How a Suit Should Fit a Woman
You would not be reading this article if you did not have some concerns about the fit of your women’s suit. I’m here to help, even though some of my perspective may seem a bit…blunt. Just remember I want you to look your best every time you have to wear a suit.
You may have seen our earlier article, How a Suit Should Fit a Man. I suggest you read it since a lot of the guidance there is still valid from a garment tailoring perspective. Come back here to review my notes about fit, which are very different. I don’t agree with the idea that women’s professional suits should mimic men’s styles.
While a man can wear the same suit to a wedding (even his own!), a job interview, or a funeral, there is no single outfit that a woman can wear to all three events and still look appropriate.
Unfortunately, this means that on the rare occasion that many women need a suit, the style may have changed, or their weight may have changed or shifted. And for women who need conservative suits with greater frequency (like a lawyer on a week+ trial), you want to easily choose the necessary garments without worrying that they will be somehow inappropriate. Nothing undermines that all-important first impression worse than clothes that don’t fit the current you in the current situation.
The length of a jacket will vary based on styles and preferences. For the most flattering fit, ensure that neither the bottom of the jacket nor the bottoms of the sleeves end at the widest points of the body (i.e., the widest points of the bust, stomach, or hips).
It is not necessary to mimic men’s styles when wearing a suit: button-front, collared shirts are not required for professional presentation. My personal preference is a shell or a thin sweater with no buttons to gap around my endowments… However, one detail from men’s attire is still valid for women in a professional setting: long sleeves, ranging from bracelet length to full length, will always be more formal. A sleeveless sheath dress does not look as professional (or as warm) as the suit the man beside you is wearing.
To button or not to button:
In another departure from the fit of men’s clothing, where men’s jackets are expected to be buttoned except for the bottom button, women’s jackets offer greater flexibility. Some women prefer to wear a suit jacket fully buttoned, in which case there should be no pulling or gaping across the buttons or any of the seams. Other women, like me, prefer to wear the suit jacket fully unbuttoned. In this case, it is not necessary that the jacket can be buttoned, only that it looks like it could fully close.
The length of pants depends on two major factors: the cut of the trouser and the type of shoe expected to be worn with it. While pant styles change a lot and rather quickly, classic styles for business suits are best in a professional setting.
For straight- or slim-leg pants, the bottom of the trousers should fall to the top of the shoes’ heel when measured from the back. This length allows a small break across the front of the trousers. If one prefers, straight-leg pants can have a larger break, to the bottom of the heel, as well, but any longer than that is undesirable. Pooling trousers at the bottom of the shoes will look sloppy and will wreck the hems where they scrape the ground. The nice thing about these styles is that they offer the flexibility to wear whatever heel you want.
For bootcut or wide-leg pants, the bottom of the pants should be 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the ground in the chosen heel-height. Loose-bottomed pants cut for flats will look too short when worn with larger heels. Katherine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart are classic examples of how long wide-leg pants should be.
Cuffs on the bottom of your bootcut or wide-leg pants are great if you’re taller or your legs are significantly longer than your torso but will have a shortening effect on petites.
As far as pant rise, it’s largely a matter of personal preference, although a mid-rise or a rise no higher than the belly button is always classic for business clothes. If you prefer lower rises, ensure your jacket covers your waistband when you raise your arms.
Like pants, the skirt should fit comfortably around the waist and hips. A pencil or A-line cut are classic styles for women’s suits.
In a professional setting, the skirt length traditionally falls around the knee,
- just above the knee,
- across the middle of the knee, or
- just below the knee.
While petite women can wear shorter skirts than taller women without looking like they’re too exposed, shorter skirts will rise when seated, possibly exposing more of the leg than desirable. The heel height worn with a skirt will also impact how short a skirt appears. Some people feel frumpy without heels in skirts, but no one should feel required to wear heels to look professional.
Skirt slits are also a consideration: the bottom opening of the skirt without the slit should be large enough to walk comfortably, and a slit that is too large may expose more of the leg than desired, particularly when walking upstairs. The skirt is too tight if the slit is open while standing normally.
A pencil skirt that slides around so the fastening keeps moving is too loose and must be taken in. A skirt that hugs the bottom curve of the wearer’s bottom is too tight for a professional setting.