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So, you want to buy a new suit. If you’re like most of us, though, shopping for a new suit is incredibly daunting. Where do you go? What size do you need? What material is best for you? Which color, pattern, and cut look best? How much should you spend? These are all very valid questions, and any suit-seller worth his salt will be happy to help you find the answers.
If you want to know how to buy a suit but don’t know where to start, we’ve got some advice.
Before you walk into that store, you need to have a general idea of why you want a new suit, and what kind of suit you’re looking for. In that order. The most important thing to remember is the store wants to sell you a suit. That’s how they make their living. It’s also important to remember that a salesperson’s best weapon is flattery. He or she will tell you what you want to hear if they think it will help close the deal. That’s their job.
It’s a lot like buying a car. Suits are pricy, subjective, and it’s a big decision that you’re going to have to live with for a while. That’s why it’s important to be an educated consumer. And that’s why it’s essential to have a good idea of what you want before you even set foot in the building.
If you’re in the market for a new suit but don’t know where to start, Men’s Journal is here to help.
Rule #1: Stay Classic
Like all apparel, suits are susceptible to fashion. The classic suits Don Draper wore in the 50s became extra slim on the Beatles in the 60s. In the Disco Era of the 70s, polyester ruled and pant legs flared. Collars and lapels were massive. And in the 80s? Boxy jackets, baggy pants, and shoulder pads were all the rage. More recently, suit styles have skewed more practical.
The pendulum of fashion will forever swing to and fro, but it’s had less of an effect on modern suiting than it did in the past. There have been trends, of course; shiny sharkskin was hip for a while, and slimmer, shorter pant legs are currently de rigeur. But the way the suit complements the body has become more intrinsic to suit design than the color or style.
For the modern man who tends to be more active, the fit is the key to a great suit. A suit should flatter and accentuate your figure, not mirror it. And if it’s too tight, you’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll look uncomfortable. And that’s never flattering.
So unless you can afford to swing with the styles, it’s best to avoid trends when shopping for a new suit. Instead, you should look for a classic cut that gives you room to move, in a fabric that you’re comfortable wearing. And in a cut, color, and pattern that you’ll look good in for years to come.
Ask the Right Questions
Now it’s time to choose the suit. The first consideration is simple: Why? What’s the purpose of this new suit? What message are you trying to convey? Are you a one-suit kind of guy, who wants one nice suit that will appropriate for everything from weddings to funerals? Or do you need one for work, to look professional and sincere? Perhaps you already own a couple of suits and want to change it up, give your wardrobe a bit of variety? If you’ve got a big party or special occasion coming up, maybe something eye-catching and fun is what you’re after? Determining its purpose is the first step toward deciding what kind of suit you need.
When and where do you plan to wear this suit? That’s going to determine the fabric. Are you running all over town making sales calls and pitches? Perhaps you live in a warmer, more humid climate? If you’re going to be moving around a lot, or if you’re just a sweaty guy in general, look for cooler, more breathable fabrics like linen, cotton, or a lighter wool. Linen, cotton, and seersucker are comfortable and lightweight, but they will wrinkle more easily. Wool, which is surprisingly breathable, holds its shape very well. There’s a reason it’s the most popular fabric in suiting.
Are you going to an air-conditioned office, and staying put all day long? Or looking for something for your winter commute? Heavier fabrics like worsted wool, cashmere, and flannel are best for chilly offices and cooler months. Modern polyester has come a long way, and is far less hot and scratchy than in the past. It’s also far more versatile; some of it can even be laundered. Best of all, polyester suits are often woven with a slight stretch, which is ideal for active guys who prefer a slim-cut suit.
Finally, your budget and body type will dictate whether you choose a ready-to-wear suit off the rack and have it altered to fit, or a bespoke suit that’s fitted to your particular body type. The bespoke approach is great—but it can get expensive. Yes, you will have a hand in co-designing your new suit every step of the way.
But if you’re a reasonably fit guy of average size who knows what he wants in a suit, it’s perfectly acceptable to go to a suit store—Macy’s always has a great selection—and select a suit straight off the rack. Most stores provide free (or very affordable; remember, they want you to buy the suit) alteration services. They’ll measure it to your specs—top to bottom, jacket to pants—and alter it to fit you perfectly. This approach is vastly more affordable and often far less time-consuming as having a pricy bespoke suit made to order.
