Trends and our shifting perception of good fit.

For the last decade, I've noticed a lot of clothiers trying desperately to either save costs or drive sales by progressively having less fabric. It's reaching a breaking point for me. At first ecstatic to have my body type represented, it quickly became ubiquitous and has gotten so bad that there are a limited number of places to get clothes that fit me anymore.

Take, for example, these suit dimensions taken from Mr Porter's Kingsman collection. I want to know who on earth they are making tailored clothing for. I don't know of any cisgender men with a 42" chest that have shoulders as narrow as 17.5". This is crazy even accounting for their sizing recommendations. (One wonders why they didn't just relabel them as the lower size.) That might even be small for someone born female! It's worth nothing that this brand is a tie-in for movies where bespoke tailoring plays a big role. If anything, it's better to have shoulders that are slightly too wide than slightly too narrow. Too narrow, especially combined with a smaller circumference at the bicep as is popular now, can produce dimples underneath the shoulder seam. Not a good look. But it's one that I've dealt with a lot recently due to my larger than average point-to-point measurement. A lot of people may not consciously notice it though, let alone care. Which is regrettable. We've gotten so used to poor fit in the last decade that it's become difficult to educate people otherwise.

This opinion may get a lot of flak here, but I think the last time we truly had a reliable selection of tailored clothing was in the 2000s, mostly in the middle of the decade. Back then, you could still get a suit with decent proportions. One of my favourite sports coats comes from this period and doesn't look dated at all. The trend for fitted suits did start around this time, but they still looked reasonable and the only "skinny fit" was for jeans -- the only place it belongs, in my opinion. A slim fit, if anyone carried it, was merely a suit adjusted slightly for people who had a leaner body type. Now, we expect a slim fit to have low rise trousers that hug the legs, tiny lapels, a tight pull at the waist button, and really narrow shoulders. If it were just another option, that would be one thing. However, it's taken over in a way that I don't think clothing history has ever seen.

Mike Colter's godlike build is hardly done justice.
Clothiers that once reliably carried clothing that could fit most people have shrunk down (no pun intended) to just catering for a certain body type. Rises are lowering and lapels are narrowing even on the most traditional fit they carry, such as Brook Brothers' Madison Fit. It's also being pushed on people who shouldn't wear it. Even costume designers and personal shoppers, who should know better in their profession, are putting professional actors who have no business being near a slim fit into them. Namely, muscular men. This is unforgivable considering made to measure services are more accessible, fast, and affordable than ever. Celebrities making more money per year than most of us will ever see should have no trouble having clothing made or at least getting expert alterations. But the likely reason is that these clothing professionals have to make use of a certain name as part of a contract deal... and they get the clothing last minute. Since designer brands make almost nothing but slim or skinny fitting suits now, the problem is twofold.

Lack of harmony between waistcoat and trouser.
The reality of looking like you're about to burst out of your suit is that it's not only uncomfortable, but significantly shortens the life of the garment. All the stress put into the sleeves, thighs, seat, and waist just going about a normal work day isn't good for the fabric. And contrary to the belief that it shows off a physique, a too-tight jacket will actually make it look smaller. Lapels that bow out and a waist button that pulls into an X-shaped crease can be rectified to a degree with tailoring, but there's only so much that can be let out -- especially on average department store offerings. Too-narrow shoulders look terrible at the upper sleeve but also have the effect of making one's head look overly large, due to the shoulder seams and sleeveheads being farther in than they should. Those can never be fixed by letting out. Shoulder fit must take precedence. Waistcoats that float above the waistband of the trousers rather than covering it add to the problem, cutting the wearer in half with exposed shirt and belt. (Don't wear belts with a waistcoat to begin with.) Conversely, we also have waistcoats that are much too long in an attempt to cover up the waistband of now-standard low rise trousers. They have the side effect of lengthening the torso too much and making the legs look short, which is what many low rise trousers do to begin with. Three-piece suits should, above all else, look like all the pieces belong together. Just a couple decades ago this was a commonly held idea. Tight fitting trousers also do nobody favours, since the crease, the only thing left to visually lengthen the legs, is lost about halfway through the day. Many bodies change slightly over time or even during the same day. Eat a meal and suddenly the button that tugged just slightly is now trying to escape. Then you have even more of a triangle of shirt and tie showing than before thanks to short jacket lengths, low-rise trousers, and higher button stances.

