Like many women, I adore wearing blazers and jackets, especially in the workplace. They’re sure to add structure and polish to any outfit.
The problem is, they can be tricky little beasts.
Very few women — no matter what their shape or size — can waltz into Ann Taylor and grab off-the-rack blazers that fit perfectly in every way. Want to get that sharp, professional look? You’ll need to haul your jackets to the tailor.
It still helps to buy blazers that fit as nicely as possible, if for no other reason than curbing those alteration fees. Here’s what to look for:
1. Shoulders first
Shoulder alterations are complex and costly. Find a style that fits your shoulders and you’re already ahead of the game.
However, most women will encounter shoulder-fit quirks. Remember, the shoulder seam of the blazer should hit right where your own shoulder ends. If it falls closer to your neck, it’s too small. If it juts past the spot where your shoulder starts to slope downward, it’s simply too big.
What to look for in the fitting room? Give yourself a gentle hug while wearing the blazer. If it pulls a little, that’s fine. If it pulls a lot, it might not be your best bet.
2. Sleeves next
Sleeve alterations are pretty simple, though they can be expensive if the blazer is lined.
What to look for? First, consider the style. Blazers with three-quarter sleeves offer a delicious amount of leeway, whereas the ideal fit for full-length sleeves is very specific. A full-length blazer sleeve should always hit just above the top joint of your thumb when standing with arms at your sides. Your wrist itself should be covered. Simple as that.
3. Then bust
Every woman has a unique set of challenges here. In my case, there is often excess material that causes extremely amusing sagging. Like someone has tacked wet Ziploc baggies to my chest. Women with larger breasts may experience pulling. If the blazer doesn’t fit your bust then, chances are, you’ll be quick to notice.
A blazer that fits properly in the bust will cover about half of each breast and skim the covered area without bunching or wrinkling. Ideally, the blazer should fit beautifully both buttoned and unbuttoned. However, a blazer that fits great buttoned but looks wonky unbuttoned won’t be as versatile as the opposite.
My opinion? A blazer that fits properly in the shoulders, bust and torso but cannot be buttoned all the way without some pulling is passable — unless you’re a lawyer or daily suit-wearer and need exquisite fit both buttoned and unbuttoned.
4. Don’t forget torso
Generally speaking, the blazer should 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 probably too small in the torso. Or are there gobs of extra fabric around your midsection? Then the blazer is too big in the torso.
Pants blazer vs. skirt blazer
Consider the fit rules for tops: If you’re wearing a skirt with your top, then the top should be relatively short — between two- and three-fingers’ width below your navel. Your top should be longer when worn with pants — between two- and three-fingers’ width above your crotchpoint.
The same goes for blazers: Longer lengths visually balance the line of slacks, while shorter cuts look perfect with skirts and dresses. This is not a hard and fast rule, of course, just a helpful guideline. A lot will depend on your figure and your preferences, but I’ve found that most women look their best when following this advice.
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 designs.
To be blunt, a high stance can look a little dated and matronly. It’s a style that was all the rage several decades ago but slowly has faded from the fashion mainstream. Lower stances with fewer buttons tend to appear more sophisticated and modern.
Bust size, however, can complicate the matter. Busty women may find that low-stance, single-button blazers open awkwardly at the chest. Meanwhile, other busty women find high-stance blazers intolerable due to where the bustline falls. So the choice is extremely personal. But if you have blazers in your closet that aren’t getting worn — and you can’t figure out why — it might be due to their stance.
Length and shape
Beware: Length and shape are the other factors that can make decades-old blazers appear dated or frumpy.
The current trend of “boyfriend”-inspired fashions means long, loose blazers are ubiquitous. But today’s long-and-boxy looks are slightly different from the long, boxy figures from the ’80s. A modern boyfriend or long-line blazer will typically have a hint of waist shaping and a natural shoulder line. Vintage blazers, meanwhile, often have giant shoulder pads, double-breasted closures and exaggerated waist-shaping or none at all.
Again, it all depends on your taste. If you love the look of an oversized, loose blazer, then by all means you should embrace that look. But if you feel your beloved butt-covering blazer is outdated, try opting for shorter, more fitting styles in the future.
Lapel width, button or closure type, pocket placement and design — they all affect how a blazer works with your shape.
With lapels, consider scale: Petite women often favor smaller lapels or lapel-free designs that work on their smaller frames.
Flap pockets can jut out awkwardly if placed wrong, but can define and complement curves if placed correctly.
And button or other types of closures (not to mention their placement) will impact the overall look and fit of any blazer.
Complicated? Definitely. Worth mastering? For sure. You can roll the sleeves on a blouse with overly long arms and you can belt a dress that’s a smidgen too loose at the waist. But no amount of fashion tape can save an ill-fitting blazer. So focus on buying a style that suits your hardest-to-fit area, enlist a tailor to help with the rest, and you’ll look chic, sleek and polished in no time.
Sally McGraw is the author of Already Pretty, a daily blog about the intersection of style and body image.