I just keep adding more dimensions to what comprises a POV. It’s not just about the details- it’s about the fit.
As much as we like to posit menswear as a pragmatic method of “correct dress”, at the end of the day, it is still a subjective form of personal aesthetics. A suit looks like any old suit to 90% of the world, no matter if it’s casual or formal- this frees it up to be interpreted in a myriad of different ways while still flying relatively under the radar in the fashion world. Menswear appears to be a monolith, but only those who know can see the nuance. Call it taste, POV, whatever. The idea is that after rules are broken down, all we have left is taste to govern ourselves.
That’s why my blog has largely been about this nuance. The essays are not meant for beginners. They are meant for guys like me who get off on being quirky and different, who relish in the differences and details. Jokes on me for picking the tamest subgenre of style, where even the smallest details are largely ignored under the comment “it’s just a regular old suit”. You’d be hard pressed to find someone to understand the nuance, let alone recognize that it’s there.
Most references to the nuance within menswear I’ve written about has largely been about recognizable styling cue, which naturally lead to specific pieces you can wear and how call an aesthetic to mind. For example, a spread collar shirt is quite business and #menswear; I prefer wearing soft spearpoint collars to signal a bit more intentionality and point toward a POV, one that looks to resurrect the ideas of the Esquire Man. Invoking military chinos instead of Banana Republic ones or crisp tailored gabardines is a good way to show nods to Americana as well as a slouchier attitude toward dressing. Foulards with abstract patterns are quirkier than rigid Macclesfields and medallion prints. Ties are also fun to tuck in, just like how pocket fisting is a good move to get into the slouch mindset (since menswear doesn’t have to always be about being stiff and stuffy). And lastly (and perhaps most obvious), high rise, full cut trousers, are another good way to set yourself apart from the mall brands and most tailored enthusiasts on the explore page.
That last point is interesting since it deals with something a bit more abstract: proportions and silhouette. I’ve alluded to these topics before, but it’s something that I’ve neglected to fully write about since it is rather hard to explain. These are qualities that are intentional and can point to a POV, but its exponentially less recognizable than wearing a specific type of OCBD or tie to get your point across, despite being completely visual and holistic. Because let’s be honest- someone may not instantly recognize the difference between a military chino and one from the mall. But they may recognize how different the fit is. That’s what why proportion is incredibly important, especially as you learn about your desired aesthetic. Knowing how all the components work together and how you can play into it (or subvert) them is another great detail to know!
I suggest listening to the podcast episode below before reading further. And please remember, these are my personal thoughts on what I like from proportions and silhouette!
As Spencer and I come to realize in our episode, proportion (and by extension, silhouette) is probably one of the most important elements of classic menswear. Picking the right ties, shoes, and cloth is one thing, but how a garment looks on it’s own is something completely different and something you can’t skimp out on. That’s because proportion and silhouette is the Great Diffrentiator. The cut, the width of the lapels, the quarters, the length- it all is what literally makes all of the RTW brands and artisanal tailors we like different from each other. Paying attention to it and using the concepts intentionally is usually the “evolutionary” step in a POV journey.
You might think that this is rather simple- that it’s only about fit or at beast, the shoulder treatments (padded or unpadded? jacket lengths (I just have to avoid the shorty ones from H&M right?) and the rise/width of a trouser (no low rise and no skinny pants). This is not true. Proportion factors into many different elements in tailoring. Yes, it still includes all the previous things, but can be expanded to include even how the length of jacket plays with the open (or closedness) of the front quarters, which then interacts with the rise of the trouser. It can deal with how the leg opening coincides with the length. And perhaps most subtly, proportions can even deal with angle of a notch in the lapel to the size of a patch pocket.
As we attempted to describe in the podcast episode (and with the photos I’ve included below), the proportions of silhouette and design are what truly make the house style of a brand, designer, or tailor. Playing into or subverting these ideas is really the best way to show mastery and intentionality behind a POV. In short, it’s good to recognize exactly what proportions you are into and how they play into each other.
