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The Science of Sizing Down

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    The Science of Sizing Down

    As we all know, the key to success with many off the rack items is a matter of going down to a smaller size than what you might normally wear. My question here is where is the line drawn between fitted, and too tight? Obviously, this is going to be somewhat subjective, so I'll provide a real life scenario that I underwent this weekend.

    I'm 5'9" and about 165 lbs. with an athletic build.

    The article of clothing in question is the following from banana republic:

    I think it's a great looking casual sweater, and decided to pick it up online in a medium with stacked coupons of 40% off and $30 off $100 code last week. Fast forward to trying it on, I felt it fit kind of loose in the body and the sleeves felt loose. If I planned on using it to layer over a dress shirt, the medium would have probably done fine, but I think I'd be more inclined to wear a t-shirt under this as a casual piece. I tried it on a number of times, and I just wasn't comfortable with the fit, so I opted to head to the local store and try on a small. The small is snug, but the buttons aren't stressed when done up to chest level. The sleeves fit much tighter, but still have a little bit of room. Overall, it has a much more fitted look, and lacks the bagginess that the medium had.

    To verify my assertions, I decided to check with the much younger fitting room attendant. I neglected to mention that I was wearing a thermal shirt under the sweater when I showed her, and to my disappointment, she mentioned she thought it was a little tight. Sticking to my guns, I decided to take another look with the thermal off and just a basic t-shirt underneath, and once again sided with my original observations.

    That being said, here are my concerns: I'm by no means He-Man, but I have a muscular frame for my size that can be evident through clothing in the chest and upper arms at times. The sweater I'm referring to looks fine with my arms at my sides, but when bent at a 90 degree angle, the curvature of my arms becomes readily apparent. Is this cause for concern? Is that considered too tight for a casual sweater?



    You could be well within reason with either size. I've seen a casual piece take on a more formal look just by sizing down, giving a more fitted look. And vice versa - things look more casual when they're a little looser.



      Pretend like you are hugging someone. How does the shoulders/back feel?

      As for for the arms, I have a feeling they will stretch slightly slightly, so I wouldn't be too concerned.

      "We had a sick night b*tches!"



        If you have more than a 4 inch drop, very little off the rack is going to fit well even if you size down. The standard is supposed to be 4 inches for a shirt and 6 inches for a jacket, but in practice it's more like 0 and 4. I'm at about an 8 inch drop and it's like wearing tents most of the time.

        My strategy:

        Shirts: Buy mostly mediums, occasionally smalls depending on brand. Have the tailor take in the sides.


        a.) get it tailored. Only works with some sweaters, and some tailors.

        b.) Buy a small and live with an awkward fit.

        c.) Try machine washing a medium (only recommended for inexpensive wool sweaters, and some cottons)

        Knits stretch, and you wear them over something else, so as long as the sleeves fit and the waist is trim, you'll be good.

        Beware of sleeve length. At 5'10 many mediums will have an extra 2-3 inches that will wind up bunched, though this may be able to be removed by a tailor. Many smalls will be an inch or two short and you'll look like an overgrown school boy.

        Jackets: Find whatever fits in the shoulder (tricky in many brands. I have a 39" chest and have a hard time finding something that doesn't overhang by an inch in the shoulder and can still be buttoned. I usually buy 38s or 40s), and get it tailored.

        Lastly: If you're in good shape, why are you worried about showing it? Unless the clothes are uncomfortable, it's unlikely that showing off your muscles is going to look bad.



          I second Leslie Chow's advice, but I would take it one step further. Are you by chance near a gymnasium with a balancing horse? Pop on the sweater before mounting the horse. Straddle the horse, then lift yourself neatly into the air and gyrate your hips to the sound of your inner beat. How do the shoulders and back feel? Too tight?

          In all seriousness, I agree with kbrown in that you're better off getting the larger size and tailoring down. Tailoring will leave you with a sweater that fits well without pulling.



            Leslie Chow, that is the saddest advice I think I've ever heard.... Pretend you're hugging someone because no one will ever love you and you'll die alone wearing a sweater that feels like it's coming apart in the back.

            Who do you think you are, bruschetta?

            Dress for style, live for results.



              tomservo, I'm not sure how to answer your question. Are you upset, amused, bewildered, or none of the above?

              I have measurements similar to frost's, and I would buy the larger size and have it tailored. There. A post without humor. Does that please you?



                While I agree that tailoring is the ideal solution, it quickly becomes cost prohibitive. Tacking on $30 - $50 for every purchase is insanity.

                I asked my local tailor yesterday the cost of tapering 1 dress shirt. $40. I'd rather buy a shirt from Ratio that will fit out of box than pay for additional tailoring. For suits and special articles of clothing, the cost is far outweighed by the benefits, but to do that with every article of clothing is just not practical.



                  Bruschetta, truth be told I am often a combination of upset, amused, bewildered, hungry and none of the above.

