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Balance

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
I'm reposting this here, because the question came up again on another thread.

Balance fundamentally refers to the relative lengths of the front and back of a coat, and also the left and right sides. Each should appear to be the same in relation to the other. Well, actually, there is religious dispute about front-back. Some believe that the fronts should always be a hair longer at the bottom. This, I understand, is the most traditional view, and if you polled tailors, this would win. However, some prefer the bottoms to be dead even, and I even know one or two who prefer the back to be slightly longer than the front. That is decidedly a minority view. Left and right should always be dead even at the bottom. Also, the four major components (front, back, left side, right side) should not bow out or scrunch inward or bunch up.

However, "relative length" is not really the whole story. If it were, you'd think that all you have to do is make sure that each part is "long" enough, and if not, well, then, lengthen it from the bottom. Right?

Alas, no. We must remember that the coat is 3-D, because the body is 3-D. Balance is also a matter of ensuring that the coat's cloth properly finds its way around the body's natural contours. "Relative length" in this sense is more properly thought of as the right amount of length -- or its absence -- in the right place.

Take the case of a low shoulder. A person with a drop on one side who tries on a RTW coat will notice that the coat hangs lower on his low side. The bottoms will not be even, and the buttons and buttonholes will not line up. In the worst case, the low side actually cuts away, or swings outward, rather than hanging more or less straight. If he buttons the coat, he will see the lapel on his low side bow out above the button. What he needs, therefore, is less "length" or cloth on his low side. But not merely less length. It has to be taken out from the top of the front and back parts. Either that, or enough padding has to be put into the shoulder to make up for the difference. You can't just shorten the thing from the bottom and expect a happy ending. In my view, a coat that has a proper left-right balance will almost close on its own without being buttoned, and the sides will hang straight and even, without crossing over or cutting away.

Front-back balance problems are more common, and more difficult for tailors to get right. Again, it's not just a matter of getting the length correct; it's a matter of ensuring that the correct amount of length is in the correct place. Just because the front and back appear to line up at the bottom does not necessarily mean that the coat is well balanced. What happens up above is at least as important -- in fact more so.

For instance, a guy with "salient blades" (i.e., bulging shoulder blades) needs extra back balance up top, to get around those blades. Similarly, a guy with a prominent tummy needs some front balance in the waist and possibly quarters. And that excess length has to be worked and sewn in the right way so that it contours to the body and doesn't hang there.

The most common -- and intractable -- problem is a short back. I probably see more short backs than any other balance problem. This is the number one cause of gaping vents, or vents that fail to close properly. A short back does not have enough cloth up top to make it around the curve of the shoulder blades, and thus the entire back of the coat hikes upward and the lower back (and the vent flap, if there is one) flares out and away from the body. Here is an illustration of a short back (pictures scanned from Clarence Poulin's Tailoring Suits the Professional Way; out of print):



Extra length must be added over the blades and only there; the front should not be affected.

Long fronts are the yin to a short back's yang. These tend to cut away, to "open" like an upside-down "V" rather than hang straight. See here:



Even though the buttoning point is not marked in the illustration, you should be able to see how the quarters are much more open than they should be, and that they coat's buttoning point is falling lower than it should. Attempting to button that coat would force the fronts upward, lift the collar off the back of the neck, and cause the lapels to bow outward above the button.

Short fronts, by contrast, lift out and away from the bottoms. Worse, when seen from the front, the quarters cross over:



And on long backs, the excess cloth tends to bunch in the small of the back, above the seat, which acts as a sort of "shelf":



Beyond this, excellent front-back balance follows the contours of the body. The cloth lies smoothly and almost appears to "adhere" to the body but of course it does not. Excellent front-back balance can especially be seen at the bottoms, from a side view. The cloth should not flare our or kick up but either hang straight or (better, in my opinion) slightly turn inward.

