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The Frugal Rake: Proper Fit from Top to Bottom, Part 1

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Fit is the most important part of masculine style, and it's even more important when you're on a budget. A $20 dress shirt from Target that fits perfectly will beat an ill-fitted $80 Brooks Brothers shirt every time. Half-a-paycheck Japanese raw selvedge that sags at the ass will always lose to a $40 pair of Levi's that hug your hip bones at just the right height.

Knowing your measurements can be useful for online shopping, but sizing varies widely by brand, so never trust an inch measurement — try everything on. Some brands, like Levi's, vary widely even within the same brand, so even if your last pair of Levi's were a 31 waist, don't trust that the next pair will fit the same.

A future installment of the Frugal Rake will deal with all things suiting, including proper suit fitting. For now, let's talk about stocking your closet with some everyday masculine staples that fit like a dream.

See also: The Frugal Rake: An Introduction

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Pants

The trend in masculine pants in recent memory has been towards skinny, but that's been changing slowly over the last couple of years. Still, for now it's best to keep to slim-fitting pants. Run screaming from anything "relaxed" or "boot cut." The extra fabric in these cuts creates a lumpy, unflattering silhouette. Bear in mind that denim will almost always stretch by a quarter-inch to an inch, so buy jeans a bit snug.

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Waist

Your pants should stay above your ass without a belt, though if your pants have loops, wear a belt anyways. At the bare minimum, your underwear shouldn't show and neither should your crack. On the other hand, if your pants pull across the crotch or you get a pressure line on your belly from the waistband, they're too tight.

Inseam

Inseam length can be played with by advanced dandies, but for now, stick with the basics. Your pant leg should cover the opening of your shoe and should, at most, feature one break.

Low-rise

Pants with a low rise sit further down on your hips. They're appropriate for jeans and casual pants, but should never be worn for business casual or dress situations unless you want to look like a 15-year-old.

Mid-rise and high-rise

Mid-rise casual pants are starting to trend. They're great for keeping your button-up shirts tucked in. Business casual and dress pants should always be mid-to-high rise.

Thigh and calf

Thigh and calf fit is at least as important as waist fit, but it's also not a standard pants measurement. That means you'll just have to play around with different brands and models to find the best look for your body. As a general rule try to find pants that are just as snug in the thigh as the calf and vice versa. Bike commuters generally have bigger asses and thighs in proportion to their calves than rugby players, for example, so they should look for jeans that are bigger in the ass and thighs and more tapered at the calf.

Shorts

Thigh

Your shorts should be as snug to your thigh as a good slim-fitting pair of pants. Otherwise, you risk the chicken-legged look. You can go a bit tighter with shorts than pants without looking silly, too. Cotton-synthetic fabric with some stretch looks just fine.

Length

At the very longest, shorts should come to just above the knee; at the shortest, mid-thigh. There should never be cargo pockets on your shorts.

T-Shirts (and polo shirts)

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Shoulder

The shoulder seam of your T-shirts should hit the edge of your scapula. If it extends over the deltoid you look sloppy; if it's further up your shoulder, your shirt's way too tight.

Sleeve width

The sleeves of your T-shirts should be snug, but not tight, around your biceps. The flappy bird look isn't good on anyone; on the other hand, get 'em too tight and you'll look right at home on the Stella's rooftop at bar close.

Sleeve length

T-shirt sleeves should cover your deltoid at the shortest and fall about an inch above your elbow crease at the longest.

Body

Your T-shirts should follow the contour of your torso. If there is flapping fabric at your sides, the shirt's not fitted enough; if it's tight across your belly, look for a shirt with more room in the middle. If there are pull lines across the chest or shoulders, consider going a size up.

Body length

Your T-shirts should be long enough to cover your belt and no longer than halfway down the fly of your pants.

Button-up Shirts

Short-sleeved button-up shirts are for advanced dandies. For now it's best to stick to long-sleeve shirts and roll them up on hot days.

Shoulder

Like with T-shirts, the shoulder seam of button-up shirts should fall at the end of the shoulder bone. This is the shirt measurement that's essentially impossible to have altered, so it's the most important measurement of a shirt.

Collar

A collar, when buttoned up all the way, should be snug, with no gaps between the collar and your neck. On the other hand, it shouldn't be so tight that the collar turns with your neck when you turn your head. Another good rule of thumb is that you should be able to fit two fingers under your collar comfortably.

Sleeve length

Your sleeve cuff should fall naturally at the spot where your thumb joins to your palm.

Sleeve width

Your shirtsleeves should contour to your arms, no extra fabric, but should at no point be tight. A good test for this is to roll your sleeves up past your elbows. If this makes a snug but comfortable roll, your sleeves probably fit well. If you can't get past your forearms, your shirt's too tight in the sleeves; if the roll isn't snug on your bicep, your shirt's too baggy.

Armpit height

Armpit height is often overlooked, but it's an important aspect of shirt fit. If the armpit's too low, there'll be a bunch of extra, flappy fabric under your arms. Too high, and the shirt will dig into your pits and stretch across the chest. When trying on button-up shirts, tuck them in, then raise your arms above your shoulders. If the shirt armpits are high enough, the tail of your shirt shouldn't pull out of your pants.

Tail length

Some casual button-up shirts — lots of flannels and gingham, for example — aren't designed to be tucked in, in which case the tails should fall one to two inches above the crotch of your pants.

If the shirt's going to be tucked in (any business casual or dress shirt should be), the best way to test length is to tuck in the shirt, then stretch, squat, and bend. If the shirt doesn't come untucked, you're golden.

Body

The torso of your button-ups, like with T-shirts, should follow the contour of your body. If you're thin-waisted, look for more aggressively tailored shirts; if you have a belly, look for shirts with a bit more room in the waist. Your shirts should be the same snugness around your chest as your belly, and vice versa.

Stayed tuned tomorrow, as we'll cover fit for various body types and alterations.