The Style Manual: Suits 201

Feature image via DapperQ

Everywhere — from Paris catwalks to grocery store checkouts– is filled with ideas about how to dress. They’ve got rules and handsome men clones galore, but what do you do when they’re not talking to you? Sure you can ignore them, but even dapper queers, fancy bois and dandy ladies need some help now and then. With that in mind, Anita Dolce Vita of dapperQ rounded up some experts and set out to create a style guide for us.

Chapter 1: The Suit

Part 1: An Introduction To Suits

Part 2: Classic Rules, Sizing and Fit

Part 3: The Fashion Council Answers Your Questions

Suit Basics: The Universal Rules


The suit is a staple of any wardrobe and certainly a quintessential piece of masculine attire. Invest, invest, invest! Invest in a great suit. Invest in great tailoring.


If you are on a limited budget and can only afford one good suit, start with a dark color. You can add khakis and pastels as your income and suit knowledge grow. Some fashion experts will warn against the black suit, arguing that it lacks authenticity and wears too much like a uniform. Dapper grays and rich navy blues are the experts’ choice. In fact, most experts recommend that you own TWO medium weight suits that you can wear year-round: one gray and one navy blue. However, black does match with pretty much everything, and you can wear it with color and patters to add flare.

The Shoulder

Your jacket should not have too much padding, if any, and the seam should fall along the shoulder. If there is padding, it should not slide off the shoulder or create any bulging. Your shoulder should not be visible in the sleeve.

One of the biggest complaints dapperQs have is that the padding in menswear jackets often makes them look like a linebacker. You can have your tailor remove the padding, but this may cause the jacket to have a different structure and create an unflattering fit.

To avoid the linebacker look, Stephanie Garcia, assistant manager at Formally Modern Tuxedo, recommends buying a jacket one size smaller and wearing the jacket unbuttoned with a backless vest.

The Lapel

Look for midsized lapels that are not too wide or too narrow. Lapels should lay nice and flat across the chest, with no bulging or bowing. Many lapels have notches, which should sit high on the collarbone, close to your tie knot.

The Buttons

A single button suit will remove any confusion about which buttons should be buttoned and which buttons should remain unbuttoned. Only the middle button should be buttoned on a three-button suit, and only the top on a two-button suit. Buttons should fasten without leaving bulk fabric or, on the opposite end, causing fabric to pull.

The Waist

You may be tempted to avoid a fitted waist for fear it will look too feminine. But even masculine-presenting people should look for a jacket with a fitted waist to prevent a “boxy” look. Boxy look? Think George Kastanza.

A slightly fitted waist is slimming and looks less “boxy”

The Jacket Length

Traditionally, when it comes to men’s suits, the bottom hem of your jacket should fall parallel to your knuckles or, in business speak, CYA. But this is an area where dapperQs have a great deal of leeway. (Notice the difference in jacket length between Ellen and SamRon’s jackets below.) Menswear blogs often note that this jacket length rule poses problem for short folks; if you don’t have long legs, wearing your jacket over your butt can make you look shorter and as if you’re a kid playing dress-up.

Women’s suit jackets, however, come in a variety of lengths. If you’re open to wearing them (think Katherine Moennig), you can adjust the jacket length to accentuate or minimize different parts of your body. For example, if you want to minimize your hips, purchase a jacket that falls just below or above your hips.

There ARE other differences between men’s and women’s suit jackets to keep in mind. Two major differences are the buttoning and cut. Men’s garments generally button left-over-right, while women’s garments generally button right-over-left. In terms of cut, women’s jackets tend to be more fitted in the waist in addition to varying in length.

The Shirt Cuff

The sleeve of your jacket should be just long enough to allow at least one quarter to one half inch of your shirt cuff to show.

The Trouser

Your trousers should sit on your natural waist just below your belly button — not low-rise or high-rise. A medium break is standard and there should never be too much fabric covering the shoe (only enough to cover the laces). Some fashion bloggers believe that if you don’t have some give in the shins and your pants hang straight down, they are probably too short. However, slim-fit, short break Euro-style suits are becoming more popular in the U.S. I know it’s only rock-n-roll, but I like it!