If dressing is to be considered a form of art (or at least personal expression), then proportions certainly factor heavily into it. It is just another way to differentiate an outfit/garment/brand from one another that doesn’t simply resort to questions of formalities or the context of your environment. Proportions and silhouette are all about the art form of menswear. There is a lot of talk about “objectively” good and bad fit (in regards to proportion), but we’re beyond those basics. Or at least if you’re reading this, I’m assuming that you’re probably ready to think about clothing in an expanded way!
At a certain point, there are no “correct” proportions. Like with most things I’ve discussed in this podcast, proportions and silhouette are dependent entirely on your POV or desired aesthetic. And unfortunately for you, this blog is all about my POV (but I hope you can apply the thought process in your own way). There is a big emphasis here on drape and clean lines, which in turn is conducive to that whole slouch thing I’m always talking about. That’s not to say that drape is inherently better- it’s just that I’ve realized that certain proportions work best with what I want to look like: vibe, aesthetic, attitude and all. At a certain point, fit (which is a whole other thing) really just becomes subjective. It’s the next step in how you look at clothes, becoming less about being “proper” and simply adding another dimension to play with when dressing up.
The easy way I thought about this was in terms of specific eras of menswear. I wrote an essay on this years ago, but each decade or so definitely has a take on the “ideal” menswear silhouette was. With different takes on shoulders, length, and cut, you could tell that the 1930s were elegant, the 1940s leaned into being bold, the 1960s were trim, and the 1970s were dramatic. But if you looked closely, you could even see that even more was at play: the rise of the trouser, the positioning of the pockets, the gorge of the lapel to even the shape of a shirt collar. All of these proportions were all conducive to figuring out what I liked from each era. Nothing is inherently better than the other, but if you wanted to dress as a specific era, you needed to pay attention to it all. Proportions were just another detail, just like the shape of the lapel (which again, is another play with proportions).
For example, a typical 1940’s jacket would have had strong shoulders, wide lapels, and a slightly lowered button stance. It was bold and had a draped chest. A regular H&M or J. Crew two button jacket with narrow shoulders, short length, and skimpy lapels just wouldn’t work for as a suitable replacement. But let’s take this a step further.
Say you found a 1940’s jacket but you wore it with modern J. Crew pants. It would look odd. The strong top block just wouldn’t jive with the low rise, slim leg. There is a reason why the 1940’s trousers were so high waisted and wide- it worked in harmony with the jacket, both exuding the same Bold vibe that characterized the post war/swing era menswear aesthetic. This harmony in proportions and silhouette definitely can be seen in the 1960s where ivy jackets with their narrower lapels, vertically spaced out buttons, and narrow shoulders definitely require a slimmer, less pleated trouser.
Let’s not forget that a 1940s jacket just appears bigger and bolder, whereas a 1960s ivy one feels closed and “trussed up”. We can attribute this to how buttoning point/placement are incorporated into the jacket, which is quite useful when determining where you want to go with your POV. Don’t forget that these proportions also have an effect on your other choices as well: bold, wide ties look good 1940’s style jackets, where as slim, minimalistic ones seem to go hand-in-hand with ivy and mod jackets of the 1960s.
It seems that proportion in menswear isn’t just about the overall silhouette, but can be expanded to include the way in which specific elements in the outfit play with each other. Once you start paying attention, you’ll see it everywhere. If certain aesthetics are your goal with dressing (and it isn’t for most menswear guys), then you really won’t be able to look at clothing without scrutiny. It’s like a curse- a curse that forces you to look at everything and start to judge pieces and outfits specific to your own tastes.
So again I apologize for just how subjective all of this is, because I am the biggest offender (but you knew that already, didn’t you). Take all my purviews and preferences with a grain of salt!
Jacket length is a good example. A jacket that is cut too short will look awkward. Not just to itself, but the closer it ends to the hips, the less drape it will have, presumably because the buttoning point is placed higher to compensate. This is why short jackets from J. Crew or H&M just don’t drape as well as full length ones. But that also has to take into account the width (or room) of the garment. A slim fit long jacket looks weird, but a generous long jacket is comfortable and dramatic. Do you see how these proportions in design and silhouette come into play together?
