Suit yourself: Part Two
The features of a suit—why they’re there and what they do.
Before you walk in to buy a suit, it’s important to know the basics. A salesperson may ask you questions like what kind of lapel you want, or if you prefer a center or side vent. So, to avoid standing there with a blank look on your face, familiarize yourself with the basics.
The Lapel Show.
There are three types of lapels you’ll come across in the world of tailored clothing: Peak, Notch, and Shawl. The Peak lapel is the more dramatic look of the three, while the Notch is considered to be the most classic and therefore the most common. The Shawl lapel has a continuous, unbroken line that is traditionally found on tuxedos and dinner jackets. If you’re looking for a suit with a shawl lapel, you’ll be looking for quite a long time.
Single or double?
And no, we’re not referring to your Scotch. Frequently you’ll be asked whether you’re looking for a single-, or double-breasted suit. This refers to how the jacket fastens in front. Single-breasted is the most stylish and versatile––it’s the way to go if you’re just building your wardrobe. The classic design allows it to be disguised easily by pairing it with different shirt and tie combinations. Single-breasted jackets can be worn more often than a double-breasted jacket, which is more ornate and quickly remembered. Double-breasted jackets are considered to be more elegant and refined, so if you’re entertaining heads of state, then double-breasted may be the way to go.
Single-breasted jackets can come with any number of buttons, but you’ll want to stick with the one-, two-, or three-button styles. Two is classic, stylish, and simple. If you have a longer torso, consider the three-button. Typically, the one-button jacket is more affected by style trends and comes in and out of fashion. It’s a great choice if you’re adding to an already extensive wardrobe.
Go ahead and vent.
Vents, the slits in the back of the jacket at the bottom of the coat, allow you to put your hands in your trouser pockets more easily. Jackets will usually have either a single center vent or two side vents. Single gives you maneuverability but can cause the jacket to ride up slightly when you reach into your pockets. Side vents eliminate this problem. Although if you’re a heavier guy you should avoid them. They make you look wider from behind which is good if you’re trying out for nose tackle on a pro football team, but bad for pretty much everything else.
Trousers will come in either plain-front or pleated. For more on the plain versus pleated debate, click here. It’s important to note that if you’re looking at a nested suit—where the jacket and trousers are sold together—you won’t be able to swap one option for the other. The trouser hem will usually come unfinished and you’ll be asked to choose between cuffs or plain bottoms. Cuffs are typically married with pleated trousers and will help your pants hang better. Conversely, plain-front trousers are often married with plain bottoms for their clean silhouette.
The choice is yours.
Well, it is and it isn’t. Because a suit will either have the features you’re looking for, or it won’t. You can’t pick and choose within the suit unless you decide to go with Made-to-Measure. This is why a knowledgeable salesperson is so valuable—emphasis on knowledgeable. They can take you to the suit or suits that have all or most of the features you’re looking for. So the choice really is yours. And it isn’t.
From features to fit.
OK, what it all comes down to is that a two-button, single-breasted, center-vent suit is the one every man should own. It’s the best place to begin building your wardrobe. But knowing that won’t do much for you unless you know how it’s supposed to fit. Because all the stylish and flattering benefits of a suit will be wasted if you look like a shapeless mass. And once you know how a suit is supposed to fit, you’ll be able to confidently walk in to a store knowing that you’ll come out with exactly the suit you want and need.
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