How to Buy a Suit | Where to Buy a Suit | Buy Suits Online or In Store
Tailor Tip #1
Your first step is to make a decision: will you buy your suit online or offline? Which is better? That depends on what YOU value.
Buying a suit online
If you want infinite options fast, the best selection is always going to be online. That being said, you risk facing Choice Overload. How can you possibly decide whether you like or want something when there is so much to choose from?
For sheer convenience, nothing beats buying online. You can buy a custom suit at 2 AM in your underwear while drinking a beer.
Buying a suit offline
If you need a suit quicker than Amazon Two Day – you're going to need to walk into a store. That means Ready To Wear.
If you want customer service, go to a higher-end menswear store – you can spend 30 minutes with an expert who can identify your body type and which styles and colors will look best on you. Some minor alterations may need to be done and the selection may be limited, but you can often times find a decent suit in the clutch.
Tailor Tip #2
For your first suit – or your first suit in a while – you want to spend between $595 and $2000.
The real price range of suits is much wider. You can spend $10 in a thrift store or $5000 in Savile Row. But $595-2000 is the happy medium area where most people can find a great-looking suit.
Want a more specific number? Budget half your monthly salary – not just for the suit but for everything that goes with it. That includes the shoes, the shirt, and the belt – which we'll talk about later.
You're going to hear the words "off the rack", "custom", and "bespoke".
"Off the rack" means ready-made. That suit's just hanging on a rack waiting for you to buy it. For most people, this will work fine – and you'll find the best deals here.
"Custom" or "made to measure" means it's made to fit your measurements out of different pre-cut pieces. This is a great option if you're hard to fit and on a budget.
"Bespoke" means it's made from scratch to your exact specifications. You speak, and your tailor listens. Bespoke suits are a journey, a work of art, but they're much higher in price due to the nature of the handcrafted heirloom creation of such a piece. Bespoke was once the standard in menswear until Fast Fashion slowed this particular niche of the industry by flooding the market with plastic and glued suits. When it comes to lifelong sustainable wardrobes, Bespoke is the best option for quality, cost per wear, and luxury.
Tailor Tip #3
No matter what, look for a suit in 100% wool – it's a great indicator of quality. Because wool is an expensive material, you'll also see blends – 70%, 50% 0r 30% wool. These can be blended with a number of things like silk, cashmere, cotton, and then the worst thing to see... poly anything. Unfortunately, most ready to wear garments today are made with plastic and glue and have devastated our environment. Going all natural in your fabric selection is just as affordable and far better in quality.
Blends aren't necessarily bad – they'll save you a lot of money. But they are a sign of a lower-end suit.
If you're spending over $500-$1000, you're going to be getting 100% wool, and you're also going to start seeing ‘super' wools – Super 80, Super 100, Super 120, and so on.
There's not a uniform system to these numbers. Every mills ‘supers' are different. In general, a higher number means a tighter yarn and, therefore, a more luxurious drape.
What makes a quality suit material is a question with no single answer. Any material with ‘super' in it will be great quality – so don't pay extra to get a Super 220 instead of a Super 100. They will both be lovely selections.
Now, what about color? First time? Pick one of three – Navy, Charcoal, or Gray. No light gray and no blue – those are too casual. And no black – that's for black tie which typically calls for a Tuxedo. Fear the Black Suit as it will be the last suit you wear.
A small pattern or dynamic texture that's not noticeable is perfectly fine, but avoid noticeable patterns until you're on your third, fourth, or fifth suit.
Tailor Tip #4
Fit is the most crucial part of any suit. If it doesn't fit the shoulders and chest, it doesn't fit. A $50 suit that fits you will look better than a $2000 suit that doesn't. Do not buy a suit that doesn't fit you unless you know it can be adjusted.
If you have to pay more to get something that fits – go ahead. If you're unusually tall, short, thin, stout, or muscular, you may have to go custom.
For the rest of you – here are the specific areas to focus on to get a well-fitted suit off the rack.
Suit Jacket Shoulders
Don't buy it if the shoulders don't fit. It is that simple. Too wide and you create a cliff off your shoulder. Too narrow and you start creating pulling and creasing in the shoulders. Adjusting jacket shoulders is like heart surgery – it's very complicated and costly! At the end of the day you very well could spend more adjusting shoulders than your suit cost in the first place.