High rise trousers in general are great, because they lengthen your legs. But they seem to work better when they hit right around the buttoning point in order to create a clean look. High rise also seems to work well with a wider cut, as the excess fabric in both directions seems to equalize; the inverse is also true, where most slimmer trousers tend to have a more tapered silhouette.
A wide leg needs to be hemmed closer to the shoe if you don’t want it to look too cropped (a wide leg appears more overtly cropped due to how much fabric there is in the circumference). On the flip side, a tapered trouser as to be cropped higher on the leg in order to ensure it drapes without breaking; if it’s too close to the shoe, it will crinkle and not lay as clean as a wider leg opening.
Waistcoats and sweaters look odd when they are too long- they aren’t a sportcoat or a blouson. They should end where your trousers end, and with the popularity of high rise trousers, most are too long. I’ve written about sweaters before, but it’s important to apply the same rules to waistcoats too. A long waistcoat just feels wrong, making your body look too cylindrical. The proportions are thrown even further out of whack when you combine a long waistcoat or sweater (that goes past the natural waist) with a short length sportcoat. It just doesn’t seem proportional!
For that matter, a blouson should also be cut short. Not waistcoat short, but it certainly shouldn’t be approaching jacket length. A torso jacket means it ends at your waist, which is where your legs begin. Most modern blousons tend to end at the hips, making it appear just a bit off.
A shirt can be full cut and big, but that doesn’t mean that the sleeves can be too long. You want it to drape well, akin to a good sportcoat. This also means that you’ll need a high rise trouser to compensate for the excess width and “cinch’ it so it looks good (broad chest, small waist). A low rise, slim trouser won’t look good with a big shirt, especially since the shirt will get untucked quite easily. It just seems that a lot of this has to do with where things end. Pooling only happens when things don’t hover and lay cleanly.
On a more nuanced scale, shoe choice can play into proportions. Chunky welts and tyrolean shoes can certainly work with tailoring to provide an interesting aesthetic- provided that the tailoring is done right. A slim trouser or a wide-but-cropped fit are two ways to play into a chunky shoe. A full leg, full break can work, but it won’t look clean (if that’s what you’re after). Similarly, rounded, shorter shoes can feel stubby with wide trousers. Perhaps this is why sleek Japanese oxfords with chisel toes and elegant waisting are so prized by the top menswear enthusiasts. They just happen to look play into most silhouettes across the board. Outside of slim fit of course, as a slim fit will only emphasize the angles of the shoe, making it look exaggerated. In short, a shoe can play into the overall silhouette, but its effectiveness requires a close attention to trouser proportions. Shoe-pant interaction is a tricky one!
Proportions can even be played with with the inherent design of garments as well. As I alluded to before, a sack jacket has the ability to make you feel longer and slimmer despite being shorter in length- this is due to the spaced out buttons and the relatively narrower lapels, which gives more visual “body” on jacket. In the same vein, a double breasted jacket is good at making you appear broad, using the peak lapels, buttoning point, and button spacing– the invisible horizontal lines are what make the DB have this effect.
Shoulders and lapels are imperative to look at for proportions. A structured shoulder can either be played by use of a higher gorge (or upturned peaks) or offset by a lower one. The angle and obtuseness of a notch can also play into how broad a lapel appears, which then coincides with how broad the jacket is in general. The suppressed waist tends to require a girthy lapel, as the hourglass lines of a jackets silhouette naturally work with the visual lines of a lapel and front quarters- this is why shapeless jackets like sacks and workwear blazers tend to have slimmer lapels.
