Jacket Armholes

Last month I talked about how to wear a blazer with a pair of jeans. There’s a key element in making both a blazer and an actual suit jacket look good that I failed to mention because it deserves its own post – the armholes.

Most men will see that and think I’m being overly picky. Why would something so trivial as the shape and positioning of the armholes make a difference? Check this out.

Now, if you ignore the other factors in these two suits and how the top one fits so much better than the bottom, what’s the biggest difference you see? When Mr Modern Dork Suit lifts his arms the whole body of the jacket moves up with him. His shoulders don’t just dimple, they divot. The lapels spread and the chest pivots around the top button. It looks awful.

This happens because lower armholes have an oval shape and are attached further down the chest than their higher counterparts – which doesn’t allow for any separation of movement and creates the effect you see above. The irony is that lower armholes were created to make it easier and more comfortable for a man to put on and remove his jacket – a process that requires a total of 30 seconds per day. While lower armholes accomplish this goal, they actually make wearing the jacket for the subsequent eight hours much more uncomfortable.

Lower armholes are also cheaper in that they arguably “fit” everyone. It’s less of a risk for these massive, off-the-rack retailers to stock suits that will get around everyone’s arms and sacrifice the look of the jacket.

Unfortunately low armholes are the current industry standard. You go into any department store to try on a suit or sport coat and all you will be able to find (unless you’re willing to drop a couple grand) are low, oval armholes. Thankfully though, a cultural resurgence of quality menswear is happening and more and more companies are starting to take notice. Places like J Crew are offering jackets with higher-than-average armholes to help lessen the disaster above.

The best way to get the ideal armhole position is to go custom. Made-to-measure companies like Suit Supply and Indochino don’t offer armhole choices as part of their ordering process, but they are happy to oblige higher armholes if you stipulate so when placing your order. Custom and bespoke clothiers however will almost exclusively make high armholes because it’s a symbol of their quality and craftsmanship.

The last alternative is the cheapest and easiest for the average man – shop vintage. If you’re lucky enough to find a pre-1960’s jacket in good condition, it’s most likely going to have higher armholes. Unlike waist suppression, sleeve length, sleeve circumference, etc. the position and shape of the armholes on a jacket cannot be altered by a tailor. So it’s better to find a vintage piece that doesn’t fit in alterable areas with high armholes than to find one that fits everywhere else with the lower monstrosities.

Meet The Author

Tanner is the founder and primary author of Masculine Style. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and two kids, and helps run Beckett & Robb - a men's clothing company built around custom suits and shirts.
  • Liam

    A M E N !

  • Kupo

    Ballroom tailsuits and dance jackets are designed to look best when the arms are raised to shoulder level in dance position. I’m guessing you’re advocating an armhole height somewhere in between ballroom dancewear and the usual off-the-rack?

  • Liam

    From Put This On:

    February 14, 2013
    by Derek
    “At least make sure the damn thing fits.’ Any jacket, handmade or bargain basement, must pass the ‘collar test.’ Put on the jacket and raise your arms. The back of the jacket collar should hug the back of the shirt collar like Velcro. A particularly ill-fitting jacket will show a gap between collars even with the arms lowered. The key is a high armhole. You may have to try on 50 jackets before you find the right one. Shattuck advises customers to watch Robert De Niro in Goodfellas, specifically the scene in which Bobby D. kicks a rival’s head like a soccer ball. Arms flailing overhead, the collar doesn’t budge. That’s tailoring.” — Rene Chun on bespoke tailor Frank Shattuck. You can see the Goodfellas scene that Mr. Shattuck references here. The violence is disturbing, but the tailoring is admittedly pretty impressive.

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  • Jason

    I know this article & comments are two yrs old as of this post but the armhole question/ challenge still applies. Where or how to find good armhole placement if the cost of custom doesn’t work? Even the bad example suits above look ‘ok’ as a picture and clearly price doesn’t dictate quality as these range from $100-700. Specific help would be great.

  • Wow, so that’s it! I had begun to think I had some odd body type. Dancing Argentine tango, I noticed that all older men never took there jackets off during the milonga, yet I looked terrible in my jacket when I assumed the correct embrace. Yep, it looks like bespoke is going to be the way to go in the future.

  • Tridentchild sent me here