Picture this: You’re at a coffee shop during the morning rush hour and in walks a guy in a suit. There’s nothing particularly impressive about this guy or what he’s wearing; dark grey coat and slacks, a solid shirt, an unremarkable tie. He doesn’t appear to be too excited about where he’s headed for the day and, in fact, looking at him, you’re reminded of how suits once devolved from the uniform of a gentleman to a symbol of the monotonous, vanilla, 9-to-5 desk job.
Shortly after, another man walks in wearing a suit. Whoa. Same dark, solid colors, only for some reason this guy looks like a million bucks. He stands out. He looks like he’s on his way somewhere important. He looks accomplished, confident, dapper. But you can’t quite put your finger on why coffee shop suit guy number two stands out while coffee shop suit guy number one, wearing the same thing, looked like an embodiment of the word “schlub.”
Ten-to-one odds say the only real difference between each gentleman and his suit — the difference between the guy blending in and the one who truly stands out — is fit. It’s the distinguishing factor that will take a discount men's suit and turn it into your most prized possession. If your suit doesn’t fit, little else matters; the price tag and the label are inconsequential. This is why and how many men are able to look great in discount suits while others seem so out of place in designer suits.
So how do you accomplish this? Truth-be-told, it’s not so much how as it is who helps you get the right fit; the one that fits your personal style as well as your specific body type. Your partner in this is a good tailor because, with the right tailor and some know-how, any man can take a “cheap” suit and make it a head-turner. Your job is to learn how to communicate with them, knowing what to ask for and why.
Some Basic Tips for Visiting the Tailor
If and when you find a good tailor — one you enjoy visiting because you know you’ll leave with a great suit — plan on building a relationship with him or her. Multiple visits over the years will refine and develop your own style. Here are five simple tips to remember when you visit:
- Ask questions. Seriously, don’t be afraid to ask your tailor what may feel like a silly question about the proper fit or look of your suit. They want you to look good.
- Bring examples of what you like. Cut stuff out of magazines, screengrab social media photos; whatever grabs your eye should be shown to your tailor. They’ll likely recognize exactly what details craft the looks and fit you like just by seeing examples.
- Don’t slouch. When getting fitted, stand with proper posture. If you have your head down looking while the tailor is pinning your pants break then it creates a domino effect through all the alterations.
- Ask Friends. To find a great tailor you can check Google and Yelp reviews but if you have a friend that's always put together, they will probably have some great recommendations for you.
- Tip. Tip your tailor. They're doing you a service and it'll help for any rushed or harder alterations in the future.
How Do I Talk to My Tailor?
Ahhh, the lingo. Tailored-suit lingo can be as intimidating as any other part of the game, which is why many men avoid going altogether. Not only do many not know what to ask for but they don’t know how.
The beauty of learning tailoring vernacular is that understanding certain terms will open up your entire view of every suit you see and purchase thereafter. A single term can suddenly help you articulate the difference between fits and ultimately helps you communicate with your tailor exactly how he or she can help you achieve just the right look through their alterations.
Start with a few basics…
You know those slits in the backs of suit jackets? Those are vents. Each jacket will either be single-vented, double-vented or have no vents at all. They’re designed to make it easier to move around and they also provide a structure for the coat itself that affects its overall fit and look.
Tapers describe the narrowing of an opening or garment from one end to another. You’ll most easily recognize the term used to describe pants legs, but this can be applied to the sleeves of your coat, your shirt, and even the structure of the coat from the shoulders down.
The inseam determines the overall measurement of your pants legs, starting from the inside bottom hem and up to the crotch.
Darts are folds that are sewn into parts of a garment to give it the desired shape.
The break refers to the way your pants lie at the bottom and is entirely dependent on how much fabric rests on the shoes, creating a crease (or no crease at all, if that’s your preferred style).
The hem is the point of a piece of fabric sewn to create an edge and desired length.
When a garment or area of a garment is too snug, you'll be asking your tailor to let it out. The waste of your pants, the midsection of your jacket, and so on.
They do this by altering where the seams meet, which means they're only working with the existing fabric of a garment. As such, at most, they'll have about an inch worth of fabric to create more space in whichever area you're asking them to "let out," so know that if you need any more than this it's likely you'll need a new garment altogether in order to get the right fit.
As you'd guess, taking something in is exactly the contrast to letting it out. If you're swimming in that jacket — the arms are too baggy or the midsection too loose — you'll want it taken in in the appropriate areas.
In this case, since your tailor isn't taking any fabric away from the article, they're not as limited on what can be taken in. But again, remember that changing anything more than one size from its original shape creates a cascading effect of alterations.
