Reader Request: How to Fit a Blazer

Already Pretty outfit featuring navy blue blazer, purple ponte dress, gray Falke tights, CC Corso Como Del pumps, Foley + Corinna Mid-City Tote, feather brooch

Reader Jamie left this request in a comment:

Not sure if you’ve covered this in your posts before, but would you do a post on how to determine proper blazer fit? I have an expensive blazer I bought at Filine’s Basement over 10 years ago, but have NEVER worn it. It’s a navy blue wool Ralph Lauren made it Italy blazer, really nice, lined in silk. I’m struggling with the fit, it seems almost too long, almost covers my whole bum, even though the sleeves are the right length. And I have no idea what to wear it with.

SUCH a great question. I adore blazers and jackets, as I feel they can add structure and polish to virtually any outfit … but they can be tricky little beasts. Finding blazers that fit off the rack is challenging for most women, regardless of size or figure shape. I always recommend thrifting for blazers because they can be annoyingly expensive and are durable enough garments that they can typically last through several owners and still hold up. But thrifting for blazers exposes you to an even wider variety of  lengths, styles, and fits from bygone eras, many of which will seem almost perfect. But not quite.

So let’s start with how to determine if a blazer fits YOU.

Shoulders first

Again, very few women can waltz into Ann Taylor, grab a blazer off the rack, and have it fit perfectly in every way. And, in my experience, even women who can fit blazers relatively well often encounter shoulder fit issues. Blazers can be altered, and when you find one that fits almost-perfectly you should definitely consider getting it tailored. But shoulder alterations are complex and costly, so if you can find a style that fits your own shoulders and needs some tweaks elsewhere you’re in good shape.

The shoulder seam of the blazer should hit right about where your own shoulder ends. If it falls closer to your neck, it’s too small. If it juts out over where your shoulder begins to slope downward, it’s too big. Hug yourself while wearing the blazer. If it pulls a little, that’s fine. If it pulls a lot, it might not be your best bet. (Hug gently. You’ll be ever so cranky if you hug yourself and rip a seam. Plus you’ll be mad at me. So, ya know, go easy.)

Although full-on shoulder pads aren’t common now, a little padding or added structure in the shoulders isn’t unheard of. If you are self-conscious about your broad shoulder line, seek unpadded styles. If you wish your shoulders had a wider span, padded blazers can work wonders for ya.

Sleeves next

Sleeve alterations are relatively simple, although they’ll be more expensive if your blazer is lined. Regardless, be sure to consider sleeve fit. 3/4-sleeve styles have considerably more leeway, but full-length sleeve fit is fairly specific. (I’ll admit to letting this one slide myself, but I mostly cover my tracks by cuffing.) A full-length blazer sleeve should hit just a little bit above the top joint of your thumb if you’re standing with your arms at your sides. Your wrist itself should be covered. Simple as that.

Then bust

In most cases, if a blazer doesn’t fit you in the bust you will TOTALLY know it. In my case, there is often excess material that causes extremely amusing sagging. Like someone has tacked wet Ziploc baggies to my chest. For women with larger busts, you may experience pulling. A blazer that fits properly in the bust will cover about half of each breast (measured from vertical outside working in toward the navel) and skim over the covered area without bunching or wrinkling. Ideally, it should fit beautifully both buttoned and unbuttoned. However, a blazer that fits great buttoned but looks wonky unbuttoned won’t be as versatile as its opposite. In my opinion – and Angie’s got my back on this one – a blazer that fits properly in the shoulders, bust and torso but cannot be buttoned all the way without some pulling is just fine. Most of us wear our blazers unbuttoned most of the time anyway, so if it comes close but can’t quite button properly, you’re good.

And, of course, torso

Again, you’ll likely know, here. But generally speaking, you want the blazer to follow the natural curves of your body without pulling or sagging. If you’ve got wrinkles at the sides or across the back, the blazer is too small in the torso. If you’ve got gobs of extra fabric around your midsection, the blazer is too big in the torso.

Other resources on fitting blazers properly:

Now let’s talk blazer styles.

