15 February 2010

Size Matters

Sizes are a funny thing when it comes to clothing. This is especially true when dealing with second hand items which may have been produced at various points in time. True, fit is the most important element of a man's style, and as such one must know his sizes: chest, waist, neck and so forth. But often these numbers are best used only as a loose guide. It frequently happens that I find something that isn't really "my size" but fits anyway. When that happens, I go with fit and ignore the numbers. Because in actuality those numbers are often somewhat arbitrary. For example:
Today I was fortunate to come across this 3/2 un-darted jacket with patch and flap pockets.
Real camel hair, softest thing you ever saw,

Made by H.Freeman & Son. Quick research tells me that these guys are still in business and make some top notch stuff. Unfortunately, no word on "The English Shop" of Princeton. So what's the problem?

Most of my jackets are a size 40 or 42. I'm 5'10", and the rules would tell you that I wear a "regular"length...but I don't. I always opt for a size "short". Why? I can't really explain it, but short size jackets just suit me better. Regulars make my legs look stumpy. Only this jacket is marked size 44 regular. How can this be, when I still fit into my size 40 J.Press blazer? Sure, I could get all prideful and refuse to admit it, but then I'd only be missing out on this lovely jacket. The truth of the matter is the jacket looks good on me, and the number is pretty much meaningless.

Than there's this Tartan flannel vest:
A pretty snappy number, complete with braided leather buttons,

from some place called Doherty in Worcester. Those of you who are from these parts may find it incredible to imagine that there once was a time when men in Worcester might have donned this thing.
This one is size 42 long. As I said, I rarely where a size regular. I have never worn a size long. But this thing fits. Why? It's a funny thing with vests, especially old ones, that they are always cut very short, and unless I hike my pants up to my armpits, there's a gap between vest and pants, very unbecoming. That's why I nevr buy them. I even had to get rid of a few choice ones for that very reason. But the extra length on this one means it meets the top of my pants just so at the spot where I wear them comfortably. Who knew?

All this loose regard for size gets even murkier in the thrift shops. Many of these places are not so organized as to have the items sized. Even when they are, it mostly doesn't matter. I find suits separated by S M L designations, sometimes finding things that fit me in each category. Pants may be separated by waist size, but I currently own pants ranging in size from 33 to 36.My shirts are half size 15, the rest 15 1/2. The point is, to navigate these waters successfully, you've got to look through everything in the store, and more importantly learn to ignore the numbers, which mean nothing, and pay attention to the fit, which means everything.

Once you get the hang of this, you'll even be able to size things up "by eye" as it were. When all else fails, try something on and be honest about it's fit, then check the size later. Don't try to pretend you haven't gained ten pounds in the last few years, and don't forget that every guy, no matter what style he may choose to adopt, looks better in clothes that fit. Above all else, find a good tailor and stick with him like a brother.

Size does matter, numbers don't.


Sean said...

My dad was a Xavieriean brother at a Catholic high school in Worcestor- St John's, I believe.

About ten years ago I met a foxy lady whose father was a student of my father.

She was hot.

So be nice to the people of Worcestoer Massachusets!

Sean said...

Re: sticking to your tailor like a brother:

The tailor shop near me is all run by women. The prices are good, the work is great, but they really do not give good advice on fit, etc. It would be great to have a good tailor in Seattle, versus a seamstress. Most of my place's business is for women- any tips?

spoozyliciouzz said...

Dear Guiseppe,

i definitely agree with you: although the numbers haven´t changed in more than 50 years, the appropriate measures surely have.

I am a tiny guy, yet i´m nearly about 190 cm tall. My jacket sizes run from 36 Short to 38 long , as do my pants vary from waist sizes 31 and 32 and lengths are from 32 to 34.

The difference between the supposed fit and the number tagged in a piece of cloth seems to spread with its respective age.

When thrift shopping, the number only can give you a hint. You always have to try it on, or be very carefull about the exact measurements.

Rebecca said...

Last Friday my husband found 2 sports jackets that FIT for $.50 each! So excited we were that I posted them for the world to see!

A few weeks ago he tried on a 100% camel hair jacket that was too large. He passed it up. Had we remembered the "tailor tip" he might have bought it!

Some Assembly Required said...

I tend to encounter the opposite problem when thrift shopping: I generally wear a 44 jacket, and most of the stuff I come across is anywhere from too small to really, really too small, regardless of what it says on the tag.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the English Shop in Princeton. Long gone, unfortunately (the space is now occupied by a Talbot's). Long gone along with Langrock's, the Country Squire and Harry Ballot's.

But all is not lost. Princeton has Landau's, J. Mclaughlin, Nick Hilton and RL.

David V said...

The near by thrift has no dressing rooms. I try on what I can and use a tape measure on the rest. Of course I know the measurements of my favorite pants and shirts.

Young Fogey said...

We haven't seen a "thrifting basics" post like this in a while, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who welcomes it.

Fit is the most important aspect of clothing, so it behooves us to remember that a good tailor or seamstress can alter clothes to fit us properly, and that nothing you buy off the rack will ever fit right without alteration. I'm still looking for a good alterations tailor (the one I was using is good but not great, and is just too darned expensive).

Rebecca (and everyone else, for that matter): A jacket can be altered everywhere but the shoulders, so make sure those fit. Also, a jacket is a complete garment, composed of more than its parts. If one body part is altered too much, the jacket loses its gestalt. So while a portly-sized jacket can be cut down to fit a beanpole, the integrity of the jacket will be lost, and it will never look right (unless, of course, the tailor unstiches the whole thing and resews it from a new pattern--but if you can afford that, you can afford bespoke and aren't reading this blog anyway).

Anonymous said...

What an excellent camel hair. Of course, the maker is more important than the shop it was made for, but the English Shop is one of the many long-closed men's clothing stores in Princeton. I live here and have found a fair amount of items from the English Shop, Langrock, Princeton Clothing Co., and even the Princeton University Store that are of a quality unimaginable today. Wear it with pride, sir.

Greg D. said...

If you come across another camel hair jacket like that in a 42L, can you send it my way?

The Cordial Churchman said...

Good post, though you might snap some pictures demonstrating your point about fit vis-a-vis size.

I'm almost to the point where I can size things up pretty well just by looking at them in the thrift.

mistermidwester said...

I've gotten pretty good at the eyeball test over the course of the past couple years, but sometimes (especially on custom-tailored pants), I can get thrown off a bit. If I don't have my mini retractable measuring tape along and there's not a dressing room, I usually rummage until I find a brand I know that fits me, then hold up the pants waist to waist for comparison. Inseam gets the hang and drag test (held to waist, if the cuffs come close to dragging the floor, they're ace).

Shirts are just ridiculous and I can't even be bothered with size labels. They have to be tried on or measured, otherwise I just know I'm going to end up short-arming it.

Great post, btw. I finally found a tailor I like, but I think I'm going to have to teach myself how to hem pants. It can't be that difficult, can it?

Sophie said...

I read somewhere that in ladieswear size tweaking has become a deliberate marketing tactic as women would shop anywhere that put them in a smaller size than they really are. For example, in the UK, Marks and Spencer's ladieswear sizes run large by up to two sizes.

Patrick said...

I keep a retractable tape measure in the glove compartment for just this reason.

Now if I could just find a retractable alterations tailor.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.