Further goes quite a detailed description of a character appearing in Peter May's The Man with no Face, where the italicized sentence is not quite clear to me.

The door opened and a lean man in a baggy brown suit stepped briskly into the office carrying a slim, beige folder. The crown of his head was bald and shiny, but dark, wiry hair grew in bushy abundance round it, and he wore round-rimmed tortoiseshell spectacles over a long, thin nose with flaring nostrils. He would be in his fifties, Bannerman guessed, with a grey, deeply creased face from which peered two small, very dark eyes behind the spectacles. His suit was well worn and fitted only where it touched. His waistcoat was open, a thin brown tie hanging from an open-necked white shirt. He carried about him an air of age and defeat, like a schoolmaster nearing the end of his career, reeking of chalk dust and blackboards and thankless years.

The question is, what small detail might it add to the man's outfit having the signs of extensive use/wear? How could the phrase "and fitted only where it touched" be paraphrased?

2 Answers 2


At the start of the text, we learn that the suit was 'baggy'. That means '(of clothing) loose and hanging in folds'. The suit is too big for the wearer. This is further emphasised when the idiom 'fitted only where it touched' is used. This is used when clothing does not fit the wearer closely, and the implication could be that the suit previously belonged to a bigger man, or that the wearer has lost a lot of weight. The overall picture is of a shabbily dressed man, or someone so poor that he has to wear a second-hand suit made to fit someone else.

  • 'Fitted only where it touched': Is this "only" that makes it mean that? I'm asking having read this
    – Victor B.
    Jul 1, 2021 at 9:32
  • 1
    @VictorB. - your link is to a 2006 comment in a question-and-answer forum "The Phrase Finder". It is someone's incorrect comment. A man's suit is meant to fit properly at the shoulders, chest, waist, etc. To say it fits 'where it touches', or fits 'only where it touches', is to say ironically that it fits badly. Jul 1, 2021 at 9:56

I would understand "and fitted only where it touched" to be, that the suit is now too small for the wearer, meaning they have put on weight.

  • 2
    Quite the reverse! To say that a garment 'fits where it touches' is a jokey way of saying that it is much too big or very shapeless. Instead of being tailored to follow the outline of the body, it hangs from the shoulders, may be pulled in at the waist or cuffs, but otherwise hangs loose. Jul 1, 2021 at 13:34
  • @Kate Bunting: "To say that a garment 'fits where it touches' is a jokey way of saying that it is much too big or very shapeless". Then, what about this: "She was tall, blonde, tanned and was wearing a royal blue suit that fit where it touched, and boy, did it touch all the right places!" - The Barcza Gambit by Roger Cave · 2007 (p. 151)?
    – Victor B.
    Jul 3, 2021 at 14:27
  • Searching online, there does seem to be some confusion as to whether the expression means 'too loose' or 'too tight'. Maybe it's a UK/US or generational thing? I'm certainly familiar only with its use to mean that the garment is loose and shapeless. Jul 3, 2021 at 15:11
  • Maybe it is a locational or cultural thing, definitely refers to ill-fitting clothes. Jul 5, 2021 at 9:53

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