Rugby player half in uniform and half in a suit

Finding the ideal suit for an athletic build

They may be legends in battle on the rugby pitch but, finding a suit that fits and flatters their athletic builds stops rugby players in their tracks.

Here’s how an experienced Savile Row tailor would create the perfect suit for our favourite out-sized lads – no dressing room angst necessary.

We admire rugby players for their endurance, skills and incredibly fit bodies. They spend their careers honing their sporty physiques – it’s a true triumph of a perfectly balanced exercise and diet regime. But, when it comes time for press functions, end of season celebrations and weddings, finding a suit to fit a rugby player’s unique build is a challenge of epic proportions. Much wider shoulders than waists, solid necks and large thighs all pose significant difficulties, making shopping for a ready-to-wear suit and shirt a real nightmare.

Rugby is a contact sport and as a result, most have powerful overdeveloped shoulders, arms, and thighs with comparatively slim waists. Player’s necks are intentionally developed as protection in the contact areas of tackling, rucking and scrummaging. Recently clothes have been easier to find as designers respond to the athletic builds being developed in the proliferation of gyms in the country and a more health and body conscious society. Slim and athletic fit shirts are now available, which helps, but often they fit in some areas but not in others.

Rugby ball on field

I asked the players of Bishop’s Stortford Rugby Football Club to tell us their biggest peeves when it comes to buying formal wear.

“Not being the biggest but certainly one of the tallest I have an issue with arm length in most suits. Also buying a suit to fit around the shoulders it is normally too loose everywhere else due to being fairly broad.” – James Apperley

“I have used tailors before as my main issue is having such a large chest and neck. Off the peg shirts and suits are always massive in the body because of this. I also have quite a long torso and arms and getting stuff long enough in here is also an issue. So generally, it’s a big pain.” – Sean Edwards

“The problems I have are in two particular areas. Firstly, having wide shoulders and big upper arms it is very difficult to find a jacket that fits comfortably around the shoulder and upper arms without the jacket being massively over-sized everywhere else. The second issue is in the leg – the thigh area – with having to get a ridiculously big waist. Having a large bum and big thighs don’t seem to work!  In terms of shirts, Gant and Tommy Hilfiger are my go-to shirts as they fit well in the shoulders without having to be the size of a tent everywhere else, however, the neck sizes never fit.” – Declan Caulfield

“To be honest, I generally avoid buying suits for this exact reason. The two suits I own have been provided by various rugby teams who have brought tailors in. Even then, only one of them fits properly. The main problems are that the taller you are, the wider suits get in the body. Also, it’s always tight around the arms and loose everywhere else. Often I find I can’t raise my arms in a suit.” – Dan Leo

It’s no surprise then, that larger teams have clothing sponsors who measure up the players and provide entire wardrobes for tours and competitions.

How to tailor a suit for a rugby player’s body shape

I won’t lie, rugby players are certainly the hardest to dress, but made to measure or bespoke is definitely the only way to get the perfect fit. Creating pieces that pull their frame into proportion requires a number of modifications so generally, more fittings are needed to get the cut just right.

It’s no secret that rugby players possess an amazing amount of strength so I would use stronger fabrics for durability. I would also recommend a full canvas for a softer overall look that lets the suit fall perfectly over their muscles.

Scissors and thread with pinstripe fabric

With short necks and large builds, the following needs to happen to create well-fitting shirts:

  • I generally opt for a shorter collar stand and drop the neck lower on the front of the shirt collar so that it doesn’t make the neck look stumpy.
  • The armholes need to be made lower to accommodate the bigger lateral muscles and biceps.
  • As their chest and neck are usually bigger than their small waist, darts are needed at the back of the shirt to create a nice shape.
  • I use larger cuffs on the shirts to accommodate their larger wrists.

To create the perfect jacket for a rugby player’s frame I would:

  • cut the jacket to take into account a shorter neck measurement.
  • combine a slim waistline with broad shoulders.
  • allow for more space in the armholes.
  • create a longer length jacket to achieve a clean, sleek look that slims the body.

And finally, for trousers that fit a rugby player’s legs I would:

  •  cut the trousers for a narrow waist and heavy front thighs and taper them on first fitting to get a slimmer look. It’s important not to over taper though, as it’ll make the legs look unbalanced. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be too straight or the legs look like two solid blocks.
  • add more room in the seat of the trousers to get the right fit around a bum that has done all that squatting!

Made to measure shirts and suits do take more time but it’s worth going the extra mile to suit up if you have a very athletic rugby player-like figure. The confidence you’ll get from wearing clothes that fit that sexy body you’ve worked so hard for is priceless.

To find out how we can create a made to measure or bespoke suit that perfectly fits your shape, make an appointment by emailing us at or phoning 020 3369 8969.

If you’ve been invited to watch the rugby from a corporate box this season read my tips on how to dress stylishly and appropriately for the occasion.