One of the most frequent questions I get is, "what is the proper length for a jacket?" This can be tricky to answer and over my years of selling men's clothing I have come across several methods used to determine the length. Here are the most common:
- With your arms relaxed to your side, you should be able to grab the jacket
- The measurement from the nape of the neck (point just below the collar) to the bottom of the jacket should equal the measurement from the bottom of the jacket to the top of the shoe heel
- The jacket should completely cover your posterior
Let's explore these methods. To me, the "grab approach" has the least merit. In a world where there is an exact ratio between height and arm length and everyone is of one body type, this would be a perfect way to ascertain jacket length. But if you have t-rex or gorilla arms, your jacket is going to be way too short or way too long, respectively.
Figure A. "The Maestro and the Bellhop"
Next we have the equal halves method, which is essentially a comparison of the jacket length to the pant length:
Broadly, this technique will get somewhere in the general range of acceptable length. However, it doesn't take into account factors such as high/low waist, body-type, and personal preference.
A shorter jacket is one feature of the slimmer fits of the last decade. Because of this, the ratio method will almost always prescribe a jacket that will look too long by current standards.
Lastly, we have the "cover the butt" rule. Like the ratio method, this is a good starting point, but doesn't take into account personal preference and body-type. In the 90s and Aughts, jackets were much longer. The pendulum started to swing strongly the other direction beginning in the late 2000s, with some very fashion-forward men wearing "bellhop" length jackets. For your average work suit and sport coat, the length should be somewhere in between these two extremes. The jacket should generally cover the behind without flirting with the thigh too much.
Which brings me to my preferred method: Take a step back and look at the jacket. To a trained eye it should be clear if the jacket is too short or too long. If you're going to assess a jacket at home, remember to wear a standard-heeled dress shoe, otherwise the proportions will be skewed.
This approach might seem too subjective to those that would prefer a mathematical way of figuring out the length, but it's important to remember that clothing is as much an art as it is a science. There's not a perfect way of figuring out length with measurements alone.
If you're still unsure, feel free to drop by the store for a free assessment if you're in the DC area.