Pants blazer vs. skirt blazer

If you’re wearing a skirt and top, you want your top to be relatively short – between two and three fingers’ width below your navel. If you wearing pants and a top, you want your top to be longer – between two and three fingers’ width above your crotchpoint. This also applies to blazers. Let’s take a look:

Proper blazer lengths for skirts and pants

Although the blazer on the left is being shown with pants, it’s actually more suited to being paired with a skirt or dress. It hits higher on the hip and is shorter overall. The blazer on the right will look slightly off if worn with a skirt, but is a good length for wearing with pants. So, shorter blazers with skirts/dresses, longer blazers with pants. This is NOT a hard and fast rule, of course, just a guideline. Much will depend on your figure and preferences, but in working with my clients I’ve found that most look best pairing short styles with skirts and long styles with pants.

Buttons and stance

“Stance” describes the highest point where the blazer buttons. Blazers with higher stances tend to have more buttons – at least two or three. Lower stances are frequently one-button jobs. Let’s look:

blazer button stance

The blazer on the left fits beautifully … but that high stance can look a little dated and matronly. The blazer on the right also fits well, and the lower stance seems more modern. NOW. I realize that bust size and stance interact. Busty women may find that low stance, single-button blazer will open up awkwardly at the chest while higher styles sit a bit quieter. Other busty women may find high stance blazers intolerable due to where the bustline falls. It’s all extremely personal. Some three-button, high-stance blazers are gorgeous – I own a few myself! – and if that style works for your figure, then by all means wear it. But if you’ve got blazers in your closet that aren’t getting worn and you can’t figure out why they seem “off,” see if it’s high stance.

Overall length and shape

Length and shape are other factors that may make your thrifted or decades-old blazers seem dated or frumpy. Yes, it’s true, “boyfriend” EVERYTHING means that long, loose styles are everywhere we turn. But today’s long/boxy will look slightly different than 80s long/boxy. Well, most of the time. Let’s look:

blazer fit

I’m flabbergasted to report that the blazer on the left is current. Designer even, and expensive as hell. (Theory, if you’re curious.) To me, that super long, super boxy fit is very vintage, although most 80s styles have more buttons and a higher stance. The blazer on the right is also current and also long – appropriate for pants – but more fitted and contemporary looking. Now, again, you get to have taste. If you love the look of a oversized, loose blazer, embrace that look! But if, as Jamie did, you feel like your butt-covering blazer might date you, opt for shorter, more fitted styles moving forward.

Finishing touches

blazer lapels buttons pockets

Lapel width, button or closure type, and pocket design and placement can all affect how a blazer works with your shape. With lapels, consider scale: Petite women often favor smaller lapels or lapel-free designs which work with their smaller frames. Flap pockets can jut out awkwardly if placed wrong, but can define and complement your curves if placed correctly. And button and closure style and placement will impact the overall look and fit of any blazer.

And even though that post was impressively long, it is far from comprehensive. Definitely check Angie and Kelly’s posts for more details and information. As always, none of my figure flattery advice posts should be considered gospel, including this one, and I fully expect you to read them with a grain of salt. Style “rules” are merely guidelines, no matter who is dispensing them. I trust you to use your judgment. And I trust you to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent.

So! What fit challenges do YOU face when shopping for blazers? Where are you willing to compromise? Anyone out there a stickler for stance? Lapel width? Let’s hear it all in the comments!

First four images courtesy Macy’s, next two courtesy Nordstrom, final two courtesy Macy’s.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for alreadypretty.com. See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

  • Courtney

    What are the magazines you read to keep up with current trends? I’d love to know what’s on your reading list

  • http://www.over50feeling40.com Pam@over50feeling40

    This is a great job, Sally and very helpful…blazers are so important in our wardrobes!!

  • http://www.stepalica.blogspot.com AnaJan Stepalica

    Nice post! I’d also add that the length of one’s blazer should depend on length of one’s torso. I have a relatively short torso and I have noticed that I look much better in cropped blazers that end at my high hip. When wearing pants, I can wear a slightly longer jacket, but it should never “cut” me where I’m widest, which is at low hip, as it makes me look much heavier.
    Having a high and narrow waist makes peplum jackets look great on me.
    Also, I think it would be nice to read about jackets with double breast closures and with various collars (such as mandarin collar, shawl collar, no collar, etc.).

