When it comes to a wardrobe fit for duty rule number one, you don’t buy it, you acquire it over time. In most cases, unless you have unlimited resources this will be a slow build for most agents. To help you in developing a detail ready wardrobe I offer the below considerations for both fit and function.
The first place to start is to take inventory of your existing wardrobe and find out what is appropriate for the professional image you desire to convey and what should stay home out of the business travel bag. Also, what still fits and what may need be altered if you have experienced any changes in your body composition since original purchase. This should include suits, shirts, shoes, ties and other accessories. Then ask yourself, “Where do I have the biggest gaps in my professional attire?” Then establish a realistic working budget and timeline to address critical items that may be missing. This may often require prioritization and discipline going forward.
Whether you are truly shopping on a budget or just frugal, there are several national department stores and specialty retailers that have huge annual or semiannual sales as well as several off-price discount stores that offer savings on a more frequent basis. With the off-price retailers, you may have to make frequent visits or look through multiple racks to find those “diamonds in the rough” as they are often clearing houses for season old inventory from many of the nationally named department stores or specialty retailers.
If you normally carry a firearm, flashlight, radios or other tools you should take your tools with you to the retailer or tailor when having your suits altered so they can be altered to accommodate your tools to eliminate printing, and destroying your concealability. Sometimes, this may require you to size up one side in the process, prior to alteration. Another consideration may involve increasing the thickness of the liner on your weapon side to reduce wear. Also, if you are relying on a suit purchased and altered prior to getting into protective services it more than likely will not fit with your current responsibilities and tools.
Proper Suit Fit
When you try on a suit, you’re looking for a good fit in what’s called a “natural stance.” That means standing up straight, preferably in the dress shoes you’ll be wearing with the suit, with your arms relaxed at your side.
A well-fitted shoulder lies flat. The seam on top of the shoulder should be the same length as the bone under it, and should meet the sleeve of the suit right where your arm meets your shoulder. If the seam that connects the sleeve to the jacket is hiked up along your shoulder bone, or dangling down on your upper bicep, the jacket is never going to sit properly.
Shoulders are one of the hardest parts of a jacket to adjust after construction, so don’t waste your hard-earned money on a suit with an ill-fitted shoulder. Odds are you’ll never be able to get it right with post-purchase alterations.
The back of your trousers should be a smooth drape over the shape of your rear. A good fit in the seat will lie loosely against your underwear, without pulling tight against your butt, crotch or draping loosely down your thighs. A bad fit in the seat is easily identified by horizontal wrinkles just under the buttocks (caused by too tight of a fit), or by loose sags on the backs of the thighs (caused by too loose of a fit).
A tailor can “take in” a seat to make it tighter in the back without much difficulty, but there’s a limit to how far he can go. If the seat was way too loose in the beginning, it may not be possible to adjust it to fit without pulling the pockets out of place. Rarely is there sufficient spare cloth inside the seat, to be “let out” very far to make the fit looser.
The Pant Break
The “break” is the small wrinkle caused when the top of your shoe stops your trouser cuff from falling to its full length. This should be a small, subtle feature. One horizontal dimple or crease is usually ideal. The hem should indeed rest on the top of your shoe — there needs to be contact — but it shouldn’t do much more than that (cuff or no cuff is a matter of preference, organizational or geographical culture). The trouser can fall slightly longer in the back than in front, so long as it’s still above the heel of the shoe (the actual heel, not just the back of the shoe).
In non-protective environments, when you are wearing a suit and standing, you should have the jacket buttoned. Often in protective services our suit jackets are unbuttoned. However, in the trying-on/fit process you need to check how the front of the jacket closes over your body.
Close a single-breasted jacket with only one button when you’re testing the fit, even if it’s a three-button jacket. You’re looking to see if the two sides meet neatly without the lapels hanging forward off your body (too loose) or the lower edges of the jacket flaring out like a skirt (too tight). The button should close without strain, and there should be no wrinkles radiating out from the closure. A little bit of an opening at the bottom of the suit is fine, but the two halves beneath the button shouldn’t pull apart so far that you can see a large triangle of shirt above your trousers.
