Living on the Sunshine Coast, not many men wear suits on a regular basis, so it stands to reason that not a lot of men (comparatively) actually own a suit. It makes sense then, that one of the most common types of customers I had at Myer was a man looking to buy his first suit. This is the guide for that man; everything a man needs to know about buying his first suit. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to limit this article to buying a suit off the rack, and not bespoke; although most of the same principles apply, there are a few more options when buying bespoke, and your tailor should be able to walk you through the process. If you have the option, and the money, my recommendation is most definitely to have your first suit tailor-made for you, but for everyone else, this is what you need to know. Although this guide applies to most reasons you could have for buying a suit, it is perhaps geared towards purchasing an everyday work suit, rather than a suit that would only be worn on rare occasions.
- The fit in the shoulders is perhaps the most important; all other areas can be altered without too much difficulty, but if the jacket doesn’t fit in the shoulders, you are usually better off just buying a new jacket. The end of the jacket shoulders should meet with the end of your shoulders. Minimal padding is best; a natural sloping with a little bit of padding in the shoulders looks much better than unnaturally squared shoulders.
- With your jacket closed, and nothing in the pockets, insert you palm, facing in, between your jacket and your shirt, and make a fist. This should make the jacket pull and become snug. If you can’t make a fist, then your jacket is probably too tight; if there is enough room in your jacket to house a family of raccoons, then it is too loose. If ‘X’ shaped ripples form in the jacket when it is buttoned, then it is too tight . Suppressing or letting out the waist is a simple tailoring job, and one that a majority of men will need done to an off the rack jacket.
- Jacket sleeves should extend to your wrist bone, and show 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch of shirt cuff, which should end at the base of your thumb, where your wrist meets your hand. Most men either wear their jacket sleeves too long, of their shirt sleeves too short; don’t be one of them
- Your collar should lie flat against your shirt collar, which should protrude about 1/2″ above the jacket collar. The lapels should lie flat against your body.
- As a general rule of thumb, your jacket should reach around the knuckle of your thumb when you have your hands by your sides. This changes depending on your height, but in general, a jacket should be long enough to cover your seat (your bottom). There is a saying that a good suit jacket is like a good lawyer: It should always cover your arse.
- Trousers should sit on your waist, not your hips. A belt should be an accessory, not a necessity; you should be able to comfortably fit two fingers between your trousers and your body, and your trousers should be able to hold themselves up. If you’re on the shorter side, have your tailor remove the belt loops, and add buttons for braces (suspenders). A belt breaks your body in half, and makes you look shorter, and braces remove the need for a belt altogether. Never wear a belt and braces together, and if your trousers have belt loops, use them or lose them.
- Your trousers should end just above the heel of your shoe, with a slight break in the fabric at the front (where the fabric folds, therefore “breaking” the otherwise straight line)
- Your trousers should end just above the heel of your shoe, and cover about 3/4 of the laces. Cuffing your trousers adds weight to the bottom, and helps them hang straighter. Be careful cuffing your trousers if you are on the shorter side, as too large a cuff can make you appear even shorter. Cuffs should be about 11/4″ for shorter men and 15/8″for taller men, but that is just a general guide as each case is different. When in doubt, ask for a professional opinion. For more information of cuffs, check out this post on Real Men Real Style
Your first suit should be made out of a plain worsted wool. You want the fabric to be in the range of 90’s to 110’s (the s number determining the fineness of the fabric i.e the higher the s number, the finer the wool), any lower and the wool will most likely be too coarse, too much higher and the wool can become too fine for an everyday suit; if the wool is too fine it will experience wear quicker. If the suit is only going to be worn very rarely, then by all means, look for something in the range of 130s and higher, depending on your preference. Tweed is a lovely fabric, but is quite heavy, and is usually suited towards more casual winter suits; the same applies to flannel. Linen suits are fine for the summer, but wrinkle and stain easily. As far as man-made fibres go, I am a purist, and will never recommend them, but you will often find lower end suits made from either polyester, or wool/polyester blends. The blends are usually cheaper than the pure wool suits, and are not likely to wrinkle as easily, but also don’t breathe very well. Medium weight worsted wool will work all year round, and is definitely your best bet.
Charcoal grey or navy blue are really your only two options for your first suit. There are some who will argue that black is also an option, but I am not one of them. Black is an option for those who look good in one, but I personally wouldn’t recommend one for business wear, and definitely not as your first suit; it is nowhere near as versatile as charcoal or navy. For a great video on whether you should by a black suit, look here. Charcoal grey is dark enough that it is suitable for all occasions, from weddings to funerals, making it only slightly more versatile that navy blue, but go with the one you look better in. For more information of suit colours, check out this video on Real Men Real Style
For your first suit, I would recommend two buttons, and a notched lapel, like the jackets above. The two button jacket looks good on almost everybody, but the deep v shape is especially good at making you look taller, which is great if you happen to be on the shorter side. Three button suits are great on taller men who don’t want to look too lanky. As much as I love the double-breasted jacket, I would recommend avoiding it for your first suit, and especially if you are on the heavy side; the extra fabric can make you look even bigger. Conversely, they are great for the smaller man looking to add a bit of bulk to his body. Double breasted suits should only have peaked lapels (pictured below), or shawl lapels, if it is a dinner jacket. Avoid one button suits for business wear, as they lean towards being a fashion piece, but your dinner jacket (unless double-breasted) should have one button.
Keep in mind that under no circumstances are you to ever button the bottom button on a single breasted suit. Ever. On a two button suit, you always button the top button while standing, and undo it when sitting. On a three button suit you sometimes button the top button (depending on the jacket. In the one pictured above, where the lapel rolls over the button, you would not button it. If the button lies flat, button it), always button the middle button, and never the bottom. Ever. This is referred to as the ‘Sometimes, Always, Never’ rule. Sometimes the top, always the middle, and never the bottom. Ever
Jetted pockets are the most formal, and are the only ones that should be found on a dinner jacket. Flap pockets are the next best thing, and are the most common. They are constructed in the same manner as jetted pockets, except with a flap; so if you want, you are able to simply tuck the flap into the pocket. The ticket pocket is usually seen on sports jackets or bespoke jackets, and as the name suggest, is used for holding things like ticket stubs. The patch pocket is the least formal, and typically only found on casual jackets. Your breast pocket should only be used to hold your handkerchief or pocket square, and in general you should never place bulky objects in any of your pockets; in addition to looking odd, they can damage the fabric. Carry things like keys and your phone in your briefcase, or some other bag.
Your jacket should have a functioning boutonniere, with a thread on the reverse of the lapel to hold a flower stem. It is a simple alteration for a tailor to add either of these. Have a look at Real Men Real Style for a great article on boutonnieres.
Working buttons on your sleeve cuff is a good thing, but can be dangerous on off the rack suits. If the sleeves aren’t the right length for you, you will need a tailor that is willing to take apart the shoulder to alter them. This can sometimes be costly, and is much more difficult than altering non-functioning cuffs. On the other hand, it is a relatively simple process to add working buttons to a sleeve, and they are a nice feature to have.
Well, that’s it. I hope you found this guide helpful, but keep in mind that it is only a guide, and not a be all, end all list of instructions. There is a lot more information out there if you are interested, and I definitely recommend you head over to Real Men Real Style and have a look. You may have noticed that I link to it several times, but that is because it is an invaluable resource, an one that every man should be subscribed to. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them; I am always happy to get feedback.