How to Buy a Suit 3-9-2011

Suit yourself: Part One

Buying a suit—what to know and what to look for.

Before we get started, remember this: owning two quality suits is better than having a closet full of inexpensive, inferior ones. Two good suits can be paired with an almost unlimited combination of shirts and ties to create a varied, year-round wardrobe. Inferior suits—ill fitting and often too trendy—will inevitably collect dust in the back of your closet. What you want is quality and enduring style in a suit, but sometimes that can be hard to hunt down. Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here.

Feeling blue?

If this is your first suit, purchase a wool navy one. You’ll get the most use out of it. You can dress it up or down. It’s at home in the office or out to dinner, and the jacket can be worn with a pair of grey or khaki trousers as well. If you’re completely allergic to navy, your next color choice should be charcoal or a light-to-medium grey.

3 Suits to buy

If you’re adding a suit to your wardrobe, consider a cotton or linen one for the summer months. Another option is a patterned suit like a herringbone, a Glen check, or a classic pinstripe. Not crazy about patterns? Then look at a black suit. It can be worn with bold tie and shirt combinations to ensure you don’t look like you’re driving a hearse.

Suit Swatches

Fabric 101.

Unless you live somewhere it’s always hot and humid—like South Florida—wool is the staple you should stock up on. A lightweight wool suit can be worn in any weather, in any season, and can stand up to repeated wearings. When you expand your wardrobe, look at specialized fabrics, like cotton or linen that keep you cool when the temperature rises. Looking to stay comfy through the cold winter months? Look to heavier flannels or tweeds.

Suit Swatches 3

Help is on the way.

When it comes to shopping for clothes, guys are used to helping themselves. You see a sweater or a pair of jeans that you like and then you flip through the stack until you find your size. You don’t ever have to talk to a salesperson—until you reach the register. Well, put that out of your mind, because buying a suit is a wholly different kind of experience.

When you walk in, look for an associate who’s wearing something you like. Having a similar style is a sign they can easily steer you to a suit you prefer. Another reason you need a salesperson is that traditionally suits are arranged by size (often referred to as “hashed”) with the jacket and trousers together on large racks or gondolas. This often differs from store to store, so a salesperson is essential in helping you find what you need. Otherwise you’ll spend hour upon frustrating hour trying to do it yourself. Suits sold this way are called “nested suits.”


Some stores sell suits as “separates,” where the jackets are separated from the trousers. You essential pick your size jacket and pick your size pants to create your own suit—and you often don’t need a salesperson. Nested suits are usually of a higher quality, as the jacket and trousers are made at the same time from the same bolt of cloth. With separates, you can’t always be sure.

Also, it’s important to bring with you a well-fitting dress shirt and the pair of dress shoes you intend to wear with the suit. This will help the tailor make better measurements than if you were wearing a T-shirt and high-tops. And if you forget to bring your own, most tailors will have some “loaner” shirts and shoes. If the thought of slipping your feet into a pair of shoes that have welcomed countless numbers of funky feet before yours gives you pause, then we suggest you bring your own.

Meet your new friend, the tailor.

When trying on your suit, don’t be afraid to ask the tailor questions. He’s there to ensure your suit fits exactly as it should. And be sure to use the tri-mirror—that funhouse looking thing—to get a glimpse of how your shoulders and back look in your jacket. If you already own a suit that has your ideal fit, consider bringing it with you so the tailor can see firsthand what you consider a great fit. Also, find out if the tailor is going to be doing the alterations himself or is having the work sent out. If you’re having a great deal of work done, it’s preferable that he’s the one doing the work, because he’ll be doing it with your body type in mind.



Tailor Tools


And never, ever send your wife or girlfriend or best friend to pick up your suit after the alterations have been done. Always try it on again. If further alterations are needed, they can usually be done immediately. This way, you won’t be stuck wearing a suit with an uncomfortable, less-than-perfect fit for that big presentation.

Now suit up.

Now that you’re acquainted with the suit-buying process, where do you start? Well, to help you identify exactly what you want, you should know the features of a suit. And from there, to know exactly how a suit should fit. Happy hunting. And for the sake of your feet, don’t forget those dress shoes.

TAGS: Alterations | Cotton | Fit | Grey | Linen | Navy | Size | Suits | Tailor | Tweed | Wool

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  • avatar
    Those fabrics are exceedingly versatile. From direct experience I have found that very few ties fail to match with any of those selections. Great picks, unwavering quality... Now I feel like a need more suits.
    43 months ago | Report abuse |