Ladies suit jackets will often tamper at the waist and flare at the hips consistent with appropriate body types.
“A half-inch of linen” has often been a standard guideline for the relationship between a suit jacket and the shirt worn under it. That means about half an inch of the shirt cuff should be visible beyond the jacket cuff. While that is merely a guideline, what is a major fashion miss, is when the suit rises above the shirt cuff entirely. The seam where the shirt cuff joins the shirt sleeve should never be visible. Similarly, the jacket sleeve should never hide the shirt sleeve entirely. At least a small band of shirt cuff should always be visible. While all body types are slightly different historically for most men, the jacket sleeve stops just above the large bone in the wrist.
A suit jacket should fall past the waist and drape over the top of the curve formed by the buttocks. An ideal fit will cover you down to the point where your butt starts to curve back inward, and stop there. However, anywhere in that general region is acceptable.
Another good guideline are the hands. With your arms relaxed at your side the hem of the jacket should hit right around the middle of your hand, or just past where the fingers meet the palm.
If the hem of the jacket is sitting on top of the butt, with a small little flare in the back, it’s too short. If it falls past the bottom entirely, longer than the arms, it’s too long. The hem can be adjusted upward without much trouble, but if you go too far the front pockets start to look out of proportion, so don’t count on much adjustment here.
Your jacket collar should rest against your shirt collar, which in turn should rest against the back of your neck. These should touch lightly, without significant gaps in between.
Vents open or closed is often a matter of style preference. However, if you carry gear (radios, handcuffs, flashlights, firearm etc.) toward the rear, I recommend you have the vents closed so it does not expose your tools.
My general preference is lightweight tropical wools, that breath and give. As I have found they are the easiest to maintain and perform best when traveling whether you fold or roll when packing. They can be worn in both slightly hot and cooler temperatures. It is a softer fabric and tends to be wrinkle free. Wool is the most popular suit fabric choice due to its versatility and its ability to maintain its aesthetic appeal. However, the operator must take into account the seasonal appropriateness for the environment they operate in. I do have a couple of cotton and linen suits that I sometimes will rotate in for very warm and humid environments.
Suit fabrics are sometimes classified as Super 100s, 140s, 160s and so on. The numbers refer to the number of times that the worsted wool has been twisted as it was being made. Generally, the higher the number, the finer and lighter the cloth will be, as well as the more expensive it’s likely to be. The more lightweight it is (the higher the number), the better the suit is for the warmer months of the year. The only drawback to super wools is that they don’t keep their shape very well and require extra care, and they won’t last very long if worn regularly. So, if all I had was $500 to put towards a suit, you are often better finding two off priced suits that are super 100s at $250 – $300 each than one super 160 at $500 – $600 regular retail, to better rotate the wear.
A basic rule for me when it comes to purchasing shoes, “If they don’t fit in the store they won’t fit later.” You can’t afford nor do you often have time to rely on a break in period. Shoes are a matter of preference but when it comes to protective services I prefer lace ups to slip-ons for men for security. For ladies’ pumps or slip-ons with a low heel.
Two must-haves, the Black Cap Toe (Black Pumps or slip-ons for female agents) and Brown Leather Brogues (Blue Pumps for female agents). Black cap toe oxfords are the corner stone of your shoe collection. They work well for most occasions. A pair of formal black oxfords will carry you from a formal affair at the White House to a multitude of various protection details. Brown leather brogues in a medium to dark brown pair can add versatility with any suit color but black and will still work well dressed or relaxed.
Critical Components of the Shoe
Heel: The heel is the part of the sole that raises the rear of the shoe in relation to the front. The heel seat is the top of the heel that touches the upper, this is typically shaped to match the form of the upper. The part of the heel that comes in contact with the ground is known as the top piece.
Outsole: The exposed part of the sole that is contact with the ground. As with all parts of the shoe, outsoles are made from a variety of materials. The properties of a good outsole need are: grip, durability, and water resistance (where necessary). While leather outsoles often add increased stability, rubber outsoles offend add increased comfort. I often opt for leather outsoles and then have a thin layer of rubber added to the outsole for increased traction.
