This semester in school I am taking a Menswear Tailoring class. The suit has become almost a fetish item for me – I don’t know if I like anything better than a man in a really well-tailored, beautiful suit – and so I’m very excited to be enrolled in this class. The way the suit flows on the male form, with its classic lines and illusions of perfect musculature underneath, really intrigues me. For instance, the collar of the suit stands only 1 inch, in order to allow at least a half inch shirt collar to show above and give the illusion of a longer neck. In San Francisco, with our casual and sporty attire, I don’t get to see men in beautiful suits that often, but when I do, I can’t help but stare.
So, given this predilection on my part, I’m going to start a regular posting about the tailoring techniques and theories that I learn in class and research independently as well. I don’t know how often ‘regular’ is; we will have to see :)
First up – the dissection of the body according to suits. It turns out, according to my teacher, that suits really come from principles derived from Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. All men are squares (pun intended), and the suit enhances and is built off of that square. Each line in the suit jacket pattern is derived from a certain percentage of the man’s height. Because men are supposed to be a proportional 8 heads tall, each natural body line corresponds to a certain percentage of 8. The chest is at 1/4, the waist/elbow at 3/8, the hip at 1/2, and so on. In fact, in earlier era’s of the suit, men used padding to try to achieve the perfect proportions (more on the history of the suit at a later date). It’s sacred geometry in clothes!
A naturally curious individual, I started measuring the men at my disposal. They aren’t squares. I am the most squarish among us. However, just looking at the line of their body, they follow the 8 heads model pretty closely. The waist was about 3/8 of the entire height, and the hips fell pretty much right on the half way line. On the other hand, I don’t seem very proportioned at all :( My half way point fell right below my crotch line (I guess I have a really short body). Now granted, my household does have some pretty superior men, but still, it was pretty interesting to see where this theory falls short, and where it is upheld.
How does this translate to the suit jacket? First I make a 90 degree angle, with the corner becoming the center back neck point of the pattern. The jacket length will be half the height of the man (so if he is 6 feet, or 72 inches it will be 36 inches long), minus 4 or 5 inches for the current trent. Then, taking into account the missing “head” measurements, the waist will fall at 3/8 the total height, plus about an inch for movement, the hip will fall at the halfway mark, and so on. That means for a 72 inch man, to calculate where I would put the waist line would look like this:
72 / 8 = 9, This calculates how many inches for each “head” in the 8 head model.
The waist line is at the 3/8 head mark on the body, or 9 x 3 = 27 inches. However, on the pattern, we don’t take into account the first “head.” So 27 – 9 = 18.
At first glance I will put the waist line tentatively at 18 inches down from the squared corner. However, men don’t hold still, so I can add about 3/4 of an inch for movement purposes. That puts me at 18 3/4 inches for my waist line.
Anyway, even though the measurements don’t always work out exactly like this, and it depends on the man for whom the suit is intended, it is interesting to know the math behind the perfect suit. Perfection rarely does correspond with reality.