Slim-fit, short break suit


Fig. 1 via GQ

Men’s suit sizes are denoted with a number and sometimes a word or a letter. For example, 40S or 40 Short, 40R or 40 Regular, and 40L or 40 Long. The number corresponds to your chest size, which is also your jacket size, and the letter or word corresponds with the jacket’s length, which will depend on your height.


Here are some ballpark guidelines in terms of determining your jacket length:

Short (S): 5’5″ – 5’8″ tall

Regular (R): 5’9″ – 5’11” tall

Long (L): 6’0″ – 6’3″ tall

Extra-Long (XL): 6’4″ – 6’6″ tall

To measure your chest size:

1. Stand up straight with arms at your sides.

2. Measure the fullest part of your chest under the arms.

3. This number is your chest size and also corresponds to the number on jacket and suit sizes.


What about the pants?  Ready-made suits have what is known as a “drop.” The pants sold with American made suits generally have a 6-inch drop, meaning that the pants are 6 inches smaller than the jacket size. So, the drop is the difference between the jacket and pant size. For example, if you’re a size 40 jacket, the pants sold with the jacket will have a 34-inch waist. So, um, if you’re big or small busted…do I hear the tailor calling again???? In fact, Esquire magazine points out the tough reality that holds true even for cisgender men:

“Are you a ‘drop-six’? If you are, you’re a suit maker’s dream: Your chest is six inches larger than your waist. You can wear anything. Sadly, most of us don’t live inside those ideal tailoring measurements.”

To measure your waist size:

1. Put one finger between your body and the tape measure to allow for seating and “eating” room.

2. Measure around where you normally wear your pants (about naval level or at the top of your hip bone).

Additional tips:

If you’re short and skinny…

Try thicker fabrics. If you’re open to it, try a women’s jacket. As previously mentioned, women’s jackets vary in length, so a shorter jacket will make your legs look loooooonger! But, be careful big busted daps; jackets that are too short can draw attention to your chest. Avoid all black (makes you appear even smaller) and extra padding (makes you look like a kid in your parents’ clothing).

If you’re short and stout…

Go with single vents; they keep your silhouette slim if you have the right sized jacket. The two-button closure creates a deeper V than a three-button closure and elongates the body. Avoid horizontal stripes and splitting your frame in half with mismatched suit jackets and trousers (e.g. a navy blue jacket with khaki dress pants).

If you’re tall and skinny…

You can get away with horizontal lines, longer jacket lengths, and three- button closures. Avoid tight suit jackets and short breaks, which can appear very “Pee-Wee Herman.” (Although, Thom Browne is bringing this look back.)

If you’re Big and Tall…

You want dark colors, straight cut pants, and clean lines. You can pull off longer jackets, especially if you want to minimize your bust and hips. Stay away from bold patterns, horizontal stripes, padding, and heavy fabrics.

And more about your butt, hips,  and bust…

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again…tailoring! The key, however, is to fit the largest parts of your body first, and then have everything else taken in. Even if it looks ridiculous at first, remember that the tailor can fix it by removing excess fabric! The tailor can’t do as much in terms of “letting out” a suit that is too small; it creates creates lumps, bumps, and bulges all over.

Also, be sure you wear a proper fitting bra or binding for the coverage you are seeking when trying on suits and visiting your tailor for fittings.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part Three of The Suit

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DapperQ is one of the world’s most widely read digital queer style magazines and is a preeminent voice in queer fashion and beauty. We inspire people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender presentations to think differently about both queer fashion and beauty as art and visual activism, and ultimately have a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with style. In the words of founder Anita Dolce Vita, “dapperQ is a queer fashion revolution, one of the most stylish forms of protest of our generation.”

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  1. This feels like a glimpse into a world of esoteric wisdom where everyone looks awesome & put-together all the time. If those badass dapper types are just knowledgeable, not magical, maybe I can become one too…

  2. Tailoring FTW, always! The only suit I have to wear on a routine basis is the “dress blues” that Uncle Sugar made me purchase. I had to have it tailored multiple times, and I agree with what the author said about start with purchasing a suit that fits your larger dimensions, and tailor the rest in. (My suit is the female version, but still needed mucho material taken in.) Thanks for the very awesome articles.

