Fit is the most important thing about a suit. It can be cheap, it can be threadbare and it can be hideously patterned. But the man wearing it will always look better than his contemporary if it fits him well– and his contemporary’s does not. Knowing how to get a suit altered is a must for every man, be he a casual suit wearer or every day formal dresser. Continue reading to learn about how to get a stylish, ready-to-wear suit altered to fit you and no one else…

You don’t need to go bespoke, or even made-to-measure, to get a suit that fits well. Most quality stores that sell suits will offer alterations at a decent price. At Ralph Lauren, for example, the policy is to do alterations at cost; the store makes no money off it. This service won’t necessarily be advertised, so ask.
The key to getting a well-fitting suit off the peg, therefore, has two elements: buying the right size, and getting it altered. To buy the right size– look at the suit’s collar and its shoulders.

Pretty much everything can be altered in a suit except the shoulders. Obviously the jacket cannot be lengthened; but the sleeves can be lengthened or shortened, the waist taken in or let out (both trouser and jacket), the crotch taken out/in and the trouser legs lengthened/shortened.

So when you try on a ready-to-wear suit, look at the back of your neck (in a mirror) and the shoulders. The back of the suit should neither stand away from your neck, nor wrinkle up and create a little ridge behind the collar. The first shows the cloth has too much slack, the second that it has too little.
Equally, the shoulder of the jacket should go straight out and not dip; and your shoulder should not be visible pushing at the cloth of the sleeve. These are signs that the suit is too big and too small, respectively.


Another good thing to look at is the cloth across your back. Check for lines of tautness (probably across the shoulders) or slack under the arms (indicating drooping shoulders). Ignore everything else about how the suit fits. Get the neck and the shoulders right first, but they are difficult and expensive to alter.

Then take the suit to the in-house tailor (or an external one if you have had it recommended). The trousers will be relatively simple to alter – you’ll know what feels comfortable around the waist, as is pinned or examined by the tailor, and what you prefer on the length. The safest option on length is one break in the front crease of the trouser, none in the back.

The first things to have altered on the jacket are the waist and the arms. The fit of the waist is very much a matter of personal taste, but there should be an obvious suppression in the line of suit at your side, going in where your waist button fastens (middle button on a three-button suit, top one on a two-button). There should be no folds radiating from the waist button, which again show the cloth being stretched. And when you pull the waist button away from you, it should pull out easily an inch or two, but no more.

If the chest or hips of the jacket are also a little big, make sure the suppression the tailor makes at the waist has a long tail, finishing high up around the chest and low down the vents.

Lastly, sleeves. Suits are generally manufactured with longer arms than average because few men notice that their sleeves are too long. They’d notice if they were too short, as there would be a startling excess of cuff. But an inch or two too long goes unnoticed.


So it’s worth having them changed. The rule is they should end at your wrist bone, no lower. Your shirt should then fall to the base of your thumb (when your arms are at your sides) so that there is around half an inch of short cuff showing. The shirt sleeves should also have enough slack not to ride up when your arms are extended.

That’s how to have a ready-to-wear suit altered. It’s unlikely to cost more than 10% of the suit’s price, and will always be worth it.