“For young men just starting out, I would want to persuade them to slowly build a wardrobe based on conservative taste and good quality.”
-G. Bruce Boyer, Fashion Journalist, Menswear Specialist
You always remember the first time. Getting a suit, that is. Your first good suit is one of life’s minor rites of passage. It tells the world that you’re ready to transition to the next interesting and profitable phase of your life. It picks you up and makes you feel like a million bucks. The mantra, “Look good, feel good” is simple and rings true.
We’ve pulled together some simple guidelines to keep in mind when making that first (or second) purchase. Keep these in mind and the world will unfold as it should and everything will fall into its proper place. Most importantly, this guide should help you make your purchase as efficiently as possible to make sure that you only have to do it once and that you do it well.
Start with the basics. A lot of menswear guides will tell you to start with charcoal gray or navy blue. Why? Because they work best. These two colors are always appropriate in an office setting, a job interview or in any formal event.
Are you thinking these choices are bland, boring, and colorless? That’s what your shirts, ties and pocket squares are for and these two basic colors allow for an extremely broad range of accessories. These colors will also allow you to dress down by mixing and matching the jackets and pants and even work well with denim and chinos.
Navy blue and charcoal gray suits also allow for greater versatility when it comes to footwear. Both work with black, brown, or burgundy shoes. Sandals? Let’s not go there.
Later, when your wallet allows, you can branch out into bolder colors or patterns to build out your suit collection.
Charcoal Grey and Navy Blue Napoli suits from SuitSupply. These are great starter choices.
The choice in fabrics is pretty straightforward. It's wool, cotton, linen, synthetics, or some combination thereof. The top choice for your basic suit is always wool. However, what makes it a little more complicated is that there are different grades of wool and wool blends, with silk to give it a bit of a sheen or cashmere to make it finer, lighter, and more expensive. Wool comes in different weaves which, for your two basic suits, will likely be either Worsted (characterized by a smooth surface and a plain, matte finish), Flannel (soft to the touch with a soft, fuzzy texture), or Serge (a simple weave for a matte surface with faint, diagonal lines).
Worsted, Flannel, and Serge wool.
It's always a good idea to go with the best wool that’s appropriate for your climate and your wallet. Your suits will last longer, drape better, and look like you’ve made the effort. We’ll be talking more about how to choose the right wool fabric in another article.
One caveat is that there’s a lot of synthetic fabrics out there that look like they could be wool and suits are being made in these fabrics. They’re less expensive and, when new, look pretty good. The problem is that these suits don’t last and they develop shiny patches in the most visible places. You’re also likely to see a variety of issues develop with these suits, from bubbling and fraying to trapping heat and being more likely to fall apart quickly.
Canvas or canvas interlining is the layer of material that sits between the cloth you see on the outside and the lining fabric. Its typically made from a blend of horsehair and cotton or synthetic material. The purpose of the canvas interlining is to give the suit its shape or structure and is an important part of how your suit ‘drapes’ on your body. A well-constructed canvas emphasizes your body’s positives.
How does the canvas sit within a suit? The more expensive suits have a full canvas, that starts from the shoulder down to the front bottom and allows the jacket to mold more accurately to your body shape. A full canvas suit fits better and improves the durability of the jacket. The canvas is sewn to the jacket’s outer and inner layers. Full canvas suits are a more involved process and consequently cost more which is their main downside.
Next is a half canvas that starts at the shoulder down to halfway down the jacket front. A half canvas allows for a well-shaped shoulder structure and for the jacket to taper nicely towards the waist. Half canvas suits require less work and, consequently, are somewhat cheaper than full canvas but they have the benefit of still providing the necessary body and shape. Generally, this results in a lighter weight jacket, which works well in warmer climates.
The third option is a fused or glued interlining, where the interlining fabric is glued to the exterior and interior fabrics. Its main advantage is that its cheaper than the other two options. The downside is that there is less internal personalization or structure to the suit, it doesn’t hang particularly well and could result, over time, in ‘bubbling’ where the glue weakens and patches of the exterior fabric come loose. If you’re looking to keep a suit for only a short period of time because, say, you’re about to get drafted or become a monk, this might be a workable option.
How do you find the perfect fit?
The first and most important test is whether it fits your shoulders properly. If it doesn’t, it’s a deal breaker. Almost everything else in a jacket can be altered without too much trouble, but altering the jacket’s shoulders is always an expensive and hit-or-miss endeavor.
How do you know if the shoulders fit? A well-fitted shoulder lies flat on your shoulder and the top seam ends where your shoulder ends. In other words, the suit shoulder shouldn’t overhang. When properly constructed, the top seam meets the sleeve right where your arm meets your shoulder. Anything else is a fail.
This image from Real Men Real Style shows you exactly what to look for in a shoulder fit.
The second test is, with the jacket buttoned, your flat hands should be able to fit into the suit, under the lapels comfortably.
With the buttoned jacket, look at the front. If it looks like an X shape, the jacket is likely one size too small. (This has become a popular look for certain Instagram influencer types, but that’s not what you’re trying to look like.) On the other hand, if you can hide a baguette inside it, it’s likely too loose.
The X shape means your jacket is pulling at the button.
Next test relates to the sleeves. They should reach your wrist and be just below that. Why? Because it's considered way cool to be able to show a quarter to half an inch of shirt cuff.
Lastly, the length of the jacket should cover your back fully. At the front, that comes to roughly the middle of your hand. One easy way to check if the jacket is the right length for you is to put it on, button it up, and then see if your hands cup around the bottom of the jacket. The jacket should sit at about the base of your fingers or a touch higher. Anything above that point means the jacket is too short while anything at your fingers or below means the jacket is too long.
If you’re mostly in an office, the current style is a single-breasted, notch lapel, two button jacket. That’s the most functional, user-friendly, can’t-go-wrong approach. If you’re likely to wear the suit in mostly formal events, you could consider a peak lapel (say, three inches). But, for your first couple of basic, utility suits, you want to stay away from the less common designs.
Notch and Peak Lapel.
The Notch is more professional, the Peak is more formal.
Price is often a function of the fabric quality and the amount of labor that goes into the construction. High-end suits can easily cost a few thousand but you should be able to score a decent suit for a regular retail price around USD$300 to $600. Of course, the more you’re willing to pay, the more likely you’ll find something that’s better made.
The best prices come from a sale at a quality brand or establishment.
Now, here’s the thing. A suit that fits you well will often look like it’s a lot more expensive than a pricey suit that just doesn’t hang right for you, even if it’s a high-end brand that’s seriously marked down. The guideline is always: fit first, then price.
A couple of good basic suits are the core components for your closet. Shirts and accessories are what you personalize with and make these suits highly versatile. Spend what you can reasonably afford but walk away if the fit isn’t there. It’s more important to look like a million bucks than it is to spend it.
Of course, once you've got your hands on that perfect suit, we've got everything you need to help make that suit look even better without any extra work. As always, if you’ve got any questions, comments, insights, or just want to chat, you can always reach out to me at James@StyleStandard.com or through our social media pages. I’m always around, even if it takes me a few hours to respond.