Sometimes referred to as power-soles by some cobblers. The advantage of leather outsoles and heels is often cost savings over time, as you can have them re-soled. While the advantage of rubber is often some initial cost savings and enhanced comfort but rarely can they be re-soled to extend wear and life of the shoe.
Midsole: The midsole is designed to provide cushioning and shock absorption particularly in rubber soled shoes.
The firmer the midsole, the stiffer and heavier it will make the shoe. Soft midsoles, on the other hand, improve shock absorption but wear more quickly.
Insole: The insole is the foundation of the shoe. It is the part of the shoe upon which the sock liner rests and is commonly referred to as the last. The insole adds comfort for the wearer, while hiding the join between the upper. The softer the insole, the less torsional stability the shoe will have. The firmer the insole, the more structure and stability a shoe will have. Another trick of the trade for enhanced comfort is to add after-market insoles like Dr. Scholl, Superfeet or Powerstep.
Upper: The part of the shoe that cover the toes, the top of the foot, the sides of the foot, and the back of the heel. It is attached to the outsole of a shoe by the welt. Depending on the style of the shoe, the upper of a shoe can be cut or molded as a single piece or it can be comprised of many pieces stitched together. For people with wider feet in the front, shoes with wider or square toe boxes often provide enhanced comfort. What I often look for is quality leather that takes a good shine.
Common Brands: Johnston Murphy, Cole Haan, Kenneth Cole, Rockport
When it comes to shirts, most people are generally all in or a blend. Consider 100% cotton shirts as they breath better and hold their shape and starch better than blended shirts. Blended shirts typically reduce wrinkling and often travel better. Shirt shoulders should fit similar to suit shoulders and shirt cuffs should also be wide enough to accommodate the type of watch you normally wear. Shirt sleeve length should hang approximately a ½ inch below the suit sleeve. The proper collar fit should allow you the ability to place one to two fingers comfortably in between your neck and the collar at any point.
I prefer a traditional tie with a Windsor knot and my go to material is silk. As a professional in protective services, I stray way from the old bouncer way of thinking that clip-ons are preferred in the event of a confrontation (it allows the tie to pull off). As a protection specialist, you should be as well versed in de-escalation techniques as you are in managing your personal space and monitoring people in contact distance. As for tie length, ideally the tip of your tie should end in the middle of your belt buckle or waistband.
Your belt (and watch band) should match the color of your shoes, be made of sturdy leather and should be one size larger than your waist size. If you have a size 34 waist, consider buying a size 36 belt, it allows the belt to better merchandise into the belt loops and enhances aesthetic appeal, particularly when the suit jacket is off. There is nothing more unattractive than a belt on its last notch.
I prefer polarized lenses ideally with a UV rating of 300 or greater. They provide enhanced eye protection, reduce glare, enhance contrast, reduce eyestrain and increase visual clarity. While traditional performance manufactures like Oakley, and Ray Ban (particularly the Aviators and Wayfarer) models provide outstanding performance functionality the brand name and silhouettes often shout out military, law enforcement, security or protection services, when I want to lower the protection profile, I often opt for more functional fashion brands like Banana Republic, Porsche Design, EyeDope or lower profile lenses from Ray Ban or Oakley. Also, avoid wearing sunglasses indoors as it looks amateurish and provides little performance functionality. Often, sunglasses inside may mask the reflection of edged weapons or firearms. Keep in mind that fashion should never trump functionality, and when in doubt ask if the US Secret Service would wear that?
Suited for Duty
By: Mark “Six” James CPO, EPS, CAS
For additional safety tips visit www.pantherprotectionservices.com. Mark “Six” James is Founder and Executive Director of Panther Protection Services, LLC. He is an internationally published author, keynote speaker, security consultant to educational institutions and frequent contributor to a number of print, broadcast and online media, and the author of a number of security, firearm and protection publications. Panther Protection Services is a full-service protection agency focusing on Risk and Crisis Mitigation, Protective Services, Self-Defense Training, and Firearm Instruction.