How to Properly Measure Suit Sleeve Length
As Michael Kors once said, “A man in a well-tailored suit will always shine brighter than a guy in an off-the-rack suit.” The point here is that proper suit fit is as important to how your suit looks as the material or style of the garment. And when it comes to fit, there’s one thing you need to know above all else – how to measure suit sleeve length.
Get the sleeve length wrong and you end up either with a jacket that looks like it hangs off your body or one that makes you look like you’re forcing a child’s jacket over an adult body. Neither is a great look, which is why you need to know more about proper suit jacket sleeve length.Looking for Suits & Tuxedos?
Understanding Sleeve Length
How long should suit sleeves be?
The answer to that question is more complicated than you might think, as you’re not simply measuring the length of your arm to get the right length. Other factors are at play – such as your shirt – so it’s important to understand proper jacket sleeve length before you break out the measuring tape.
What Is Proper Sleeve Length?
According to GQ Magazine, a suit sleeve should display about half an inch of the shirt’s cuff. In other words, the sleeve stops just short of your wrist. It’s long enough for you to be able to cup it in your hands easily, but not so long that the material completely overshadows the shirt underneath.
Take a wedding suit for a groom as an example. When the groom is standing in profile while exchanging his vows with his partner, their arms will likely be down by their sides. You should be able to see the half-inch of the shirt cuff – ending on the wrist – in this situation.
Apply that rule to every suit you buy and you will have the correct length.
Why Sleeve Length Matters
It’s all about achieving the right fit. And when it comes to suit sleeves, you’re playing a game of literal inches.
For instance, imagine that you haven’t paid attention to your blazer sleeve length, resulting in the sleeve extending past your wrist. At this point, it practically drapes over to your hand. Not only does it look oversized – even if the rest of the suit perfectly fits your body – but you now have excess material covering your hand that you have to keep moving during the course of the evening.
Then, there’s the opposite side of the coin – going so snug with your sleeve length that the cuff is too far up your arm. That’s a recipe for bunching. Every bend of the arm sends the cuff further up, meaning you’ll be spending all of your time pulling it back down. And all of the while, you’ll look like a guy who’s tried to squeeze too much man into too little material – not great even during an event that’s semi-formal for guys.
Measuring Sleeve Length
Now you know why sleeve length matters, let’s move on to the important question – how long should a suit jacket sleeve be? The answer is that it varies depending on your size, meaning you have to measure yourself properly to find the right length.
Tools You’ll Need
There is only one tool that you’ll need when measuring your sleeve length – a measuring tape. That tape will handle everything from your chest measurement to the total length of your arm, but there is a caveat here.
The tape has to be flexible.
If you try to measure using a solid tape, it won’t curve to match any of your body’s contours, leading to inaccurate measurements across the board. That’s where a standard tailor’s tape comes in.
How to Measure Your Sleeve Length
With a tape measure in hand, you can find out your ideal suit coat sleeve length. There are two measurements to make here, which you’ll add up to find the appropriate length.
Start by placing one end of the tape at the back of your neck – right in the center – and measuring to the end of your shoulder. Check the measurement, jot it down, and then adjust the tape so the end that was on your neck is now placed on the end of your shoulder.
From here, allow a slight bend in your elbow and measure down from the end of your shoulder to your wrist bone. Aim for the bone, specifically, because that’s where you want your shirt sleeve to sit. You’ll notice the words “shirt sleeve” there, so let’s explain why.
Adding your two measurements together gives you the sleeve length you’ll use when buying your shirt, the cuffs of which need to sit on your wrist bone. But as you’ll remember from earlier, the cuff of your suit jacket needs to be a little higher up, allowing about half an inch of your shirt cuff to show.
So, subtract half an inch from the measurement you just made, and you have the ideal length for your suit jacket to go along with the measurement you just found for your dress shirt.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
The process for finding out the ideal length of suit jacket sleeves seems simple enough, but there are some common mistakes you could make that will throw the measurement off. One of them was mentioned earlier – using a hard measuring tape instead of one that’s flexible enough to match the contours of your body. Doing that means you’ll only ever get an approximate measurement for your sleeve.
Here are a few more mistakes to watch out for:
- Measuring over clothes – Clothes add extra thickness to your arm, giving the impression that it’s larger than it really is. Where possible, try to measure your sleeve length while topless, or trust a tailor to account for the clothes you’re wearing while they measure.
- Keeping your arm perfectly straight – You’ll rarely ever stand with your arms straight, so you shouldn’t measure with them straight either. If you’re having to force your arm into an uncomfortable position, you’re likely making this mistake while measuring.
