Sleeve Width

10

Jack-Lord-Felix-Leiter

There’s more to well-fitting jacket sleeves than the right length. Jacket sleeve width is an oft-forgotten aspect of fit, and a well-fitting sleeve subtly makes a jacket much more flattering. Compare Sean Connery’s James Bond to Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter. Whose sleeves look better? Connery’s sleeves neatly taper whilst Lord’s sleeves are very full from shoulder to cuff. Sleeves should taper to the cuff, and altering sleeve width can be a risky endeavour. The sleeve opening should be large enough to fit a double cuff with enough room for it to slide through easily. A sleeve that’s too tight is restricting and will crease readily. The sleeve’s width should also be in balance with other parts of the suit. A very tapered sleeve looks out of place on a suit with a full-cut jacket and wide trouser legs, but that doesn’t mean the sleeve should be as wide as the trousers legs are either. Connery’s sleeves mimic the taper of his trouser legs whilst Lord’s wide sleeves don’t mesh well with the rest of his outfit.

Daniel-Craig-Sleeves
Daniel Craig appropriately shows roughly 1/2″ of shirt cuff in Skyfall, though his jacket sleeves taper too much. The sleeves should drape more smoothly with the arms relaxed like this.

Sleeve length is the easiest part of the sleeve to alter—as long as buttonholes haven’t been cut—so there’s no excuse for sleeves that are too long. The jacket sleeves should end roughly at the wrist bone so they show 1/4- to 1/2-inch of shirt cuff when the arms are relaxed, and this applies to button cuffs and double cuffs. Showing shirt cuff is ultimately a personal preference, but it’s something James Bond does more often than not. Visually, it balances the shirt collar showing in above the back of the jacket collar. Practically, it protects the edges of the jacket sleeves and prevents fraying. Shirt cuffs and shirts are much cheaper to replace than an entire suit because of frayed jacket cuff edges.

A perfect sleeve
A perfect sleeve

Another thing related to the sleeve that people often mention is the armhole and that it should be high. A high armhole means that the armhole is short in height and the bottom of the armhole is high into the armpit. The armhole should be felt in the armpit, but it shouldn’t dig into the armpit. A higher armhole gives the arms more vertical motion, so even though it might feel tighter it is actually less constricting. The width of the armhole is also important, since an armhole that is too narrow will constrict movement and cause the upper sleeve to bind. The armhole cannot be altered, and most ready-to-wear suits have rather large armholes that can fit people of different shapes. Unfortunately that leaves the majority of men with an armhole that is often far too large.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I probably see more men wearing suits with sleeves too long than I do with sleeves too short. But that is probably because of two factors – the first being that many men think that “bigger is better” and size up in their clothing rather than size down. Recent trends in men’s clothing have made a bit of an impact, but I often see pictures on men’s fashion blogs where men are still clearly wearing their clothing a size too large (suits, jackets, shirts, sweaters…). There was a great article I read a while back on why men do this (at least in North America) and there were several reasons listed.

    A second factor may be that some men are very slow adapters of change. I work with two men – both very good-looking men who take care in their appearance such as good hair cuts, keeping their shoes polished – but they both still wear suits from the late 90s. Even though they were nice suits they make these men look a bit “out of it”. When speaking to them (one man is in his mid-40s, the other his late 30s) it became clear that this was the time when they became fashion conscious and that era really imprinted onto their minds what was “right”. The best of their suits would have a fit like this Brosnan suit (note the sleeve length):
    http://www.bondsuits.com/charcoal-suit-in-bilbao/

  2. Bond appears to be wearing a button cuff shirt, while Leiter is wearing French cuffs. I find French cuffs tend to have the Leiter effect on suit sleeves. Does one mention this when buying a MTM suit, or should the shirt sleeves be taken in a bit?

    • What effect are you saying that french cuffs have on suit sleeves? If Leiter was wearing button cuffs the jacket sleeves would look even bigger. I’m confused about your question. I’m not sure how much sleeves can be adjusted in a MTM suit.

      • For me, the french cuffs cause the suit sleeves to bunch, and look baggy around the elbows. So perhaps I should have my shirt sleeves narroweed a bit from the forearm to the cuff?

      • Is your jacket cuff tight around your shirt cuff? If the shirt cuff doesn’t fit through the jacket sleeve then you need new shirt cuffs. Baggy shirt sleeves don’t have any effect on the jacket sleeves.

  3. Nice!

    It’s very rarely that the sleeve width is discussed in online articles on proper suit fit. I will talk about this with my tailor the next time I see him. He’s pretty good but the problem is he was trained in the 80’s or 90’s so I need to specify exactly what I want or I get a suit similar to what TheLordFlasheart’s friends wear. A nice suit, but looks a bit dated. Even the one I have right now has sleeves that are too wide and low lapel gorges. There is always a large gap inside the jacket cuff because my shirt cuff just can’t fill all of that space. And I rarely wear double cuffs so that makes the problem worse.
    I’ll ask for an overall smaller sleeve next time with a decent amount of tapering. Is there a rule of thumb on sleeve width compared to jacket size or chest size or something?

  4. I think it is also important to note that Connery has pretty big hands and Lord’s look a bit smaller that might have an effect on the look of the sleeve width. I do have a question though, I’ve noticed on some suits like the black tie Craig wears in Quantum, the sleeves flair out a bit at the cuff, is this a certain style or is it just a trend? Any info would be appreciated.

    • Some English tailors cut their sleeves that flare out a little towards the hand. It’s not a trend. Until Tom Ford made the Skyfall suits, he was more about going against the trends.

  5. Arm holes are the bane of the skinny. The catch-22 these days is that the stores where a natural fit for a thin man can be found ready-to-wear are ultra trendy. An H&M jacket looks dated a year later, a thrifted or “big bargain suit barn” suit will never allow adequate motion. And while there are quality tailors in the area, they’re entirely Italian-American, and so reflect the best of Italian tailoring. Adolfo Celi would be comfortable finding suits here.

    RTW is a risky proposition.

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