Suit Jacket Tailoring & Alterations Definitive Guide [Including Estimated Difficulty & Prices]

Suit Jacket Tailoring & Alterations Definitive Guide [Including Estimated Difficulty & Prices] 2016-12-04T17:06:19+00:00

Tweed jacket with floral pocket squareYou’re going to need to have your jackets altered, hopefully by a tailor you can trust.

Jackets are complicated animals, but there are various alterations that can be done to make them look the way that they should.

In this regard, it’s important to know not just what can be done, but what should be done, and ultimately, what can’t / shouldn’t be done.

Below we’ve compiled a detailed list of: easy, tough and last resort alterations. Further down the page we comment on each alteration in fine detail with estimated prices.

What Can Be Tailored On A Suit Jacket
Suit Jacket Tailoring Guide

See the easy, tough and impossible tailoring alterations to make your suit look and feel like a million bucks! #Suit #Tailoring #MensFashionClick To Tweet

What follows is a comprehensive list of common jacket alterations and their average prices in the Philadelphia market, organized by the ease of the completion.

Easy-Suit-Alterations-Graphic

Easy Tailoring Fixes

These are fixes that you should consider par for the course. When buying off the rack you should expect to need the odd alteration here and there to make your body type.

1 – Lower / Raise Collar (a.k.a. Square Back)

Sometimes a suit jacket will get a little fold in the fabric right below the collar in the back and/or won’t show enough shirt collar. This is referred to as a roll in the collar, and it must be lowered. This is not so much because it’s unsightly –though it is– but rather because it can decrease the lifespan of your jacket. Because you won’t be able to see this without a three-way mirror, make sure you ask your tailor if there’s a roll in your collar.

If your jacket is showing too much shirt collar and / or standing away from it (this means that the jacket collar isn’t making contact with the shirt collar when being worn normally), it must be raised.

Estimated Cost: $20-30

2 – Take In / Let Out Side Seams

Most jackets will need this done. If you’re slim, taking in the side seams will be necessary to give you the hourglass shape that a good jacket should have. If you’re a little bigger, letting them out will be necessary to give your lungs room to fill up with air. Many tailors, even the good ones, will be conservative with this alteration, so if they’re pinning you up and you’d prefer more tapering, let him or her know.

Estimated Cost: $30-40

3 – Take In / Let Out Center Seam

An American cut suit will generally have a seam that runs down the center of your jacket. If that area of the jacket is too loose or too tight, it can be taken in or let out relatively easily.

For a British cut suit (one with side vents) there shall be two seams at the sides of the back.

Estimated Cost: $15-20

4 – Move Buttons

This is a neat, inexpensive tailoring trick if you only need a tiny bit of shape in the jacket waist. The tailor will remove the buttons and move them over slightly so that the jacket fits more snugly.

Estimated Cost: $10

5 – Shorten / Lengthen Sleeves From Hem

Ready to wear (RTW) coats are generally made with a longer sleeve to accommodate most long-armed customers. If the sleeves need to be shortened (as is always the case with this T-Rex-armed author), they can typically be done so quite easily.

Lengthening them is also easy, as any RTW jacket worth buying will have extra material built into the sleeve’s hem.

Some jackets, however, will have surgeon’s cuffs (functional sleeve buttons), which can mess up the works a bit. Please see the next section for a fuller explanation.

Estimated Cost: $30

6 – Close Vent(s)

If you’re in love with a particular jacket but for some reason want it to be vent-less (sometimes referred to as an Italian style jacket), your tailor can close your vent (or vents) for you.

This is generally an aesthetic decision that has little to do with fit. Because vents are created from overlapping material, a ventless jacket cannot be given vents. Attempting to do so will result in an unsightly upside-down “V” around your rear end.

While this is an easy alteration, it can be time-consuming and is often not worth the money.

Estimated Cost: $35-40

Tough-Suit-Jacket-Tailoring-Alterations-Graphic

Tougher But Feasible Alterations

These kinds of alterations are not considered optimal if a different jacket is available for purchase.  If however, you’re in a time jam or just in love with the particular style / fabric then these are not total deal breakers.

