Shirt & Blouse Fitting Series Part 1 - Proper Shoulder Slope

Your Best First Impression

Step 1A: Properly Fitting Shoulders

Part 1 - Shoulder Slope

by Alexander Kabbaz, Master Tailor
"The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone; the ankle bone's connected to the calf bone; the calf bone ..." While this, as the kindergarten ditty goes, may be true, it does not accurately reflect the importance of the parts of the body. When it comes to covering the torso, the single most important body part is the shoulders. Shoulders are the hanger from which every top garment drapes. If the shoulder part is not properly constructed, no amount of fussing with the rest of the shirt, blouse, jacket, or coat will properly correct the related problems. In most shirts and blouses, the shoulder part is called the "yoke" which is joined to the top of the front and back.

Let's get one thing straight: Shoulders are not! In a half-century of making bespoke clothing, I have never seen a straight pair of shoulders. Shoulders curve forward. They curve backward. Often one curves more than the other. Adjustments for that are made on the Yoke. Those can be quite complex and are covered in this article.

Shoulders not only curve, they slope as well. Believe it or not, the degree of shoulder slope from the neck to the top of the arm ranges from less than one inch to almost four inches! And that is the subject of today's first lesson in proper shirt and blouse fitting.

Basic Shirt Pattern Showing Shoulder Slope Adjustments

The Basic Shirt Pattern

The slope of the top of the front and back pattern parts of the shirt is mandated by the slope of the shoulders. The red lines on The Basic Shirt Pattern diagram (click it to enlarge) indicate the parts of the shirt which should be adjusted to conform with the slope of the wearer's shoulder. Basic corrections here are actually rather simple. The Green line indicates the adjustment for "square" shoulders and the Blue for "sloping" shoulders. Concomitant adjustments are made to the shirt back. For the most precise fit, a sample shirt should be made and the fit judged according to the photos as follows:

Front and Back Pattern Pieces

Front and Back Pattern Pieces

The Red shirt shows the wrinkles which are caused by the pattern not being sloped enough. It must be adjusted further towards the Blue line shown in the Basic Shirt Pattern diagram above.

Needs More Shoulder Slope

Needs More Shoulder Slope

The Blue shirt shows the wrinkles which are caused by the pattern being sloped too much. It must be adjusted further towards the Green line shown in the Basic Shirt Pattern diagram above.

Needs Less Shoulder Slope

Needs Less Shoulder Slope

The White shirt shows no wrinkles and indicates that the pattern is correctly designed. No adjustments are necessary.

Perfect Shoulders - No Adjustments Necessary

Perfect! No Adjustments Necessary
An overview: Shirt fitting is accomplished from the top down. To reiterate ... the shoulders are the hanger from which the shirt or blouse drapes. It serves no purpose to make adjustments to the remainder of the garment if the shoulders are incorrect. Alterations to the shoulders will affect chest, waist, hips, sleeves, and sides. Don't miss Part II - Properly Fitting Shoulders - Yoke Shape.
In closing, I am often asked if improvements such as these can be made to existing shirts. The simple - and quite emphatic - answer is No! Adjustments to the shoulder slope require removal of the sleeves, collar, and yoke ... a process which would require almost an entire day of careful stitch removal. A new shirt is much less costly.

Shirt photos used in this article are actual images of trial shirts from our Ready Made to Bespoke program.

You can experience the actual shirt fitting process in action.

As always, thank you for reading.

Should you have questions or need particular advice, don't hesitate to contact the author.

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