There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to wear a suit. It might be a job interview, business affair, wedding, funeral, or a fancy night out with that special someone. Despite current trends towards ‘Dressy Casual’ jean & t-shirt combos and designer track suits, the venerable men’s suit is still the preferred choice for most formal occasions.
It’s probably easier to talk about what not to do than what makes a good suit. In basic terms, you want a wool suit that fits properly, 2 or 3 buttons, wrinkle-free with pressed slacks, dress shirt, tie, shined shoes. Couldn’t be simpler, right? Well, I guess not.
The biggest problem I see is “swimming in the suit”. Most men seem to be wearing clothes that don’t fit. Too-big jackets, too-long pants, sagging pants are all-too-common. I’ve talked about the importance of pants that fit before, so I’ll talk about the jacket, which can be a tough thing to figure out.
The basic rule of thumb it’s OK to have a jacket that is slightly too small but not OK to have a jacket that is at all too big. There are a few easy ‘tells’ when trying on a jacket that will make it easier to get one that fits. First, ask the salesman for a shirt in your size. This is important. Make sure it fits correctly and ask for him to measure you if necessary.
Button up the shirt all the way and button the sleeves. When you try on the jacket, you are looking for about a half-inch of your shirt collar to show above the jacket at the very back of your neck. If the jacket covers your shirt collar, it’s too big.
Watch out for over-padded shoulders – the easy way to tell this is to stand with your shoulder against a wall – your arm should meet the wall before the shoulder pad of the jacket.
See how the jacket fits in the chest. Button the top button (or 2 of a three-button) and place your fist under the top button. It should fit comfortably and snugly without too much extra room. If you can pull the buttoned jacket 5 or more inches from your chest, it is too big.
Your jacket’s sleeves can be hemmed. If the jacket fits in the chest and shoulders, hem the sleeves so that about a half-inch of shirt cuff shows with your arms at your sides. You can go even shorter (to about an inch) if you are young, slim, and want that hipster look. Some modern cuts also have smaller, more tailored arms which are nice for taller men. Look for these, they prevent the dreaded “football shoulders” which is hard to avoid.
A couple more things to remember:
- A sportcoat and slacks is not a suit.
- Don’t wear a tuxedo shirt without a tuxedo.
- Don’t wear french cuffs unless you are wearing a suit.
- Your tie should reach your belt. Too-short ties are an instant barney maneuver.
- Get your suit tailored, steamed and pressed before you wear it.
- Shine your shoes!
- If you can only buy one suit, it should be black, navy, or dark grey. Striped suits are for your second or third suit.
- 3-button suits are better for men with thinner upper bodies; both 2 and 3 button suits are appropriate. Be careful with the 4-button suits.
- Your jacket should have a vent (center or sides). A jacket without a vent looks like a sack.
- If you wear a black suit, wear black socks and black shoes and a black belt.