1 – Shorten Sleeves From Shoulder / Lengthen With Buttonhole

Note on surgeon’s cuffs: Most RTW jackets do not have surgeon’s cuffs and as such can be shortened or lengthened with ease by a competent tailor. With that said, there are more and more brands that are offering surgeon’s cuffs on RTW jackets, which can mess up the works a bit. The alterations can go one of a couple of ways:

Shorten Sleeves

A tailor will generally give the option to shorten from the hem and lose the buttonhole functionality (an easier, less expensive option) or to maintain that functionality and shorten from the shoulder (a more time-consuming and therefore more expensive option). If having surgeon’s cuffs is important to you then go with the latter option, but only if you know your tailor to be quite competent. Shortening sleeves in this way will also affect how the armscye feels on your underarm, so keep that in mind as well.

Lengthen Sleeves

The only option for lengthening the sleeves is to do so from the hem. You’ll generally only have about a half an inch or so of wiggle room before the distance between the hem and the last button starts to look odd, so even if there’s enough extra material, it might not be an option unless the tailor has a buttonhole machine and can make an extra buttonhole to take up the space.

Estimated Cost: $50-90 per sleeve

2 – Shorten Collar

A common way to address a collar that stands away from the shirt you’re wearing. This is major surgery so this should only occur if you can’t find anything else that’s better right off of the hanger.

Estimated Cost: $70-80

3 – Pad Shoulders

Chances are you have one shoulder that rests higher than the other.

This is totally normal, but it can result in jacket shoulders that are uneven. A fix for this is to add a shoulder pad to the lower shoulder, thus bringing it “in line” with the other shoulder. Not tough for a good tailor to do, but if you ask Joe Shmoe Dry Cleaner to do it, you might not be happy with the outcome.

Estimated Cost: $30-50

4 – Reduce Chest

Like taking in side seams, but on the front of the jacket. Not a terrible job to do, but it involves opening up the chest and potentially messing around with the canvas therein, so this is not one you should give to a tailor who hasn’t yet earned your trust.

Estimated Cost: $90

Difficult-Suit-Jacket-Tailoring-Alterations-Graphic

Difficult, Impossible & Last Resort

These are the types of fixes that come in three main categories:

  1. You should have not purchased the garment in the first place!
  2. Straight up impossible, so go custom or keep looking….
  3. It’s a sentimental item, such as an inherited piece from your grandfather. In which case price / convenience is not at the top of your priority list.

Many men that are not your “average” height and build shall run into these required alterations and the ones aforementioned in the “tough” section above. If this is the case it may be worth exploring custom made options.

The upfront cost shall be higher, but you’ll have no back end alteration costs and an overall better level of service and fit. Furthermore, once you go custom you have the flexibility to choose all the elements of your garment, making it a truly one-of-a-kind cation for you.

Not all of us are created equal, or for that matter 'average'. Even the best tailors can't make something out of nothing. Custom made suits may be your only option to look your best...Click To Tweet

1 – Reduce Shoulder Points

If the shoulders of your jacket are wider than your own, the shoulder points will have to be reduced so you don’t look like you’re a linebacker in full protective gear. This is major surgery and is not recommended unless you have exhausted all other avenues for getting a better-fitting suit.

Estimated Cost: $90-100

2 – Rotate Sleeves

Jacket sleeves have a thing called “pitch” which refers to where the sleeve rests in relation to the front panels of the jacket.

This often differs from the “pitch” of our arms, but when the difference is great, you will see drastic rippling on the sleeves and possibly chest too.

This means that the sleeves need to be rotated to accommodate your arms and smooth everything out. The tailor will have to take the sleeves off, re-position them, and then reattach them. Again, this is a difficult job you should only have done as a last resort.

Estimated Cost: $90-100

Jacket lapels3 – Alter Lapels

Sometimes you just want to have a different look. We get that, but sometimes you can’t make something from nothing. There are three main lapel styles: peak, notch and shawl.

We would only ever say that a peak can be made into a notch lapel, but again it’s not something you would want to do unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Further, we hear from some of our readers about the desire to make their lapels “skinnier”. We’re glad to report that this happens less now as the pencil width lapel is falling out of favor. Again it’s “possible” however not advisable, as can alter the jacket beyond repair and ultimately look funky.

