Whether it's due to an obsession with comfort or it's just the result of willful ignorance, most guys disregard the rules of fit when it comes to suits.
The shoulder pads extend well past the edges of the shoulders, the sleeves droop over the hands, the jacket swims halfway to the knees, and the pants fit like pajamas. It's called the box, and it's what passes for a suit in almost every office park in the land. In it, men tend to look like runners-up on The Biggest Loser. Joseph Ting of New Yorks Dynasty Custom Tailors, a fashion-industry favorite, says 90 percent of the suits he sees on the street are ill-fitting. To avoid looking like an NFL lineman at a court date, start with the correct size. That means finding a jacket with seams that rest on the edges of your shoulder blades—not below them. Once that's taken care of, a master tailor like Ting can always tweak the sleeves, take in the body, and give your pants the perfect break. At right, five things every guy should know before handing his prize over for those all-important post-purchase alterations.
HOW TO TRIM YOUR BOX
1. Sleeves and Pants
Your sleeves should hit right at the little round bone in your wrists, about a half-inch above your shirt cuff, and your pants should have a single, medium break in the front. Make sure the back of the pant leg falls where the top of your shoe heel meets the leather.
If the armholes are a bit too high and tight, your tailor can probably get you some more room. But if the bottom of the arm opening is too low and baggy, it really cant be brought up.
Most off-the-rack suits are cut with a slightly sloped shoulder. As a result, men with broad, square shoulders often get unsightly collar rollfabric that gathers where the collar and body meet. It's easily removed, but it might take more than one try to get it right.
4. Around the Middle
When your jacket is buttoned, give it a tug away from your body; you should have about two inches of room. Anything over three inches and you're in box territory. The desired effect is a defined waist.
5. The Magic Inch
Standing with your arms at your sides, curl your fingers around the bottom edge of the jacket. If it's the right length, the lip should fall just between your first and second knuckles. An easy way to make a suit look young and modern is to shave off another inch (bump it up a knuckle). Anything more might ruin the proportions of the jacket.
A good tailor will always insist you try the suit on again when you pick it up. If yours lets you leave without a second fitting, find somewhere else to get your clothes altered.
Photographs, clockwise from top left: By Mia Baxter (3); by Dave Yoder.