Finding a suit or sport coat that properly fits your shoulders can be a huge headache, but it's always worth the work! Thankfully this handy-dandy guide will help you understand what to look for and how to avoid common pitfalls when shopping off the rack!
To start, it must be emphasized why shoulder fit is so crucial. Aside from being an eyesore in itself, poorly fitted shoulders can create a chain reaction of fit issues along the chest, collar, and lapels of your jacket. All of the above will noticeably detract from your appearance. Furthermore, suit and sport coat shoulders are extremely expensive and difficult to fix with alterations -- if that's even possible.
The hallmark of well fitting shoulders are clean contours: the sleeve should fall smoothly from the shoulders without any divots or crumpling. When you compare a clean fit to an improper one, the difference is night and day
When it comes to truly custom suits, there’s a lot that can be done to achieve desired results. The clothier can widen or narrow; change the angle and shape of the armhole, add or subtract padding to each shoulder individually, and so on.
For us buying off the rack, we have far fewer tools at our disposal for tackling this task. The factors that we can choose between are width and construction.
When the jacket shoulders are wider than the wearers, they will extend past and then divot back into the sleeve. When you’ve got shoulders like this, it's an easy fix; just size down!
On the other hand, when the jacket shoulder bites into your shoulders, this is a more complicated and multifaceted problem. The first thing you should do is try a size up because when the jacket shoulders are too narrow, your deltoids will protrude from the sleeves.
But let’s say you size up and it’s not fixed -- here’s where it gets a bit trickier. When you’re jacked or overweight, there’s a good chance that your deltoids just stick out a ton in general. So even when the jacket shoulder seam falls perfectly on your shoulder bone, your big delts still ruin the contours of your jacket.
The classic "Jacked Man" fit fail.
OR, and now it gets even more complicated, it’s also possible that the angle of your jackets armhole is erect while your shoulders slouch forward. This misalignment can create shoulder bite and twist up the sleeves as well.
With these two problems, even going for a wider jacket may leave you with that unsightly shoulder bite. Now is when you have to start thinking about the construction of the garment. While there certainly are benefits to shoulder padding, they can also exacerbate fit issues with broad delts or misaligned shoulder angles.
Having less padding and structure in the jackets shoulders is far more forgiving to wearers with jacked shoulders, slouchy shoulders, and jacked slouchy shoulders.
Many of my clients -- and many men in general -- have some combination of those fit afflictions. For that reason, I’m very quick to fit my clients with soft-shouldered jackets as it can eliminate delt-size and shoulder angle problems. Soft shoulders and unstructured shoulders often simplify the equation into a matter of width.
That difference can be seen in the image below.
When it comes to sport jackets, choosing soft or deconstructed shoulders is a no-brainer, as soft construction makes the garment more casual and versatile.
With suiting, structure in the chest and shoulders give the jacket a higher degree of formality. Yet in this ever-more casual world, no one would think twice about a soft-shouldered suit nor would most people even know the difference.
Compare light padding as you'd find in a soft shouldered jacket to heavy padding typical of more structured garments in the image below.
It must also be noted that lightly padded jackets aren’t the same as completely unstructured jackets. You can definitely get away with a soft-shouldered suit on dressy occasions, but you cannot do the same with an unstructured one.
Where structure in the jackets chest smoothes over your body to create a silhouette, a completely unstructured jacket behaves more like a sweater, which brings fit challenges of its own. They're great in the right circumstances, but totally unstructured jackets don’t offer the same magic shoulder fixes that soft constructed jackets do.
Long story short, be thoroughly attentive to the shoulder fit when you’re buying a new jacket!
Accept nothing but clean lines from the shoulder down to the sleeve. Tamper first with width to solve fit issues. If you’ve got some divot action, try a size down. If its biting into your shoulder, try a size up.
If it’s still biting into your shoulder, think about finding a model that has less structure and less padding in the shoulders. Especially if you’ve got broad deltoids or forward sloping shoulders, a soft or even completely unpadded shoulder is often the fix.
If you decide to go completely unstructured, just know that the garment will be decidedly casual, and that these jackets can be just as hard to fit as heavily padded ones.
No matter what you do, accept nothing short of perfection when it comes to shoulder fit! Avoid purchasing jackets that don't make the mark, and worst case scenario, shell out a little extra to have a skilled tailor make any necessary fixes.