Estimated Cost: $100 / Impossible

4 – Change / Remove Pockets

We’re all for the ticket pocket, so adding one is okay, especially if it’s a besom pocket (a slit style). But is $100 worth the added style?

If, however, you’re looking for removal of a patch pocket, it would leave the jacket “naked”, and not break up its front.

Lastly, some guys don’t like flap pockets so ask to get them removed to become besom pockets. We say just tuck them in, and move on / buy the “right” jacket in the first place.

Estimated Cost: $100 / Impossible

5 – Shorten Jacket

When the jacket itself is too long and there are no other options, you can shorten it. We don’t recommend this, however, as it will often make the pockets look too close to the bottom of the jacket’s panels and thus throw the proportions off.

Estimated Cost: $90-100

Final Jacket Tailoring Reminder

You will most likely never be able to buy a non-custom jacket off the rack without having some alteration work done to it. The trick is to make a smart purchase in the first place so as to minimize the work that needs to be done, thus managing your spend and decreasing the amount of time between purchase and first wear. God speed.

Other Tailoring Guides In The Series

Or visit our main suit homepage for many more pages and free resources.

Ultimate Guide To Men's Suit Jacket Tailoring #Suit #Menswear #MensFashion #MensStyle #Guide

31 Comments

  1. Pat September 16, 2016 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    I would like my existing suits to have surgeon cuffs added to them. Can this be done? If yes what is the cost?

    • Paul Anthony September 20, 2016 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Dear Pat,

      Yes this can be done. Most modern sewing machines have preset button hole patterns.

      The steps would be:
      1) Remove the buttons
      — May need to cut / un-stitch sleeve, this will add to cost
      2) Use that button as a size guide for the new button hole outline (or can change buttons)
      3) Decide on placement and number
      4) Let sewing machine sew button hole pattern
      5) Cut fabric
      6) Sew buttons back on

      and there you have it…

      As for cost, I’ve not done this but to sew a button on is usually around one to two dollars. For example to do eight buttons total, I would say $30 – 60 would be a fair price.

      If you or someone you know has a sewing machine, might be worth giving it a try yourself…I would estimate it would take about 60-90 mins depending on your level of proficiency.

      Hope that helps.

      – Paul

  2. MabelLucy February 2, 2017 at 3:48 am - Reply

    If take in the jacket do I have to take in the lining also?

    • Paul Anthony February 3, 2017 at 11:52 am - Reply

      Hello!

      Depending on how much you take it in. If only an inch or so I’d say no, but if more you may also want the lining tightened up too.

      Thanks,

      – Paul

  3. John February 17, 2017 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    This is very helpful!

    Question – can the size of sleeves be trimmed? I have a jacket or two that fit well in the torso but are a bit baggy in the sleeves, particularly the forearm because of small wrists.

    Thanks!

    • Michael Oxman February 20, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Thanks for the question, John.

      A sleeve can be tapered in the same way a trouser leg can. There’s a seam that runs down the center of the back of the sleeve that your tailor can work off of. I suggest wearing your best-fitting shirt with you to the tailor when you bring the jackets in to ensure the most accurate sleeve fit.

      Hopefully this is helpful!

      Best,
      Mike

  4. Justin Wilson February 27, 2017 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    Great, informative guide! Question – what do you think about letting out a half-canvassed jacket about 1″ – 1.5″ in the chest only?
    Thanks for the advice.

    • Michael Oxman February 28, 2017 at 10:16 am - Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Justin. Glad you like the guide!

      As it happens, there is no extra material to let out in a jacket’s chest to let out. The best you’d be able to do is let out the center seam in the back, though it’s difficult to say whether or not that would solve your issue. You may have to look at another jacket altogether.

  5. jim March 23, 2017 at 2:38 am - Reply

    hi do I have to ulter the side vents when I ulter the jacket smaller thank you

    • Michael Oxman March 23, 2017 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for the comment. If by “making the jacket smaller” you mean taking in the sides, then no alterations should be necessary for side vents.

  6. Krys June 20, 2017 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    My fiances jacket came in and the shawl lapel was suppose to be black, but instead is navy blue. They offered to fully refund us, however we love the jacket. So we want to see how difficult it would be to change the lapel from navy blue to black?

