How to Tailor Off the Rack Suit

| January 29, 2013 | 7 Comments

How to tailor off the rack suit

Not everyone can afford bespoke or even made to measure suit. You can also look good in your off the rack suit. When shopping for a suit you have to think about a few things. Will the desired suit fit my shoulders, my chest and is the rise of the pants OK. All other things can be altered pretty easily and your tailor should have no problems with them.

Some better shops can alter the suit for you but if you have your own tailor I would prefer to take the suit to him. It is always better to have a dependable tailor then to let this service be done by someone you don’t know and don’t trust.
If you do not have your own tailor you will have to do the alterations in the shop, if they offer this service. I am not saying it is a bad option but having your own tailor is the better one.


Hot to tailor off the rack suitThe perfect fit

When buying a suit, bring your dress shirt so you can try the suit and see how will it fit with the shirt. Wear some dress shoes also. When you find the right suit try the jacket on. The first thing that has to fit is shoulders. If they do not fit, dump the suit. Find another one. The jacket has to fit the shoulders perfectly.

The shoulder of the jacket has to follow the end of your shoulders. This is the most important thing. If it’s pulling over your shoulders than the jacket is too small. If there is a gap between shoulder ending of the jacket and your shoulder than it is too big.

Chest is also important although they can be altered. Button down your jacket and see if the X sign appears due to pulling of a material across the chest. If it does, go for a bigger size. If the jacket is a bit bigger in the chest, this can be altered.

Then you should try pants. The most important thing here is the rise. Since it is hard to alter, it must fit. If they fit right, buy the suit and visit your tailor. If it is not right, try another one.

Your tailor can do all other alterations. He can shorten the sleeves on the jacket, he can tailor the pants, shorten them if necessary, he can suppress your waist and make other alterations.



Lapels of your jacket should fit your shirt collar. Lapels should touch your collar and there should be no space between them as you move. When you sit, lapels should lie flat on your collar, when you stand up, it should be the same. What ever you do, lapels should not leave your shirt collar.


How to tailor off the rack suit: sleeve lengthSleeve

Sleeves are rarely right in off the rack suits but they can be altered easily. They should end at your wrist bone, just leaving 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch (1 – 1.5 cm) of your shirt sleeve to show. This is the easiest thing to do and is the first thing that is noticeable about your suit. If it is too long you will look bad and everyone will see it.


How to tailor off the rack suit: waistJacket waist

Most of the rack suits are box shaped and they need to be suppressed. This is big alteration but your experienced tailor should be able to do it. You will need to take in the jacket at the waist by adding darts. This will give you V-shaped looking torso which will look better than boxy one. This is more Italian styled but if you prefer straight waist you don’t need to suppress the jacket that much, which will look more traditional and British styled.


How to tailor off the rack suit: choosing jacket lengthLength of the jacket

Today the shorter jackets are more popular. But since we do not follow the fashion you should go with the regular length and this length is measured by placing your hand down and the root of your thumb should be aligned with the end of the jacket. If it’s not, alter it. If it’s off for an inch or so you don’t need to sweat about it that much. It is not a big thing if your jacket is not of a perfect length


Pants waist

The waist should fit comfortably but not too tight. If you are buying pleated pants you should wear them on your waist. If the pants are flat front you should wear them at the hips. Try them out without the belt. If they stand still at your hips than they fit you perfectly.


How to tailor off the rack suit: choosing pants lengthLength of the pants

Some prefer no break at the pants, some prefer quarter break, some like half break and some go for full break. No break is when the bottom of the pants just touches the top of the shoes, so there is no break in them. Quarter break is my choice. It breaks in front just a bit to cover the top of the shoe and first lace row and at the back trousers are flat and cover just the top of the heel. Half break is when the bottom of the pants cover first two rows of laces and touch the first third of the shoes heel. Full break, in my opinion, should be avoided cause it looks sloppy. Full break is when the bottom of the pants touches almost the bottom of the heel.

You should go for quarter break, which is more stylish, or half break, more traditional but also looks great. If you wear no break your socks will be visible almost always and you will have to wear some great socks. It is important to mention that if you go for quarter break or no break than your trousers should be narrower at the bottom to avoid flapping.

If you are wearing pleated pants than you should cuff your pants. If your pants are flat front, cuffs are not needed. Only time when you should cuff your flat front pants is if those pants are made out of winter, heavyweight fabric.

Always wear your dress shoes when altering the length of the pants.

This whole process is something that needs to be done since you will never find off the rack suit that will fit you perfectly. There will always be some alterations necessary, so find yourself a good tailor and stick with him. Now you will know what changes you want and your communication with him will be much easier.

If you have some questions that were not covered in this article, feel free to post them in the comments section and I will be glad to answer.

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7 Comments on "How to Tailor Off the Rack Suit"

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  1. CAS says:

    I am looking to purchase a couple of nicer suits. I wear a 38R suit jacket and it fits perfectly. Unfortunately, the pants that come with the jacket are usually 31.5 or 32 at the most at the waist. My waist is 34-35. I have spoken with a couple of tailors who told me the most they could take out the waist was 1-2 inches. I’m afraid that the waist will still be too tight despite. Not sure what to do. I really don’t want to purchase a larger jacket and then have the shoulders taken in just to get pants that fit better. Any advice would be great. Thanks

    • Nikola says:

      Hm, this is a tricky situation. The first solution that comes to my mind is to try the pants from the same line of suits but bigger size. Of course, if they have the same suit in different sizes in that particular store. Give me a day or two to talk to some tailors and I will see if we can come up with some solution.
      Why are you so against altering the bigger jacket to fit the pants?

  2. Matt says:

    My pants always are baggy even though the waist fits. Can that be fixed?

    • Paul says:

      I kind of have the same problem Matt. A good tailor should be able to fix this though. I recommend to visit a tailor in your neighbourhood and ask him!

  3. Matt says:

    My pants always are baggy even though the waist fits. Can that be fixed? Following up by adding an email notification.

  4. Michael says:


    Tips were awesome and really helped me out a lot! I actually went to go buy suit off the rack at Macy’s recently. Tried a bunch on and was pretty happy with the fit of their Bar III brand. For the pants, I tried on a 33X30, but found that the length was a little bit too much, and only need it hemmed a bit. I found out later though that if I had bought it online and shipped it to my house that it’d be $55 cheaper. Only thing is, the only pant size they have online close to 33×30 is 33×32. Is that too much to hem?

  5. Derek says:

    I would like to know if sport and suit jacket sleeves can be lengthened???

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