Even if men’s style has seen a small revolution, a certain sect of men have experienced a personal-sartorial-breakthrough and developed a voracious appetite to know the how-to’s of dressing well. With much information out there for the taking, there’s still those topics that remain largely untouched and misunderstood.
The height of the jacket armscye is one such topic and a crucial subject worth taking the time to understand.
The size and the height of the armscye are key elements to any jacket, no matter the price. In fact, without correct attention to the armscye, it’s impossible for a coat to reach its full potential in regard to elegance and comfort.
As early as 2009, Julien Scavini addressed the armscye issue: “An important detail is all too often forgotten by many manufacturers — the height of the armscye, which is the internal hole of the jacket around the armpit.
Detailed attention to the armscye is exclusive to bespoke tailoring. It’s simply impossible to have the adjustment made on off-the-peg suits, no matter how luxurious. Unfortunately, it’s also rare for armscye height to be taken into account in industrial made-to-measure despite the fact that its a relatively simple measurement to take.
Yet, the correct cutting of the armscye allows for a spectacular increase in comfort and ease of movement.
A high and narrow armscye lets you move your arms about without having your jacket’s chest – or even your shoulder pads – flail wildly. In other words, your jacket will stay put. If you want a real life example, take Fred Astaire. See how his jacket stays put as he dances. He has narrow and very high armscyes to thank for that.
To appreciate the comfort of a bespoke jacket with a correctly positioned armscye, there’s a simple test to do : lift your arms as if you were placing a painting on the wall – if the jacket is properly cut, it won’t move with your arms.
In fact, a few specific professions need properly fitted armscyes (i.e. placed very close to the armpit) – think musicians, violin players and conductors specifically. They need to move their arms and they understandably don’t want their smoking jacket or tails to follow the movement!
To combat this problem, good tailors cut the base of the armscye on the jacket flatter than usual (see diagram). It creates a refold of fabric that may include a pleat, allowing for a better ease of movement. Notice in the illustration below: on the left, the regular cut. On the right, the musician cut.”
Positioning the armscye as high as possible is a characteristic of high end bespoke tailoring. Houses like Cifonelli and Camps de Luca in Paris are well known for their high placement of armscyes on coats which allows for a better overall fit and makes for more comfortable suits in general.
In fact, it’s common sense—if the armscye fits close to the armpit, then movement of the arms will not be restricted and the front of the jacket will not move when your arms move.
Conversely, an armscye positioned too low, leaving too much space between the armpit and the bottom of the armscye will cause a small sartorial catastrophe which includes discomfort, strain on the mid part of the jacket when the arms move and riding up of the back of the jacket when seated at a table with arms forward. Even if you’ve never tasted the pleasure of a high armscye and thus are unaware of it, each movement you make with a low armscye will be less elegant and more restricted than movements made with a high armscye placement.
You may agree that a jacket that rides up when the wearer scratches his nose, lights up a cigar, or sips a single malt (preferably an Islay) leaves a lot to be desired—point being that the front of a jacket shouldn’t move with your arms. This really is a non-negotiable point for the gentleman seeking utmost elegance.
Be careful however not to mix the term armscye (i.e. the hole where you slide your arm into the jacket) with the term sleeve head (i.e. the top external part of the jacket shoulder), as these two terms describe two different things, one internal and the other external. Take Neapolitan tailoring as an example—a large shoulder head is often sewn on a narrow armscye, which creates a slim silhouette and allows for maximum range of movement while the jacket stays put on the body without shifting around.
A high armscye makes your arms look longer, further slimming the silhouette, which is why if you happen to be overweight, then you should be very vigilant on the matter of the armscye, and try to wear jackets with armscyes positioned as high as possible.
In France, we have a famous example of the wonder of a high armscye : one of our most popular pop singers, the late Claude François, wore suits on stage made by Camps de Luca. Despite the entertainer’s famously frantic dancing and singing, his suits stayed perfectly put and his movement was not hindered. Claude François was famous for requesting suits with extremely high armscyes—to the point of sheer discomfort in order to be able to move freely on stage while looking fabulous in the process.
Another benefit to the high armscye : it improves bad posture. Any gentleman who has the luck of owning a bespoke suit will relate instantly : a jacket cut with high and narrow armscye by a master tailor forces you to stand upright. It’s almost impossible to slouch while wearing a bespoke suit.
Such an effect is virtuous and has a spectacular ergonomic impact as it corrects posture in a very organic way. Posture is a key aspect of personal elegance – albeit one not addressed enough. All of this may sound like technical details, but they are not.
In fact correct armscye placement may be one of the most hidden secrets of obtaining elegance.
An update regarding the quote by our good friend Scavini: it’s now at least possible for a talented alteration tailor to narrow an armscye, though the procedure remains rare and complicated to achieve. You may check out the Tumblr of our excellent contributing editor Dirnelli for this type of subject. Dirnelli is one of the foremost experts on alteration matters in France, as he has had more suits worked on by his alteration tailor than anyone else in the country, if not in the world.
As a conclusion : be extremely careful when choosing a suit, even ready-to-wear, and pay attention to the armscye height, as it can vary drastically from one maker to the other. Your sartorial experience and quest for elegance will only benefit from a little extra scrutiny.
You’ll have to accept one specific caveat to wearing high armscyes though : you probably won’t be able to lace your shoes after putting on your narrow armscyed jacket! The movement of extending the arms downward and pulling them together towards your shoes is one particular movement that is difficult with high armscyes, but a sacrifice well worth the benefits.