                  The question was really addressed to Leslie Chow and not at all serious, which is of course a little stuffy for my taste. I see the confusion though as the syntax could be taken in two ways; as a question directed at one person and as a comparison.


                  Wow, Ice Ice Baby sounds a lot like that one Queen song. Who do you think you are, Vanilla Ice?

                  You spend $100 dollars on a hair cut and you went with THAT? Who do you think you are, Vanilla Ice?

                  So, very sorry sorry if you took offense as none was intended. Though I am always on the lookout for a worthy nemesis. If you're interested we could probably work something out.

                  Sorry for the digression, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

                  Dress for style, live for results.



                    Good question, frost. I've begun dipping my toes into sizing down--I got a BR slim trench from the outlet in a Small. I'm 5'9, long arms, broad shoulders, low 160s and usually wear a 38R jacket/medium. I have a slim torso, so my rule of thumb is to check sleeve length on anything downsized. The trench fits my arm length perfectly, and while the Small size means I can't wear it over any suits, I can rock it with other slim-profile sweaters and shirts. Considering I used to buy Large outerwear, this feels like a significant clothing shift.

                    That said, I'll definitely check range of motion on the arms. As long as it's not causing weird bunching and lifting, go with it.



                      @Furious Styles - I actually purchased a BR trench in Khaki / size Medium, and just couldn't get used to way it made me look like Grimace (of McDonalds Fame.. aka "the big purple lumpy guy") with a khaki overcoat on. I decided I would not be wearing this with a suit jacket, as they're not typically part of my business casual attire. I would now have to return it, or exchange it.

                      After speaking to customer service, I decided to exchange it for a size small, this time in the Navy color. The small fits well in the body, but the hug test has this thing stretched like Under Armor around my arms. I haven't tried layering it with a sweater yet to see how bad it gets. The correct solution would be to have the medium slimmed down in the body for a better fit, but I'm afraid to ask my tailor what he'd charge for that. Likely somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 if he's charging $40 to taper dress shirts. That's not something I'm willing to pay to have done to something I got for $100 (with stacked discounts). I'll live with the stiffness in the arms when I cross them for the sake of the overall aesthetics, but next time around, I think I'll invest in something else.



                        I saw a bad example this weekend:

                        I went to Fry's and was helped by a guy about 6'3 and 250lbs sporting what looked like a size medium short sleeve white button down shirt and tie. The arm holes constricted his biceps while his arms were hanging by his side and I'm surprised he didn't tear anything while typing.

                        I second the "full range of motion" comments. In a dressing room (where other people can't see that you're crazy), go through the typical motions of your day. This may mean squats, hugs, reaching up high, etc. If you have to continually adjust your clothes back into place, they may be too tight and it will make you self conscious. Example #2: Women that wear skirts too short who constantly pull the skirt down as they walk.

                        My Measurements: 6' 1" height, 35" sleeves, 41-42" chest/jacket, 35" waist, 34" inseam, 11.5D/EEE shoes, 200 lbs



                          IF your tailor wants $40 to taper a dress shirt, get a new tailor.

                          I have two tailors:

                          - An old german guy who is a suit / shirt maker and does high end / tricky work, like shortening sleeves at the sleevehead

                          - A nice korean lady who does basic alterations.

                          The german guy charges $20 to taper a shirt, and the korean lady charges $12.

                          You can buy a $40 shirt and pay $15-20 to have it tailored, but it probably won't be perfect everywhere. You can pay $100 for an online MTM outfit, but you'll probably have to go through at least 2-3 shirts from the same company until you get one that fits correctly.

                          If money is no object, you go in person to a proper shirt maker. It'll cost you $200+, but it'll be the best fitting article of clothing you'll ever own.

                          I've tried all of the above, and my feeling is that the $40 shirt + $15 tailor is the best option:

                          - Shirts take the most abuse of just about any article of clothing, and even the best made ones are going to wear out sooner than you'd expect.

                          - Online MTM is too inconsistent. I have 3 shirts by ratio, and they're OK, but I don't like their collars at all, and it took me several weeks to get them.

                          - A decent tailor will be able to make the alterations in under a week, vs. waiting 4-6 weeks for online MTM and 2-3 weeks for a local shirt maker.

                          Don't think of tailoring as "another expense". Think of it as a part of the cost of a garment. Very little fits properly off the rack, no matter who you are or what it is. If you think it fits properly, you are most likely wrong.

                          Sweaters are a particular exception because the cost of altering them is ridiculous relative to the price.



                            Furious Styles - I just cleaned out some old clothes while visiting Milwaukee and couldn't believe I had so many XL shirts!! And I'm a small!

                            YackoYak is back!



                              OP, I'm just a bit smaller than you, around 5'9, 155-160 range, and find that I am always between a small and a medium.

                              For some companies, I'm a clear small. For more fitted companies, I'm very often in a spot where a small it just a little too snug on me, but a medium is way too big. The other issue with mediums is that the sleeves are always too long on me. I wear around a 32" sleeve, and mediums seem to average around 34".