- Too tight or too loose – Your tape should match the curvature of your arm. Pulling too tight creates a straight line, whereas holding the tape too loose adds inches to your sleeve size.
- Not double-checking – As any tailor (or builder) will tell you: “Measure twice, cut once.”
When to Consult a Tailor
While you can handle the sleeve measuring process yourself – or, more likely, with the help of a friend – it’s still worth acquiring the services of a tailor, especially when you’re measuring a suit for a formal event. As a general rule, work with a tailor if you’re unsure whether you’ve found the proper suit jacket sleeve length. But keep these considerations in mind when you do.
Off-the-Rack vs. Made-to-Measure
Despite what the quote used to open this article suggests, buying off-the-rack isn’t a sin when you’re searching for a suit. It just means you’ll need to account for the fact that the suit jacket doesn’t offer a perfect fit right off the bat.
The key here is that the off-the-rack suit needs to at least mostly fit you properly. Sleeves that are a touch too long can be shortened (even temporarily), for instance, but a tailor can’t magically transform a suit that doesn’t fit into one that does.
As for a made-to-measure suit, it’s exactly what it sounds like – a suit based on the measurements a tailor takes. In this case, you’ll spend a session with a tailor while they measure every part of your upper body, with the resulting suit jacket (as well as shirt and trousers) made specifically for you rather than being an approximation of your body type.
What a Tailor Can Do
Beyond measuring your suit coat arm length, a good tailor can alter your sleeves, to an extent. For instance, a tailor may be able to make the sleeves longer, though only by the amount of fabric available from the cuff up to the start of the sleeve’s lining. How much fabric is available depends on the suit and will impact how much lengthening can take place.
Shortening is a slightly simpler alteration, though the tailor has to consider proportionality. Making the sleeve shorter can bring functional buttonholes too close to the sleeve’s edge, for instance, creating an odd look. Still, a couple of minor alterations by a tailor can make all of the difference if your jacket doesn’t quite sit right.
Costs and Considerations
According to Yelp, the cost of suit alterations typically falls between $18 and $80, hitting an average of $41, with the exact cost depending on the extent of the alteration and your location.
That’s good to know because it means you don’t have to worry about getting a new suit if your current one doesn’t quite fit properly. But again, remember that tailors aren’t miracle workers. If the suit doesn’t come close to fitting your body, you may be better off simply buying a new jacket than paying tailors to make an extreme number of adjustments until the jacket fits.
Additional Tips and Considerations
You’re most of the way to knowing your perfect suit coat at arm's length. But before you buy your jacket, here are a couple more considerations to keep in mind.
French Cuffs and Barrel Cuffs
The type of cuff you have can affect sleeve length, particularly if you have French cuffs rather than barrel cuffs.
The latter is the most common type of shirt cuff, which is a single band that wraps around your wrist, usually secured in place by a button. There’s no extra material to worry about, so your sleeve length correlates directly with the shirt you buy when that shirt has barrel cuffs.
That’s not the case with French cuffs for a simple reason – the cuff folds into itself. You’ll often see these cuffs used for dress shirts at weddings, with the folding allowing the use of cufflinks. But that fold also adds some material, for which you need to account when measuring your sleeve length. As such, the sleeve that fits your body if your shirt has French cuffs will be a touch longer than a properly fitting shirt that has barrel cuffs.
Sleeve Length and Suit Jacket Size
Interestingly, most suit jackets are offered in small, medium, large, or bigger sizes based on their sleeve lengths. But therein lies a problem – your sleeve length may not correlate with your chest or stomach size. Even if you’re not carrying extra weight (or muscle), you also can’t assume that two people who have the same chest size will also have the same sleeve length.
So, don’t rely on a single measurement when trying to achieve the perfect suit fit. Start with the sleeves – and tailor toward them – but remember that a jacket with an inappropriate length or chest size will look bulky or too tight.
Find the Perfect Jacket to Match Your Suit Sleeve Length
A properly fitted sleeve is the first step to achieving a perfect fit, whether it’s for the suit you wear for work or the beach wedding suits you’re getting for you and your groomsmen. And now, you know how to measure your arm to find the perfect sleeve length, though it’s always recommended that you speak to a tailor if you’re unsure.
All that’s left is to find the right suit.
Generation Tux is your destination. With our suit rental service – which includes a home try-on so you can check sizing – you’ll find the perfect suit or tuxedo for your big event. So, measure up and then place your order for a suit that fits your body perfectly.
Now that you know how to measure your sleeve's length, you can move on to other topics: