements of a jacket to balance your overall look. But even if you are not using a tailor and buy ready-to-wear clothing, knowing which design elements are coherent for your body will help you to buy better, every time.
Believe it or not, even a well seasoned tailor can become “oblivious to the obvious”, as repetitive crafting can blur attention to the finer details of fit and function.
I’ve seen top tailors craft suits with glaring collar gaps and maestros who have been working decades position the waist-working-button so high when buttoned, that the positioning looks like a chest button instead of a waist button. I’ve seen lower pockets and breast pockets on sports coats and suit coats placed too high on the body, as if a puppeteer was yanking the garment upwards from overhead.
Whether you are commissioning a tailored jacket or buying ready-to-wear, the following should help tune your eye to the finer points of how individual components work together to create a coherent look.
The focus of this article is on the the classic jacket (e.g., blazer, sports or suit coat)—a fundamental item in any wardrobe.
To avoid laborious ramblings, the photos often will speak for themselves in terms of good and not-so-good visuals.
You should be able to follow clear examples of some things to look for in every jacket you consider, to help yield a beautiful silhouette and total look with balanced proportions.
The “overall impression” of your entire body at a reasonable distance plays a big part in forming a perceived image.
While you can eat well (e.g., healthy food and not processed crap) and workout to better balance your proportions, you can also manipulate garment design to work to your advantage. The later subject could be covered in chapters, but there are three design element areas you can understand straight away.
A balance of proportions is what gives an instant impression of whether a garment looks “off” or harmonious.
Many people have no clue about the following elements to look for (and it was not until my ninth year in the business studying countless suits that I came to a greater understanding of how individual tailoring elements can work together).
Some things can be analyzed without wearing a jacket and other things will become more apparent after you try on a jacket, to help you evaluate whether the garment complements or downgrades your morphology.
Dissecting and understanding the parts of a jacket can help you upgrade the elegance of the garment as a whole.
Let’s Get Started!
As we have long discussed here, the dreaded collar gap is one of the most glaring faults on a tailored jacket. Try to make sure there is no gap between the back of your neck and the collar of your jacket. In other words, the collar should hug your neck comfortably and lay flush against your shirt collar.
The collar should not look like this:
But rather, like this:
Once you ensure that your collar is not gaping, notice the position of the collar at the back of your neck. Sometimes a jacket collar rests so low on the back of the neck, that it doesn’t even touch the shirt collar! This design fault is often overlooked, yet the problem becomes obvious once you understand the issue.
When there is a low-resting jacket collar, it can appear as if the back collar is missing altogether. A tell-tale sign of a low-resting collar is when your entire shirt collar is exposed on the back of your neck.
The subconscious mind will register that something is off when this happens. The jacket collar should rise up to cover at least a third of your shirt collar.
Although this article is about jackets, to make the point, I will use an example of a shirt collar. Imagine how strange it would be if your shirt collar sunk down to expose the entire back of your neck. Neither should a jacket collar rest so low that it misses the neck altogether.
Instead of a low-resting jacket collar like the two photos below:
Try for this (a jacket collar that covers at least a third, or even better half of your shirt collar):
But reversely, don't go too high, with the jacket collar covering almost all the shirt collar, like on the photo below:
Where your waist button is located on your jacket affects how long or short your legs will appear. If you have a long torso and short legs, you may ask your tailor or MTM salon to raise the waist buttoning point to make your legs look longer. Essentially a higher button stance will trick the eye into believing your navel is located higher than it is. On the flip side, if you have long legs like a spider and a short torso, lowering the waist buttoning point will make your legs appear more balanced with the rest of your body.
The problem of raising the button stance too high results in some gentlemen looking like they are walking on stilts.
To locate your “button stance range”, try the following:
* Place your hand on your belly, with your pinky finger just above where your navel is located.
* With all fingers together, note the distance between your pinky finger and your index finger (ignore your thumb).
A theoretical correct position of the waist button of your jacket (the one you actually button) is located somewhere around your index finger.
Any placement way above or way below your index finger risks throwing off the proportions of your jacket.
* A rookie tailoring-mistake: placing buttons so close to the hem of a jacket that it appears the buttons are dangling from the edge of the fabric.
* On a double-breasted jacket, take care not to place the top buttons directly on top of the nipples…a practice which yields a particularly strange look.
Understanding pocket placement on a tailored jacket is typically a skill acquired late in one’s sartorial journey. It takes studying thousands of suits before one is able to piece together how elements like pocket placement can influence the overall look. Here are some observations:
The breast (chest) pocket is positioned on the left side and usually has a welt, or a strip of cloth lining the top of the pocket with a visible hem. The welt at the top of the pocket may be straight or curved like a boat (a.k.a. the Italian barchetta pocket).
Another type of breast pocket is the Italian patch pocket, which is simply placed on top of the jacket for a more casual look. Less often seen are bellow and jetted breast pockets, or a chest pocket with flap.
The chest pocket appears balanced when the top part of the pocket in aligned somewhere near the armpit. If you are shorter than the norm, the chest pocket may be only slightly raised. Yet take note that if the chest pocket is positioned too close to the face, the proportions of the jacket are thrown off—particular if you add more height with a pocket square.
On the other hand, if the chest pocket is set too low beneath the armpit, then when you sit down, the pocket can appear closer to your belly than the chest itself—and adding a pocket square around the belly area is not an option.
Finally, try to ensure the chest pocket is not hidden underneath the lapel with no space to include a pocket square.
The opposite is true when the chest pocket is placed extremely close to the arm with zero intersection with the lapel. If the lapel is large enough for a portion of the chest pocket to hide underneath the lapel, this look creates a beautiful flow.
A) Top of hip pocket
Position hip pockets to allow for the functionality of putting something inside your pocket. If you must hyperextend your shoulders to put your hands in your jacket pocket, the jacket proportions could be suffering.
Generally, side pockets should be placed several centimeters beneath the elbow (with arms by your side). The exception is if a high hip pocket placement is done in the name of a unique design.
Many times the top of the hip pockets are aligned perfectly with the lower buttons/buttonholes on a jacket, as if a horizontal line is traveling across the body. My personal preference is that the top of the hip pocket is offset with any button or button hole to avoid the look of the horizontal line across the body. But the practice of aligning the top of hip pockets with the lower buttonhole/button is so common that it may not be possible to state a preference.
B) “Entire hip pocket” placement
There is a reason that lower pockets are referred to as hip pockets—at least part of the lower pockets should be placed on the hips. A fault of many made-to-measure jackets is that the maker slaps the entire lower pockets on the abdomen and misses the hips all together!
When hip pockets are placed solely on the abdomen and no where near the hip itself, the proportions of the jacket can look wrong.
This overview is meant to create an awareness of how to choose a jacket with elements which complement each other, moving towards proportional-balance. It is by no means a list of hard and fast rules. When you become aware of how the components of a jacket work together, you can begin to trust your own eye in regard to what works for you.
Enjoy your sartorial journey!