Coat Balance is Critical

Posted by: on Jun 28, 2012 | 8 Comments

I mean it. Coat balance is critical, and not just in one direction. There are a lot of factors that come into play when determining the proper balance of a coat, and if something is off it can ruin an entire look. Here are the basics.

Everyone knows your shoulders need to appear even-ish, but your coat needs to be balanced in a few key ways: side to side, front to back, around the buttons, and with the trousers. Each of these dimensions depends on the others being in proportion, so it’s not enough to cinch here or let out there. You need to find (or have made) coats that fit the bill across the board.

Side to side is easy. Even with soft shouldered, unstructured coats, you don’t want to look lopsided or have the coat pull to one side. It looks sloppy, will result in bulging at the back of the collar, and generally make the shoulder line look rumpled and awkward. Like I said, this is the obvious one.

Front to back is a little more difficult. If you stand particularly straight or hunch a lot, this will be almost impossible to perfect without true bespoke. Just the nature of the beast. But, ideally, you want a coat which appears neither to hang from the fronts of your shoulders down the back (like a cape) nor to be affixed to the backs of your shoulders and to be pulled up in front.

Neither of these is elegant, and result in the coat looking oversized in the first case, and undersized in the second. The later is a big problem with a lot of the faux-Neapolitan stuff floating around these days. I don’t want to trash any particular brands or individuals, but most of the trendy tailoring brands don’t balance their coats very well. In and effort to look slim and casual, the quarters end up standing away from the body and too close to the trouser waist.

This leads into (and is connected intimately with) button balance. You can place the stance over a wide range, but it’s not as simple as cutting the holes wherever you want. The area below the buttons, the skirt, needs to be in an appealing proportion with the area above the buttons (the chest). Again, these small, trendy coats kill me on this front. Buttons are too high up on the chest and skirts still manage to be too short. Don’t even get me started on gorge height and lapel length. That’s another post altogether.

Finally, there is the balance between coat and trousers. You want the width of the thighs of your trousers to be close to the width of your coat where the two meet. This gives you a long, uninterrupted line down the entire body rather than cutting you in two. If you’re really tall, maybe you want to wear a belt or something to break yourself up, but I don’t think this is really a problem. We could go into more detail here, but this is just the basics, right?

All of these balance issues revolve around a simple principle – moderation. You don’t want anything wonky, anything too exaggerated, or proportions that distort instead of enhancing the human body. It’s simple when you think of it that way.


Images sourced from Monsieur Jerome and Mr. Mort


  1. Benn
    June 29, 2012

    So which, if any of these images are examples of failure and which are examples of success?

  2. Ryan
    June 30, 2012

    This is a a good read… but I have to admit, to the untrained eye, looking at the pictures you’ve included is only confusing. Are those good examples? bad examples? It would be helpful to me (and I’m sure, many other reads) if you could explain the pictures more precisely. Thank you.

  3. Stephen
    June 30, 2012

    If you click the images, the captions should help. I thought this the cleanest way to comment on each.

    Thanks for the interest!

  4. Everett
    June 30, 2012

    This Flacca fellow may have gotten his coat right, but that beard leaves him looking like a bobblehead doll. Any chance of getting a post on balance in dress with regard to one’s own melon-sized head? I myself have difficulty dressing my disproportionately puny body.

  5. Ryan
    July 1, 2012

    I see! That does the trick just right.

  6. alexh
    July 10, 2012

    Nice post Stephen. Wish I had this before my first suit commission a few years ago. The tailor who made my suit did a nice job overall, especially for the money, but he placed the button stance about an inch too high and it had the effect of making my lower front quarters look very long relative to my upper half. An experienced eye can see it right of the bat. What should one look for on George and Lapel balance?

    • Stephen
      July 10, 2012

      It’s tough to give a straight answer to that question, but generally I would say that the gorge should visually anchor the lapel in a way that makes it look balanced on your body, and not like it is pulling up to your shoulder or down to the button. The width, belly, length, and shape all contribute to this as well, which is why it’s not such an easy thing to answer abstractly.

  7. alexh
    July 10, 2012

    that would be gorge;)


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