Selecting and purchasing a suit (or several) can be overwhelming, certainly, thanks to the proliferation of suit options on the market. But whether you’re shopping high street or high-end suits, there are several key details and considerations to bear in mind when, initially, making your choice, and, subsequently, wearing it to best effect.
Whether you're a style-conscious professional who needs to look sharp for the competition, or a creative type who dresses up because he likes to, the suit is the basic building block of looking good. It's a timeless, ever-adaptable, sometimes maligned, but never improved uniform. So whatever your style, your profession or your budget, yes, you really ought to be the proud owner of at least one good suit.
The term ‘cheap suit’ was once used with contempt, but not any more. Where inexpensive used to mean ill-fitting designs and shiny fabrics, now there are plenty of affordable brands delivering handsome examples that come in below the magic €500 mark.
As with most things, though, you tend to get what you pay for. While a wallet-friendly suit won’t cause much damage to your bank balance and will be perfectly adequate for purpose, it’s unlikely to reward you with the longevity of a more expensive suit.
In addition to the label, the fabric is the other main factor that decides a suit’s quality and, consequently, cost. Good fabric will not only feel better, but will also hold its shape for longer, and look better for its lifespan. As you might imagine, it’s a more expensive product than its inferior quality counterparts.
As a simple rule of thumb, if your suit is going to be getting a good deal of wear, it’s worth spending as much as you can afford. It’s unlikely to come cheap, admittedly, but a great suit is always worth the investment.
While the dandy could reel off a checklist as long as his arm, there are a few things that every suit-shopping man should look out for. Price is obviously the primary consideration, but beyond that, it’s important to pick a suit that is suitable for purpose.
Will the fabric be sufficiently hard-wearing? Is the fit correct, or will it require some alterations? Is the colour complementary to my skin tone? Is the suit style one that will look just as good in a couple of years, or is so ‘on-trend’ that it will date within a few seasons?
When shortlisting suitable suit options, bear these in mind to ensure you leave with a suit that really does suit Sir.
For the man who places importance on his appearance, made-to-measure is a brilliant, and surprisingly affordable, way of taking it to the next level. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable process that lets the buyer customise the finish and details on a suit that fits perfectly.
Made-to-measure differs from bespoke in that your suit is not made entirely from scratch, or entirely by hand. Instead of the lengthy and pricey process of having your own exclusive ‘pattern’ made and attending a series of fittings, made-to-measure works on the principle that you find the perfect fit then choose the fabric, lining and details to create a truly personal suit.
Typically there will be a few different suit blocks to try on, and the best suited to your physique will then be pinned to ensure an exceptional fit. You then choose fabrics, linings and details, as with bespoke, so you still get a unique result. But instead of making an almighty dent in the wallet, and taking a small eternity to create, a made-to-measure suit is typically not significantly more expensive than a good quality off-the-peg model.
Still not convinced? Check out the full piece on why every man needs a made to measure suit.
Quite simply, a two-piece suit comprises two pieces (jacket and trousers), a three-piece suit also includes a waistcoat. And that’s all there is to it.
By the letter of the law, every item in a three-piece suit (jacket, trousers and waistcoat) will be cut from the same cloth, so the waistcoat blends into the rest of the outfit. And while it’s possible to wear a contrasting waistcoat with a two-piece suit, this does not classify as a three-piece suit.
It’s an acquired taste, certainly, but the real beauty of the three-piece suit lies in its versatility. When you separate the waistcoat from its sartorial partners, the jacket and trousers become a conventional work suit and the waistcoat something new that can be incorporated into the season’s newest casual ensembles.
If you do decide to go with a waistcoat, the fit, like most things in menswear, is essential – much like your jacket, make sure the armholes fit snugly around the shoulders but aren’t too tight so that the material is strained.
Quite simply, the double-breasted suit style is characterised by an extra overlapping of fabric in the suit jacket’s front panel that is accompanied by an additional row of button fastenings on each side. The jacket on a single-breasted suit, meanwhile, has its buttons directly set in the middle of the jacket.
While double-breasted suits are far less popular, they can make a real style statement and tick all the boxes when a hint of swagger is required – a double-breasted suit in dark grey or midnight blue will mark you out from the competition, revealing a touch of panache without going full dandy. And for those carrying a few extra pounds, they can help to create a more flattering silhouette, broadening the shoulders while keeping the waist in proper proportion.
