Lapels have always been a reflection of the fashion of the moment, widening or shrinking in size to suit the taste of stores or individual designers. This is unfortunate, since their size should never be a matter of whim but always a reflection of the jacketís proportions.
The lapel of a well-styled suit should extend to just a fraction less than the halfway mark between the collar and shoulder line. In general, this size means a width of approximately 3 1/2 inches, thus honoring the main principle of classic tailoring, which is that no part, no detail, should violate the integrity of the whole.
The flaps on the pockets should be consistent with the size of the lapels - neither too large nor too small. Like the lapels, they should not draw particular attention to themselves. In addition, their actual size should conform to that of the jacket. Patch pockets are fine on sports jackets or sporty suits, but for a dressy suit, a flap pocket or jetted pocket is more appropriate. The jetted pocket is the most dressy, which is why it is traditionally found on the tuxedo. The flap pocket will put a touch more thickness on the hip, while the slit pocket gives a slimmer look.
Jacket vents have a military heritage. Before the advent of the automobile, soldiers traveled by horse and thus clothes were adapted accordingly. The slit in the tails of the coat permitted it to fall on each side of the horse, allowing greater comfort and freedom of motion for the wearer. This comfort and ease carried over into walking and sitting, as vents allow trouser pockets to be more accessible and sitting more comfortable.
There are three types of jacket vents: the non-vested jacket, favored by Europeans; the double-vented jacket, favored mostly by the English; and the single-vented jacket, favored by Americans.
The ventless jacket has wonderful form but functions poorly as a design. Whenever you choose to put your hands in your pockets, or sit down, there is no place for the jacket to go, and so it creases and bunches up in the back.
The single-vented jacket gives the wearer a boxy look in back by cutting him precisely in half, and when one puts oneís hands in the pockets, the jacket appears to split open down the middle, often exposing the belt, the shirt, and the buttocks.
Those who were the best-dressed in the 1930s wore either the double-vented or the non-vented jacket. However, the double- vented jacket gives added shape to the garment by emphasizing the outside lines of the body. When the wearer is walking, you can
see movement on the side, as the jacket corresponds to the movement of the leg. This fluidity helps create a more attractive silhouette. Moreover, the distance from the floor to the bottom of the jacket is lengthened by an observerís eye moving smoothly up the length of the vent, thus giving the wearer the illusion of greater height. Beyond aesthetics, the double- vented jacket is a perfect example of form and function uniting. This is evident when you sit down or put your hands in your pockets: the flap comes up, which allows the jacket to avoid creasing and the buttocks to remain covered.
The only time one might avoid the double-vented jacket is if a man is excessively wide hipped and broad in the rear. Here, the single-vented jacket can do more to camouflage breadth.
The height of the vents should correspond to the bottom of the flap on oneís jacket pocket. This means a slit of between seven to nine inches on a size 40 regular. If higher, the vents will simply call attention to themselves.
Once youíve selected the proper silhouette, the next move is into the fitting room. Years ago, when menís fashions were less fickle and tailors were better versed in the manners of correct dress, this was a reasonable act of faith. Unfortunately, this is not the case today. In all but the very finest stores, todayís tailor is simply another cog in the assembly line. He is anxious to get you out with as few alterations and as little cost to the store as possible.
Frankly, then, it is not a good idea to put yourself completely in the hands of the storeís tailor, who, more likely than not, has no particular point of view regarding fit. At best, he might offer a strange hybrid of his training, what the store has to offer, and the momentís fashion. As a rule, a customer doesnít know exactly what he wants, and unless the store sells only one style of clothing, he will find himself totally at the mercy of its tailor.
To combat this, itís a good idea to know at least some of the basic principles of fit.
Only one man in a hundred is likely to step into a ready- made suit and find it fits him correctly. Manufacturer standards vary from one to another, so that a size 40 doesnít necessarily mean that the shoulder widths are the same in any two suits. Additionally, no two men are likely to resemble each other in the same way that body parts often donít resemble one another. Both our arms are not exactly the same length, and the curve of the back is often different from one person to the next. This, taken along with the fact that cloths will stretch in varying degrees, means that one must allow for lots of variations in different suits.
There are three critical areas to consider when selecting a suit: the shoulder and chest, the armhole, and the coat length. If the suit selected is not proportioned to your physique in the first place, no amount of tailoring can make it right.
