How — and When — To Tailor a Suit, According to a Made-to-Measure Specialist

Paul Stuart

From his vaunted position as the head of Paul Stuart’s CustomLab made-to-measure department (essentially hand-crafting suits for men that appreciate the finer things in life), Anthony Fazio has seen it all. Every day, the 36-year-old lifelong New Yorker works with men across generations, from those who have trusted the fashion house for 40 years for the perfect seasonal suit to those darkening its doors for the first time and just hoping for something in navy blue. Regardless of these men’s histories, each is different, and each resulting suit, blazer, pair of slacks, or pair of trousers must be adapted to the wearer. Granted, it’s easier with high-quality construction to meet a man’s unique fit requirements. But even if you’re buying off the rack, a trip to the tailor can make most pieces fit better and feel more comfortable. So how do you tailor a suit? And when should you spike the ball and look for another option?

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In between a busy Saturday morning of fittings, Fazio sat down with The Manual to discuss what men and women like himself can and can’t do, and what you should watch for when purchasing anything, whether on consignment, from a boutique, or commissioned to your unique measurements. Some rules are hard and fast; others, more akin to guidelines. If the man makes the suit, his advice is aimed at helping you make it better.

City of Big Shoulders

Paul Stuart

No way around it, if the shoulders of your jacket are either too small or too big, there’s little that even the best tailors are willing to do, and if you were to find one who would take on the job, he or she is going to charge you accordingly. “The shoulders have to fit first,” Fazio says. So what makes a correctly fitting shoulder? Well, watch for the slump of the seam over the arm. It can also manifest itself with weird folds around the shoulder blades. Some guys may balk, saying that the correct fitting, where the shoulder seam projects over to the vertical part of the deltoid, is too constricting. Comfort! they yell, claiming that when they put their arms straight out or crossed, they’re too constricted. “Well, how often are you standing like that?” Fazio counters. Paradoxically, “The larger the jacket becomes, the more it can hinder your movements,” he says. If you want more mobility, check with your tailor about easing the arm hole — a relatively simple adjustment. But if the shoulders are either too long or too short, there’s little even the most skilled seamstress can accomplish.

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The Collar

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Seeing that telltale gap between your jacket and your shirt collar? You’re not alone. “The collar is the most common alteration we do outside of sleeves,” Fazio says. “It’s strictly determined by posture, and everyone’s posture is different.” In fact, it’s rare that a jacket doesn’t need some adjusting up top, but he says it’s a relatively simple (and cheap) order. So mind the gap. Another area to watch for is a roll in the collar across the shoulder blades. It should lie flat, and if not, drop in with your tailor promptly.

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Peaked Lapels

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Want to know the area that keeps a professional tailor up at night? It’s the chest. “That’s the bane of my existence as a made-to-measure specialist,” Fazio says, laughing. The telltale sign of a too-tight chest is a break — essentially a crease — in the lapels of your jacket. And he’s equally pessimistic about what even the most skilled fingers can accomplish: “I don’t like to overpromise what I can do with that alteration. I can help ease this, but I’m not going to make it go away even with made-to-measure.” It’s a good-news, bad-news scenario: If you’ve invested money in a made-to-wear suit, which is crafted from canvas, it may break in to your body the more you wear it, and some literal massaging of the lapels can accelerate the process. Even better is a fully bespoke suit, which, rather than adapted as made-to-measure is, is custom-designed to your preferences and shape and can handle your idiosyncrasies much better. (The process may take several months, Fazio says, “but once it’s done, it’s done.”) But if you’re buying cheap and off the rack? Forget it. These garments are generally assembled with glue and fused together, and how they fit now is how they’ll fit in a year. In a perfect world, your lapels should hang flat like an airport flag on a calm day, but some minor bowing is acceptable.

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Chesty Puller

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The modern fit between your body and your jacket’s buttons is two or three fingers, but there is actually some variance with which to play depending on your intended use. Come summer, Fazio tailors his own blazers slimmer, as he often wears them unbuttoned and with short-sleeve collared shirts or t-shirts. In the winter, he’ll give himself a little extra room to layer them over a vest. Regardless, make sure they’re not billowing like a sail, or otherwise have them taken in in the back or along the sides. As to the “correct” answer, he’s reluctant to offer hard-and-fast rules. “That’s more of my taste,” he says. “[As a tailor,] I’m here to guide.”

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Jacket Length

Paul Stuart

How far should your jacket extend? “To cover your seat,” Fazio says. In layman’s terms, it’s around mid-pocket in the back, though you can alter it shorter if you prefer. He cautions to avoid extremes (this is not a dinner jacket and you are not a waiter, or if you are a waiter, you don’t want to look like it in your after-hours). The largest consideration should be how low you comfortably wear your trousers — if they’re lower, avoid hitting that arbitrary mark or you’ll end up with swimmer-like torso proportions.

Jacket Sleeves

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“I always believe you should show a little bit of cuff,” Fazio says. For most men, that means your suit should stop approximately 4.75 inches from the tip of your thumb, which, with a properly fitting shirt, will show a quarter- to a half-inch of shirt cuff. But, as with any rule, there are real-world exceptions. The tailor admits to struggling to find shirts that match his slim build and long arms. If, like him, your proportions make the practical wearing of your shirts different, defer to the cuffs themselves rather than arbitrary measurements. “I always go a little shorter in my jacket [sleeve lengths],” he says.

Watch Your Seat

Paul Stuart

Contrary to what most people think, the waistline of pants is one of the easiest alterations you can make, and the average pair has about two inches of material that can be let out easily and at little expense. “Your waist should fit as if you’re already wearing a belt,” Fazio says. “Your belt should not be the thing that keeps your pants up.” What’s more critical, however, is the fit in the seat, which isn’t as easy to adjust. While some bowing out of the pockets, within reason, is common with flat-front trousers, watch for pulling at the seam down your butt and that there is no tension (i.e. that telltale ripple) on the sides between the back and front pockets. “If you start seeing tension lines in that area, even if the back looks good, the seat’s a little tight,” he says.

Pants Parties

Paul Stuart

The modern trouser fit is slim through the leg without being tight. While preference should be taken into account, usage is also key. “How are you wearing this?” Fazio asks. If like most men, you’re up and down from a seat or flying cross-country, the slimmest fits are all but impractical. “We can get you a very trim silhouette but maybe we don’t go to the extreme, because you have to live in it,” he says. There’s also the recent “Bistro Vibes” trend of double-pleated pants and billowy materials, which represents the opposite end of the spectrum. Fazio acknowledges it, even as he advises caution: “I’m trying to find that middle ground. This is contemporary but is not going to be dated in two to three years.”

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Hemming

Paul Stuart

While Fazio himself prefers a shorter hem, with the length, at most, just touching the shoe, many will prefer a single break in the front, with the back extending to the welt of your heel. However, the pant cut may restrict longer lengths. If you’ve got an especially slim taper, extending the hem will only cause “puddling” (think: your pants bunched around your ankles). Aggressive tapers require a higher hem to compensate. Our advice (and Fazio’s preference): Taper high, just above the shoe, and buy some nice socks, since you’ll be showing them off with every stride.

Last Words

Paul Stuart

“Beyond anything, it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin,” Fazio says. Don’t chase trends, copy glossy magazines, or be steamrolled by a significant other. After the above guidelines, adjust your fit to your own preference and make sure you’re satisfied with the result. “Dress the way that makes you feel good and makes you feel comfortable,” he adds, “because that will show in the garment you’re wearing.”

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