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So you’re planning on purchasing your first suit. Sounds great!
This short article will outline the criteria for purchasing the right suit, how to tailor it and how to wear it. Our goal is to make a regular "off-the-rack" suit, look like a $2000 bespoke suit. Just like all clothing and outfits, it’s not about the brand and how much it costs.
It’s about the fit and your confidence in the way you wear it.
But first I’d like to start with the fact that the suit is not just another piece of clothing that you hang on your bedroom chair in front of your desk amongst the pile of clothes that are too dirty to wear but not dirty enough to through in the washing.
The suit is an investment. You want to maximise the use of it. Make your suits last two, three even four or five years from now. This is why smart men purchase two sets of trousers. But that topic is for another time.
Here's the definite 8 criteria for the perfect first suit
It's important that we know standard suit sizing. Coming into a store without knowing your usual size is like not knowing whether you're a small, medium or large when buying a t-shirt.
Suit sizing comes in 3 basic dimensions; chest, waist and height.
Chest measurement (Inches)
The measurement around your whole chest. You can get a rough estimate of your measurement by looping a tape measure under your armpits and around the fullest part of your chest. For most brands, the measurement will be in inches.
Waist measurement (Inches)
Grab your pair of best fitting trousers to see what your waist size is. If you've worn them down such that the label's unreadable, grab your tape measure again and loop right around your hip bone where your suit trousers would be worn.
Height (S,R or L)
Height is your measurement from the bottom of your heel all the way up to the top of your head. The three categories of height includes short (S), regular (R) or long (L).
Here's what a realistic suit sizing chart looks like.
Example - So if I'm standing at 5'6" and have a chest measurement of 38", my suit jacket size would be 38"S. If my waist size is 34" then my trousers would be a 34"S.
- Occasion & Colour
First step is to think about the occasion that you’re purchasing this suit for. The most common occasions that young men need a suit would be for; business, general events, evening wear, formal events, black tie events and funerals.
If it’s your first ever suit I would recommend a dark navy or a charcoal suit as these two colours will generally cover all the occasions. These two colours will also enable mixing and matching and also experimenting with different accessories that you can wear in the future.
Both the charcoal and the navy suit provide a solid foundation for any man’s wardrobe.
The most important thing that you need to get right off the bat is the fit on the shoulders. Be sure NOT to purchase a jacket that is too tight such that there are visible divots in the shoulder. Almost everything else can be fixed to fit you later by tailoring but if you don’t have your shoulders correct, then it’s nearly impossible to fix the suit.
If you’re shopping for your first suit jacket, then the type of padding that you’re looking for is either lightly padded or broad padded. If you’re shopping at a higher quality store, which deals with handmade suits, you can opt for a roped shoulder.
The difference between the three.
Lightly padded – common for sport coats as it provides more air to breath through and less weight for the piece. Having light padding enables you to really get a feel for the suit and lets the suit take shape to your shoulders. This is your safest bet.
Broad padded – This is the padding that you want if you’re in the percentage of men with narrow and less meaty shoulders, as it will add weight and power to your look.
Roped shoulder - was popularised by bespoke Italian tailors for higher quality suits and jackets in general. You don't see them everyday because machine factories are unable to construct this detail as it requires experienced hands. A roped shoulder for a first suit is quite over the top but if you've got the extra money to spend, more power to you.
The suit is ultimately designed to mould the figure that the wearer would desire. In this case if you have a narrower body with less meat on the shoulders then go for broad padding. If you’re the opposite with larger shoulders, go for the lighter padding.
Simple as that!
This is where the fitting gets tricky. Armholes are also a matter of preference in terms of comfort. Traditionally the armhole has been larger compared to the trending styles of now.
The armhole is a clear indicator of whether a suit is cheap quality and off the rack. Suits that are purchased from retail stores (like Lowes) are made to be able to fit many body types.
This means larger armholes and larger waist sizes to fit both slim and large men.
So I would highly recommend that you take it to the tailor and increase the armhole height. The armhole and the chest size can get very complicated with statistical ergonomics so we’ll save that for another time.
Sleeves are rather simple. The most important way to getting it right is only by trying it on and feeling it out. The sleeves should feel tapered but not too tight that you’re unable to freely lift up your arm all the way up. Unless you’re a body builder with big arms or very slim your sleeves shouldn’t matter too much. Made to measure suit sleeves are easily tailor-able to be tapered or shortened.
Sleeve length is crucial when wearing your suit. And as you may have already noticed every minute detail contributes to a well-fitted suit and outfit.
In the case of the length, a half inch of your shirtsleeve should be visible when your arms are completely relaxed beside you. If your jacket sleeve covers your shirtsleeve completely, it looks like a hand me down. Getting this right makes an enormous difference.
- Jacket Length
There are few ways of determining the right length for you.
The most basic is half-length of your whole body. This means the measurement between the top of your head and the heel of your foot. Half that size and that’s a measure for how long your jacket should be.
The second would be ending it where your butt folds to start the length of your leg. Ending the length of the jacket to this is your safest choice if you have abnormally longer or shorter arms.
The third and my personal choice is by standing up straight and marking the point where your knuckles hang.
As you gain more experience you’ll be able to get a grasp of your body type and if a jacket should be longer or shorter.
Hint - for shorter men, opt for the second method. For taller men, you can opt for the third so your jacket doesn't look too short like a female jacket.
- Waist (jacket)
The waist of the jacket is simple. Keep it compressed but not too compressed that a tight "x" shape appears when buttoning the first top button. Rule of thumb is to keep about one to two inches of breathing air between your body and your suit when pulling the suit jacket button away. So keep it relatively compressed to let the jacket slim you down and show off your body.
- Waist (trousers)
Easy peasy. When fitting your suit keep in mind that traditionally when wearing your trousers, you should NOT need to wear a belt. If a suit is bespoke (made specifically for one person), they shouldn’t need a belt to keep trousers from falling.
Suit trousers weren’t made to have belt loops. Initially they had different kinds of adjustable tabs on the sides. You should be able to fit both your index finger and middle finger into your trousers while wearing them. If you can’t it’s too tight.
If you’re thinking old-school or are gaining a fair bit of weight fast, get some pleats. You can have single or double pleats. But if you want a trendier look, definitely no pleats and keep it flat fronted.
- Length & Tapering
Trends in the modern age have changed the way men prefer to tailor and wear their suits. One of the most noticeable changes is the length and the taper of the trousers. Older trends allow breaks in the trousers and a bit of wrinkling at the bottom. However current trends would have men with shortened trousers with no breaks at all.
The trousers end when meeting the first lace of the shoe. Even flashier current trends would have the trouser cut a half-inch above the ankle of the shoe. This allows a half-inch peak to show one’s socks. Just to be safe I would break the trousers at the first meeting of the shoelace which is a "quarter break". We talk more about pant break here.
Also, currently trending is tapering the trousers for a slimmer look.
My maxim is this; you need to be able to grip at the least a half inch of fabric around the thigh. Since the thigh is the thickest part of the trousers, if you can’t grip enough for half an inch, then you’re wearing leggings, mate.
Another tip is to tell your tailor to taper your entire trouser from the end of the leg to the top of the inseam. This creates a slimmer look for you to reduce bagginess, which is not flattering.
That’s everything you need to know. Now you’re set to go out there and finally purchase your very first suit and get it right.
Here's a simple checklist to take with you to make sure you get it right and don't make any mistakes.