The first suit I bought was just after college from JC Penney. It was black, baggy, and cheap feeling. Not a good look. But I didn’t know better, nor did the salesman that told me the suit looked great. Shame on him. And shame on me. It wasn’t until I got my next grey suit, and visited a tailor, that I realized how important the fit of a suit is and the variety of options you can wear to make a suit shine.
Ditch the Black Suit
Let’s just get this out of the way early. Unless you’re going to a funeral or a very formal event (think black-tie), keep the black suit in your closet, or don’t buy one. They’re basic, typical, and not very stylish. At. All. If you’re looking to get a new suit, opt for gray or navy blue. You’ll have far more coordinating options when it comes to your shirts, ties, shoes, belt, and pocket squares.
We obsess over fit. And that goes double for suits. There’s a long list of the different aspects of fit on a suit, but we will cover the basics.
The shoulders should be snug but not too tight to allow for flexibility and movement. You shouldn’t be able to see any bunching/wrinkles in the shoulder area. Get this part right. The shoulders are the hardest part for a tailor to fix without rebuilding your suit. Also, if your suit jacket is too large it can cause collar gap, which is a large gap between your jacket collar and your shirt collar. It does not look good, yet is something we see too often. While a tailor can fix a lot, this is a tough one to fix. Keep that in mind when trying on a new suit.
Your jacket sleeves should just be long enough to allow about an inch of your dress shirt cuff to show. If the jacket sleeves fall past your wrist, it’s too long. And it should be pretty obvious if the sleeves are too short.
When you button your jacket (always leaving the bottom button undone), you shouldn’t see any wrinkles, and the lapel should lay flat. If it looks like your button is tugging the button hole, the jacket is too small. On the flip side, if the jacket feels fluffy and there are wrinkles to show it, then the jacket is too big and you need some tailoring.
The pants are a more straight forward fit. You want to aim for form fitting, and not baggy. You want your pants to fall right to the top of your dress shoe. If you see a lot of stacking, then your pants are too long.
Follow this visual guide get a better idea of these basic fit guidelines.
Picking A Quality Suit
Your first and major concern is going to be suit material. You’re going to want a suit that’s made of 100% wool. More advanced suit buyers will have fabric options that include natural fiber blends such as cashmere, silk, etc. However, if you’re looking at those options, you’re probably working with a quality tailor who can assist you. One thing to note – wool isn’t always the best option for suiting up in the summertime. When the temperatures rise, you may want to look into cotton (Seersucker is a popular example) or linen as fabric options.
Avoid polyester. It’s cheap, wrinkles easily, feels terrible, and won’t last you very long. You’re also more prone to sweat in polyester. Check labels and make sure that 100% of the materials are identified. If you see a wool blend without clearly stating the components, it’s made with polyester and will not be a quality suit.
You’re going to want to check how easily the suit wrinkles. One easy trick: Grab a handful of the sleeve for a minute or two, then let it go. A quality fabric should rebound quickly. “Super” numbers are a way that brands like to market the quality of their suits. Nowadays, it’s about as useful as sheet thread counts (that’s to say – not very). For the most part, Super ~100-130 should get you a decent suit. I’ve seen where 150s and higher actually results in a lower quality suit because the wool threads are too fine for wear.
Where to Buy A Suit
In a perfect world, we’d all have personal tailors building us suits at our leisure. And if that’s in your financial wheelhouse ($1500-$2000 for quality), then I definitely recommend that as the way to go! For the rest of us, due to the resurgence of menswear, we have some solid less-expensive options to explore.
I highly recommend getting a made-to-measure suit. I got my first MTM suit last year, and the attention and praise I received on fit and quality has led me to want to never buy off-the-rack again. A starter made to measure suit can be found at well-reviewed companies like Indochino and SuitSupply for $500-$700. SuitSupply even has a few physical locations, if you’d prefer to talk to someone in person.
Made to measure is simple – you take your measurements, pick out your suit and customizations, and in 4-6 weeks you have a brand new suit custom made to your measurements. Two things of note: when you give your measurements, be a little generous (maybe an extra half inch or inch) with your numbers. It’s easier for a tailor to take a suit in versus letting it out. Many of these companies will pay a portion of any needed tailoring. And since you’re likely going to want to get it adjusted after receipt, you’ll want to order a suit well in advance (at least two months) of when you’ll need it.
If you’d prefer to buy your suit off-the-rack, there are many options for you, as well. J. Crew’s Ludlow line of suits are pretty well-regarded, stylishly cut, and reasonably priced. Department stores aren’t bad either – brands like Calvin Klein, Boss, Tommy Hilfiger and many more make nice, modern cut suits at a reasonable price. The plus side being that department stores very often have sales! Just pay attention to fit and quality, as stated above.
Accessorizing Your Suit
By this point, you have all the basics needed to suit up. Now comes the best part, which is accessorizing. Suits in and of themselves look good when the fit is good, but adding in elements like your tie, tie bar, socks, pocket square, or lapel pin is when your whole setup really shines. Especially when you get good at mixing patterns.
They key here is to be tasteful and have all those elements working together. Each of those elements shouldn’t be screaming for attention. It’ll just look like you’re trying too hard. Just start off with coordinating a tie, tie bar, and pocket square. If you choose to sport something in your lapel button hole and a pocket square, one of them needs to be subtle. For example, wear a funky pocket square and a simple nylon knot cufflink in the lapel (pictured).
If you opt for wearing a watch, just make sure it’s a clean and simple watch face. With your suit and accessories all working together, you don’t want the the watch to be screaming for attention with a funky face or crazy band. Clean and crisp never goes out of style.
While shoes aren’t exactly an accessory, they’re an extremely important part of the whole outfit. Aside from monk strap shoes, I’d recommend wear lace-ups or fancy chelsea boots with your suit. And even though I love my loafers, they don’t look nearly as good with a suit as a good pair of lace-ups.