Off to work for the big meeting and you run out the door. Suddenly, you find yourself pulling at your shirt's sleeves. You keep trying to pull them down to show more cuff. Maybe it is no fault of the shirt. The suit sleeves are too long and no matter how you try to keep those suit sleeves off of your knuckles, the shirt does not want to show.
On an ideal day, everything goes perfectly before leaving for work or a business trip, including having the exact amount of shirt cuff showing from your suit sleeves. It all looks great. No fussing, pulling or feeling self-conscious. What is this equilibrium you have just found between your shirt and your suit? What is the right amount of shirt cuff to show from your suit sleeves?
To start, allow me to explain some basic tailoring rules when it comes to men's suit sleeves. While being fitted for a suit, stand in front of a full-length mirror. Keep your body straight and look forward at all times. If you look down to view the tailor measuring your sleeves, the sleeves will slowly creep down and the final length will be askew. Be sure to observe the tailor, but only in the mirror. The tailor should cuff up your suit sleeves to show you where the suit sleeves’ edges will be once the tailoring is complete. Turn to the side to look at the sleeve profile. Suit sleeves are cut on a slight angle and you want to be sure that the back part of the sleeve, where the buttons are, is not too long. The tailor should then measure with a ruler- not a tape measure- from the tip of your thumb to the bottom part of your wrist. That is precisely where the chalk mark should go on your suit sleeves for shortening. This measurement, on average, is four inches and works well for various shirt type options regardless of whether you plan to wear button cuff, barrel cuff or French cuff shirts. For men who wear French cuff shirts exclusively, I recommend a four and a half inch measurement from the tip of the thumb. This allows a shirt's cuffs to show a bit more and will give rise to displaying some cufflink when moving about during the day.
Conversely, if your suit sleeves need to be made longer, the same tailoring rules apply. As an aside, in both cases, whether lengthening or shortening suit sleeves, be certain the tailor replaces the faux button stitching in the correct places relative to the new sleeve length. When the stitching is removed during tailoring and not put back on, you know for certain you got a rush job. Either the tailor is lazy, inexperienced or both. Always request that the stitching be sewn back to the original look. If your suit comes with sleeves prepared for working buttons, also known as surgeon’s sleeves, be sure to review the placement of the holes before they are cut into the fabric.
When the measuring for shortening suit sleeves is complete and the tailor has cuffed the suit’s sleeves to the expected, final length, pull your shirt's cuffs all the way down. Use the mirror to determine how much shirt cuff will show out from the anticipated, new sleeve length of the suit. Measure from the end of a suit's sleeve to the end of a shirt's cuff. If you have one-quarter inch to one-half inch showing for a button/barrel cuff shirt, you are at the ideal measurement. If the amount of shirt showing is longer than that, it is the shirt's sleeves that are too long and need to be shortened. For French cuff wearers, a half to one full inch is an acceptable measurement, which will show off the double fold of a French cuff very smartly.
To recap: Suit sleeves should fit so that they are, on average, four inches from the tip of the thumb. If you only wear French cuff shirts then going a little shorter, four and a half inches, is acceptable. Button or barrel cuffs should show a quarter to half an inch out from the bottom of suit sleeves. For French cuff shirts, showing a bit more of the shirt’s sleeves is acceptable and fashionable. In this case, one half inch to one full inch of shirt sleeves showing as measured from the edge of the shirt’s cuffs to the bottom edge of the suit’s sleeves.
Throughout my decades in the men's fashion industry, I have fitted more than 50,000 suits. This is the formula that has not only been the most successful for achieving fashionable, comfortable and functional sleeve lengths for men, but it is part of the formula for affording men ultimate confidence in how they look, present themselves and how they ultimately feel in their clothing.