Getting the Length Right

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Since my first bespoke suit, several years ago, my tastes have evolved through a process of trial and error, making it very clear what suits me and what does not. I found an old Moleskin diary the other day and there, sandwiched between a retrospectively embarassing, studenty attempt at a poem and a rather short and unimaginative list of possible careers upon graduation, I found an interesting entry.

It was an bullet-point list (alongside a fairly impressive – if I do say so, myself! –  freehand sketch) of all the features I wanted in my very first bespoke suit, excitedly written in advance of meeting my tailor for the first time.  Many of those features – waisted jacket, charcoal grey fabric, working buttons etc. – have not changed; but a couple have and each has a dramatic effect on the overall appearance of the suit. One such example is the length of the jacket – an area that is utterly crucial to get right and doubly so for those noticably above or below average height.

jacket-length-tb

Short jackets are very  much in vogue with many of the menswear designer labels at the moment and have been for the last two to three years. Thom Browne (above) is perhaps the most famous proponent of  this ‘shrunken jacket’ look but, even on the highstreet, most jackets are cut short. The idea is that it makes you look taller: the jacket finishes higher on the trouser, leaving more leg showing which gives the illusion of lank. This probably works – to a degree: an overlong jacket will certainly render its wearer shorter to the average eye. The other idea behind this look is that it gives the jacket a casual air.

Yet, when I tried on my original bespoke jacket, after re-reading my diary entry, even the opiod cloud of nostalgia was not enough to blind me to the fact that my jacket – although not without merit – was probably not something I’d want to wear today.  You see, the trade-off with a short jacket is that, by shortening, you invariably make the jacket boxier as a result of its being shorter in length whilst the shoulders remain the same width as they would on a regular-length jacket. This is not a flattering aesthetic and – especially if you go very short as Thom Browne has above – is one which can imbue the jacket with the slightly clownlike quality of an awkward schoolchild wearing clothes they’ve outgrown – not the look most of us desire.

The oft-written rule-of-thumb vis-à-vis jacket length is that, with your arms hanging loosely by your sides, your fingers should curl up naturally around the bottom of your jacket. Of course this is just a rough guide and the best solution will vary from person to person. The one inviolable rule – which is, of course, violated oh-so often and with eye-catchingly vulgar panache – is that the vents on the back of the jacket should completely cover your posterior. I think that’s a must.

jacket-length-tf

Also from ‘that’ side of the Atlantic, of the same Christian name but a graduate of a rather different school of thought, as far as the suit goes, I give you Tom Ford (above). In this photo, his suit looks just the right length to my humbly observing eyes: the broad shoulders are counterbalanced by a medium-long jacket whose length permits the tailor to give the item more shape and definition without ruining the trouser-jacket proportion.

As with most things discussed on this website, it is simply a matter of taste: but I find myself having most definitely changed camps on this and consider it very unlikely that I’ll ever start asking for short jackets again. Indeed, I often see men at work whose jackets are clearly bespoke and think to myself that they’ve ruined what is otherwise a very fine jacket by having had it cut two inches too short!

What are your thoughts? Have I missed something?


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Comments

  1. J. Groot says:

    Your only miss is the use of Mr. Ford as a example of good suiting. In terms of length his coat is fine, and it doesn’t have the clown-like, strong shoulders that are usually his trademark, however there are still several things about it (the trouser break, the gargantuan pocket flaps, the tightness of waist and the lack of neck wear) that are just plain inelegant.

    On the subject of length, you are right that far too many cut their coats (and trousers) short due to the trends seen on the runways. In a few years, all these short garments will live a quiet life in the dark of their owner’s closet. Coat length should be decided by your anatomy. As such, it could be said to be a matter of taste, since the coat length that corresponds best to your build will also be the most pleasing to look at and thus is likely to appeal to your taste. Judgements of taste are, however, often clouded by fashion brain wash (you think short jackets are to your taste, but then when fashion changes to something else you discover that, whoops, they are not), so if you suspect that you’re susceptible to such influences, you should not leave the coat length question to your taste, but rather ask your tailor, who is hopefully more unbiased.

    Cheers.

  2. Michael says:

    Ford’s pants are too long. Browne is just a train wreck.

  3. Kai says:

    I think the examples are only to demonstrate wrong and right jacket length.

  4. Ken Dunson says:

    Hi Matt…Thome Browne appears to be wearing expensive hand-me-down bespoke clothing. Tom Brown’s suit, suprisinly, appears too long in the jacket; and, the trousers are in a puddle…fancy for curtains or draperies but not in trousers. The labels and pocket flaps are slightly out of proportion for my taste. The suit looks several years old. I’m 5’9″ and 175 pounds and on the cusp of almost too short thus proportions are rather critical. I’m short in the arm, too, compared to most Brits. With my stature or lack thereof the length of every aspect is critical to avoid looking like a clown. I take some comfort in Frank Lloyd Wright the reknowned architect who egotistically declared that anyone taller than 5’8″ was a weed. Mr Wright was 5’8″. For example, a jacket from bottom of collar to coat hem cannot exceed 30″ as my inseam is 30″; yet, a 29″ jacket shows too much fanny! A tie and label wider than 3 1/2″ ruins the other proportions as does trouser leg width. Trousers too short in the stride shortens my stature not to mention that it virtually changes me from a boy to a girl! There is no substitute for a trained tailor adjusting clothing for individual anatomy. Tom Ford just proves that if you are a rich and handsome dude you can get away with anything. But when all is done correctly then we get magic.

  5. Geoff says:

    I personally tend towards slightly shorter jackets but I think this is result of not getting jackets properly tailored width-wise.
    Typically when I try on a suit jacket with a similar length to Tom Ford’s in the picture the width is so great as to swamp me totally. So I tend towards companies to produce a shorter jacket, but I think if I was to have the wide jacket tailored properly to my waist (as Ford clearly has) I’d be very happy with the longer length.

  6. Adam L. says:

    Exceptions can be made for (slightly) short jackets if the designer had its shortfalls in mind. I’ve found that an inch or two off the bottom can be compensated for by a slightly higher button stance, and perhaps more vertical space between the buttons. So long as you perform a balancing act with the need for height created by the “V” of the exposed shirt, the button stance elongates the torso enough that you forget the jacket itself may only reach the break of your wrist.

    The example I have in mind from my own closet is a jacket from Brooklyn Industries. (No, I don’t work for them; I just love the jacket.) The photo on their website (http://www.brooklynindustries.com/men-jackets/winchester-blazer) will give you an idea.

    I may also be disqualified from really having a balanced opinion on this, though: I’m 2″ shorter than Ken as it is.

  7. What a faux pas!
    Check out my article on Tom Ford: http://worldmanabouttown.wordpress.com/2010/03/26/tom-ford-a-timely-man/