What Are the Rules-of-Thumb for How My Suit Should Fit?
Ironically, if you were to somehow follow every “rule” that applies to wearing a suit you’d inevitably end up breaking many of them as well. What you should really be most concerned about is learning and then understanding the styles that you like most, which you can adapt from a few common rules once you know them.
How long should my jacket be?
The traditional rule of jacket length says it should meet your thumb with your arms laid flat at your sides. This is tricky nowadays though because the evolution of style has shortened a majority of jackets in order to show more of the pants/legs and therefore give an illusion of overall length. Traditional rules want a suit to be symmetrical — which would have the coat ending at the midpoint of your entire body — while more modern styles are geared toward making the wearer look longer and leaner. Pick whichever you choose to follow.
How much sleeve should show?
Here’s another style rule that has evolved. The traditional rule says just a half-inch of your shirt sleeve should show beyond your jacket cuff. You’ve probably noticed that most men nowadays show more shirt sleeve than that…just don’t go too short here. But no matter what you do don’t let that jacket sleeve stay too long and cover your entire shirt sleeve. That just looks bad and it's a basic rule that even Hollywood celebs miss in their red carpet attire.
Where should my pants break?
The break of your pants is a beautiful thing because there’s no real “rule” about them so much as they’re a matter of personal style. It’s such a seemingly-trivial detail in the fit and look you’re going for but it has a profound impact on the final product. So it’s actually not trivial at all…
Your pants will either have a full break, a quarter break, a half break, or no break at the bottom. It’s entirely up to you (and your body type) which look you’ll rock. If you want the modern, no-break look, just be sure to have them tapered at the bottom opening or they’ll end up just looking too short. Meanwhile, pants with a full break will tend to fall lower, creating more of a traditional look where the bottoms appear to be bunching at the ankle. If you go for this look it's important to be aware of the fine line between a true "full break" and pants that simply look too big.
How Should the Shoulders on My Suit Jacket Fit?
Your shoulders should lay flat when you put your coat on. Divots or crumpling where the arms begin comes from a coat that is too big. Pulling on the shoulders happens when the coat is too small. Shoulders that fit right should be the first detail you address when picking a coat off the rack.
What can a tailor not alter or fix?
Obviously, tailors can’t work with something that’s already too small. This means if you’re picking a new jacket, for example, and feel like you’re in between sizes (one’s close to too snug and the other is possibly too large), opt for the one that is slightly too large.
A tailor also can’t…
Alter something more than one size from its original form.
Altering anything too much creates a cascading effect of other changes that can not only be costly but ultimately just leave the garment with proportions and seams that are out of place.
Take too much (about two inches) from the back center seam of pants with back pockets.
This will place the pockets too close together in the back. Clearly you’ve lost a lot of weight to have that much taken out; you deserve a new pair anyway.
Remove heavy shoulder pads from a jacket.
The fabric will not drape or fit your shoulders correctly without them.
Alter shoulders that don’t fit you.
Technically, a tailor can do this. But in my personal experience, a good and trustworthy tailor won’t. Think of the shoulders as the foundation of your jacket. While they can be altered, doing so creates a cascading of more alterations that are both costly and end up changing the overall structure of the coat too much. It’ll never be the same once you alter the shoulders.
Lengthen a jacket.
Again, something that’s too small is just that. Time to look for a new one.
How Much Does Tailoring Cost?
Tailoring is the best investment you can make in a suit no matter what it cost to get off the rack. It’s good practice to find one you trust and like and build a relationship with them over multiple visits.
Start by asking for personal recommendations from friends as that’ll be a great step in a tailor wanting to keep you as a longtime customer. Most are mom-and-pop operations, and their returning client base is an integral part of their business, and that can often mean discount pricing for you.
As for the meat-and-potatoes pricing, your costs are likely going to vary by tailor but you can use this as a general guide for what to expect on each individual alteration:
Shorten/Lengthen Sleeves: ~$60
Shorten/Lengthen Sleeves (with functioning buttonholes): ~$150
Let Out/Take In Side Seams: ~$65
Let Out/Take In Back Seam: ~$55
Shorten Jacket: ~$75
Reduce Shoulders: ~$160
Reline Jacket: ~$200
Replace Pocket Linings: ~$25
Replace/Tighten Button: ~$2-5
Hem with Cuff: ~$20
Taper Leg (Two Seam): ~$30
Taper Leg (Four Seam): ~$60
Adjust Waist/Seat: ~$25
Replace Zipper: ~$25
Add Hem Guard: ~$25
Now go turn that discount suit into one that makes you look and feel like a million bucks.