Single-breasted suits, meanwhile, are a ‘safer’ option and are easier to style. Visually, they elongate the torso, making the wearer appear instantly taller and slimmer; and, unlike their double-breasted counterpart, can be worn unbuttoned. They also have the advantage of being more readily available in colours, styles and price points to cater to almost every taste.
What suit style you opt for is a matter of personal taste - just be sure that the fit is correct and that the quality won’t let you down.
The number of buttons on a single-breast jacket typically varies between one and three.
Far less prevalent than during its 90s heyday, the three-button suit is a niche choice today and not often seen in contemporary suiting. Its high button stance results in a high ‘V’ on the chest, so it does not create the elongating visual effect that comes with a one- or two-button suit.
The two-button suit is the most popular style and commonly found on the majority of men’s suits. Its design creates a deeper ‘V’, making it a flattering choice since it works to visually elongate the torso.
The one-button suit, meanwhile, is arguably the most fashion-forward choice, creating a sleek, sharp look that works particularly well on many of the latest dress suits. It’s not a style that suits everyone, though, and the very low ‘V’ can be off-putting to some.
When it comes to the fastening of buttons on a single-breasted suit (or, indeed, blazer), there’s a simple rule of thumb: a suit should always remain buttoned until one sits, when it usually becomes necessary to unfasten the jacket. Once one stands again, the jacket should be refastened.
There are other rules to observe, though, and these vary according to the number of buttons on the suit jacket.
When wearing a one-button suit, the solitary button should always be buttoned when standing and unfastened when one sits down.
If you’re wearing a two-button suit, the top button should remain buttoned, while the bottom button is always left undone.
When it comes to suits with three buttons, there are a few options. You can either fasten the top two buttons and leave the bottom unfastened, or simply fasten the centre button. The choice is yours.
In short, yes. But tradition dictates that the bottom button should always be left undone. Unless, of course, you’re Prince Charles, who routinely wears all his buttons fastened.
While most (but not all) off-the-peg suits will have non-functioning buttons (and fake button holes) on the cuff, high-end suits will invariably have a working cuff, where the suit sleeve buttons are functional and can be opened and fastened accordingly.
Why? When it comes to a well-made suit, it’s all about the details. And working cuffs are arguably the most well-known feature of a high-end (or made-to-measure or bespoke) suit.
Gentlemen who own a suit with a working cuff tend to leave the last sleeve button unbuttoned, showing those in the know, albeit discreetly, that they are the proud owner of a top-quality suit.
Commonly seen on the sleeves of Italian suits, kissing buttons (also known as stacked or waterfall buttons) are buttons that touch slightly, rather than being spaced apart. The appeal of this stacked, ‘imperfect’ configuration is that it provides an indication that one’s suit is handmade, rather than a cheaper machine-made model.
If you’re choosing a made-to-measure suit, it’s a detail that you can, should you wish, incorporate on the jacket. And that’s part of the appeal of made-to-measure – it allows you, within reason, to customise your suit to your individual taste.
Lapels, which are the folded flaps of cloth on the front of a suit jacket (or coat), commonly come in two distinct types: notch and peak.
The notched lapel is almost ubiquitous in suiting and, thanks to its versatility, is the one you’re most likely to see. In technical terms, this type of lapel is categorised by a ‘notch’ where the suit jacket collar meets the lapel at an angle between 75 and 90 degrees.
Visually, the notched lapel is the discreet option and is seen as particularly appropriate for most business attire and formal occasions such as weddings. It also works well on single-breasted two- and three-button suits, and is a flattering choice for just about every body shape and size. Just remember that lapels should always be a reflection of the suit jacket’s proportions.
The more dramatic peaked lapel is characterised by the lapel edges pointing up and towards the shoulder. Traditionally, this style of lapel was seen on formal clothing, such as morning coats, and in double-breasted tailoring; but it’s been gaining momentum in contemporary suiting and, as the more flashy choice of lapel, can make a strong style statement.
Incidentally, there is, in fact, also a third style of lapel, the ultra-formal shawl. As its name suggests, it is a strip of fabric with a shawl-like shape that runs from lapel to collar to lapel. It has no notch, no peak and only tapers off when it finally hits the button closure.
One of the most significant shifts in men’s suiting is in tailoring. Although the increasingly streamlined silhouette of the past few seasons continues to pick its skinny path down the catwalks, there is a major move towards a softer, more forgiving shape in suits.