Suit Jacket Chest
If you can fit two fists in the front of the jacket, it's way too big. A tailor can bring it in a bit – but more than two inches will change the proportions, and the position of the pockets and the jacket will look bad. These first few key areas make or break a suit.
What if it's too tight in the chest? Higher-end suits should have some extra fabric in the seams so a tailor can let it out by about an inch.
Suit Jacket Length
Put your arms by your sides. The jacket should reach down to your Knuckles.
At the back – your jacket should cover your buttocks. It shouldn't be much longer or shorter than that. These may vary by an inch or two to best compliment your overall proportion and physique. A suit should split you in half symmetrically. Finding that balance and drape will flatter anyone!
Suit Jacket Sleeve Length
Put your arms by your sides again – the sleeve should go to about your wrist bone and show a quarter to a half-inch of your shirt cuff.
If the sleeves are off and happen to be sewn shut, most off the rack garments are, you are in luck. A decent tailor should be able to adjust about an inch or so in length, though it may affect the balance of the buttons.
Surgeon Cuffs are far more difficult to adjust as any change in length will also adjust the synchronicity of the buttons to their proper holes. The fix, would be to pull off the entire sleeve and reseat and cut to perfect the length, it is quite costly and may be hard to find someone willing to take on the challenge.
Make sure the waist fits you well. If it's slightly too big – or even slightly too tight – a tailor can fix that in most cases. Though if your weight has fluctuated by 10 pounds or more, significant weight-loss or gain can affect the shape of the seat and how it compliments the hips.
Pay attention to the hip area. Your tailor may complain about adjusting this – but if it's way too loose, get it brought in.
Suit Trouser Length
When your trousers are longer than your legs, the extra fabric creates a ‘break' or fold just above your shoes.
You can choose trousers with no break, a quarter break, a half break, or a full break.
Again – fit is king. When you're buying a suit off the rack, the store may have a tailor who'll adjust it for you. Most cases, you will find a local alteration or repair tailor to help adjust the hem. In some cases, a Dry Cleaner may offer these type of simple services to help you perfect your look.
If they charge for this, it's not a bad thing – you'll often find you get better service because you're paying for it. ‘Free' tailor service is probably built into the price of the suit.
Tailor Tip #5
You want to create a timeless suit that will serve you six months from now and six years from now – not a fashion trend that'll be out of style in a year.
When buying a suit you'll notice there are one, two, three, four, and even five-button suits. Stay away from the ones, fours, and fives at first.
For 95% of you, the two-button suit will be the best choice. It's a great classic look. If you're taller and want to look a little more formal you can go with three. Though you run the risk of looking a bit more ivy league, if it compliments your physique, it will be your best suit.
Or pick something a bit more classic with a Double Breast. Then you have the option of four, six, even 8 buttons! Or a double breasted waist coast with a single layer suit. Elegance is key.
Your options are notch, peak, and shawl lapels. Basically.. Then you get into the monk, the semi-notch, semi-peak, slim, wide, high, short, narrow, fish mouthed, clover or no lapel at all!
Amongst the many options of lapel, it is best to find balance between a formal tuxedo peak style, and the full blown casual notch. I tend to recommend a Semi-Notch or Semi-Peak depending on your leaning on formality.
Peak lapels are more formal than notch lapels. They're fine if you really like the look – but be aware that they'll grab attention.
Your best bet is the Semi notch or peak lapel. It's not going to win any awards for creativity – but it's timeless and will still be in style in a decade.
Suit Jacket Pockets
Do you want your pockets sewn into your jacket, or on top of your jacket?
The ones sewn on top are known as patch pockets. They're very casual. For a versatile suit, you should go for pockets that are sewn in and have a flap.
While flaps are currently not entirely "fashionable" that is where a beautifully crafted double welt pocket will allow you the chance to tuck those flaps in and maintain an elegant and seamless drape.
And when eventually the investment firms have decided extra bits of flappy scraps are back in, you'll be ready! Try out a diamond cut on the flap so at the very least, you're ahead of the curve!
Suit Jacket Vents
Vents are the slits in the back of your jacket that give you more room to move. You can choose a single vent, double vent, or no vent.
