I am going to assume that I was successful in convincing you to stop dressing like you are 17 still and you are looking to shop for a suit. I thought it would be beneficial to have a guideline to help you purchase the right suit for your needs. The first question you need to ask is where you are going to buy a suit. Where you go isn’t quite as important as what you buy. That said, please be wary when you see consistent buy one get one free deals. Sometimes they are fantastic; sometimes you get what you pay for.
I have made several references to buying custom suits. This technically IS for everyone since, it is custom but the experience isn’t always for everyone. People can get lost in a sea of options. I cannot buy off the rack and expect to look my best. I have a 21 inch neck, 64 inch shoulders, 52 inch chest and a 41 inch waist. Shirts off the rack, even tailored to the limits of the shirt’s ability to be brought in, look like tents on me. The same for suits. People with my neck, shoulders and chest usually have a 50 inch waist, some suits the pockets would have to meet in back to look fit with it’s original jacket. Going custom for me is the best option. Most of you will be fine buying off the rack. I will go over the process if you are interested. I have been lucky to know a custom suit company that my family has had a relationship since the early 70s and couldn’t recommend a better, more reasonably priced custom tailor.
Let’s start with buying off the rack as this is probably going to be your first experience. I have nothing against going to Men’s Warehouse. I think they are a fantastic place to pick up a good suit. I went there when I started my current job as the wardrobe requirements were a bit more sophisticated than my previous job and needed a lot of suits, fast. They have decent tailoring and even have it for free at times. November is a good time to shop as they will start having end of the year sales. There are other decent stores like Joseph A. Banks or if you have money to burn you can go to Brooks Brothers (though they have great sales). For purposes of brevity and focus I will stick with the MW experience.
Men’s Warehouse has two house brands; Pronto Umo and Joseph and Feiss. Both brands are decent suits. Pronto offers you more European styling, the suits will be a slimmer/athletic cut. It will likely have a double vent in the back (the better choice if you have some junk in your trunk like me). Joseph and Feiss is more American/Brittish. You will see conservative cuts, single vents in the back and more often double breasted. You really won’t go wrong with this brand and they usually offer good deals on the suits. This is a great option if you plan to wear the suits only for certain occasions. Once every other month, or just for weddings, funerals and interviews then these will be perfect. If you expect to wear a suit more often you want to venture out into other brands. Short of Brooks Brothers, I would suggest Jones NY, Lauren (Ralph Lauren) and Oscar De La Renta. All of them offer fine suits that can be purchased at discount locations like Men’s Warehouse.
When you walk in, don’t be afraid to talk to one of the sales people. Feel free to take their advice but remember, you are the one that will have to pay for it and wear it. So walk in there with an idea of what you want to wear and take some of the control out of their hands. What should you wear? I am so glad you asked. As usual, I like to start with color then pattern, pieces, and cut/style. What you will get from me is a take that is a bit conservative and a bit crazy. I like to have suits that are a little timeless. That way, if I happen to time travel for some reason (touched by a weeping angel) I won’t stick out too much. On the other hand, my father sometimes suspects that I part-time as a pimp based on some of my suit choices.
Color, I have said this before, Color is THE most important piece. I have a personal war against black suits. For some reason people think they are cool. I blame Quentin Tarantino films. What people see is Vincent Vega running around in a black suit and tie, being cool or Mr Pink and Mr Blue walking in slow motion with the rest of the team. What people don’t get is that those black suits are a uniform for the gang. My relatives use to tell me to never wear an all black suit unless you are driving a limo, working a restaurant, working security, or a mortician. Suits are often uniforms, YOUR suit shouldn’t be. That said, I do own two suits with black, one black on black texture pattern and one black with purple pinstripes.
Ranting done, what colors should you chose for your suit? I would suggest to start with Navy, Charcoal/dark grey or medium grey. All of them are appropriate for Weddings, Funerals, interviews or that night out with the wifey that requires pants. Navy is very close to black in color but it is clear that it isn’t quite black. Charcoals mostly come in a pinstripe. Greys often come in a plaid. If this is your third suit, time to look at a brown, blue or khaki/cream.
Patterns can make or break a color and suit on you. In general there are 5 common patterns. Plain, which is self explanatory. Pinstripe, this will add length to your look. With the right cut pinstripes will slim you down visually. You can go with a very fine and subtle pinstripe (suggested) or go with something a little more stark. Plaids aren’t what usually come to mind when it comes to suits. Glen plaids are much more subtle and just give you more color and texture to work with. When people are more than 8 feet away, it just looks like a vibrant suit. The plaids only show up as you get closer. I am a big fan of this and get a lot of compliments on my plaids. Window Pane is often confused with plaid. They are basically pinstripes in horizontal and vertical patterns that make large boxes. This is something for the more daring, or those who want to stick out a bit more and appear unconventional. Window pane is perfectly acceptable in the board room or at your cousin’s wedding. It is just a little different. It can be considered a little dated to the untrained eye, but that is okay. Window Pane is the hipster pattern. Lastly, we have texture patterns. Hound’s-tooth or vertical patterns are usually what you will see. A vertical texture pattern is an excellent substitute for pinstripes.
To the Style! To keep your suit wearable for a few decades I would suggest the following choices. Single Breasted, two button with a medium lapel. 3 button is so 1990s and a little formal for single breasted. The SB 2B option is pretty much timeless. Watch old footage, look at old pictures, that style was worn throughout the ages. This style draws attention to you, not from you. It allows you to show your cool pink shirt and kick ass blue tie. I usually go for no cuffs on my pant legs. Cuffs are perfectly acceptable but I have this hang up about hand me downs. A cuff did help Marty McFly get home from 1955 though. Something to keep in mind…
The rest is up to you and how you feel you look in the suit. Bring a guy friend, girl friend or other friend to help you be objective. Just as importantly, you need to pay attention to how you feel in the suit, both physically and mentally. Physically, is it tight in the shoulders? Can you move your arms up without the suit bunching up too much so you can dance? Can you sit down with the jacket buttoned? Just as importantly, do you feel good in it? A suit should help you feel powerful or at the very least, not vulnerable or self-conscious. You should look in the mirror and say “well hello there handsome.” That feeling will translate out to others. Pair the suit up with some nice shoes, a good shirt and an optional tie you are ready to rock. Time to keep up with the wife when it comes to looking good. This will help you make it obvious to others, why she picked you opposed to those other schmucks.
What I am wearing as I write this; Black purple pinstripe, canary yellow shirt, Purple tie with some Ox blood shoes.
About the Author: Tom is a director of IT for a financial start-up. He spends his days designing infrastructure and supporting high net worth advisers and their clients. Traveling much for work affords him a great perspective on life and what is important. The high travel has ensured that he goes on a lot of first and second dates. Mel Brooks honed his humor. Johnny Carson, Cee-lo, and Groucho Marx are some of his inspirations.