Always, Always Sweat the Details
Suits are a bit like black SUVs. From a distance, they all kinda look the same; it’s not until you get up close that you notice the details that distinguish one from the rest. So you should consider carefully all the options that come with selecting your new suit.
A suit’s “silhouette” refers to the way the jacket sits on your shoulders. A Natural silhouette is just that, while a Structured silhouette utilizes extra shoulder fabric or even padding to give your frame a bit more definition.
Your suit jacket should sit flat on your back. It should never pucker or pull. The sleeves should end at your wrist, and your shirt sleeves should stick out—but no more than half an inch. The jacket’s shoulders should fit your shoulders; if they squeeze too tightly or poke out, the jacket will pinch and pull. You should be able to move comfortably in your jacket, and your arms should have a wide range of motion.
Single-breasted jackets are casual and versatile; they can often be worn with jeans or chinos and display a relaxed approach. Two-button jackets are a classic, conservative look; three-button is more modern (although no matter how many buttons on the jacket style experts often suggest always leaving the bottom button undone).
Double-breasted suit coats are the very definition of dapper confidence. They’re wider and more formal and can be worn on any frame, but they tend to be more flattering on tall, thin men. It takes an assured man to pull off the double-breasted look, but here’s the rub: Even if you’re not the most confident type of guy, you can convey that image with a double-breasted jacket.
A peak lapel is more formal and can lend a pointed sense of athleticism to guys who can use that kind of help, while notched lapels are better for bigger guys with square shoulders. Finally, a waistcoat (or vest) of a three-piece lets you look buttoned-up even after removing your jacket.
Often, you’ll get a choice of hand-picked (visible) or hidden stitching around the lapels and pocket flaps—the choice is up to you and the difference is a subtle, subjective one. Make sure you see both options before making a selection but choose wisely—you won’t be able to change your mind after-the-fact. And you may even get the choice of a Center vent (one slit up the middle; generally more formal) or Side vents (one slit on either side, more laid-back).
Now the trousers. Suit pants wear differently than casual trousers. You’ll want them to cinch around your waist, not below it. Pay special attention to the hem, and if and where the pants break across your shoes. A good tip: Wear the same shoes you intend to wear with the suit when you have your pants altered or tailored.
Pleated fronts provide more room and offer additional air for things to breathe down there. They’re a more formal approach that can also make you look a bit tubby, even if you’re not; slim or fit guys should go with a similarly-suited pant that accentuates their flat front. Guys with a slight belly can pull off the flat-front—it is a more casual look—but run the risk of having their paunch accentuated. If that’s a risk you’re willing to take in the name of style, go for it. Overweight guys would be wise to avoid flat-front pants altogether; they won’t drape right and they’ll be uncomfortable to wear.
Finally, remember: it’s all about the details. What kinds of buttons are on the cuffs? What kind of fly is on the trousers? Will you be able to wear a belt—and if so, can it be one you already own? Or will you need (or want!) suspenders? What about a tie? Pocket square? And the shirt!? These detail considerations are excellent reasons to shop for a suit at a department store like Macy’s. You’ll get not just the suit, but all the accessories you’ll need to accompany it.
What’s A Great Suit to Buy Right Now?
Macy’s has hundreds of suits to choose from, so no matter what style you’re looking for, what color or pattern you need, chances are you’ll find it. From linen to wool, tuxedos to seersuckers, Macy’s has it. And right now during the Macy’s Clearance Suiting Event, hundreds of suit jackets and trousers are 70-85 percent off. It’s the perfect time to pull the trigger on a brand-new suit that’s just right for you.
If you’re somehow still undecided though, here’s a suggestion that should serve most any guy for most any occasion. The Perry Ellis Premium Men’s Slim-fit Stretch Tech Suit ($140; regularly $495) offers low maintenance and versatile style. It’s perfect for most men because it’s machine washable. That’s right: wear it, and throw it in the laundry. (Please fellas, be a grown-up and follow the wash directions on the label). The poly blend is cut with a bit of spandex, so despite the Slim Fit, it moves when you do and doesn’t pinch.
The Perry Ellis Slim-fit Stretch Tech Suit is available in grey, blue, or black; if you’re a one-suit kind of guy, we definitely recommend grey. otherwise, all three shades have a confident sense of style that can’t be denied. It comes in Short, Regular, or Long sizes, so it’s great for any guy. It gets a 4.8-star rating from Macy’s reviewers. And at 71 percent off, it’s a bargain that’s just too good to pass up.