How To Buy A Suit | Sizing & Style Guide
Understanding the basics of a suit (fit, style and price) will save time and money. Whether it’s the tenth suit in your closet or the first, the content below outlines some high-level, important tips to follow.
Every suit purchased will most likely need to have some alterations. Being knowledgeable about possible alterations will ensure the suit purchased will fit to your specifications and preference.
The style today is very much slimmer fitting suits, both the jacket and the pants.
The best color choice for only owning one suit would be dark grey or navy blue. These colors will provide the most versatility.
For most individuals a high quality suit can be purchased for under $400. A nice suit can be found at $250. Sure, a custom made suit for $5,000 would be fantastic; it’s just a little out of the average budget.
100% wool should be a requirement during your suit shopping (summer linen and winter blends would be an exception). Cheap suits at Nordstrom, J. Crew, H&M, Banana Republic, etc. are often a polyester blend. Do not buy these suits for a nice suit, they will wear faster and the fabric does not breath as well.
Only button the top button on a two button jacket or middle button on a three button jacket (although a three button jacket is not recommended unless you're very tall).
Kashiyama - Suit
Recommended to Start
Buy a dark gray or navy blue suit on sale from a brand that fits you well, known for quality and priced right. I would recommend searching Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack / Hautelook, Saks Off Fifth, J. Crew, etc. Especially if you aren’t wearing suits every day, it is worth it to have a nice one. Remember, nice doesn’t mean $1000. If you're looking for a custom suit, then I would recommend Indochino (especially if you can go to a showroom to be fitted by one of their experts).
When investing in a suit, be sure to research how a suit should fit. It is not guaranteed that the sales person knows exactly what is best for you. Knowing your personal preference will allow you to rely less on others. From personal experience, I have to remind my tailor to 'go shorter' on the sleeves or 'tighter' on the jacket width. They work with a lot of people and will make general suggestions. Find a local tailor and appreciate their work!
Remember to diversify your suit colors, patterns, lapel sizes and slim/regular fit!
If you're considering the customer suit route, be sure to check out my in-depth INDOCHINO REVIEW by clicking here.
Fit and Alterations
A suit only looks as good as it fits. Below is a description of how a suit should fit. For additional research, there are very in-depth articles all over the internet or feel free to contact me directly!
Shoulders are the most important area for a properly fitting suit. They can be altered, but it will cost you at least $50.00 and would require an exceptional tailor. Only consider altering shoulders if you have an expensive suit that doesn’t fit properly.
The end of the shoulder pad should be in line with the outside of the arm when your arms are at your side resting. Depending on the suit it might be preferred for it to fit tighter.
If the jacket is too tight then it will bunch around the neck and there will be creases below the shoulder pads. If the jacket is too loose then the shoulders will hang out too far over your shoulders and look sloppy.
Always focus on the shoulder fit of the suit first when purchasing a new suit, essentially everything else can be altered.
The suit jacket sleeves should end at about the wrist bone. This is really a personal decision, so make sure you know what you prefer prior to going to a tailor. The style today is leaning more towards the shorter lengths, but you still don’t want too much shirt exposed.
With your arms rested at your side, there should be about a quarter of an inch exposed of your shirt sleeve exposed beyond the jacket length (that is, if the dress shirt fits properly).
If your jacket has functional button holes (meaning you can button and unbutton the sleeve buttons), then the alteration is going to be around $50.00 since they have to take the length in from the shoulder area.
The width of a jacket can be taken in rather easily. The only potential problem would be if a jacket is taken in too much, it may throw off how the jacket lies. However, turning a regular fit jacket into a nicely tailored fit on a slim body is difficult, trust me.
Ensure an X doesn’t form when you button up. This is an indicator that the jacket is too tight.
Nicer suit pants will generally come in one size and they will have to be altered both at the waist and the length. The trimmer fit the suit is, the trimmer fit the dress pants will be as well. If you alter the waist of a dress pant too much (taking in too much at the waist), it will start to pull on the crotch when you walk and they will not lay as flat.