One last point, because this tends to get confused. Proper balance is something independent of silhouette and model. That is, for a given client, the balance of his clothes should ideally all be the same whether he chooses DB or SB, 2- or 3-button, high button stance or low button stance, etc. Similarly, balance is balance, whether one prefers a lean, fitted, sculpted cut or whether one is a devotee of drape. As I have argued elsewhere, some of these choices work better with certain body types than with others. Not that such considerations should be dispositive; style is after all about what you like, not what someone else thinks works best for your build. Nonetheless, a perfectly balanced coat in the "wrong" style for you will not necessarily make you look your best. A short, heavy guy in a perfectly balanced DB with a low button stance, floor level peaked lapels, and a huge wrap (crossover) is going to look more like a fireplug than a guy whose DB coat has a narrower wrap, raked up lapels, and a high stance. Balance is fundamental, but it isn't everything.
post #2 of 33
Ladies and gentlemen, Manton is back.

Jon.
post #3 of 33
. . .
post #4 of 33
Kick Ass!
Thanks!
post #5 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by imageWIS View Post
Ladies and gentlemen, Manton is back.

Jon.

Yes!!!

Manton, can you tell us where the illustrations are from? Many a custom tailor has had problems with balance that I know.
post #6 of 33
Manton, Do you think most tailors are pretty good with balance, or do a lot of well thought of tailors make frequent mistakes here?
post #7 of 33
To consolidate the balance discussion...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Manton View Post
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cantabrigian View Post
... doesn't front-back balance refer to how well the jacket follows the chest & back (e.g. no bunching) rather that the relative lengths the front and the back (distance from the bottom edge to the ground).

It is both: the relative lengths of front and back affect (among other things) how well a coat follows the contours of the body.



I guess this is what had me confused -

Quote:
Originally Posted by Manton View Post
This might be a useful exercise.

A lot of BS gets written about "balance." Some claim that a "balanced" coat is exactly the same length, front and back. Hold a ruler parallel to the floor, and the bottom edges of the coat should meet that ruler all the way around.

Hogwash. Look at Tom's coat:



The front is significantly longer than the back. Is the coat out of balance? No. Look how the back traces the curves of his back. The vents close properly. The vent "panel" (for lack of a better term) lies smoothly. That is balance. It means there is enough cloth, in the right places, to properly conform to his body. Yes, overall length is a part of balance. You need length to trace that curve. But where the coat ends up at the bottom is irrelevent. It is an aesthetic choice. This tailor (like a great many tailors) prefers the front to hang a bit lower than the back. That is not a balance issue.



From that, it sounded like the distance from the front edge to the floor relative to the distance from the back edge to the floor was excluded from discussions of balance since that relation is an aesthetic choice.

Which would mean that balance would refer only to following the body well or poorly and would exclude things that can be done multiple ways and still done correctly. (Relative lengths of the front quarters would be a part of balance sine they should be the same length.)

Edit: Wasn't that clear above - I had the impression that balance refers only to things that can be well or poorly, not things that are within the realm of preference, if that makes any more sense.
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
Cantab: there are two separate issues.

1) How high off the ground the bottom edge of the front and back of a coat are;

2) The relative length, overall, of the front and back as cut, i.e., laid out flat on a table.

#1 is purely aesthetic on a well balanced coat. Theoretically, a tailor could make a coat that hangs 5" past a man's rear in front and back but that is nonetheless perfectly balanced. He could then cut away at the front, or the back, or the front then the back -- whatever. That would not effect the balance, which comes into play in how the coat is hung from the shoulders, how the neck point sits, how the back gets around the shoulderblades, how the front gets around the chest, and how front and back get around the hips. All of that is balance.

Where a coat ends up at the bottom edge is not -- or is not necessarily. Like I said, a well balanced coat can be dead even all the way around
the bottom edge, longer in front, or longer in back. Again, imagine a well balance coat that is too long. You could trim the same amount off all the way around. Or you could trim more off in back than in front. That will not affect the balance, which is set at the top, not the bottom.