For tall men with a slim or toned build, a fitted silhouette (or slim-fit) is a flattering, ultra-contemporary choice. It presents a highly tailored fit and, thanks to minimal padding and the use of high armholes, enhances the wearer’s posture.
Less slim in its aesthetic is the structured silhouette suit jacket, which works on a wider variety of body shapes. Taking inspiration from military uniform, this style incorporates padded shoulders and a trim waist.
A more relaxed fit is an appropriate choice for the larger man. Unlike its more contoured counterparts, this suit jacket style hangs more loosely on the body.
The length of suit trousers are defined is what’s called the ‘break’. This is how much of the trouser leg is folded or creased above where the bottom of the fabric meets your shoe. There are four different types of break - full break, half-break, quarter-break and no break at all – and what one you go for is a matter of personal taste.
No break is when the trouser hem just touches the top of the shoe. It’s a style that works best with a tapered trouser leg and well-defined tailoring, but it does mean that your sock game has to be on point since they’ll be highly visible once seated.
The more stylish quarter-break is a contemporary look where you have between a half-inch and one inch of fabric slightly creased around the ankle.
The half-break represents a more conservative option and sees between one and two inches of fabric creased above the shoe. It’s a look that works brilliantly with cuffed trousers (with a turn-up) and looks very smart when the suit trousers are not tapered.
A full break is when suit trousers are worn deliberately too long, thereby creating a minimum of two inches of excess fabric around the ankles.
Whether you choose to wear a belt (or not) is really a matter of personal preference.
Practically speaking, a belt serves a genuine purpose - if your suit trousers are slightly loose, a belt helps to keep them securely in place. However, for some, the addition of a strip of leather can detract from the sleek finish of a suit, and bring the visual focus to your waistline.
Ideally, every pair of suit trousers would have adjustable side tabs or, better still, require no modification to the waist at all, rendering a belt superfluous. But if you do decide to belt up, aim to have the leather of your belt matching (or at least complementing) the leather of your shoes.
When it comes to the accessorising a suit, less can often be more – a great suit and a crisp shirt tend not to need much embellishment. But if you prefer to personalise your ensemble with some carefully chosen pieces, that’s absolutely fine.
Whether it’s a tie, a pocket square, cufflinks, tie clip or tie pin, just ensure that the individual items are complementary, rather than clashing or competing with one another. The most important accessory of all, though, is confidence, which will enhance any outfit.
It’s possible to purchase suitcases and travel bags that are specifically tailored to suiting. A popular choice is the Saddler Orlando Weekend Bag. If a travel bag is one step too far for now, the alternative is to master the simple yet highly effective ‘roll’.
How? Turn the suit inside out, place the shoulders together, and roll from the bottom up. And that’s all there is to it! Just be sure that the seams and lapels are lined up as you fold.
Read how to pack for a business trip for a more in-depth guide.
After investing in a quality suit, it’s only right that you should give it the care that it merits (and, indeed, requires). And there’s a fine line between maintenance and neglect that every self-respecting gent should know.
There’s a reason that high-end suits come with a wide hanger, rather than the emaciated pieces of wire provided by a dry cleaner. The extra width of a wooden or plastic hanger with rounded edges allows the suit jacket to drape perfectly. Not only will a premium grade hanger allow moisture from the suit to exit, but its exaggerated curves fill out the shoulders and, when hung for a couple of days, lets the suit return to its original drape.
If you’re hanging a suit that won’t be used for a few months (or even seasons) — a heavy wool suit during the summer months, for example — it is recommended that you put it in a suit cover and store it in a dry place.
There’s a misconception that a suit can be dry-cleaned as often as required. Well, they can, yes; but that’s not to suggest they should be, especially if you’re looking for several years’ wear.
Not only it is expensive but excessive dry-cleaning your suit will wear away the natural fibres of the suit and, in the process, reduce its longevity. If it’s actually soiled or visibly dirty, by all means take it to the dry cleaner. Otherwise, try to remove any small stains with warm water and a soft towel.
Need more info? Read our step by step guide about how to care for your suit.
Whether you suit up for work everyday, or only on special occasions, you need a suit that exudes sophistication. A timeless two-button, notch lapel grey or navy suit always looks refined and will continue to for years to come.
Looking for more tips and advice? Check out the 10 Habits of Well Dressed Men and Smart Casual sections to keep up with the latest trends and improve your style game.