Some Advice on Shortening Sleeves on a Sport Coat
I assume at least some of you read this blog for the advice I sometimes give on how to shop and dress well within certain budgetary restraints. Tailoring doesn’t come cheap (though it is well worth it), and I generally like to buy garments that require no tailoring at all.
Though that is my wish, it certainly isn’t always my reality. Usually, when I buy a sport coat or blazer that needs tailoring what I often require is a shortening of the sleeves. I don’t consider myself someone with really short arms, but generally a typical OTR 40R needs maybe an inch and a half trimmed off the end of the cuff. When this can really become a hassle, however, is when working—or surgeon’s—cuffs are involved. Shortening sleeves from the shoulder, and thus preserving the working cuffs, costs about $50-60, whereas just shortening the end of the sleeve and reattaching cuff buttons costs about $25.
Since working cuffs have become integrated into our sartorial consciousness as markers of a garment’s quality, they appear more and more frequently on jackets at all levels of quality. I would argue that the ubiquity of the working cuff has now rendered that once-loose rule of thumb of their existence as a sign of quality moot. Additionally, the rise of the working cuff on OTR garments has coincided with a raising of the armhole, a trend that can help both elongate the look of the wearer’s torso and create a slimming effect.
As someone who buys most of his clothes thrifting, the shortening of sleeves has often been done by the garment’s previous owner, and I can just pay a dry cleaning bill and enter a jacket into my regular rotation. But sometimes, when I want a coat bad enough I’ll buy it knowing full well that the sleeves are too long.
The four jackets above fall into that category, and each has been dealt with in a different way that I thought might interest some of you.
1) On the left is an all cotton, fully unlined and unstructured sport coat by the Italian brand Alessandro Tellini. I thrifted it for $9 some years ago, and the sleeves were too long. I was more broke at the time than I am now, and couldn’t justify a tailoring bill of $60 to have it shortened from the shoulder. I altered this myself by sewing the fourth button hole under the cuff. And since the distance between the last button hole and the end of the cuff is shorter than one would want, I always wear this jacket with two buttons undone, creating the illusion that there is more fabric below the buttons on the cuff than there actually is. It’s not my favorite fix, but I live with it fine.
2) The second jacket is by Brando, a Luigi Bianchi Mantova/L.B.M. 1911 diffusion line. As a brand, they are finely tuned-in to the current style of the unstructured and softly tailored jacket, replete with pick stitching, working cuffs, and a high armhole. The sleeves on this jacket were too long by almost a couple of inches, and I wanted to have the alterations done right, being as I was of more sound finances at the time. I inquired at the tailor about shortening from the shoulder, and he advised me against it as Brando had not left enough fabric in the arm to let out the bicep when reattaching the shortened sleeve at the shoulder. That is, if I’d shortened from the shoulder, I wouldn’t have been able to move in the jacket, and may not have been able to fit my arm into the sleeve at all.
This gets me to the crux of the advisory aspect of this post. Many of the pretty expensive OTR unstructured jackets these days by brands like Boglioli, L.B.M. 1911, etc., don’t have that much excess fabric in them to accomodate significant alterations, and that sucks on garments that are not inexpensive to begin with. I think that if you expect people to shell out the retail prices on these garments, they should be able to be altered to an extent that is commensurate with what you could expect from OTR Brooks Brothers or Southwick.
Luckily for me, the Brando jacket had enough fabric after the last button hole (much like the Michelangelo jacket to its right, which is unaltered) to be shortened without looking too awkward. So I just shortened it about an inch, and it remains about a half inch or so longer than I would ideally like. Again, I live with it fine.
3) The third jacket is, as mentioned above, by Michelangelo, which is to my knowledge an Isaia diffusion line. It came with sleeves that were a little shorter than those on the Brando, and I’ve been wearing it regularly without having made any alterations though it could stand to have about 1/2” taken off. I may opt to have them shortened to the point where you can see the pick stitching, like I did on the Brando.
4) The last jacket is by L.B.M. 1911, and like the Tellini jacket, I just sewed the excess sleeve length under the cuff. Unlike the Tellini, however, there was plenty of fabric after the buttonholes to make it still appear to be of normal buttonhole to end-of-cuff distance.
I guess the advice here is that if you are buying a garment knowing that it will have to be altered, make sure there is enough excess fabric there to accomodate what you need done. Do not assume that the manufacturer has put it there, because that costs them extra money…
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