However (and this may be where the confusion lies), too much length in the bottom front or bottom rear may be a sign, at the fitting stage, of incorrect balance. But it will not be the only sign, as the illustrations show. It's a symptom, and one of the less important symptoms at that.

So, yes, balance is not about preference. It is either done well, or not.
post #9 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by oscarthewild View Post
Manton, can you tell us where the illustrations are from? Many a custom tailor has had problems with balance that I know.
They are from an out-of-print book called Tailoring Suits the Professional Way, by Clarence Poulin.
post #10 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by iammatt View Post
Manton,

Do you think most tailors are pretty good with balance, or do a lot of well thought of tailors make frequent mistakes here?
I don't think many make mistakes in this regard. I have had only a few coats come back out of balance, mostly MTM. Even some suits that I thought were sort of blah stylistically were still well balanced. My Nicolosi suit had a short front, however.

Trousers are another matter. Hardly anyone gets trouser balance exactly right.
post #11 of 33
A very informative and interesting piece. Thanks.
post #12 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manton View Post
Cantab: there are two separate issues.

1) How high off the ground the bottom edge of the front and back of a coat are;

2) The relative length, overall, of the front and back as cut, i.e., laid out flat on a table.

#1 is purely aesthetic on a well balanced coat. Theoretically, a tailor could make a coat that hangs 5" past a man's rear in front and back but that is nonetheless perfectly balanced. He could then cut away at the front, or the back, or the front then the back -- whatever. That would not effect the balance, which comes into play in how the coat is hung from the shoulders, how the neck point sits, how the back gets around the shoulderblades, how the front gets around the chest, and how front and back get around the hips. All of that is balance.

Where a coat ends up at the bottom edge is not -- or is not necessarily. Like I said, a well balanced coat can be dead even all the way around
the bottom edge, longer in front, or longer in back. Again, imagine a well balance coat that is too long. You could trim the same amount off all the way around. Or you could trim more off in back than in front. That will not affect the balance, which is set at the top, not the bottom.

However (and this may be where the confusion lies), too much length in the bottom front or bottom rear may be a sign, at the fitting stage, of incorrect balance. But it will not be the only sign, as the illustrations show. It's a symptom, and one of the less important symptoms at that.

So, yes, balance is not about preference. It is either done well, or not.
Gotcha - thanks!
post #13 of 33
--

Quote:
Originally Posted by Manton View Post
They are from an out-of-print book called Tailoring Suits the Professional Way, by Clarence Poulin.
post #14 of 33
A few points to consider from Manton's excellent discourse of balance.
Although you say balance isn't everything, balance is at minimum 51% of a well fitting suit. It is or should be the primary focus of fit. It is the main focus of and purpose of a basted fitting of a custom made garment.
The main culprit of front/back balance is posture. Standing erect or stooped, head forward or back, full chest, round back, prominent blade or blades, being stout or portly, and all combinations of these, effect the balance and drape of a jacket.

Flat seat, prominent seat, hips forward, round hips, flat hip, high or low hips, bow leg, knock knee all effect trouser balance.

At the fitting a tailor will judge where the garment is short and needs more length or where it is long and needs adjusting. The end result will show the jacket hem more or less parallel to the ground ( front a bit longer than the back is proper) side seams and darts perpendicular to the floor. Trouser will hang smoothly in front and back. No diagonal pulling or bagging of excess cloth in any area.

Right to left jacket balance is most evident in 3 button jackets or double breasted as the front edges should be parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor. This is one reason 3 button and DB jackets are harder to fit. A three button jacket or DB will have the same amount of overlap at the top button as the middle button and as Manton noted, the jacket will meet ( within reason) in the front and not fall away when unbuttoned the same as when buttoned.

Balance in RTW clothing is innate in the garment and adjustments are limited at best if possible at all.
post #15 of 33
Excellent! Thanks for the informative post.
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