You don’t have to spend a fortune, but look for the following essential secrets to buying a great suit…
1. Jacket Fit
The shoulders have it. Does the suit jacket follow the countour of your upper body? You want the seam of the shoulder to sit right where your arm begins. Sleeves should end at your wrist bone when your arms are by your side. Another thing to look for in a quality jacket are sleeves that are slightly tubular in construction so they don’t hug your biceps. Despite the trend, don’t go for a suit that looks sprayed on. That fad will be finished before you know it. Go classic, man.
Go natural – wool definitely, cotton maybe. A suit’s outer fabric should be good quality pure wool because it’s durable, its heat resistance won’t show post dry-cleaning shine and it breathes all-year round for guaranteed comfort. Wool’s “Super Count” describes its thread thickness. You want Super 100s to 140s for business and 150 for a formal suit. Anything higher moves into super-soft but super-fragile territory. You can also opt for a wool blend. Cotton suits are lightweight, good for more casual affairs, but they also crease more easily. Beware the polyester suit: it’s likely to fit poorly, hang badly, shine terribly and breathe not at all.
There’s no point in a wool or cotton outer if the suit’s lining is made with a non-breathable fabric containing a lot of polyester or acetate. A good quality suit’s lining will also be a natural fibre, such as rayon, which is breathable. Also: quality trousers will be lined front and back, rather than just front. After all, it’s the back of your thighs and bum that comes into contact with seats all day, getting the most wear, and this is where trousers need to be the most durable.
There’s an additional layer between a suit’s lining and outer shell—the canvassing, which gives a jacekt shape, structure and strength. Or, at least, there should be. Jackets without these are known as “fused”, where lining is simply glued to the outer fabric, and they should be avoided as they’re stiff, ugly, don’t follow your body and won’t breathe properly because of the glue’s chemical composition. Ideally, look for a “fully canvassed” construction, where the top and bottom of the jacket has an internal canvas structure, though they’re more expensive. “Half-canvassed”, where there’s a layer in the top half of the jacket, is perfectly acceptable. Pinching various parts of the jacket will tell you the degree of canvassing: you’ll be able to feel the distinct layers.
Image from blacklapel.com
5. Stitching & Buttons
The rule is the more hand-stitching, the higher the quality. A way to tell is close inspection: if there are imperfections in the stitch, it’s been done by a human. Machine stitching of major seams is acceptable, but look for hand-sewn lapels, button holes, sleeves and waistbands. When it comes to buttons, opt if possible for enamel or tortoiseshell over plastic, with buttons on stems for easier buttoning—and ensure the suit comes with plenty of spares. Also: working cuffs on the jacket sleeve are a sign of superior quality and also allow for minor adjustment of fit.