This happened to one of our customers at the menswear store I used to work at. He ordered a made-to-measure suit and indicated wanting it fairly close fitting. So naturally, we made some adjustments to the fabric allowances. The trousers had a 14" bottom which is already pushing it, the chest had 3" of allowance, et cetera. It arrived and he was disappointed to say the least. Why? We didn't know. It looked great! But over the course of a month he had it taken in so much it became a wrinkly, grabby mess on his wedding day. It was a waste of beautiful French blue serge. I'm pretty sure he'll look back at the wedding pictures some day and wonder what he was thinking. One can hope, at least.

Complete and utter shenanigans.
Shirts are just a little out of hand, too. Nobody should expect a shirt to last forever, but just as with tailored clothing the tighter it is, the more quickly it will wear out. Many shirts are now literally cutting corners at the armpit, with the sleeve sitting at a diagonal angle to the shoulder instead of along with it as is traditional. Ostensibly this is to reduce bunching, but I don't really buy that explanation. This is not helped by advertising such as the infamous tight-shirt-wearing Ralph Lauren models, who are in reality carefully tapered away from the camera eye with several binder clips. It's impossible to get a dress shirt with a fit that clean looking when it hugs like a t-shirt, let alone bend your elbows or sit down. But people do try.

As another example, one of my customers had me take in a shirt until it seemed like he couldn't breathe. I pointed out that the placket was gaping. However, he thought it was great and absolutely refused to let me move any of the sewing pins out. It looked highly uncomfortable and, to my eye, not a lick stylish. He couldn't move! He would return later on to get the same thing done to another shirt. I don't get it.

Well fitting and just modern enough.
Don't get me wrong. I actually prefer a fit that's closer to the body than traditional -- not tight -- and have for a while. However, in shifting the standards of how much excess fabric clothing should have we've also shifted away from good fit standards as a consequence. I also think manufacturers are holding onto the trend as long as they can in order to save on fabric costs, so it becomes an endless cycle of them offering small fits and people continuing to buy them because that's all there is. Close-fitting suits have their place, but they should work for the wearer and not against them by still having comfortable range of movement. By continuing to observe the classic fit standards of proper shoulder width, jackets that don't bow out the lapels when fastened, and trousers comfortable enough to sit in we can set a better example for others. The other good news is that there has been some pushback in the last few years. Clothiers are starting to embrace wider lapels, pleated trousers, and overall looser fits. Let's support them with our money and hope the pendulum swings back just a little more.

I'm surely not the only one who is sick and tired of the short and tight fit trend.


  1. Forgive me, but aren't the sleeves and trousers wrinkling on Colin in your last example? Also the front's pulling.

    1. I'd chalk that up to the fabric more than anything. Lightweight fabric has become the norm and Savile Row bespoke tailors are catering to this demand. It looks like one of Martin Nicholls' creations, built to the same specs as in Kingsman. Firth was probably sitting in a limousine for a while before arriving. The front of the jacket is being pulled back a little by his arm, as my own double breasted suit does. Unlike a single breasted, a double breasted cannot pivot on just one button.

  2. It sounds like I prefer clothes a little more on the loose side than you! But I'm with you that they need to have stuff for more people than the really thin and young. Gap had looser fits and they just stopped caring about guys with average bodies like me. You said you were skinny though, did something change?

    1. Turning 30 and getting on a regular workout routine! Even before that I had some trouble in the shoulder area of jackets. Many of the slim fits are simply too tight for me now and sizing up doesn't help much if at all. The trousers are also too tight with a lot of brands, though that's because my thighs and butt have always been more developed.

  3. I agree with this in general, but I have to say I'm not sure I see a lot wrong with the RL shirt picutred. It doesn't appear to be pulling significantly anywhere.

    1. In reality it would be. As I said, these photos give unrealistic expectations as to how close a shirt should fit. They'll even adjust the clips for each pose. I've seen someone wearing a shirt that tight and it looked like a mess.


Post a Comment

I reserve the right to delete comments that are disruptive, trolling, or otherwise stirring the pot unnecessarily. I also reserve the right, if necessary, to block anyone who continues doing this from further commenting.

Every spam comment -- whether left by a bot or person -- will be deleted on sight.

Popular Posts