[Oof this sounds so pedantic and picky, I’m sorry. To repeat, the list really does reflect my personal preferences and experiences with the way certain things fit and look “good” to me so YMMV]
These Proportional Harmonies (a term Spencer coined in the podcast episode) both in silhouette and design, are simply about being aware of how much details affect an aesthetic. After years of collecting and wearing vintage clothing, these [cursed] preferences have become internalized affecting how I look at clothing, not just for myself but when analyzing pieces and how other people wear them. It’s just good to know why you like something (or not) or why certain moves just work (or why they don’t). Emphasis on you.
Brands, tailors, designers, and eras of vintage all use proportions to achieve not only the look they want, but the aesthetic they want as well. Bryceland’s has wide lapels and wide jeans; Husbands prefers slim trousers, strong shoulders, and sleek boots. Drake’s balances their short Games suits against their traditional ivy-inspired jacketing. Anglo-Italian likes a low buttoning point and a tapered trouser. Ciccio’s house style has a lowered buttoning point, but his jackets are also longer to compensate. Thom Browne (at least the ones I like) has a short jacket (that is button-harmonious) and rather closed quarters that makes up for the potential gap between the jacket hem and the rise of the trouser; it seems that a few TB suits even have a higher rise to play into that interaction. Perhaps this is why Simon Crompton prefers closed quarters on his bespoke jackets and tends to pick tailors accordingly- he has been very adamant about his preference for mid-rise trousers.
To be clear, this isn’t so much about finding the ideal proportion from a brand or trying to create it with custom tailoring. I don’t think the ideal exists. Plenty of guys dress for an intended proportional aesthetic rather than one that conventional wisdom dictates. There are plenty of short guys who like wide legged high rise trousers- some of them are in the industry today and others only exist in 1930s photographs. Short guys have even worn long jackets. Big guys can wear high rise trousers and pleats. People can play into classic (or dated) proportions (as I do) or prefer something else. People gain different things from different proportions and silhouettes, emphasizing things they like and avoiding the connotations of the others. Finding out the right way to accomplish your intended proportional POV while still looking harmonious is one of the joyous struggles of fashion- there’s a reason why this mindset comes after wanting to dress “correctly”.
Let’s not forget that you can also play with proportions as well. Baggy shirts with slim/straight trousers- just remember to keep the waist high so the shirt stays in place. I sometimes roll up my casual wide leg pants to get a better drape or pant-shoe-interaction. And perhaps most famously, I like the contrast of longer sleeves and tops against shorts for that School Boy Look. It’s a great way to put a spin on the ideas of classic menswear utilizing proportions and silhouette, rather than simply relying on pairing something rugged with something “formal”. Playing with proportions and silhouette is a nuanced way to add another dimension to your style, one beyond the expected.
This exercise (remember, it’s about the thought process) is about finding the right proportion and silhouette for your intended POV– and why it works (or why certain style moves don’t go with it). Nothing is inherently bad (you do you honey), but I certainly have a strong idea about why I like certain things and why others simply don’t pass muster. And most of the time I think I’m right (lol). Think of it like my whole essay on film score and how I said that music can be just fine, but a good composer like John Williams has specific tricks and harmonies to ensure the score fits the picture and still sounds like his own musical aesthetic. You can always do both. A roomy leg doesn’t have to pool at your ankles. A long jacket doesn’t necessarily require a lowered button stance. A baggy shirt can be roomy and fit your neck and sleeves. You can have a relatively slim trouser and a high rise.
As I said during the introduction of this essay, most people are not going to see any of this nuance when it comes to tailoring. That’s why it really doesn’t make sense to look at proportions in terms of formality. It’s far more useful (and relevant) to think of proportions as a tool to use in personal expression. It’s what I’ve come down to after all these years of learning to dress exactly as I intended. It also helps me realize why I don’t really like other things- they aren’t bad, but they also aren’t what I want. At least now I know why I don’t like it, as opposed to saying “it sucks” (though I admittedly I do mutter that to myself from time to time).
Perhaps the best illustration of this would be to explain my own ideal proportion when it comes to tailoring. Again, this isn’t meant to be some authoritarian ideal but if you find yourself liking tailoring the way I do, I think this is how I’m able to do it! I hope it expressed as descriptive instead of prescriptive. In fact, it’s probably better not to think about it this hard or even be aware of this stuff. And also, I don’t take a tape measure out and get down to the nitty gritty. At this point, it’s all internal and second nature- I know what looks and feels right to me.