  • What

    Angie & Kelly?

  • Marion

    Respectfully, Sally, I suggest you take your own advice on this topic in regards to the fit of your blazers… I often notice that your blazers and jackets are not the right size, as they are too tight to close in front (even if you don’t want to close them with a particular outfit, they should fit so you COULD close them) and also too tight in the arms.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      I disagree about closure, Marion, as I said in the body of this post. If a blazer fits to your curves and torso but cannot button, it still can work, especially since many of us (myself included) rarely button or close our blazers anyway! (In case you missed it, Angie at YLF support this: http://youlookfab.com/2008/09/10/the-unbuttoned-jacket/) As for being too tight in the arms, I am not standing stock still with my arms straight down in virtually any photos, so there will be some movement and bunching in my outfit shots.

    • http://chiralcraft.wordpress.com Laura

      Ah, the perennial “should you buy your blazers to fit best when open or closed” debate. Body shape/type seems to influence this too. When I was a fluffier size 18, I found that even jackets that fit perfectly well when buttoned would pull away from my front when opened, and give the impression of being too small even when they weren’t. I’m 30 pounds lighter now and this happens much less often, I assume because some of the bulk of my torso is gone and they hang more from the shoulder with less interference from the bust and midsection. I suspect that those with broad shoulders and not a terribly large bust or tummy have the easiest time of finding the sweet spot of fitted but not too tight, while the rest of us have to make some compromises. I tend to aim for button-able but snug when buttoned which looks pretty decent when unbuttoned as well.

      I suspect it’s also a style thing, the amount of ease we find ‘flattering’. Angie at YLF has mentioned that the fashion shows this spring are veering back toward a more fluid fit – not as loose as the 80s but definitely less body skimming than we’ve had for a few years. So if you prefer your blazers a bit less tight, Marion, go for it – apparently you’re in the vanguard of style!

  • Kat

    I wish I could get my blazers to fit, unbuttoned, the way Sally’s do!!
    (cardigans, too…..or is it just that in a still photo, you can arrange your cardi *just so* and not worry about whether it will stay that way for the rest of the day?)

  • Jamie

    wow, thanks Sally! this is a great post. what a treat to read this article this morning. i’ll keep all this in mind when I thrift for a better fitting blazer. I wore the navy blazer recently and I just felt awkward in it, so I think it means I’ll need to ebay it.
    I was inspired recently on how to style a navy blazer. I saw a lovely young woman at the airport wearing a navy blazer with magenta cropped pencil pants, a gorgeous flowy blouse, some chunky gold jewelry and a neutral flat. it looked soooo classy and put together. much better than just navy blazer and khaki pants, which would have been my default.

    • Jamie

      regarding alterations, it seems easy enough to do sleeves and possibly shoulders, maybe take in the waist, but what about length? is that ever do-able or would it just make the proportions of the jacket off?

      • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

        Hi Jamie, glad this post was helpful! Depending on how the blazer is constructed, altering the length may be possible. It will be more difficult if there are pockets or other features toward the hem, and yes, it could throw off the proportions. Do you have a tailor you like and trust? Discussing with her/him might be a good place to start!

  • Cass

    I’m not surprised about that Theory blazer. Fitted/fitted was in for a long time, but fit trends do tend to be cyclical. For a while now, relaxed/fitted has been becoming more popular, and I’ve actually been starting to see more relaxed/relaxed looks as well. A lot of the SS14 collections featured cuts like that one. For an example I can remember off the top of my head, this look was in the Margaret Howell show. It’s not quite as boxy, but it’s still very relaxed and paired with a fairly relaxed bottom as well:

    http://imgur.com/Mzwa9dS

    Since cuts tend to hit “designer” retailers before they hit mall stores and the like, I’m less surprised that it’s Theory than many alternatives.

