Ask The Rake: How To Buy Off The Peg
“What should I look for, in terms of fit, when buying an off-the-rack suit or jacket online?” With illustrations by Jessica Rose Bird.
Firstly, let’s make something clear: unless you’re lucky enough to have dimensions exactly the same as those of the block your off-the-rack suit was constructed to then you’ll very likely need a good tailor to make some alterations to it in order to get the best fit possible. Needless to say most people don’t, but given that you’re reading The Rake, suffice to say you’re not ‘most people’. The most important aspect of fit when buying an off-the-rack suit or jacket is the shoulders. I repeat, the shoulders. They should be broad enough so that the sleeves can hang without interference but not so wide that they collapse at the ends. This can be tricky to judge when buying online as the size is dictated by the chest size, but you will find that certain brands such as Rubinacci are kind enough to inform you of the specific measurements. I would compare the “point to point” measurement with a well-fitting jacket bearing in mind that this will vary depending if the cut is structured (i.e.. padded) or unpadded. The measurement is taken from across the back of the shoulders, approximately where the shoulder seams end. You may need to select a larger size and have the side seams reduced. I would only alter the shoulder width as an absolute last resort and only at the hands of a very good tailor. The cost will be high, so I would suggest seeking out brands that are broader in the shoulder or offer “athletic” fits.
The lapels should lie flat against your chest and not bow out; if they do, the jacket is too small or you have a prominent chest - either way, you need a larger size. If this results in the body of the jacket being too large, it can be reduced without compromising the overall fit. This should be achieved through the side-seams as altering the centre seam will have an impact on the balance of the coat. Balance is the relationship between the front and back lengths. The jacket should be long enough to cover the seat of your trousers or longer, depending on the style. If you prefer a shorter jacket, welcome to The Rake and have a great Prom Night.
The sleeve length should not be unduly considered when assessing the fit as altering it is a relatively straightforward operation and most cuffs on ready-made jackets can even be lengthened by ¾”/2cm. if the cuff is a little wide, I would suggest tapering the sleeve so that it fits neatly around the shirt cuff. The collar of the jacket should sit neatly against your shirt collar. If it sits away a little, it can be drawn in slightly. If there are wrinkles beneath the collar, you need to assess if this is because it is too tight or you are square shouldered. If it is the latter, it can be corrected by passing the excess cloth up into the collar and shoulder seams. The buttons and buttonholes of the jacket should sit together even when the jacket is not done up. If they are mis-aligned, it may be a result of a low shoulder. Low shoulders are quite common and on a structured jacket can be camouflaged with the insertion of a single-ply shoulder pad. This strategy cannot be applied to natural/unpadded shoulder-styles as it will cause disharmony. If the buttons overlap, the jacket is too large and the waist will need to be suppressed. A little shape in the jacket is elegant and worth the effort of alteration.
Most ready-made suits will typically have a “drop six”, that is the waist of the trousers is six inches smaller than the chest size. Ie a 40” jacket is paired with a 34” trouser waist. In reality, the “34” trousers will actually measure somewhere between 34½” and 36” depending on the brand (sorry to break it to you). Altering waist size is a very common alteration and most trousers will have an inlay that allows them to be increased. Trousers should fit on or above your natural waist. Pleats and side pockets should not gape whilst standing. The trousers should hang straight from the back of your seat to the knee and not bunch. The front crease should meet the centre of your shoe. Break, the creasing where the trousers meet the shoe, is a matter of choice and you can select no or full-break depending on your personal taste. Your inside leg measurement will vary depending on the cut of the trouser-always have your trousers fitted rather than relying on a previous measurement.
And finally, a word on European sizing. To establish your size in an Italian brand, convert your chest size to centimetres and divide by 2. For example: 40” is 101.6cm/2= 50.8 (between a 50 and a 52). Of course, to convert the other way, simply multiply by 2 before converting to inches. You’re welcome.
See more of Jessica Rose Bird's work here.