As you probably know by now, I take a lot of inspiration from vintage menswear from the 1930s-1970s. Most of it is styling cues– I make references to certain eras by use of specific pieces like my collars, lapels, and ties (both in width and printed design). However, my purview with proportion and silhouette largely stems from the 1930s-1940s silhouette and proportions of a lightly broad shoulder, gently nipped waist, and a high rise/straight cut trouser. Note how I used the word stems, because its a lot more nuanced than simply being a reproduction.
I like broad shoulders, but I don’t like structure, so the shoulders are droopy and extended- its a slouchier version of the 1940s aesthetic. To be proportionally harmonious with the extended shoulders, I also prefer having wide lapels that (if possible) have a lowered gorge (or peak). A button stance can be moderate, but since I’m short, it can’t be too low, hence why Button-Pocket Harmony is always in play when I look at garments through my taste. As you’ll see later on in the photos I’ve included, BP-Harmony is about the buttoning point and the proportions between the jacket above the buttoning point and below it; inharmonious jackets tend to be top heavy. And now that I’m reflecting on it, this specific taste is not only about how a jacket’s details are proportional to itself, but how it harmonizes with the other garments that make up the outfit.
Unlike the 1930s, I prefer having a longer jacket, at least when compared to how other people wear theirs. For me, this works with the existing “exaggerated” elements that are already present. It’s less about being able to grab a jacket with my hands, but more so for it to go past the fork of my fly in order for it to appear “right” to me. Why? It’s because I prefer to have a high waist and a wide leg trouser. A longer jacket seems to be harmonious with this aesthetic, being able to cover the generously pleated hips while also ensuring that pocket placement is low enough to fist. A longer jacket also ensures that the jacket-to-buttoning point and the buttoning point-to-hem are largely equal in proportion. It just look so good to see a jacket go past the crotch, especially with the high rise.
My trousers, as previously mentioned, tend to be rather wide or at the very least, straight cut. This ensures that that they are able to lay cleanly at all times, hanging from the waist. The length is quite important as the extra circumference allows it to go close to the shoe without breaking. Too much and it will start to break and pool; too short and it will look cropped, as if it was abruptly stopped. In essence, the trousers echo the jacket.
My preferred approach to proportion is about having clean lines with a little bit of drama- that’s the entire appeal of all the old photos and the essay on The Esquire Man. It also ensures that most nooks and crannies covered up- no need to worry about if my gut shows or if the outline of my thigh or calf appears through the trouser- a full cut will cover all of it. The excess drape can then be played with via nipping with ease, all while remaining roomy. You can’t play around much with a slim fit- you’re literally limited by having rationed fabric.
The good news is that this curse allows me to be specific and intentional about what I wear. It prevents me from just buying anything; taste is important, not just in fabrics and details, but in proportions and silhouette too! It’s not that things are bad, but of course if I’m comparing things to my own POV (which I almost always do), they certainly aren’t “good” for it.
As I said before, my POV on proportions is really applied to everything I wear, not just tailoring. I wear big shirts, whether they are a spearpoint, OCBD, workshirt, sportshirt, or tee. This in turn requires a high rise and a cinched waist in order to keep the top blousy (in a good way). If my jeans, shorts, and fatigues/workpants are meant to be alternatives to tailoring, they need to be cut in similar proportions to my tailored trousers. The same can be said of my casual, non-blouson jackets like my chore coats and jungle jackets. Wouldn’t it be weird if my broad slouchy tailoring had short/slim pants or if my wide leg pants had such a short jacket? It all has to be conducive to my POV!