  • Nebraskim

    My main fit issue is that the upper arms are often too tight. I have well developed triceps/biceps,and sadly, big saggy bat wings from a previous major weight loss…saggy wings that will only disappear with skin-reduction surgery. So often blazers that fit every where else are too tight in the upper arm. And because I am small-breasted, blazers usually flap up top. I do love them, though. I am lucky to have very square straight shoulders. Do women with sloping shoulders have different fit issues with blazers?

    I generally agree that the ability to close the blazer/jacket isn’t important.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Good question, Nebraskim, and I’d love to hear from other folks but will chime in to say that yes, sloping shoulders cause different fit issues with blazers. I worked with a client a few months back who kept several thicknesses of shoulder pads on-hand to adjust blazer fit. Other concerns? Please share!

  • LG

    Thank you for this post! Super helpful. (I never thought about a “pants blazer” vs a “skirt blazer” but this makes sense now that you mention it.)

  • Anneesha

    I had the pleasure of doing a personal consultation with Sal – and now have a much better understanding of why I looked bad in a majority of blazers, especially those that don’t nip in at the waist in back. And have learned that wearing only sleeveless tops underneath is much more comfortable and gives me a better line.

    I’ve also found that if I’ve thrifted a quality blazer at a very reasonable price, I don’t feel bad about ripping open the lining seam and removing unflatteringly large shoulder pads.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      So, SO glad to hear this, Anneesha!

  • Susan In Boston

    The reference to Filene’s Basement caused me to tear up. Before the pale imitations of the original were franchised, The Basement was a marvel, worth a trip to Boston. For most of its long run, The Basement not have dressing rooms, and it was not unusual to see women padding around the floor in various states of undress. Most people had an outfit that they wore when shopping there to make the process of trying on clothes easier. Mine was a tight t-shirt and a full skirt.

    The strategies for hiding a good find within the racks so that you could return in a day or two and get an even bigger discount was one of the topics of conversation that anyone could contribute to, and a great one to introduce when just meeting someone. (Until 2004, the odds of whether the Red Sox might win the World Series was the other one.)

    It was truly one of the seven wonders of the world of retail. Nominations for the other six are now open ;-)

    • Linda

      Ahh, my fellow Bostonian, these memories made my day!

  • http://www.janelmessenger.com Janel M

    Great tips!

    Being two sizes larger in the back on the bottom, if something fits up top, it likely pulls or bunches below the waist. After the 1980s and 1990s, I gave up on jackets. The typical fit was so unflattering for me. I now know I have to look for fitted peplum-y cut styles to get enough room. I have a handful of fun jackets in classic shapes that work for me. :)

    • Rose

      The blazer on the left of the last set of photos, they’re red, looks like something worth trying on. It’s got a waist button, but isn’t meant to button below the waist. If, like me, you’re a different size on the bottom then you don’t have the problem of buttons and buttonholes that could never be buttoned.

      • http://www.janelmessenger.com Janel M

        I’m not a big jacket button-er, but now that I’ve found the styles that work, I usually don’t have any problem buttoning them if I need or want to button them.

        That said, I typically stick to jackets with one closure for flexibility of movement.

  • TexasAggieMom

    Thanks for this very helpful and informative post! A blazer is one of my favorite wardrobe staples, but I never stopped to think about varying the length depending on whether it was paired with pants or skirts. I’m blessed with good shoulder structure, but tall enough that sometimes sleeve or overall length is an issue. Since I’m trying to add more color to my wardrobe, I am going to try pairing a navy blazer with a brighter dress as you’ve done here – I love it! In fact, when I first saw the photo this morning, I wished I was wearing that exact outfit to work.

  • Chris

    Sal,

    – I sometimes see online and in magazines, a blazer styled with a long shirt hanging several inches past the hem of the blazer. I can’t get past the impression that the blazer looks too small, or the shirt should be tucked. Comments?

    If I am understanding you correctly, would the two red blazers you show be better with a skirts than pants?

    Thanks.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Hi Chris, I think it depends how the shirt and blazer are styled. In a casual outfit, a shirt that hangs below a blazer can look loose and chic, but if we’re talking about an actual suit that’s a different story and the shirt should likely be tucked. I think a lot of the style “rules” about blazers are shifting and becoming less rigid, so it can take a while for the eye to adjust!

