They say that in life, you have to play the hand you’re dealt, which is true. However, you can also stack the deck in your favour with some tactical tailoring.
A good suit enhances (read: hides) Mother Nature’s gifts: it’s like wearing an Instagram filter, or walking around with flattering lighting constantly overhead. Slip it on, and suddenly you’re a new, better-looking man, as if God Himself has retouched you.
Although, not all suits are good for everybody, or indeed every body. Whether you’re short, tall, skinny, large or stacked, a bespoke solution is required – even if you’re only buying off the peg.
Finding the right suit needn’t be a gamble. This is the FashionBeans guide to the type of suit that, well, suits your type.
So what if you drew the vertically challenged genetic straw, it needn’t suck all that much, or even appear to be the case once you learn a few tricks of the trade.
“Think linear,” says Tim Ardron, head of private tailoring at Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes, which has over 200 years’ experience dressing everyone from Michael Jackson to the Duke of Cambridge. In other words, the aim is to create the appearance of one long line from head to toe.
“A neat, tapered trouser worn slightly higher on the hip adds inches to the legs,” continues Ardron. By contrast, a big break (the amount of trouser that falls onto the shoe) or drop crotch will shorten them, and you. “Balance this with a more contemporary length on the jacket.” Many brands and retailers offer ‘short’ cut versions of their suits; this elongates your pins, while the deep V-shape created by a two-button jacket ensures your torso isn’t too diminutive.
Avoid belts and wearing a suit as separates, which will saw you in half like a bad magician and stop the eyes flow from top to bottom. Pinstripes, on the other hand, do the opposite by directing the eye up and down, as long as they’re not too thick or widely spaced. Similarly, micro-checks are better than large windowpanes.
Extra shirt cuff peeking out from under the arm of the jacket can also help your suit look proportionally smaller and not like an adult size being worn by a child, as will slimmer lapels. At the same time, you want enough structure in the shoulders to balance out your head, which can appear disproportionately large. A diagonal peak lapel simultaneously provides a vertical line and a bit of horizontal heft.
Those in this category have the opposite problem to short men and therefore – surprise, surprise – the opposite solution. More specifically, the aim is to break up the vast space between your head and toes all the way down there in the distance, beneath the clouds.
Your trousers should break (cleanly, though) on your shoes: any hint of mankle will make it look like your suit has shrunk, as will overly short sleeves. “There’s a lot of you, so try not to show this off too much,” says Campbell Carey, creative director of Huntsman, another Savile Row stalwart, founded in 1849.
Your jacket should also be on the longer side to cut your leg line. “Don’t fall into the trap of showing a load of trouser fly and, worse still, shirt sticking out below the jacket button,” says Carey.
Speaking of jacket buttons, there are conflicting opinions over whether a third one breaks up a lanky torso or highlights it. The simple answer is that it depends on the placement: a high three-button is creating a long line in one direction; a low two-button is doing the same but in the other direction. Neither is particularly helpful.
An extra ticket pocket (a small flapped opening usually above the right hip pocket) will help clutter you up, as will wearing a pocket square. Ditto patterns that send the eye sideways like big checks.
Wearing separates is one of your greatest weapons when it comes to looking less lofty. Mixing and matching trousers and blazers not only gets you more wear out of your sartorial wardrobe, it also breaks up a tall frame. You can even further this by adding a belt (your shorter friends should have a few going spare if they have read the above).
Skinny men share some of the same problems as the short and tall guy, but predominantly the latter.
“Gentlemen with a skinnier build should follow the same advice as a taller client,” says Gieves’ Ardron. “There’s no need to go overly tapered or skinny fit. The purpose of tailoring is to flatter and disguise any quirks or figurations, not to accentuate them.”
Your goal is to add some weight to your barbell-like physique. Busy patterns, pleated trousers with cuffs and even heavier fabrics like tweed and wool will all pile it on from an onlooker’s perspective. “Checks and textured weaves can add presence,” says Ardron.
A double-breasted jacket, with its overlapping material at the front and buttons that encourage lateral thinking, will give you visual gains quicker than a tub of Freakbeast 5000.
While you might want standard rather than slim lapels to counteract your rakishness, and maybe a bit of extra shoulder padding like the short guy, always keep everything broadly in proportion to your body and head. Too wide and you’ll look like Frasier’s brother Niles.
The style world has got increasingly better at catering for guys with larger builds, and therefore you shouldn’t be deterred from tailoring, especially as this is your opportunity to contour.
You’ve got more things in common with the vertically challenged guy, in that you want to create a long – and, crucially, lean – line.
“I would advise a similar formula to the short body type,” says Huntsman’s Carey. “Stay well away from large checks as they will shorten your silhouette. A narrow pinstripe on a slimming darker base gives a longer look.”
As with the Napoleonic chap, a two-button jacket and high-waisted trousers are your friends in the right places, elongating and narrowing accordingly. Again, a peak lapel can contribute to your verticality, while its width is more proportional to, well, yours.
Meanwhile, the reverse of the skinny guy applies to you: lighter fabrics like hopsack or cotton can take a few optical pounds off. And don’t make the common mistake of going baggy to try to hide your girth, as you’ll only exaggerate it: the jacket should skim your shoulders. You can nip it in to give the illusion of a narrow waist (slanted hip pockets can also perform the same trick), providing it’s not bursting at the seams.
Have you been working out? Congratulations: chances are you’ve got the ideal build for a suit. Just don’t mess it up.
“It’s a question of proportion: striking the right balance between a tapered waist and the correct fit across broad shoulders,” says Gieves’ Ardron. “I see too many younger chaps walking around with their jackets hacked in to the point where the waist button is about to pop off.”
Tailoring is designed to emphasise your form in the same way that the gym does. So if you’ve already put the hard work in at your local iron paradise, you don’t need your suit to do any heavy lifting: “Cuts with soft, natural shoulders tend to work best,” adds Ardron.
In a similar vein, aggressively tapered trousers – a very modern affliction – will make you look like Johnny Bravo: balance is always more elegant. (Ditto dramatic peak lapels – a proportionally wide notch is less showy.) Besides, you don’t want people to think you skip leg day.
If anything, you want to add bulk to your bottom half with details such as pleats, which will also make room for your squatter’s glutes, quads and hams (as will a larger rise – the gap between the waistband and crotch seam). A slightly longer jacket will give your chicken legs some stuffing to even out your heaving pecs.
The only real problem men of this body type have is their ability to buy off the peg. “Ready-to-wear is always difficult as the industry tends to expect a big chest to come with a big gut to match,” says Huntsman’s Campbell. If you can’t spring for bespoke or made-to-measure, find retailers that sell suit jackets and trousers separately.
When it comes to pattern and colour, you can pretty much do what you like according to Campbell. For example, he recently made bright blue and aubergine suits for NFL players Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, AKA the Jacksonville Jaguars’ wide receivers: “Quite a statement, but with their musculature, they looked fantastic – and I wasn’t in a rush to tell them otherwise…”