Be aware of the rise of the pants as well. Low rise suit pants are much more common on ‘trendier’ suits. The lower the rise, the less room between your crotch area and where the pant sits on your hips (lower on the hips for lower rises).
Trim fit suits with narrow lapels are what is in right now (although I prefer wide peak lapels). Styles obviously come and go, so keep this in mind for suit purchases. If you have more of an athletic build, then the more narrow lapel, trim fit suit is a good idea. If you are a bit wider it might be better to go with a normal lapel to keep everything looking proportional. That is not to say you can’t pull it off!
Once you have the basic colors (gray and dark blue), I would recommend expanding to different suit patterns. Avoid the extremes patterns and especially colors, but that is completely dependent on your work environment. If you have a gray checkered patterned suit, then mix it up and get a navy pinstripe suit next. If you have a blue pinstripe suit, then maybe purchase a light gray checkered patterned suit next. Think about how to keep it looking different if you have to wear five suits a week.
Buying the vest (waistcoat) is a great option, if it is available for the suit you are considering. The vest gives you a lot of different options, both for casual and for dressier occasions. I suggest venturing out and purchasing non-matching vests to wear as well. It is a very versatile clothing option for the wardrobe: it can be worn with the original suit it was purchased with, with a different suit of complementary colors or casual with jeans.
Today, most suit pants are mostly flat front pants with no cuffs. If the pants have pleats on them (overlapping fabric at the top of the pants), then it is appropriate to have cuffs on the pants. Otherwise, stick to no pleats and no cuffs. *Disclaimer: I own suits with 2-inch cuff pants, which is an awesome custom look I would highly recommend).
The trend in suit pants today is shorter than it has been in the past. This is referenced to as the ‘break’ of the pant. This is the amount of the dress pant that lays on your shoe and creates a ‘break’ at your ankle. The larger the break, the longer the dress pant. A small break is a conservative play on today’s trend. No break is an aggressive look and will draw people’s eyes to your socks and shoes.
Senszio Custom Suit
I would highly recommend Indochino for a custom suit experience at half the cost. The price of an Indochino suit on sale is hard to beat at $400 or less. Click here to read my in-depth Indochino review and advice.
I recommend Tailor Store as well since I have had a great experience working with them.
If you want a step up, then I would recommend Senszio. It's going to cost more, but the fit and quality make it worth it.
Brands and Price Points
You can find an amazing, great quality suit for under $400. You can find a nice suit for $250. To find these deals you have to be willing to purchase a suit when you don’t necessarily need another one. Big sale events are the best time to add another suit to the wardrobe. Watch for these!
Nordstrom Rack and HauteLook have fantastic suit deals on a variety of brands and are always changing. They are returnable to the store at no charge and you don’t pay shipping over $100. Most of the suit deals on the basic lines of Ben Sherman, Tommy Hilfiger and some others can be found on sale for as low as $200.
The nicer and more expensive brands (e.g. Hugo Boss, Ted Baker, Peter Millar, etc.) are occasionally under $400 when on sale, online at Nordstrom, Nordstrom Rack and/or HauteLook.
The best kept secret, check out Saks Off Fifth. They occasionally have their Red Avenue label selling for $200 on sale and the black label for $300 on sale. These suits are an incredible deal. The black label is probably worth the little extra cost if you can afford the extra $100. The fit is spectacular, quality is exceptional and they always have a variety of colors/patterns.
The J. Crew outlet suit (The Thompson) can occasionally be found on sale for under $250. These suits are not the ‘dressiest’ of suits, since they lie a little looser than other suits. However, they are some of my favorite suits for all occasions!
When suit shopping, build the cost of tailoring the suit into the total cost. If it’s a $200 suit and you have to get sleeves and the width taken in, it might be worth buying a $250 suit that fits great.
Jos. A. Bank. If you need three suits and they have a style that fits you really well, this is a great option. It can definitely be worth buying three suits for the price of one to start and then expand with nicer suits when you need new suits.
***All Photos and Content By Dapper Professional
Saks Off Fifth - Red Avenue Suit