    • Michael Oxman June 21, 2017 at 8:07 am - Reply

      Hi Krys,

      Thanks for the comment. That’s unfortunate about your fiancée’s jacket. The short answer to your question is that it’s probably too expensive and time-consuming to perform such an alteration, assuming it’s even possible. Here’s the long answer.

      As it’s got a shawl collar, I assume that it’s a tuxedo jacket and as such has a silk or grosgrain “facing” on the lapel. If you know a HIGHLY competent tailor, I would suggest talking to him/her as it’s possible that the facing can be switched out. The catch is that you will likely have to source the fabric yourself (costing you money), and due to the time-intensiveness and precision of the work, a tailor would likely charge a premium. Advanced work on a collar/lapel often runs into the triple-digit price range.

      Again, this is based on the assumption that the alteration is even possible.

      I also assume that this is the jacket he intends to wear to your wedding. My suggestion is that if you have enough time before the big day, take the refund or at least exchange the jacket for one with the correct lapel.

      Hope this was helpful, and please keep us posted!

  7. Donna Clarke June 29, 2017 at 1:14 am - Reply

    My husband has one shoulder lower than the other, which was not a real issue until recently, as it has become more pronounced and is affecting the fit of his suit jackets quite visibly. On my last fabric/notions visit to New York, I picked up several pairs of excellent shoulder pads along with extras for the right shoulder. I’m a proficient seamstress and can put them in with no problem, but an acquaintance who does more tailoring than I has said that I’ll have to re-position the right sleeve and drop the hem on it to accommodate for the uptake. When I pinned in the additional padding, I didn’t see where this would be necessary at all – the drooping shoulder was causing the jackets to look lopsided, and the uptake from the extra pad sure looks to have fixed the problem. In the 2 jackets I made for him, I put in extra padding on the right shoulder during construction, and they are the only 2 that hang properly,so I don’t see where the re-position and hem dropping is necessary. Should I just go with my instincts and eyes and insert the new pads and build-ups? We’re talking 9 jackets here – I don’t mind doing the pads, but don’t want to waste time if all this extra work is required. Thanks!

    • Michael Oxman June 29, 2017 at 1:30 pm - Reply

      Hi Donna,

      Thanks for reaching out to us! We appreciate the vote of confidence.

      Short answer: if it looks good to your trained eye, it’s fine. Trust your gut. With that said, your tailor friend may have a point.

      A shoulder pad will take care of the uneven slope issue, but the side being padded will obviously be “raised,” thus “shortening” the sleeve in relation to the shirt cuff. As such, lengthening the (in this case) right sleeve might be necessary. If this is so, then you would want to lengthen the sleeve by the same amount as the thickness of the pad. If it’s a half-inch pad, for example, you’d want to lengthen the sleeve a half an inch. This is assuming that the sleeve is the proper length in the first place, which is why I say your friend “may” have a point.

      The suggestion about re-positioning the sleeve isn’t something I’ve ever seen as related to added shoulder padding, unless you did so in such a way that altered the sleeve pitch negatively. If this happens, I’d avoid it as removing and re-attaching sleeves is quite a work load.

      My only other suggestion is to make sure the pad is pressed before inserting it into the coat. This is to avoid an unintentional sleeve lengthening after the first time the jacket is pressed.

      I hope this was helpful, and please keep us posted as to how things turn out!

      All the best,
      Mike

  8. Kathy July 25, 2017 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Hi!

    Can a men’s suit jacket sleeves be hemmed above the split ? The sleeves need to be hemmed 4 1/2 inches.

    • Michael Oxman July 26, 2017 at 7:41 am - Reply

      Hi Kathy,

      Thanks for reading. When you say “above the split,” I assume you mean above the sleeve buttons where the “split” in the sleeve ends and both panels are joined by a seam.

      If that’s the case, the short answer is, “theoretically yes, though it’s uncommon.”

      If the sleeve buttons are not functional this alteration can be done, though again it’s uncommon to take off so much material. If the sleeve buttons are functional, you would lose that functionality in shortening it, as shortening from the shoulder would be impossible due to the amount of material to take out.