  3. One thing I’m finding is that if you’re totally unapologetic about what you’re looking for, you might find salespeople are totally willing to help. It’s not that easy, and I’m only newly (mostly) confident about this. But I’ve started saying exactly what I’m looking for: a blazer that’s on the boxier side, no frills, and longer. If it’s women’s, fine. If it’s men’s, fine. Usually I get directed right to the men’s, and the salespeople are surprisingly willing to help even there.

    I totally realize this isn’t that easy. But I think phrasing it as a style rather than as a gendered/sexed clothing choice might make it more palatable for others. It’s not “I want a men’s jacket!” which is maybe hard to swallow; it’s “I like boxy things and men’s things happen to be boxy.”

  4. Yes, dark gray and navy blue suits are a must! I wear those on my visits to the White House regularly. But, I would also encourage everyone to play with colors too. If I can wear a teal suit on my official visit to Burma, you dapperQ’s can do anything, since god knows you’re much more fashionable.

    I’m looking forward to Part III of the manual!

  5. The problem with suits:

    If you have a female shape (wide hips / bust), and you want to buy a men’s suit – good luck. You might find a jacket/shirt, but the trousers aren’t going to fit right without a custom tailor. Custom tailor = $$$

    I buy female euro suits. They cost a fortune sometimes – I spent $300 on my last suit (which was on sale, I consider that cheap). The jackets are (generally) longer and your ass will fit into the trousers.

    So, if you have a female shape, bad news = expect to spend $$$. Good news, the suits will last. I’ve had 3 suits that have lasted over 5 years.

    • Yep, a suit is one of those adult purchases that is initially painful on the old wallet, but gives you sexy grown status if you invest wisely.

      Stay tuned this week because Marimacho is going to give some advice on tailoring and Sonia Oram from Qwear has some brand recommendations for us!

    • This is completely my problem, mostly thin with large bust and hips, and also quite short. Those tips on how to avoid looking like a kid playing dress up are super helpful though – that is how I always feel when I wear my suit jackets. anything that fits my boobs is too big everywhere else and i’m a broke grad student so custom tailoring is not an option right now.

      • I feel your pain. I am super skinny except for my big boobs and everything fits my boobs but is too big or fits the rest of me but makes my boobs look like they are suffocating. Irritating times.

  6. Hmm, I’ve been doing my blazer buttons wrong. Good to know! Also, thanks for the visual chart on fitting – makes things a lot simpler for a go-to guide.

    Is it bad that my usual response to that annoying top button on the bustline is to just open it? Because I mean. That’s a good look too.

  7. Just wanted to say that I’m really loving these articles and are heartily looking forward to the next instalment.

  8. I worked as a fitting assistant in a tailor shop for 1 year so here’s some extra advice:

    My tailor shop was considered really reasonably priced for most tailor shops, but here are ideas of the actual prices:

    Shortening sleeve: 20
    Tapering sleeve: 15
    Taking in the sides through the back panels: 20-30
    Taking in the center back: 15-25
    Lowering the collar (to get rid of collar rolls): 15-25
    Moving front buttons (to make it a little tighter): 2 a button
    Shortening pants: 8-10
    Taking in the waist/seat of dress pants (in the back): 10-12
    Taking in the waist/sides of dress pants (at the sides): 15-20
    Taking in the inseam of dress pants: 10-15
    Tapering the outseam of dress pants: 10-15

    Also, important things:
    -Avoid getting tailoring from department stores like Nordstrom or Saks unless you’re getting a deal on it for having a card there or something. Usually it’s overpriced and the turn around is way longer than necessary.

    -Generally plan to let the tailor have your suit for 3 days to 1 week. If it’s longer than that then that place probably sucks. Unless you’re in a small town and you have no other options.

    -Banana Republic is good for small sizes. If you’re really small and usually wear boys clothes, try to avoid doing this for a suit because boy’s suits aren’t up to the same quality standards as men’s suits. Crew Cuts is an option though. I’m sure you could shop around Nordstrom or Macy’s for kid’s suits also, but be careful to invest in a good one.

    -If the sleeve length is too long or short, do not buy a jacket with functioning button holes. Altering the sleeve length with those button holes is at least $55.

    -Fitting the shoulders is the most important. They can be made smaller if absolutely necessary, but it’s at least a $55 alteration and usually not worth it if you can just return the suit for a better size.

