This guide covers everything you need to know about suits for short men. We’ll use the Peter Manning Essex suit as an example of proper fit and proportion for the “not so tall” man.
At one point, before the Industrial Revolution and mass apparel manufacturing, all suits were bespoke, made specifically for the individual buyer.
It didn’t matter if you were tall and lanky or short and stout - you could get a suit that was handmade, just for you, and that fit perfectly.
These days, it’s not so easy for a shorter man to buy a suit that fits properly. Most suits are made for men in the average height range (roughly 5’9” to 5’11” in the U.S.).
Some brands offer shorter sizes (e.g., 38S), but that doesn’t mean they’re making suits for short men. It just means they’re reducing the length of the jacket and sleeves. Even with short sizes, the jacket and sleeves is often too long for men 5’8” and under.
But it’s not just about the length. Suits are complicated garments, maybe even the most complicated garment a man can wear.
At best, with proper fit and proportions, a suit is one of the most flattering outfits a man can wear, regardless of his height or stature.
At worst, a suit makes a man look like a kid playing dress up! Unfortunately, this is often the case when short men buy suits off the rack from big department stores and popular brands that cater to the masses.
So how should a suit fit? What do shorter men have to keep in mind when wearing a suit? What should you look for when you’re buying a suit?
Here's everything you need to know.
How a Suit Jacket Should Fit
Let’s look at a textbook example of how a suit jacket looks when it fits properly. Our model, Erick, is wearing the Essex jacket in size 3:
Let’s start from the top and work our way down:
A suit jacket needs to fit properly in the shoulders. If the shoulders are too wide or too narrow, it’s almost impossible to fix this with tailoring, so you need to make sure the shoulders fit really well, right off the rack.
Ideally, the shoulder seam should end right where your actual shoulder ends. Otherwise, you’re going to notice some weird indentations below your shoulders, around your upper arms.
One great way to test out the shoulders is to lean against a wall. The shoulder of your jacket and your actual shoulder should touch the wall simultaneously. It the jacket (or shoulder padding) hits the wall first and sort of caves in before your actual body touches the wall, the shoulders are too wide.
On the other hand, if you feel your arm hit the wall before the shoulder of your jacket makes contact, the jacket is probably too small for you.
A suit should never be tight or restrictive, but there shouldn’t be a lot of excess fabric either, especially around the chest.
Traditionally, suit jackets are sized around the circumference of a man’s chest. For example, a 40R is made for a man of average height with a 40” chest.
Point being, the chest is an important dimension, and it needs to fit properly.
Most guys are used to wearing suits that are a little too big and roomy, so a well-fitting suit might feel a bit snug around the chest. This is a good thing! Unlike outerwear, your suit jacket doesn’t need to accommodate a bunch of thick layers underneath, so it can fit a little closer to your body.
If the chest is too big, you’ll end up swimming in your jacket, which isn’t a good look, especially for shorter men. Plus, if the chest is too big, that means the rest of the suit is probably too big as well.
Your sleeves should follow the shape of your arm. They shouldn’t be too wide around your biceps and forearms, and they should end right before your shirt cuff ends. Ideally, there will be about ¼” of visible cuff poking out from under your jacket sleeves.
The sleeve opening should be gently tapered so your wrists aren’t dwarfed by your sleeves. It should be wide enough to accommodate your dress shirt cuff and a wrist watch (if you wear one).
Just like the chest, the body of your suit jacket should be fitted without being tight. When your jacket is buttoned, you should feel a very gentle squeeze around your ribs and belly.
If you can button your jacket without feeling any pressure around your midsection, the jacket might be too big for you.
On the other hand, if buttoning your jacket produces a pronounced “X” shape in the fabric, it’s probably a bit too small.
Note: a subtle "X" pattern is okay if you prefer a more snug fit.
How Suit Pants Should Fit
Suit pants (or “trousers”) aren’t as complicated as jackets, but it’s still important to understand the finer points of how they should fit.
Let’s start from the top:
If your pants fit perfectly, you won’t need a belt or suspenders to hold them up.
They’ll be just a little snug around your waist, but not so tight that it’s painful to sit down after dinner!
Of course, even if you don’t need a belt, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear one. Most guys prefer to wear a belt if their pants have belt loops (even if they don't really need it).
Your hips are the widest part of the lower half of your body. Your pants should fit comfortably around your hips - not too tight or loose.
