Jacket length is one part of men suiting that changes with time. Like most aspects of menswear there is a moderate length that remains timeless, no matter which direction the trend pendulum swings. And of course, as with lapel width or button stances, there will always be a current trend that is on either side of that moderate and timeless length.
We want to help each man identify various considerations that are important in deciding on an appropriate jacket length. Rather than consider the various rules of thumb on jacket length first, it’s most helpful to begin by looking in the mirror while wearing the suit jacket. Ask, “How does it look?” “Does it look too long or too short?” The first answers will immediately reveal his personal style. Only once the visualization is complete it’s best to remember the rules of thumb. This will help in keeping the first impressions in the mirror in check (assuming they need to be kept in check).
With that said, let’s talk about the most common rules of thumb.
Most men have heard of this rule, and they probably heard it from their fathers. It definitely resonates most often with the baby-boomer generation. This rules states that the suit jacket should be able to be felt within the bent fingers of the wearer while arms hang down to the side. This means the bottom of the jacket fall to the end of the thumb (no, that is not where the figure of speech comes from).
While today’s more fashion forward male like to scoff at this rule of thumb saying it creates an extra long jacket, it should be noted that it does help in covering the rear of the wearer.
The other flaw with this system of measurement is when a man has disproportionately long or short arms. We like to joke about having the proportions of a gorilla or a T-Rex. If men with arms that fall above or below the mean were to follow the curled-hand rule, their jackets would end up being extremely short or long.
As a result of these two flaws, we recommend the second-most common rule.
It sounds obvious, but most modern dressers don’t take this rule into account. If it’s unclear then looking in the mirror and standing at to the side will make it clear. Simply find where the rear meets the thighs to find where the edge of the jacket should fall. There has been a popular trend for the last couple years to wear shorter-than-normal jackets. The style has been supported by name brand designers and proliferated by influential media outlets (cough.. GQ cough..), so there’s no question as to why it’s popular right?
By shortening the jacket to such an extreme, the proportions between the model's legs and torso are skewed, giving him a more effeminate and dainty appearance. There may be room for this aesthetic in the world of high fashion, but most men are looking for their jackets to accomplish more traditional goals.
The jacket length is all about proportions. How the length compliments the legs or upper body by adding height is taken to the simplest form with this rule. If one measures from the back of the suit collar to the floor and divides that length by two then the ideal jacket length is revealed. Just as with the other rules where arm, torso, and leg height isn’t taken directly into account, this rule is as simple as dividing by two. Many tailors follow this rule religiously due to the belief that, irrespective of the suit wearer’s body, a 2-piece suit looks the best when the jacket length is one half of the visual length.
In addition to the 3 rules of thumb mentioned here there, is an important question that should be asked before commissioning a new suit, ”How is this jacket going to be worn, formally or casually?” Understanding the purpose of the jacket is key. Generally speaking, the more formal the occasion, the longer it should it be. This is even true to the extreme level of formality such as with tailcoats.
In addition to suit jackets this holds true for overcoats and dress shirts. If it is to be worn more casually, such as a sport coat, then wearing the jacket a bit shorter than a business suit jacket is typical. Functionally a shorter length is more movable and wears easier than a longer jacket.
“What if the wearer has a long torso or really long legs?” If this is the case then the rules ought to be bent with proportion to the wearer. For the man who wants to look taller, then shortening the jacket a bit and showing more leg will accomplish this. The same is true for the man who would like to down play a large torso or chest. This is precisely the reason to why these are purely “rules”. Every body type is different. This is why looking in the mirror first and identifying your personal style first, then applying these rules second is beneficial. To some that will mean a shorter jacket, and to others, a longer jacket. For those in the middle, whether by choice or by being born with perfect proportions, remaining in the middle will mean a timeless look with every suit that is built. Trends will come and go, but the moderate jacket length will remain popular forever.
As always, style rules are written in pencil, not ink. Play around with it, be daring, show some personality, and discover your own style.
To your style,
P.S. If you want daily updates of new styles, client shots, and overall style goodness, follow us on Instagram.
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An interview with Kevin Salsbury, shop manager of Beckett & Robb, Denver, about the changing world of custom tailored suits for the men of Denver, Colorado.
What's your background in menswear?
My background in menswear has been in men's tailored clothing, with an emphasis with luxury brands, most of which were European. My personal drive...
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