      As for the red blazers, the one on the right is a tiny bit longer and might be passable with pants but yes, they’re both a bit on the short side and would likely work better with skirts or dresses.

  • Anne

    Wow, Sally I thought I knew a lot about fit, but you sure taught me some great new tricks. I’ve made it a wardrobe goal in the last few years to add more blazers to my life and I seem to get the most wear out of knit or ponte blazers. Also, as someone who is a bit scrawny on top, I find I have to be very firm with my tailor or he doesn’t take in enough fabric. It’s the difference between looking put together (which is a rarity) or looking like I’m playing dress up.

  • http://bagandaberet.blogspot.com/ Melanie

    You know your stuff, Sally. I don’t know what makes a blazer look good other than a feeling, but having it spelled out is like an “a-ha” moment. I love that the vintage shape is back, but I’d probably just get a real vintage one.

  • Tutti

    You’re great Sally! And you have a lovely speaking voice.

    Thank you for this and all posts.

  • http://MilwaukeeKitchen.blogspot.com Sara@MilwaukeeKitchen

    I love this post, Sally. I would love to see more of this type of post; it can be a great resource! Sara

  • Boryana

    Regarding blazer tightness and fitting when buttoned/unbuttoned, somewhere on the Internet I read a story on Ines de la Fressange commenting on several outfits of her own, and about one she said something like, “Here the blazer is a bit too tight, but if it fit properly, I might look like a politician.” Having great fit is great, but what is also great is being tongue-in-cheek about minor details that are not as great as we believe they should be. Attitude is as much a part of an outfit as fit.

  • Chris

    Sal,

    I have another blazer question. I recently purchased a dark cobalt blue velvet blazer. It is not an expensive blazer. But it fits well and looks nice. The fabric is my preferred cotton velvet rather than synthetic. The jacket is lined. The problem is the style of the buttons they used. They are metallic with a cheesy, poorly done coat of arms. The buttons make an otherwise nice looking blazer look cheap. I want to change the buttons but don’t know what to go for.

    Suggestions, please?

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Ooh, Chris, it’s a tough call since I’m not familiar with your style and accessorization preferences! But my gut says to go for something gray, which won’t be as severe as black but also won’t be super shiny. Would that work?

      • Chris

        Gray does sound appealing. What do you think the buttons should be made of? I understand your caveat. Stone, wood, plastic, fabric covered, glass?

        Thanks!

        • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

          Something super matte might look just as odd as something super shiny, since the fabric is velvet. I was thinking plastic, but you might take the blazer to the fabric store and hold up a variety of buttons before taking the plunge!

          • http://www.janelmessenger.com Janel M

            I agree with Sally. Take it to the store and see what they have an what looks best. Good luck!

  • Frances

    I have always found it hard not to look matronly in a blazer (like I’m a female prison guard or a member of the Salvation Army). Not the effect I was going for! All of your examples, of various figure types, manage to avoid this. I wonder what I’m doing wrong?

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  • Meena

    I always have a problem with blazer fit, as I have fairly long arms but am short and short-waisted. Anything with long enough arms is completely off in proportion in the torso, and petite sizes, which fit in the torso, are always too short in the arms. I hate 3/4 sleeves, especially in the cold weather we’re having right now, and I generally just don’t think they look right on blazers. Any ideas?

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sally

      Oh Meena, how frustrating. You could try a few knit blazers – find styles that have long enough arms and get them tailored in the body and anywhere else they don’t fit. The reason I suggest knits is that they will be cheaper and easier to tailor than lined wovens. You could also try getting your blazers custom made from scratch. It’ll be expensive, but at least they’ll fit properly from the start! Tom James does custom, and you usually work with a rep in person to make sure the measurements are correct: http://www.tomjames.com/

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  • MissDisplaced

    Thank You!
    I never realized that blazer length made such a difference depending on whether you wear it with a skirt or pants. Based on this, I find many mis-matched two piece suits out there!

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