Sometimes fashion speaks louder than words, as was the case recently during a meeting at a Toronto investment-management firm. Two male market analysts from an outside company stood to give a presentation: One was smartly dressed in a classic three-button navy suit, while his colleague wore a grey two-button blazer and matching pants, both of which were nipped and tucked to such an extreme that they were all the assembled parties could focus on.
"Once the meeting was over and our guests had left, the first thing we talked about was this guy's suit," says Jason S., a portfolio manager at the firm. "We wondered how on earth he'd gotten his pants on that day."
While an increasing number of men have abandoned suits with oversized shoulders, knuckle-dusting sleeves and baggy, pleated trousers, the current fashion for body-conscious cuts has given rise to the too-tight suit, an unsightly trend that proves it's possible to take one's tailoring to extremes.
"If you're having trouble bending over to tie your shoes, reaching for a handshake or hailing a cab, you've gone too far," says Alan Whitfield, national director of tailored clothing for Harry Rosen. If, he adds, there are lines of stress along the seams of a garment when you're in a standing position or if the buttons on a suit jacket pull when done up, you're either overtailoring your clothing or buying the wrong size off the rack to begin with.
Ironically, it is men's magazines such as GQ and Esquire – the very titles extolling the virtues of a perfectly proportioned suit – that give some men the impression a suit should wrap rather than skim the body. "Guys see this ultraslim look on models in fashion shoots without realizing the clothes are all pinned up the back," Whitfield says. "Those suits are altered in a way that isn't realistic for everyday life."
"Some of our clients are requesting that we take in their sleeves," chuckles Melissa Austria, owner of Toronto's two Gotstyle clothing boutiques, the newest of which opened in March in the city's Distillery District. "I tell them, 'You're not going to be able to bend your elbow or raise your arm!' "
Even before alterations, suit brands are fitting snugger than ever. "Most jackets won't even cover a customer's seat anymore," Whitfield says, noting that even the more traditional brands (Brioni and Ermenegildo Zegna among them) have slimmed down their wares to cater to men in search of a leaner silhouette.
It's important to understand, however, that what might complement a tall, skinny frame isn't going to work on a man with a stocky or athletic build.
"Fit should vary with body shape," says Neil Rodgers, a Los Angeles-based stylist who dresses Gerard Butler, Joe Manganiello and Seth MacFarlane (whose two immaculately fitting Gucci ensembles at the Oscars this year received more praise than his performance).
"Younger, naturally lanky guys might be able to make a second-skin suit work, but it can look odd on men with more developed or average-sized bodies," says Rodgers.
His advice for a flawless fit, regardless of build, is to avoid a messy break at the hem of trousers (in fact, a break isn't even necessary in tapered pants) and to choose a jacket length that correlates to the length of your arms and legs (shorter styles for short limbs, lengthier styles for long ones). Most important, he says, is being aware of how a new suit makes you feel: "Ultimately, a guy needs to be comfortable in order to look good."
That, however, doesn't mean too comfortable, Whitfield qualifies: "You have to remember you're in a suit. It's going to be slightly more restrictive than a jogging suit, but you definitely need to be able to move around."