Guys with more, ahem, athletic behinds will probably want to size up to accommodate the extra breadth.
Often overlooked, the rise is one of the most important part of your suit pants. This is the distance from the top/front of your waistband to the top/back of your waistband.
Pants rise determines where your pants actually sit on your body. Low rise pants are meant to be worn below the waist, down on your hips.
Higher rise pants, on the other hand, sit above the waist, near your navel.
In our opinion, men look great when their suit pants sit right around their natural waist - above the hips and below the belly button.
So, while rise is subject to trend - sometimes ultra low or high rise is in vogue - a nice medium rise will always be stylish, especially for suit pants.
The way your suit pants fit is both subjective and subject to trend, so it’s hard to define a “timeless” trouser fit.
But a slim-straight leg with just a bit of taper below the knee is a safe bet. This creates a contemporary silhouette that wouldn’t look out of place 10 years ago and will probably still look great 10 years from now.
Professional MLB player, Ronald Torreyes, wearing the Peter Manning NYC Essex Suit.
This is also a universally flattering look that works on pretty much any body type, including guys under 5’9” or so.
Of course, if you prefer to wear your suit pants a bit slimmer, this is a very easy and affordable alteration.
The Leg Opening
The width or the leg opening determines how much taper your suit pants have.
- Narrow ankle = more taper
- Wider ankle = less taper (or no taper)
If the leg opening is wider than the rest of the leg, this creates a boot cut (or bell bottom) effect. We recommend avoiding this look, especially when wearing suits.
As an example, our Essex Dress Pants have leg openings from 7.25” to 9” depending on your waist size.
When pants go past your ankle and sit on top of your shoe, this is called “break”. There are varying degrees of pants break, depending on how long they are.
Full Break > Partial Break > No Break > Cropped
Just like with other aspects of fit, it doesn’t really make sense to say how much break is best, as it’s largely subject to trend and personal preference.
But we think most guys look great with just a little bit of pants break (often called “slight” or “partial” break).
Typically, the cropped look tends to be fashion forward and favored by younger people, or guys who are really into fashion.
On the other hand, full break is seen as more traditional and conservative.
That’s why we love partial break. It’s a nice middle ground that works for pretty much everyone.
But keep in mind, many shorter men prefer to wear their suit pants with no break at all, a look that some believe makes your legs look a little longer.
If you do wear your pants with no break, make sure the leg opening isn’t too wide.
Common Suit Fit Problems for Short Men
Suits are some of the most complex garments men wear, so there are all sorts of fit problems shorter men can run into with suits.
Here are the most common problems:
Sleeves are too long
This is probably the most common fit problem that shorter gents run into when they’re trying to buy a suit off the rack.
Most manufacturer’s tend to make sleeves that are too long, assuming that shorter men will either accept the error or go to the tailor.
The problem is, going to the tailor requires extra time and money, and sleeves with functioning buttons are very difficult (or impossible) to shorten.
Jacket is too long
Even “short” sizes (e.g., 38S) are often too long for men under 5’9”. While it’s possible to have a jacket shortened by a skilled tailor, this will often throw off the proportions of the garment.
For example, chopping off two inches from the bottom of a jacket will make the buttons and pockets two inches closer to the hem, which will look strange.
Pants are too long
Most suit pants either come in standard lengths like 32 inches, or they’re sold with unfinished hemmed. Problem is, when you shorten pants by 5+ inches, they lose their original taper, which changes the whole silhouette.
Either way, shorter men are usually out of luck if they want their suit pants to fit properly right off the rack.
What Makes Peter Manning Suits Different
At Peter Manning NYC, we make sure to address all of the above fit problems:
- Perfect sleeve length for not-so-tall guys (to show just the right amount of cuff)
- Scaled up jacket length for a proportional look
- Pants with inseams down to 26 inches, no hemming required
But we didn’t stop there. Sure, the length has to be right, but the real magic is in the details.
Everything from the width of the lapels to the size and placement of the pockets has been redesigned from scratch with our guys in mind.
If you’ve never been happy with the way you look in a suit, you need to try on a PMNYC suit. Many guys don’t even know how flattering a suit can be until they try on one of ours.
If you’ve been wearing mass-produced off the rack suits all your life, our suits will look and feel like they’re bespoke - made just for you.