No vent is rare – mostly found in custom and Italian suits. It looks fine if you don't put your hands in your pockets and if you want to create a slimmer profile. These are typically seen at occasions where there isn't a lot of sitting, and likely a lot of cameras. The goal of no vent is that it will stick to you and highlight your physique.
The single vent is the most common of all the vents. It maintains the sleek look along your hips, but gives you a well needed break in the rear when seated.
The double or side vent is the most versatile. When you're walking it creates a more streamlined look – and it's designed not to show your backside even if you're riding a horse. With a properly fitted suit, especially bespoke, you won't really have a need for the vent, so at that level it is a bit more of a style choice. After all, contrary to King Charlie's standard, you shouldn't have your hands in your pockets. It is pretty unflattering no matter which way you look at it.
Tailor Tip #6
Yes – a suit is a jacket and trousers made from the same material. But it's also everything that goes with it to make you sharp-dressed. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link – so getting details like your shirt wrong can weaken the entire look.
Light blue, pink, and lavender are all acceptable colors for dress shirts – but classic white is best. It's the most formal, creates the highest contrast, and matches almost anything.
A good fit in the neck area is key because you're going to button it up and wear it with a necktie.
Also, make sure it's got a turn-down collar in a medium spread or a point. Point is the classic collar that works with most necktie knots. If you prefer a wider knot you can go for a medium spread.
Don't go for a wide spread – that's a more casual style. And definitely avoid button-down collars – they're way too casual for a suit.
The shirt cuff, to start, should be a single button. You can also go for a two-button but this is pretty common of ready to wear clothing since it's made to fit a variety of sizes and fits. Cufflinks are not recommended for your first suit – they're more formal and take a bit of attitude to pull off. It is a must, but until you're suit savvy, we recommend waiting until you find the perfect fit.
And while this may seem obvious – your dress shirt must always be tucked in.
Tailor Tip #7
Match Your Shoes With Your Suit
The classic shoe to get when you're buying a suit is a black Balmoral Oxford.
Oxfords are the most formal shoe style, thanks to the sleek simplicity of their closed lacing system. Closed lacing means the front part of the shoe (the vamp) covers the back part (the quarters) – producing a clean, smooth look.
If you want to change it up, a dark brown or burgundy Oxford is fine – just a little less formal.
A brown Derby is more casual still because it has an open lacing system (with the quarters on top of the vamp), but you can still pull it off with a suit.
Sneakers with a suit are best reserved for guys with some serious rock star attitude.
Loafers are really too informal for all but the most casual suits. But you can get away with them, especially in the United States at a casual event.
Tailor Tip #8
Classically, a suit is worn with neckwear. You could say it ties the outfit together.
Red is always a safe color (unless it's a bright neon red). You can also go with dark blue or dark green – or purple, the color of kings.
Stick with plain colors, small repeating patterns such as pin, dot, or regimental stripes. These diagonal stripes were created by the British to represent different clubs and military regiments, and despite being a bold pattern they're formal enough to wear with a suit.
In general bold patterns, bright colors, and knit fabrics make a tie too casual to look right with a suit.
Bow ties are technically just as formal as a long necktie. A bow tie in a solid color won't break the suit rules – but it will set you apart. It might be fine at a wedding but a little attention-grabbing for a funeral.
Tailor Tip #9
Whatever accessories you wear with a suit – watches, rings, necklaces, nose piercings, earrings – keep them restrained unless you're an over-the-top rockstar.
The best watch to wear with a suit is a simple dress watch that tells you the time, maybe the date, and nothing else. You don't want a lot of complications.
Classic dress watches have a black or dark brown leather strap, but a simple metal band is also fine.
Avoid dive watches that are clearly made to be worn as sport watches – nothing oversized or gaudy and no rubber straps.
Now, what about belts – should you or should you not wear a belt with a suit? It depends on your trousers. Do your trousers have belt loops? Then wear a belt.
Try to match the leather of your belt to your shoes and the metal to your other metals.
Tailor Tip #10
Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So clean and trim your nails. Take care of your skin. Make sure that you shave or groom your facial hair.
If you don't shower and your nails are dirty – you might as well not bother buying a suit. Nobody will think you look good.
Make sure your hair is well cut and groomed too. Because you're dressing sharp, you can use a hair product with a bit of shine if you want to look like Harvey Specter. That's a good look with a suit. But go with whatever works for you – as long as you take care of that grooming.