Tight fit isn't always the right fit

Compared to the scrutiny that women routinely endure about the fit and cut of their clothes, we men have gotten away with a hell of a lot.

We don't feel nearly as pressured to wear snug-fitting clothes, even though men's fashion in recent years has continued to promote slim-fitting garments – with varying results, it must be added.

Among the current crop of men's suits, shirts, jeans and chinos, it's hard to find any draping material. Just as healthy-sized women can point to pictures of impossibly slim models to feed their insecurity, men too now have popular imagery to fill them with consternation about body shape.

Actors Daniel Craig and Ryan Gosling are the main culprits, says Jules Lichtenstein, head fitter at made-to-measure tailor Oscar Hunt.

“Mentions of Gosling and Craig are pretty common,” Lichtenstein says. “The obvious thing is, not many people share their physique.

“Everybody seems to want slim fit, but you also need to consider your shape. It's not the fault of clients; they come in maybe not knowing about how something can catch or how something should drape. Slim fit can look great but a tailored fit, suited to your individual shape, is better.”

While men who aren't shaped for a slim-fit suit might welcome the return to vogue of the double-breasted option, Godwin Hili, founder and creative director of Melbourne-based label Godwin Charli, says it's not what it used to be.

“The double-breasted suit of the 1980s and 90s is dead. If you look back in history it's normally a heavier gentleman [wearing them] but the current double-breasted look being pushed is slim, ultra-slim.”

If that sounds daunting to the more generously proportioned gent, solace may be found in the fact that classic Italian style has long been inspired by the virtue of generosity.


As Tom Riley of made-to-measure tailors P. Johnson puts it, when it comes to Italian style, “there is more life in every aspect of it”.

This is especially the case when it comes to suits. “In the shoulder of the jacket, in the front of the jacket, the cloths used have much more drape. They're lively and fresh rather than rigid, straight and heavy,” he says.

He counsels clients against becoming too obsessed with trying to achieve a Daniel Craig-type result.

“At the end of the day if it doesn't fit well it's not going to do its thing. The whole point of tailoring is that it's tailored,” Riley says.

Not everyone uses a tailoring service and often we are left to our own fitting room self-assessment in determining the best fit and cut available. This is especially the case than when buying a pair of jeans, one slim-fit item that's bound to remain a wardrobe staple.

Rob Ferris, head buyer for the exclusive men's department store Harrolds, believes there is some respite on its way for fashion-forward types craving extra breathing space.

“In general it's going more towards a tapered leg. Not so tight around the thighs and then tapered more aggressively from the knee down,” he says.

After the hassle of getting in and out of slim-fit denim, it's perhaps little surprise that when it comes to purchasing shirts most men just grab their size and head for the checkout.

Melissa Lee of Sydney-based custom shirt-making service Joe Button cautions that traditional shirt sizing has more to do with maximizing sales than helping the customer get the best fit.

“I think when you buy off-the-rack, slim fit and regular fit don't really mean too much,” she says.

“Companies usually make shirts larger so that they fit a greater proportion of the population.”

This results in different parts of shirt not fitting correctly, Lee maintains.

“A lot of men have wider necks and because a lot of shirts are done by neck size, the shirts they end up buying swamp them because their necks are not in proportion to the rest of their body.

“Another problem is sleeve length. In the US they have a different system where they have a whole bunch of different sleeve lengths according to the collar size, whereas in Australia there is only really one. So that's a common issue, whether the sleeves are too long or too short.”

The question of size and fit has definitely become a bigger issue for men in recent years, but Godwin Hili is confident that tailoring garments to the individual's body shape – rather than a dogged insistence on all men trying to carry off the slim look – will take precedent in the eyes of the fashion industry.

“I can't see it getting any slimmer,” Hili says. “The guy will fade away.”