    -Don’t ask to remove the shoulder pads of a nice suit jacket. It won’t work and the fitting assistant will look at you weird while she tries to figure out how explain to you why it’s a bad idea.

    -For suits the trend is to have straight leg pants. Cuffs are considered old fashioned and go exclusively with pleated pants.

    -3 button suits are old fashioned also. Just… go with these old fashioned styles only if that’s what you really want to do.

    -Bring your shoes and dress shirt to fittings if you’re unfamiliar with fitting for suits. That way you know exactly what it will look like if you’re not sure.

    -Suit jackets and pants can usually be let out around 2 inches in the circumference. This is usually enough it it’s too tight but you can still button it. Sleeves can usually be let down an inch.

    -Important for women: If you have a round butt avoid double vented jackets. The flap created by the vents will stick out at the back like a sail. Not a good look.

    -Also important for women: Men’s suit jackets can’t be altered much in the front. When we take in suit jackets all of the extra fabric we remove comes from the back, so if we do that and it still looks baggy in the front (which it could if you have boobs), the only thing we can really do is move the front buttons in a little, which just makes it close a little tighter. Men’s suit jackets are not designed to accommodate boobs and there’s not a lot that the tailor can do to fix this. ):

    Tl;dr: Tailoring is awesome and you should message me if you have weird and specific tailoring questions that you’re just not sure about.

    • Brilliant, Christine!

      Marimacho also has some great tailoring advice in part III of this suit chapter. It is amazing how much there really is to learn about this topic.

      Can we borrow you?! Shirts are next. Hint. Hint.

      • Yes. Borrow me. I graduated college (I have a degree in fashion) and I broke my ankle so I had to stop working for a little so I’m actually just doing -nothing- right now. And it’s so boring.

        I’ve done so many fittings for dress shirts! (Like anywhere from 5-30 a day.) A lot of lesbians come into my tailor shop to fit men’s dress shirts also, so I have a lot of experience specifically with fitting women for men’s shirts.

  9. I’m not sure if I want to wear a suit or date a girl that wears a suit.

    Also, being one of those girls who look younger than they are (Door-to-Door-Salesman: Hello sweety, can I talk to your mother?). How I wear a suit without looking like a stumbled out of my dads closet? I think I’m just one of those people who can’t wear suits.

  10. Hey, have you heard about St Harridan yet?? There’s a new company based in Oakland–fixing to launch a Kickstarter campaign–that’s all about “men’s” suits for women and transguys. As in–the point is that people who don’t have conventionally male morphologies, that perfect drop6 of the tailors’ dreams, shouldn’t have to pay to have suits extensively altered for them…. Check out their FB page to follow and see if they’re going to do a popup in a city near you.

  11. I’d absolutely love to where suits, but I have tiny shoulders and giant hips. My “drop” is definitely in the negatives. Are the pear-shaped among us doomed?

  12. Hm…There are loads of things worth commenting on, some “expert” advice quoted is highly questionable but what stands out to me first and foremost is “Dapper grays and rich navy blues are the experts’ choice.”– these are not in fact, experts’ “choice.” These are current trends, but only after you have a black suit.

    A black suit is actually the the mandatory first suit that you should buy, with a natural shoulder, if you can. A black suit means that you can attend a wedding, a funeral, a bris, a graduation, a prom, a formal Chanukah party, new year’s eve bash, a job interview, and so much more. It only looks like a uniform if, well, it fits like a sack.

    At any given time in your closet you should have: a black suit with several laundered white shirts that range from formal to work to after-party. You can change the tie, the pants, the shoes/socks but you can pretty much go to any event, anywhere, for years with ONE suit.

    Additionally, any one that comes to my funeral wearing a navy jacket and khaki pants is going to burn in hell with me. :)

  13. The tips for body shape/size make me sad. It assumes that everyone wants to look thinner and average height/tall. We are surrounded by and expected to conform to those norms all the time and it’s sad to see them repeated here.

    People should feel welcome to embrace their body size. Fat bodies can wear bold prints if they wanna. Short people can embrace their height. Your body is beautiful. Do what you want.

    Overall I think there are some great tips here, but that last bit was unnecessary or at the very least needs a body positive caveat.

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