      Does the jacket fit well in other key areas, or is this the only alteration needed?

      Thanks again for reading!

      -Mike

  9. Kathy July 26, 2017 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Hi Mike

    Yes. That was exactly what I meant 😁 The jacket doesn’t need any other alterations he is a large guy. I believe I will need to taper the sleeve somewhat so that It will match when I turn it up as well as interface it so the sleeve will hold it’s shape. It doesn’t look like I will have enough material to put another split in it to make the vent. 😑

    Kathy

  10. Kathy July 26, 2017 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Mike

    Sorry I forgot. The sleeve buttons are not functional. So it’s not an issue. I know that I haven’t encountered shortening the sleeves so much before. I thought about shortening it from the shoulder but he has large arms in girth just not length.

  11. Michael Oxman July 26, 2017 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    Hi Kathy,

    If the sleeve buttons are non-functional, that puts you in a much better position. If he’s a big guys, shortening from the shoulder might not be a good idea even if it were feasible, as he likely needs all the space around the armhole he can get.

    I’ve only ever heard of using interfacing when sleeves had to be lengthened more than the extra material would typically allow, so I can’t speak to that. It absolutely makes sense that you would have to taper the sleeve, as the opening would be too large otherwise. Creating a new vent in the sleeve may be a foregone conclusion, but it’s much more important to have the length be correct, as you clealry seem to know.

    I hope this was helpful!

  12. Donna Clarke October 16, 2017 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    Hi, Mike: just wanted to let you know that the extra padding in the right shoulder of all of my hubby’s jackets worked beautifully! I took your advice and pressed them all first, which has certainly helped. Only 3 of the jackets needed the sleeve hem dropped, which was no problem at all. Thanks so much for your advice, it’s greatly appreciated!

    • Michael Oxman October 17, 2017 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Thanks for keeping us posted, Donna! Glad we could be helpful.

      Best,
      Mike

  13. Claudette Robertson October 20, 2017 at 9:37 am - Reply

    A friend of my husband’s has asked me to make him a size 70 sport coat. I’ve searched for a pattern in that size. No luck! Is there a way to enlarge a smaller pattern to make a size 70? Any help would be greatly appreciated!
    Thank you,
    Claudette

    • Michael Oxman October 23, 2017 at 8:04 am - Reply

      Hi Claudette,

      We will reach out soon via email. Many thanks for reading!

      Best,
      Mike

  14. Meresith December 6, 2017 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Hi, Paul. My husband’s suit jacket is too wide at the shoulders. I do alterations myself but have never tackled a suit jacket. Is there any way this problem can be fixed by taking in the center seam in the back?

    • Michael Oxman December 7, 2017 at 8:59 am - Reply

      Hi Meredith,

      To the best of my knowledge, taking in a center seam will not do much, if anything, to correct jacket shoulders that are too wide. If this is in fact that case, the alteration required would be reducing the shoulder points. As this alteration is what we consider “major surgery,” please be careful as/if you go ahead and do it!

      Thanks,
      Mike

  15. Noel December 12, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    Dear Mike,

    Good day!

    I just bought my 1st (& probably only) suit; it is an off the rack piece, size 46, side vented, super slim fit (as the label says. im a 42, but the cut of my suit on the 42 was too restrictive.). i just love the texture, as it is black with miniature grey dots, which makes it look like a medium-dark grey as a whole. Now, off to my queries…

    1. I have some very slight wrinkling on my right shoulder. I tried on a larger suit on purpose, and this was also the case, so I assume the jacket isn’t too tight. So, how thick of a pad should I put it without pulling the entire right arm up? or might you have any other suggestions?

    2. I need to take in about half an inch both sides at the waist, and about an inch on the sleeves. How do I deal with the waist, & do I have work done on the sleeve hem? (side note: not surgeon cuffs).

    3. The jacket front has an open drop(?), an inverted V-shaped opening below the 2nd button till the rounded flaps (?) on the jacket bottom. The left flap seems to be about half an inch longer (so, it is lower) than the right flap. Can this be fixed, or should I just leave it out? My jacket ends where my bum meets the thigh, so I am considering shortening it to raise it about 1.5 inches.

