With our last “Pairs Well With” piece, we dressed up the Seiko SARB033 by matching it with a classic navy business suit. That pairing was a bit of a departure for worn & wound, with our aesthetic generally leaning towards the casual end of the menswear spectrum. But we know how daunting it can be to shop for a suit (we’ve all been there), or well-fitting shirts and shoes, so we wanted to use that opportunity to give our readers some tried-and-true suggestions to make the whole process less of a head-scratcher.
Today’s piece is in keeping with that notion, but it delves a little deeper. We’ll take a closer look at fabric, fit, tailoring, footwear, and accessories. Though the advice below is by no means comprehensive, it is meant to keep you looking your best and any buyer’s remorse at bay. Let’s get started.
Color and Fabric
Suits today come in every color under the sun, but for a suit you plan on wearing often, stick to a pattern-free navy or dark gray in worsted wool—a durable, mid-weight (10-12oz.) cloth that can be worn comfortably year-round. From weddings to job interviews, these two colors fit the bill for almost any occasion, and they’ll be easy to pair with a number of different shirts and shoes (more on that later).
Worsted wool comes in a number of different grades. Lower-end wool is made of yarns with a 60-80 twist, or the number of times an inch of yarn has been twisted. On the higher end, there are the high-twist wools like the Super 100s, Super 110s, Super 120s, and all the way up to Super 200s. Don’t assume that a higher number automatically denotes a better value. Higher-twist fabrics, while lavish, are far more expensive and delicate than their lower-twist counterparts, and are really an extravagance (and, as some might argue, a marketing ploy). Instead, opt for a suit made around the Super 100s-120s range, which today can look just as luxurious and is far more sensible for an everyday suit.
After you’ve gotten a handle on the staples, you can consider getting more adventurous with your fabrics. For the summer months, you can play with lighter fabrics like linen, cotton, and seersucker. Come winter, you can explore heavier cloths (around 16-20oz.) like tweed and cashmere. Color is also something to consider, as well as patterns like pinstripe, windowpane, and herringbone. Whatever you decide to do, just remember to keep it on the simple side of things.
One of the best ways to figure out what looks good on you is to go to a big department store, make several laps around the sales floor, and then try on as many different brands as possible (tedious, I know). It’ll be worthwhile because it’s really one of the only easiest ways to figure out your aesthetic and size. Once you have an idea of what you want, grab a salesperson and work with them to narrow your choices.
The following guide will cover aesthetic and fit details you need to be aware of when shopping for a suit.
Shoulders: The first is something I see countless men getting wrong — the shoulders. Men often wear their suits too big, with shoulder pads that protrude well past their natural shoulders. A suit’s shoulders should comfortably hug yours and the seam should rest at the corner of the shoulder. The shoulder should also be smooth, without any weird bumps or protrusions. If you see a divot (a small crease) right below the seam, then it’s likely the jacket is at least a size too big.
If you’re experiencing issues with the shoulders despite having the right size, then the issue may actually be the shape of your shoulders. Some jackets are cut for men with sloped shoulders, and others for squared shoulders. Whatever your body type, trying on different brands will allow you to see what cut works for you. And remember, it’s important that a suit’s shoulders fit perfectly off the rack because there is very little a tailor can (cheaply) do if the shoulders are too big or too small.
Chest/Waist: No matter how nice the suit, if the jacket is too big or too small in the chest/waist, you simply won’t look good. Luckily, there are several ways to make sure you’re working with the right size. If the jacket is too small, the fabric will strain and pull, creating unsightly creases when the jacket is buttoned. The correct fit should allow you to comfortably slip an open hand between your jacket and shirt. If you can then make a fist and the jacket becomes snug, you’ve got the right size.
If the chest fits but the waist is too loose, a tailor can take in and shape the waist to create a desirable “V” silhouette. This alteration is common, and will run about $50. On the other hand, if the waist is too tight, then it’s unlikely that it can be let-out because few off-the-rack suits have the necessarily seam allowance to do so.
Length: The jacket length should be approximately half the height of the distance between the base of your neck and the ground. From the back, the tails of the jacket should cover your backside. From the front, your jacket should reach the midpoint between your knuckle and the end of your thumb (with your arms hanging down and relaxed). Most companies offer jackets in three lengths: short, regular, and long. It’s important to get the length right from the beginning, because any alteration shortening or lengthening a jacket is expensive and can ruin its portions.
Sleeves: It’s highly unlikely that a jacket’s sleeves will fit you off-the-rack. In my experience, most sleeves tend to run far too long, and I generally have to chop off an inch to achieve my desired length. You should ideally be able to see a quarter-inch to a half-inch of shirt cuff. Anymore than that, and your jacket sleeves are too short; any less, and they’re too long.
With that said, I would definitely opt for a jacket with slightly longer sleeves, since it’s generally much easier to shorten them than it is to lengthen them. If the sleeves need to be adjusted, it’s best to buy a suit without working buttonholes on the cuff, since they can be removed and reattached easily after the sleeve is shortened. If you have working buttonholes on the cuff, the alteration becomes much more difficult (and expensive) since the sleeves will have to be removed and adjusted at the shoulder seam. Sleeve shortening should generally run $20 per sleeve.
Buttons/Button Stance: One often-overlooked consideration is the number and placement of buttons. Most professional suits feature two or three buttons, with single-button jackets generally reserved for trendier purposes. By far, the better option of the two is the two-button jacket. Two-button jackets generally have a lower button stance (the placement of the jacket’s top button) and the result is a deeper “V” (the point where the lapels come together) that elongates the torso and makes you look taller. This alteration will run about $55.
And remember, never button the bottom button (unless you’re wearing a single button jacket).
Lapels: There are three main lapel styles: the notched, the peak, and the shawl. A notched lapel is defined by the eponymous “notch” created when the bottom of the collar and the top of the lapel meet and form a 75% angle. A peak lapel is defined by edges pointing upward toward your shoulders, essentially closing the aforementioned “notch.” The shawl lapel has a continuous curve without any breaks or points, and is generally found on tuxedos or more fashion-forward suits.
For our purposes, a notch lapel is ideal as it is the most versatile style of the three (the peak lapel has dressier origins). Lapel width is another consideration, though it should be noted that width is often a consequence of the times. Today, a medium-sized lapel of anywhere between two-and-three-quarter inches and three inches is ideal (the width of your lapel should be in proportion to the width of your tie).
Suit pants shouldn’t fit like a pair of jeans. They should, however, fit trim and tailored, with the waistband sitting comfortably around your navel. Make it a rule to avoid pleats. Even if you’re on the heftier side, pleats won’t do anything expect make you look bigger. A pair of flat front pants are ideal no matter what the situation, and a modern straight fit will look right on most individuals. If you’re on the thinner side, you can always have a tailor take the legs in, or create a slight taper if you deem it necessary.