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Men's suits

The Modern Gentleman’s Guide to Buying a Suit

Men's suits

As our old friend Shakespeare notes in Hamlet: “The apparel oft proclaims the man.” In other words, it’s time to step up to an adult suit that wasn’t picked off the rack for you by Mom.

But the world of fashion is bewildering. Where to begin? First, answer a few fundamental questions:

  • What are you buying this suit for? Work, leisure, weddings, funerals? Your answer will dictate a clear direction of conservative or trendy.
  • What’s your budget? Decent online and off-the-rack suits can be found for a few hundred bucks. A custom-made suit can rise into the thousands. But if you’re looking for a suit that will last for years, it’s not a time to stint.
  • What are your measurements? Particularly if buying online, you’ll need to know your chest and waist width, and your arm and inseam length.
  • You can’t go wrong with a charcoal gray light woolen suit with notched lapels, double vents, two buttons, sewn-in pockets, and no trouser break (or possibly a quarter break).

Great, but what does all if that mean? Let’s break it down:

All elements of a suit depend on your personal taste, and that includes the color. Unless you’re going to show up on the Oscars red carpet, it’s probably best to think conservatively. Black is an all-purpose default, but charcoal gray is a bit more versatile, navy blue a dependable standby, and lighter blue a bit bolder. Think brown only if you’re starting a suit collection. Custom suits can lead you into patterned fabrics, but the overall shades will prevail.

You have three main choices here: the shawl, peak, and notch. The first is for formal wear, so forget it for your basic suit. The peak is somewhat more formal and, because it juts upward, a bit flashier than the traditional notch.

Your suit jacket can have one, two, or no back vents. That last one is rare and probably best avoided unless you’re an Italian movie star. One vent is common, but it can be less than flattering when you put a hand in your pocket. Best to go with two.

If you button and unbutton your suit jacket as often as Stephen Colbert on The Late Show, you’ll be better off with one button. The choices are one to five. Two is the safe move.

Patch pockets, sewn on top of a suit, are for a more casual look. Opt for sewn-in pockets with a flap.

Trouser Break
This is how your pants fall over your shoes — or don’t, if you choose a no-break style, which can be more flattering on shorter men. A quarter, half, or full break is a stylistic choice, although taller men might opt for a full break.

Only the luckiest of men can find the perfect-fitting suit off the rack (which is one point in favor of custom tailoring). And there’s no sense in choosing a more modern slim fit, if, for example, you’re not slim. Go shopping with a friend or significant other to give you some honest feedback about how the suit looks on you.

Once you’ve found a suit that meets all your style requirements, you’ll almost certainly still want to have it altered for the best fit around your shoulders and waist, and to achieve the proper length for your sleeves and trousers. Hence the final tip: Find a good tailor.