Most men mistakenly use the shoulder width as a gauge for sizing their jacket. The widest part of the body, however, is the distance across the chest and upper arm. It is here that one should look when making a selection. In an effort to make a man appear thinner, many manufacturers cut the shoulder width so narrow that the upper arm protrudes. Make certain, then, that a jacketís shoulders are wide enough to allow the line down the arm from the top edge of the shoulder to fall perpendicular to the ground without bulges. The jacket must be broad enough across the chest to feel comfortable when buttoned. A good test for minimum fullness is to sit down with the jacket buttoned (years ago, it was considered improper to unbutton a jacket in public). If it is not comfortable, then the jacket is not full enough. Return it to the rack and try another. This is very important, since the chest area is critical to the fit of a jacket and, in all too many cases, jackets are cut too small.
Next, consider the armhole, another area that cannot be corrected in the fitting room. It should be cut so that the lower part fits comfortably up into the armpit but is not actually felt. This gives a cleaner look and permits arm movement without the jacket being pulled out of place. Conversely, a low armscye (the technical term for the lower part of the armhole) causes the sleeves to bind when they are raised.
Finally, there is the length of the jacket to consider. You should not attempt to shorten or lengthen a suit jacket any more than an inch or two, or the pocket height will be thrown out of balance, making it either too low or too high. Also, the jacket is usually half an inch longer in the front than in the back. This gives the jacket a line that makes it seem as if the jacket is dropping down into the body rather than standing back away from it.
The basic criterion is that the jacket must be long enough to cover the curvature of the buttocks. In general, the jacket ought not be longer than it has to be to accomplish this, since the shorter the jacket, the longer the line of the leg. This is true with the exception of the short man, where having the jacket just cover the buttocks tends to cut him in half (the jacket should be a little longer in this case), and for a very tall man as well, where it causes him to look slightly unbalanced (this also calls for the jacket to be slightly longer).
When the length of the jacket is being measured, donít allow your tailor to talk you into the traditional method of dropping your arms and then measuring at the halfway point of the hand. There is simply too much variation in the length of menís arms as well as their bodies to use this as the sole method.
Once the correctly proportioned suit is selected, the fitting room awaits. Bring along those items - wallet, cigarettes, pen, address book, change, and so on - that you would normally carry. It makes no sense to have a breast-pocket billfold produce a bulge when the suit can be altered to hide it. It is also a good idea to wear the haberdashery that would normally accompany this kind of clothing. Wearing a dress shirt with the correct sleeve length and cuff will enable you to better judge the length of the jacket sleeve if it is to show the standard one-half inch of shirt cuff. The height of the dress- shirt collar also helps determine whether the jacket collar is low enough to permit the correct one-half inch of shirt collar to appear above it. A knotted tie controls the position of the shirt-collar points, which should not be covered by the neckline of the vest. Shoes aid in establishing the correct trouser length.
After slipping on the trousers and jacket, with the appropriate items in the pockets and wearing the proper dress shirt, assume a standing position that is comfortable and natural. Fitting a jacket to a stance, other than the one normally assumed, will ultimately result in the distortion of the line of the jacket when a man stands at ease.
The fitting should begin at the top. The collar should curve smoothly around the back of the neck while the lapels lie flat on the chest. If the jacket collar stands away from the neck, either the manufacturer was careless in attaching it or the collar needs to be altered to fit your particular physique. Since many fabrics fit and drape differently, this is a common alteration that can be handled by most competent tailors. But if you do authorize the storeís tailor to make the attempt, be certain you try the suit on in the store after the alterations have been completed. If the collar is still not smooth around the neck, refuse to accept the suit. There is nothing that can destroy the clean lines of a well-tailored jacket more than a collar bouncing on the neck. Instead of allowing the jacket to become a natural extension of the body, the bunching collar makes clear its incompatibility.
Once the shoulders, chest, and neck are satisfactory, continue the inspection downward. The jacketís waist should be slightly tapered, responding to the natural thinning of the body. Be careful not to have it taken in so tightly that the silhouette becomes exaggerated and movements constricted. The jacket is not supposed to fit like a glove (best leave that to the gloves), but it should make reference to the healthy body underneath. Often a great suppression of the waist will make the jacket spread around the hips, opening the vent or vents in the rear. The vents should never be pulled apart so that the seat of the trousers shows. Rather, the vents should fall in a natural line perpendicular to the ground.
Curiously, one of the most important aspects of a suit's alteration is the least complicated: adjusting the sleeve length. Most American men wear their jacket sleeves too long, which makes them appear dowdy. This is probably a vestige of the days when mothers bought coats and jackets with longer sleeves so that their sons would grow into them.
All that business of measuring up from the thumb a prescribed number of inches is a waste of time. Merely let your arms hang down naturally. Then have the sleeves shortened (or lengthened) to the point where the wrist and hand meet. Remember to make sure that the tailor measures both sleeves, since arm lengths differ. The one-half-inch band of ďlinenĒ between sleeve and hand is one of the details that go into making a definably well-dressed man.