One true hallmark of a bespoke suit is the size of its armholes. Most armholes in ready-to-wear suits (and made-to-measure patterns, to a certain extent) cater for men with larger arms and shoulders, in order to be on the safe side. As with so many other areas of menswear, no one notices when they’re too big, but everyone would notice if they were too small. Smaller armholes are also just harder to make.

As bespoke is cut uniquely for you, the armholes can be as small as you want. And the biggest advantage of small armholes is that the arms can move independently of the body of the jacket, without dragging its chest and back all over the place.

Lift up your arms and see how far the waist button rises (when the jacket is done-up). With a bespoke suit, that movement is vastly reduced. So your collar stays on the back of your neck, your upper body is more consistently shaped by the jacket’s cut, and if you’re Fred Astaire you can dance and wave your arms around while still looking good. (Modern equivalent: it’s much easier to work at a computer for long periods, arms stretched forward.)

This effect is accentuated when a larger sleevehead is eased by hand into that small armhole, as accentuated by tailors such as Anderson & Sheppard and ready-to-wear by brands such as Kiton.

It would be great if a ready-to-wear suit could be altered to have smaller armholes. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. A smaller armhole means extra material under the sleeve and in the body of the jacket – and most suits don’t supply any extra here.

There is, however, a cheat. If you get your tailor to insert a thin extra shoulder pad into each side of the jacket, it lifts up the armholes and effectively makes them smaller – as the pad at the top is taking up some of that armhole space.

shoulder-pads

The downside is that you have bigger shoulders. But I don’t mind this. As I have sloping shoulders anyway, I tend to ask tailors to build in a slightly heavier shoulder pad. And increasing the padding in a ready-to-wear suit also lifts up the drape of the jacket, removing the folds that collect next to my sleeves in the back (due to those sloping shoulders). So it suits me both ways.

The effect is not the same as a genuinely smaller armhole, of course. The circumference is still the same. But it gets partway there and is certainly an improvement. I wouldn’t recommend it for men with large or square shoulders, and the insert should always be pretty slim, but if you happen to have a similar body type to me, I recommend trying it.

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DB

Paradoxically, I find coats with large armholes, such as you find on most RTW offerings, to be confining.
You know you can’t get away with raising your arms and you feel confined, constrained by the garment.

For a marvellous illustration of how Astaire’s small armholes facilitated his graceful movements I recommend the “No Strings” number from Top Hat:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBOWnN3KRiA

It also features one of the finest DB black tie outfits I’m ever likely to see.

In their old shop A&S used to pull away a rug to show where Astaire used to practice dance steps to check the dynamics of his latest coat.

Kyle

Great tip about reducing the armhole on an off the rack suit, have never come across that before!

Horatio

Great suggestion! I’ll give it a shot with one of my new vintage acquisitions. My shoulder line is normal-ish, but I’m slender with thin arms, so your scheme should make “artificial” high armholes for me.

john

My Father died last year. We are only going through his belongings now. He had style.
It shows in his suits. Some of the were very expensive, some not so, all are very elegant.
I am told whatever I dont keep will be given away.
As is common, I the son am taller and slimmer than my late father.
I tried on some of them. The jackets look well and arent far off. Some of the trousers have
spare material cuffed at the aknkles for lengthening. The waist however is quit large.
I am asking here for independent advice. I fear if I go to a highstreet tailor I could be
unlucky and meet the wrng person who will say “no prob” and lead me down an emotionally
charged and expensve road.

Dont get me wrong. If its’ doable I dont mind paying.
What I’m asking is… Is it possible to downsize jacket, and downsize trouser waist while
upsizing leg length?

Thanks in advance.
John

Seth

Good morning. I recently thrifted a Huntsman sport jacket and behind the armpit there is more fabric than I am used to seeing and it bulges a bit. My tailor says it is there to provide flexibility when reaching, etc. She is adjusting the back seam (it is dual vented) to reduce the look, but I’m afraid it may continue to bug me. First, is this true that it is on purpose, and two, can this extra fabric be reduced?

rups

was just trying on one of my old bespoke jackets and the armhole on one side feels quite tight. its not one Id worn much at all. do these soften out with wear, ie do you have to break them in?

don’t think Ive developed bingo wings … yet 🙂

Cy Goldsmith

Hey Simon—
Is there such thing as an armhole that is too tight? I’ve recently taken delivery of a bespoke suit (my first) and though it looks beautiful in every way, I do feel the seam of the armhole at the front of my underarm somewhat. It’s not quite pinching, but it’s very much there. Is this normal? Am I just accustomed to a large armhole?

Cy Goldsmith

Thanks, Simon. The more I wear it the better it feels. So let’s see what happens! Thanks.

Stanley

is there any standard measurement to define high armholes and low armholes?

as i just found that my bespoke suit have high armhole, but it is a little bit tight when i lay down my arms

Thus, the tailor suggested to alter 3mm

Stanley

I understand there is not possible to alter the armholes higher, but usually is it easy to alter the armholes to lower? Especially after the second fit?

Anonymous

I’ve just bought a second hand bespoke jacket which fits brilliantly apart from the armholes, which are a bit tight. Is it possible to have the armholes lowered so they don’t pinch so much? If so, what would that entail from an alterations perspective?