The Laws of the Game: The Pornography of Fit
“The proper fit of a man’s clothing – how it drapes, tapers, and harmonizes with the wearer, is similar to porn in that it is also difficult to define. And, like hardcore porn, proper fit is also something that can really only be seen and pointed out as such.”
Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court once famously remarked in his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), that he couldn’t actually define “hardcore pornography . . . But I know it when I see it.”
The proper fit of a man’s clothing – how it drapes, tapers, and harmonizes with the wearer, is similar to porn in that it is also difficult to define. And, like hardcore porn, proper fit is also something that can really only be seen and pointed out as such. Simply stand in the business district of any major city and you’ll not see two suits alike in terms of fit, yet it is clear when a man has it together and when he doesn’t. Just like Justice Stewart can spot porn, we all know proper fit when we see it.
While proper fit is difficult to define, it can be learned. Indeed, there are certain laws, if adhered to, that can lead to it. I have not included an exhaustive list of these rules, as they are numerous. Instead, I’ll focus on those rules that most men violate to their sartorial peril. This column is about advancing the cause of personal style and that all begins with knowing a few of the ubiquitous mistakes and correcting them.
The most common mistake men make in selecting a suit jacket is that their “point-to-point” – the distance between one shoulder seam to the opposite shoulder – is too wide. This makes the jacket look too big on the wearer (because it technically is), lowers the armholes (restricting mobility), and displays an unflattering gap between the man’s shoulder and the shoulder pad of the jacket. Unless you are getting custom, you are at the whim of whatever shoulder width the brand you are buying associates with your particular chest size. That is because big box retailers always keep the same shoulder width for each chest size (unless you have the option of a trim fit jacket, which will likely have a more narrow shoulder).
The right point-to-point distance is one that allows the wearer to have no creases in the back shoulder area when standing with his arms to his sides and at the same time provides enough range of motion when interacting with the real world, e.g., opening a door, picking up a bag, shaking hands, without being unduly restrictive. And if you get the shoulders wrong it’s like having the wrong chassis on your car – it will be very expensive to fix and probably not worth what you paid for the suit.
Another common mistake is that men tend to wear their suit trousers with a “rise” that is far too long for their bodies. The rise of a man’s trousers – the distance between the top of the waistband straight down to the crotch seam – must be a length that allows the wearer to walk without restriction. If it is too long the pant leg will be pulled and tension created while walking. -Note: If the rise is too short the wearer may never bear children as he risks displaying the rare and much maligned “male camel toe.”). Put on what you think are your best fitting pants and it is probably the pair with the most flattering rise for your body. Jeans tend to have a much smaller rise than suit pants and are also worn much lower.
Staying with trousers, most men wear pants that are too long and go beyond an acceptable “full” break where the pant hits the shoe. When a man’s pants are too long, they well bunch up at the shoe and look sloppy: all sophistication is lost. The remedy, of course, is to get the pants hemmed by a local tailor or even seamstress at a dry cleaner, which typically runs $15 for a pant. Not a bad price to pay for a little sophistication.
The final common faux pas to be discussed, at least for this first column, is that the length of most men’s dress shirt sleeves are either too short or too long. Too long and, like the pant leg on the shoe, the shirt sleeve will bunch at the wrist and look sloppy. Too short and the cuff will ride up the arm. Often, however, the cause of a sleeve appearing to be too short isn’t the sleeve at all, it’s the cuff. The cuff should be snug so that the shirt moves with the wearer, and not fall down the forearm as can happen even if the sleeve length is correct. A shirt sleeve should fall to the break of the wrist with enough drape to be comfortable.
Fit is a matrix that combines comfort, utility, tradition and personal style. Take cues from people that you think dress well and have similar body types as you. Find out the brands they wear as they’ll likely naturally fit you better off the rack. You want to be confident in your clothing, as, after all, people will judge you by what you are wearing. Unless, of course, you are in a hardcore porn movie. But this column, despite its title, is not about the birthday suit.