Your fabrics can be from the finest mills in Italy, your style can be of the most elaborate, the way you combine colors could be like an artistic genius; But if your clothes fit poorly it will stand out like a coffee stain on a white dress shirt.
On the other hand, if your clothes fit well, fabrics, style, colors become a little less important. The fit is the first thing you notice when looking at yourself in the mirror and it’s the first thing people notice when they look at you.
Great fit makes you look in shape, masculine and more attractive. To achieve this, the clothes you wear need to look like they were made specifically for you.
Most of us purchase pre-sized clothing at retailers. Due to the generalized sizing of these “off-the-rack” or “ready to wear” clothing, it can be difficult to find clothes that perfectly made for you.
Wearing clothes that fit poorly is like wearing someone else’s clothes.
So how do you achieve the best fit possible without spending a ton on actually getting clothes made for you?
Follow these three steps to achieve perfect fitting off-the-rack clothes every time.
1: Figure out your size.
“I know my size….I’m a medium!”
To truly figure out your size, assume you don’t know your size.
Because if you think you know what your sizes are you run the risk of purchasing clothes that are the wrong size simply because that’s the size you usually get.
Chances are the size you’ve been wearing is the wrong size. Or you’re a different size at different retailers.
I realized first hand when I purchased my first pair of quality dress shoes. As far as I knew, I was a size 9.5, I’ve always been a 9.5, I was even wearing a 9.5 when I walked into the shop. Once I put my foot on the measuring tool the sales associate told me I was a 10.5.
Really?!!? I said shockingly.
See for yourself, he says.
My feet was well over the 9.5 mark. Turns out 10 was my actual size. To this day, I still have a closet full of old 9.5 sneakers that I can only wear for a couple hours before my feet begin to hurt.
To truly identify your size…
Get your measurements:
This will give you the most accurate up-to-date figures on the areas important for sizing.
Head to your local dry cleaners/tailor shop and ask them if they can measure you. They’ll usually do this for free especially if you’re a customer. They’re experienced at this so the margin of error is lower than having an inexperienced friend do it.
The measurements you want to get are:
Fig. 1 Sleeve Fig. 2 Neck
Two main measurements: neck & sleeve.
My measurements: 15 neck/ 34 sleeve
Some retailers will size their shirts using these measurements. Others like The Banana Republic will convert those numbers into Small, Medium, and Large.
Two main measurements: Waist & Length.
My Measurements: 31 waist/ 32 Length.
If you don’t see the W and L, the first number is usually the waist.
Most retailers will use the Waist/Length measurement on pants.
Another measurement you’ll want to get is your chest, for suit jackets.
My measurement: 37 Regular
Suit jackets are size by the chest and length (Short, Regular, and Long).
Take a note of your measurements, this is a good starting point to building your body profile. There are certainly other measurements you can take, they are largely unnecessary when purchasing off-the-rack clothing.
After completing this step you’ll have your measurements.
My measurements are:
- Shirts: 15/34
- Trousers: 31W/32L
- Jacket: 37 Regular
To cater to the trend of a more fashion conscious men, many retailers offer different fits, which brings us to the next step.
2- Finding your perfect Clothing Store.
Now that you know your measurements it’s time to find stores that make clothes for your body type.
Body type?….is that the same as size?
Every man is different, different proportions, different imperfections, different shapes. Most retailers model their sizes from one body frame and scale up for larger sizes and down for smaller sizes. This is the reason clothes may fit better from one retailer than from another. Classic menswear is designed to create the ideal masculine shape. Which is why suits haven’t changed much in over a century.
The best way to figure out which stores make clothes that fit your body type well is to try on the clothes.
“Try on the clothes ?!?….I don’t have time for that!”
3 reasons you should always try clothes on:
- Once you find your size and fit you can purchase clothes online from that retailer, saving a ton of time.
- Allow you to see how different sizes and fits look reducing the likelihood you’ll get the wrong size.
- Helps avoid returning to the store for exchanges due to size, which is a big time waster.
To minimize the amount of time you spend shopping, visit stores with a narrow focus or limited selection. This means stay away from department stores. Department stores (Macy’s, JC Penny’s) have too many brands, too many options, too many opportunities to waste time unnecessarily.
Have an item in mind before you start shopping.
To start, I recommend:
- Banana Republic (Business/Business Casual)
- Charles Tyrwhitt (Business)
- J. Crew (Business & Casual)
If you get the correct size and fit at these retailers you don’t need to worry about fabric quality like you would at H&M or style like you would at Zara.
Each store has their own fit variations. When trying on clothes, start with the slimmest fit then work your way up until you find the best fit.
i.e. My size is 15(neck)/34(sleeve) shirt, I’ll start with 15/34 Extra Slim Fit. If I have a hard time moving in the shirt (too tight) I’ll go up to slim fit…etc.
Use this method with trousers as well.
Once you identify your size and fit at a retailer make a note of it, now you can shop online at that retailer with confidence.
You just purchase clothes that fit ok, maybe even good but in most cases, there is room for improvement.
Step 3: Find a good Tailor Shop.
Most men don’t visit the tailor unless they’re in a groom’s party in need of a tuxedo alteration.
Having your clothes altered by a tailor is the secret to achieving that perfect fit.
It is the extra step most men don’t take but makes a huge difference in your appearance.
To find a tailor shop, start with a Yelp search. Avoid tailors at dry cleaners, their skill level may be basic and due to their high volume you will receive less personal attention.
I’m a 15/34 extra slim fit in Charles Tyrwhitt shirts.
Left: Before alteration Right: After alteration
The photo on the left is the shirt unaltered. Even in the slimmest fit, I need more tapering to achieve a perfect fit.
The beauty of having a good tailor is you don’t need to be very knowledgeable. Just tell them “I want this shirt, trouser or jacket to fit better”. A good tailor will know how to improve your fit by seeing how the garment looks on you.
They’ll have you try on the item, look in the mirror, pin the garment to emulate a completed alteration, ask your opinion and then have you carefully remove that garment while the pins remain.
A few days later you’ll have a garment that fits better than it originally did.
The more you visit and become friends with your tailor the more you’ll learn about fit and your personal style.
You’ll also have a collection of perfectly fitting clothes.
Is the tailor worth the added cost?
Using a tailor adds a cost to the garment. The cost of getting your clothes altered is worth it for several reasons:
- You’ll wear it more because you look your best.
- The item fits perfectly without wasting time searching the globe for clothes that fit perfectly without altering.
- It increases the quality. Perfectly fitted clothing is usually associated with custom made clothes.
It is important to purchase clothes that fit as close to perfect as possible (Step 2) before visiting the tailor.
I once made the mistake of purposely purchasing trousers with a waist two sizes too big because I thought; “The tailor could just alter it.” Those trousers never looked quite right.
Alterations have limits, going beyond those limits will alter the overall shape of the garment.
Additionally, more alterations add more cost to the garment. One or two alterations is the norm, four or more and you’re basically creating a new garment.
Price of Alterations:
Prices vary depending on your location. During your search, you can get an idea of the prices in your area.
Living in New York City, I pay an average of $15 to $25 per item.
The shirt alteration above was $22 to have the sleeves and torso tapered.
To get a perfectly fitting shirt cost me $72.
$50 for the shirt $22 for the alterations.
Now you know your exact measurements to help you identify your size. You found the menswear store that makes clothes that fit you well. You’re able to shop online at these retailers without worry. Most importantly, you found a good tailor shop, which is the secret, that extra step, that will bring your style to the next level.
You can use many of these steps even if you aren’t purchasing new clothes. In fact, I’ve written a 13-page ebook that shows you exactly how. Just fill out the form below.