James Bond has often set a good example for how a suit should fit. I’ve previously written about classic proportions and different parts of the suit, but not about overall fit. There is no one way a suit must fit, but there are general guidelines. Today’s slim-fit suits (like Daniel Craig’s suits in Skyfall) and the late 1980s and 1990s baggy suits (like Timothy Dalton’s suits in Licence to Kill) can follow the trends without being poorly-fitted messes. Whilst suits that bunch up or pull are not by any means well-fitting suits, a full-fitting suit and a close-fitting suit can both be equally well-fitting if they have clean lines and are comfortable to wear. The fit of a suit is primarily judged at a natural standing position, but how it moves with the body is also important since a well-fitted suit should never hinder anything but the most unnatural movements. A well-fitting suit should be comfortable to drive, eat or dance (but not breakdance) in.
For this example I am using Sean Connery’s famous grey glen check suit from Goldfinger made by Anthony Sinclair. It has a very classic fit, neither particularly full nor trim. It has fuller cut than what is fashionable today, but the same fit principles apply still.
- Collar: The jacket’s collar must hug the neck when standing both in a natural standing pose and though a little movement, and there must not be any creasing in the upper back below the collar. About a 1/2 inch to 1 inch of the shirt’s collar should show above the suit’s collar.
- Shoulders: The jacket’s shoulders should be wide enough for the sleeve to hang cleanly, which usually means a jacket’s shoulders are just a bit wider than a man’s natural shoulders. A man’s shoulders are rounded whereas a tailored jacket’s shoulders and sleeves meet at an angle, so it’s hard to compare the two. If your muscles push your sleeve out, the shoulders are too narrow. If the shoulders stick out further than your biceps, the shoulders are too wide. Anywhere in between is an acceptable shoulder width. The width of the shoulders should also be in proportion with the size of your head. Divots at the top of the sleeve do not mean the shoulders are too wide (as often thought) but rather that the chest is too tight across the back or the sleeves are not hung at the correct angle.
- Chest: The chest can be full and draped with a clean fold in front of the sleeve or close-cut and clean. The chest needs to be large enough that the arms can move without binding the chest. If the chest is too large there will be undesirable diagonal folds in the back. English tailors often cut their jackets with small folds at the sides the back behind the arms to allow for movement whilst keeping the silhouette very neat.
- Waist: The waist should not be so tight as to cause pulling, though a small “X” at the fastened button is acceptable. Sean Connery’s and Pierce Brosnan’s suit jackets did not fit closely around the waist, but they were still shaped at the waist. George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig all wear their suit jackets closer at the waist. As long as the jacket doesn’t pull at the waist (like on Daniel Craig’s suit jackets in Skyfall), the waist can have as much or as little tapering as you like.
- Sleeves: The sleeves should be wide enough to hang cleanly but not wide enough to look baggy. A sleeve that is too narrow will feel constricting. In general, the sleeve should follow the shape of the arm as it narrows towards the wrist, but it should be wide enough to comfortably fit a double cuff if you wear them. The angle that the sleeve is hung has a big impact on how cleanly it hangs. The wrong angle can cause wrinkles and discomfort. The angle that the sleeve follows should be how your arms fall at a natural stance. Armholes also play a part, and they should be snug, but not tight, around the armpit. This is known as a “high armhole” because the bottom of the armhole is high into the armpit, and it is one of the few places where snugness considerably increases mobility. A higer armhole allows the sleeve to move more independently of the chest. Read more on jacket sleeves.
- Sleeve length: The jacket’s sleeve should extend to the wrist bone. One-quarter to one-half inch of shirt cuff should extend past the jacket’s cuffs. This isn’t just to visually balance the shirt collar sticking out at the back of the neck but also to protect suit jacket cuffs from unnecessary wear. Shirts—or even just shirt cuffs—are much cheaper to replace than a suit that has frayed at the end of sleeves.
- Jacket length: The jacket should be around half the length from the base of the neck to the ground, and it must be long enough to cover the buttocks. English jackets tend to be on the longer side whilst Italian jackets tend to be on the shorter side. Fashion dictates that jacket are to be cut shorter now, just as they were cut longer in the 1990s. But within the current fashions, the jacket should still cover the buttocks or else it throws off the proportions of the body and can make the male figure look less masculine. But unlike any of the other fashions that flout proper fit, there is no loss of practicality or loss of clean lines with a jacket that is too long or too short. Visual balance is the only reason.
- Vents: If the jacket has a vent or vents, the vent or vents must stay closed. If there are no vents, the jacket should drape cleanly around the seat and not cause the front to pull open. Any man can wear any style of vent as long as the skirt of the jacket is properly fitted. Read more on vents.
- Waist: The trousers’ waist should be large enough to sit just at the waist without feeling too tight, and it should not be too lose as too sag. Side adjusters and belts exist only for minute adjustments, not to make the trousers a full size smaller. Trousers worn with braces should be slightly larger so they can hang freely.
- Rise: The trouser rise is the difference between the outseam and the inseam. The typical trouser rise has become shorter over the past fifty years, though it should still be long enough so the trousers can sit high enough to prevent the shirt and tie from showing beneath a fastened jacket button. The suit has a cleaner look when there is no break between the jacket and trousers. Daniel Craig’s suits in Skyfall and Spectre have a long enough rise to prevent this, though the trousers tend to sag lower.
- Front: Whether the trousers have forward pleats, reverse pleats, darts or a flat front, the front should lay flat without pulling at the crotch or opening the pockets. When there are pleats, the pleats should lay flat and only open when you sit or place your hands in your pockets.
- Legs: The legs can be wide or narrow as long as they have a clean drape with an uninterrupted crease. Trousers that cling to the leg are too tight and put unnecessary stress on the trousers. Suit trousers don’t stretch, so being too tight is not only uncomfortable but also impractical. Too-tight trousers also cannot keep a sharp crease and will not have the smart look that suit trousers demand.
- Hem: Full break, half break and no break are all valid options. The trousers are too short when sock can be seen when standing and too long when they pool on top of the shoe or reach the floor in the back. Wider legs need to be hemmed longer and narrower legs need to be hemmed shorter to achieve the same kind of break.
- Chest and waist: The front of the waistcoat must lay close to the chest. The waist should also fit closely, and the adjustable strap at the back should, like trousers adjusters, be used for small adjustments.
- Length: The waistcoat’s bottom button should be at the bottom of the trousers’ waistband to prevent the shirt from showing between the waistcoat and the trousers when left open. To keep the body in proportion, the waistcoat should not end far below the natural waist. A waistcoat that is too long makes the torso look heavier and the legs look shorter, which is rarely flattering. The waistcoat that is too long will also be uncomfortable when sitting. Because it ends not far below the waist and the second-to-bottom button is placed at the waist (the bottom button should not be fastened), it does not get in the way of sitting. If there is a gap between the waistcoat and the trousers, it is usually a problem with the trouser rise being too short, not the waistcoat being too short.
Sean Connery’s suit does not always look perfect, but that’s due to the “wear and tear that goes on out there in the field”. Because it’s a lightweight suit, it wrinkles more readily than a heavier suit would.