How to Choose a Suit
Image: Elizabeth Willis
Choosing a suit can be an overwhelming ordeal. They come in endless shapes, sizes, colours, patterns, styles and fits, and of course there are fashions and prevailing trends to potentially consider. In the name of demystifying the process, please find our quick and easy guide to acquiring the right apparel investment for you.
There are two types of suits that require a measuring tape; bespoke and made-to-measure.The term bespoke comes from the verb bespeak, an outdated term which roughly means 'to give an order for it to be made'. A bespoke suit is made from scratch to the specific measurements of its owner. An entirely new pattern must be constructed, a timely and therefore expensive process. The term bespoke relates only to menswear, the closest female equivalent would be 'haute couture', although technically anyone can present at a men's tailor, and Cate Blanchett looks far more dashing in a well-cut masculine suit than any man can possibly dream of.
A made-to-measure suit on the other hand is made by combining an existing pattern with a customer's unique dimensions. Adjustments to the pattern would generally need to be made, it is rare that any individual's measurements would match exactly to a pre-made pattern, but this is a less onerous task that starting the construction process completely from scratch. Both made- to-measure and bespoke would usually involve a second and even third fitting to ensure the sizing is perfect.
This is vital because the idea behind any measured suit is that the cut should be unlike anything you can possibly purchase pre-made. The fit should be absolutely perfect, and you should not accept anything less.
The third type of suit is one bought pre-made or off-the-rack. Once again it is very rare that something already made would fit any body perfectly, unless you are lucky enough to be a standard size, so alterations are generally required to a garment bought in this manner. Alterations can be expensive and the additional cost must be considered when purchasing a pre-made suit. Buying off the rack will also present diminished options when it comes to customising your purchase, but if something fits well and meets your criteria, grab it.
Suits generally fit into three broad categories:
Formal: A tuxedo, either black or a very dark blue in colour, worn with a white shirt and generally a bow tie and patent leather shoes. A tuxedo would normally only emerge from its resting place a few times a year, unless you are a doyen of the ballet/opera.
Business: Normally a monotone colour and conservatively cut garment to be worn comfortably in the professional arena without raising too many eyebrows. A business suit fabric might have a light check or stripe, but is generally quite understated so as not appear too flashy. The garment is designed to demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness.
Casual: Any suit that doesn't fit into the above categories can probably be best described as casual. A more relaxed garment it can be worn to the races, an afternoon wedding or slightly dressy party. It can come in almost any pattern or shade, with bright red suits presently turning heads on the A list circuit. A casual suit allows the wearer greater scope to express his individuality. It can be mixed and matched, dressed down with jeans, and teamed with a variety of footwear.
Those employed within creative fields can generally get away with wearing a casual suit to work, allowing them to avoid the standard blues and greys of the business suit. A casual suit jacket teamed with smart, dark blue denim jeans, a business shirt and dress shoes has become increasingly acceptable workplace attire, allowing the wearer to both present professionally while adding a signature twist to his outfit. The addition of a colourful pocket square is another means of crafting an individual look. Silicon Valley types would, for example, rarely be seen in a standard business suit and tie these days, opting almost universally for the jeans and jacket look, often teamed with casual white leather shoes to demonstrate age defying hipness.
A suit jacket should hug your shoulders. Jackets that are too wide don't make you look broader, they make you look like you've raided your big brother's wardrobe. Too narrow and you will look squeezed in, and are selling your stature short.
Your shirt sleeve should touch the line where your wrist meets your hand.Your jacket sleeve should then hang about 2 or 3cms shorter, allowing the shirt to peek out. An overly long jacket sleeve will leave its wearer looking slightly like a gorilla, while a short jacket sleeve just looks dire.
There are no absolute rules when it comes to lapel width, although a narrow lapel (about 5cm) is generally preferable for a single breasted suit and a slim wearer, while a wider lapel can be accomodated on a larger frame and/or double breasted suit. Avoid going too wide, unless you are attending a Boogie Nights themed party in a 1970's style safari suit— always a fun night.
When it comes to buttoning up your three buttoned jacket, starting from the top, the rule is; sometimes, always, never. For a two buttoned jacket: always, never. Essentially the bottom button is always left open when higher options are available. You should also be able to slide your hand easily behind your jacket when the buttons are fastened.
A suit that's made specifically for you will not require a belt. If you do need a belt, it generally should be matched to the colour of your shoes. A tightly worn belt will distort the overall shape of a suit and should be avoided whenever possible.
Your trouser leg should sit about 1cm above the floor at the back, when you are standing barefoot. Pants that are too long will bunch and won't sit correctly, while a length that is too short will look like the wearer has recently packed on some unwelcome girth.