Prompted by my recent experience with the Ludlow sport coat, I wanted to post some information about shoulder divots. This is a common problem with suits, sport coats, and blazers. Shoulder divots are the horizontal indentations that you see the the sides of the shoulder. Here is an example:



The conventional wisdom around here is that this is caused by the jacket being a size too big for the wearer, the shoulders are too wide, there is too much padding, etc. The subsequent advice is to size down.

I did some (google) research, and I am now convinced that this has nothing to do with it, in most cases. I will now present some evidence to support my conclusion.

Exhibit A: Pictures from the old days. Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper all wore suits that had quite wide shoulders compared to their body habitus, and they also had decent padding -- yet no shoulder divots.



Exhibit B: Pictures from these days. The modern slim suits have quite narrow shoulders -- yet some have horrible shoulder divots.



Exhibit C: The best explanation I found for this was by contributer jeffreyd on styleforum.net. I am no tailor but he seems to know what he is talking about. I will quote directly from him:

"This one keeps coming up and most people are mistaken about the causes so here's a detailed look at what causes shoulder divots or dents.

First, the divots have nothing to do with the width of the shoulder- we often hear people making comments about a shoulder being too wide because it is denting but this is not the cause. Look at old photos of Tommy Nutter's work- you can't get much wider than that and they don't dent.

Second, the divots have nothing to do with the amount of shoulder padding; again, you can tons of it and not have dents, and you can have dents on an unpadded shoulder.

THIS is what causes the divots.

The armhole must be cut in the right shape for the body of the wearer. The sleeve is then cut in a very precise relationship to the armhole. In the figure below, the height of the armhole dictates the height of the sleeve cap and the width of the armhole dictates the width of the sleeve cap. We'll say that distance a-b must be equal to e-f and distance c-d must be equal to g-h (for the super geeks, this is not the actual formula but we'll say it is for simplicity).

If you put on a jacket whose armhole has not been cut wide enough for you, or that the chest pulls because it is too tight (or a host of other reasons the armhole may distort) the armhole will contract- it will get wider and shorter. The sleeve cap is now too long and narrow (a-b is shorter than e-f and c-d is wider than g-h) so it pulls from front to back, and the extra length collapses. THIS is what causes the divot.

The only way to try to remedy this is to remove the sleeve and shorten the cap (cut away excess length); this will, in some cases, be sufficient, but in many cases you also need some extra width to the sleeve cap, which you will not be able to gain since there is no outlet for it. This is neither easy nor cheap so your average dry-cleaner alterations tailor may not be able to do it.

The only way to know if a jacket is gong to do this is to try it on. If it dents, try a size up or try a different maker."

This was confusing to me at first, because I could not see the diagram, but it makes sense even with just the words. The real cause of shoulder divots is the armhole shape does not conform to the shape of the wearer. The ratio of the armhole height to width does not fit the wearer. If the armhole is too narrow (not wide enough from front to back), then it will pull (front-to-back), and the excess fabric height on the sleeve will collapse, and the sleeve will pull (front-to-back). This will cause the horizontal shoulder divot.

The tailoring solution would be to remove the sleeve from the shoulder and cut off the extra height, so when the armhole pulls front-to-back, the sleeve won't wrinkle. Obviously, this would be an expensive proposition.

The better option would be to find another brand that makes a suit with an armhole shape that closer conforms to your body, not to size down in the same model.

I need to accept the fact that the cut of the J.Crew Ludlow is not optimal for me, regardless of the sizing. The gentlemen of the old days had the advantage of bespoke tailoring, but some of us now are left with the challenge of hunting for the best OTR brand to fit our body type.