    Thanks for reading this one out!

    • Michael Oxman December 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm - Reply

      Hello Noel,

      Thank you very much for reading and reaching out! Congratulations on buying your getup too; little makes us happier than a new suit. Based on the information you’ve given me, I would get a recommendation for a competent tailor who is local to you (ask a well-dressed friend, consult Yelp reviews, etc.). Visit with him/her and discuss these issues, and let the tailor help you decide whether it makes sense to do these alterations.

      My best answers to your questions are below:

      1. Without seeing a picture, this is difficult to diagnose. Is the wrinkling is along your trapezoid muscle or at the top of the sleeve? Typically, shoulder pads are used to correct uneven shoulders (which nearly everyone has), so I can’t say with certainty that this alteration would be the solution here.

      2. Any competent tailor should be able to take in a jacket waist and shorten its sleeves, especially if those sleeves don’t have functional buttons. You absolutely should shorten the sleeves if they’re too long; this is an easy alteration and will improve your appearance markedly.

      3. The inverted V-shape you’re describing isn’t necessarily an issue; some jackets have it, others don’t. If the left front panel hangs visibly lower than the right, that would indicate to me that the suit is not in line with your posture. My first course of action would be to try a shoulder pad in the left shoulder with the hopes of raising the left panel of the jacket enough to appear even with the right. I would not shorten the jacket if at all possible, as this alteration is difficult, expensive, and irreversible. Given that it hits right where your rear end meets the thigh, I’d say it’s an appropriate length.

      I’m sure this response has generated more questions but I do hope it’s helpful. Please reach out again if we can be of further assistance.

      All the best,
      Mike

  16. Noel December 12, 2017 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    Dear Mike,

    Thanks for the quick response!

    To clarify a few points:

    1. The slight wrinkling is somewhere middle of the shoulder line from my neck to the my right arm.

    2. Ok I’l forego the jacket shortening. I’ll look at the sleeves, though.

    3. If I pad the left shoulder, I’ll be defeating the purpose of my 1st question for my right shoulder. Since it is off the rack, is it worth it to re-shape the left flap?

    Many thanks!

    • Michael Oxman December 20, 2017 at 9:42 am - Reply

      Hi Noel,

      Not a problem! Thanks for sending along some clarifications.

      Now that you’ve given me a better idea as to the wrinkling on the right shoulder, I advise not attempting any alterations to it. Any attempts to correct that would likely be considered “major surgery” by a tailor and thus be rather expensive and probably not worth the investment on an off-the-rack suit. As you initially described the wrinkling as “very slight,” I’d say leave it be.

      With regard to the lower-hanging left panel, I wouldn’t have it re-shaped, but would try the shoulder pad option first. This will also raise your sleeve a bit, meaning that it won’t have to be shortened as much.

      All in all, I suggest that you seek out a reputable local tailor and discuss this work in-depth. It’s difficult to say without seeing the suit on you, but it sounds like there’s potential for major alterations here, and I don’t want to suggest undertaking those until you speak to the person who would actually be doing the work. I’m also disinclined to advise you to do the bare minimum alterations without seeing the suit on you.

      It may make sense to do these alterations, and it may make sense to return the suit or exchange it for something that syncs better with your build and posture. Please keep us posted as to the results of your tailor visit!

      Best,
      Mike

  17. MarK January 14, 2018 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Hi,.

    I had multiple suits made for me while visiting in Europe. I chose center vent because I always felt that they cover my hips better. Recently, I purchased a suit with double vents for the first time in long years. I was always opposed to double vents because they always tend to open up on the sides. However, this particular suit did not because there was some kind of curvature in the bottom fabric of the vent so the flap always covered it well. Anyways, this made me think about the possibility of altering my bespoke center vent suits to double vents.

    Can you please advise

    Thanks

    • Trevor Guilday January 15, 2018 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      Hi Mark,

      Great question!

      While it is technically possible add vents to a suit jacket it is not recommended. For starters, it would be a very difficult alteration which could result in ruining a great suit and it would likely be too expensive to justify the cost.

      It is possible to close the vent or vents on a jacket to make it “ventless,” but adding a vent is not advisable.

      Cheers,

      Trevor

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