And to be quite clear, not everything passes muster or rather, it’s not perfect every time. Even though I’ve commissioned a few custom pieces (like those LOW trousers), I still have a variety of pieces I still enjoy wearing, even if the proportions are not always consistent. I still do experiment, whether its by trying something new (preferably vintage) or by mixing what I already own. Sometimes some shoulders just aren’t right. Or a trouser is too wide or I got it made too long. Maybe it’s due to my body type or physique. Or perhaps my tastes have changed! In any case, certain pairings are just better than others, which I choose to spin as a positive challenge rather than one to be scared of.
Nothing is ever really correct. But it is nice to have some form of “true north” in an aesthetic POV that can guide you. At the end of the day, sometimes you just like something! I could certainly be dressing for what the current ideal is (or to looksmaxx my body type), but that doesn’t concern me as much as my POV. I have an idea on what I want vibe I want to look like and I will use tailoring and classic menswear to accomplish it, even if I am short and just a tad stocky.
To be clear, I’m sure I have some internalized idea about what looks good for my body and the fun is balancing that against my love of clothes for clothes sake (though honestly, I think clothes win). I’m also certain that my preferences in proportion are also based on where I live: in LA, breezy wide legs and soft shoulder are just great for the sunny, not-so-cold weather.
If I could sum it up, I think I dress in pursuit of clean lines that just so happen to be represented by tailoring, Americana, and milsurp with cohesion across aesthetics and subgenres. And with that comes with certain ideals to proportions and silhouette that really do come into play with one another. There is a “right” proportion that works for me and my existing style. Slouch to me seems to require soft shoulders, high rise trousers, and wide fits on all my garments. Paying attention to all of these design and silhouette components makes dressing up a fun personal challenge akin to writing music. And just like with music, other people either aren’t aware of the nuances or they are aware and reject that particular style in their own exercises. Personally, I prefer the latter as knowing why you like or dislike something results in an interesting conversation about taste and POV.
And despite all the discourse about gatekeeping and taste, I really do think people like what they like. People love to play into proportions in their desired way. Some prefer proportions by decade or by looksmaxxing their body type using clothing, which can be diametrically opposed to one another. It’s just good to have a root for your POV. And if you think it’s correct or good on you, then that’s great! People want to emphasize or play into certain things and menswear is certainly able to do that. It’s not always about being an external ideal but the ideal you imagined for yourself.
After all the details about cloth and pockets and pleats are done, the only thing that’s left is how the garment is proportioned and what silhouette it makes. It’s best to keep that in mind when dressing- it is fashion after all!
Now if my words weren’t enough, hopefully the photos and illustrations below will help show how I put my philosophy and analyis of proporiton/silhouette into practice. Again, please don’t take this as Authoritarian Truth, but as my personal truth. Plenty of these people have great style even if I’m not into their chosen approach to proportions and silhouette. So please bare with me as I try to dissect the following examples! In all honestly, no one really looks at clothing like this and you really shouldn’t either. The point is for you guys to develop this internalized curse on your own, for your own POV.
Our stream on proportion, which adds to this essay and even goes into the idea of subjectivity vs. objectivity. This hints at a future topic…
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This (perhaps along with “The Brown Checked Sportcoat”) is your best piece yet. Great job, particularly on all the thoughtful detail and wonderful images. It is difficult to find “big trousers”–of the sort that form that graceful, draping straight line–ready-to-wear. I have a hard time because my legs have a curve to them, so even straighter-cut trousers can still rumple a tad below the knee (I notice this with cotton trousers and chinos in particular).
Hey Ethan! I love how perfect your trousers fit! What is the ideal leg opening measurement for your trousers? Thanks!
Do you have any sources for MTM soft spearpoint collar shirts?
I used to use Natty Shirts a few years ago and requested unlined collar and cuffs! However they are cheap and the QC isn’t great. I’d suggest Luxire or Ascot Chang; the latter has made me two bespoke spearpoint and they’ve been my favorite!
I also know that Hall Madden has a “western collar” that is pretty close to what I like, so it may be worth to DM them and ask for Kiyoshi for help.
What do you consider to be high rise on trousers? Does the waistband have to reach the bellybutton, or is it more of a feel for how it looks on the person?