Learn to suit up properly and everything else follows.
Whether you’re an office guy who needs to look sharp for the competition, or a creative type who dresses up because he likes to, the suit is the basic building block of looking good. It’s a timeless, ever adaptable, sometimes maligned, but never improved uniform.
Consider the roots of that word: uni, as in a universally good idea to save your ass from the danger of too much choice; form, as in the opposite of formless, sloppy, or unfocused. We’ll get to the specifics of lapel widths and armholes and vents and how to do it right, but let’s first agree that this is where dressing like a man begins.
Get the basics down and then you can lose yourself in perfecting the details—what the ever dapper Tom Wolfe once approvingly called the sartorial “mania for marginal differences.” And that’s when things get interesting.
1. What the Twenty-first- Century Suited Man Looks Like
What’s the secret? The trimness of the suit? Sure. The elegance of the details? Totally. But look a little closer and you’ll notice what’s not here: no aggressive plaids, no I’m-the-man pinstripes, no four-button jacket. Instead, the message is smart, confident, thoroughly put together.
He makes a statement by not making one—or at least looking as if he’s not trying so hard to make one. Like the best in modern design, his suit is simple and streamlined, perfectly crafted. That’s the look you want.
2. More Than Ever, It’s About Fit
That’s our mantra here at S & S Menswear, it’s what we preach. Doesn’t matter what kind of suit you’re investing in, whether it’s $200 or $2,000, flannel or seersucker, two-button or three.
We’ve seen plenty of guys who’ve bought the right suit and let it hang off them like an NBA rookie on draft night. And we’ve seen men in cheap but well-tailored suits who look like a million bucks. The thing’s got to fit right, or else there’s no point in wearing it.
Question is, what’s the right fit, and how do you get it?
A. Take It from the Top
A good suit should hug your shoulders, not slouch off them. Most guys think they’re a size larger than they are—say, a 42 regular instead of a 40. When buying a suit, go ahead and try sizing down. When you pull on the jacket, there should be a firmness to it. You should snap to attention and stand taller. If it doesn’t fit right in the shoulders, don’t buy it.
B. Lose the Flab
Think about the width of the sleeves. This is an obsession of ours at S & S Menswear. For pretty much every photo shoot, we have a tailor slim down the sleeves, trimming them of excess fabric. It cuts a mean figure.
C. Show Some Cuff
Your suit sleeves should end just above the hinges of your wrists, so a quarter to half inch of shirt cuff shows. It’s like the frame on a painting—the elegant finishing touch.
D. Taper, Taper, Taper
Your jacket should contour to your body. Have a tailor nip it at the sides. This will accentuate your shoulders—whether you’ve got strong ones or not.
E. Break It Down
We like flat-front pants, cut slim, with very little break at the ankle. This produces a long, clean look. Your pants should just clip the tops of your shoes, not bunch up over them.
3. Wanna Step It Up? Nail the Finer Points
You now know how a suit should fit. But what about all the details that define the style of a suit? You’ve got countless options. Here are the ones that matter most, the ones that make for an infallible suit.
F. Start with the Lapels
Nothing does more to dictate a suit’s character than the lapel. We like a slim one, about two inches at its widest point. It’s modern without being rock-star skinny.
G. Go for Two
We swear by a two-button suit jacket. Sure, a three-button that’s cut well can do the job, but a two-button is much more consistently reliable, no matter your shape or size. We typically opt for ones with low-button stances, because they create a long, slimming torso. They’re foolproof.
H. Ticket, Please
Ticket pocket? Sure. If you’re into more of a British-dandy vibe, go for it.
I. Cause a Flap
We like a traditional flap pocket. There’s something a bit too ’90s about those slit pockets.
J. Feel Free to Vent
Finally, don’t ignore the back of the jacket. It plays an integral role in a suit’s character. Generally, we prefer a center vent; it’s unobtrusive and keeps the lines of the suit clean and simple. Side vents, like these here, make more of a statement. They’re a bit more…rakish.
4. How to Suit Your Shape
Anyone who’s short or a bit heavyset should take notes.
• An overly roomy suit—even a pricey one —makes you look sloppy.
• Avoid long suit jackets. They actually make your legs look shorter.
• Excess fabric, especially below the knee, adds pounds.
• Be honest with yourself. Admit you’re short and buy short-length suits.
• Wear a pocket square. It brings the focus to your chest, not your belly.
• A lower button stance creates long lines, essentially stretching you out.
• Show some cuff to lengthen the look of your arms.
• A pant leg with very little break will help you look taller.
• Big man, solid shoe. Choose shoes that have a substantial sole. You need something to anchor your weight.
5. Get Thee to a Good Tailor: It’s the Wisest Money You’ll Ever Spend
The right tailor can make a $100 suit look like $1,000, and he can make that $1,000 suit worth every penny. There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t enlist our tailor, to nip, tuck, and alter a suit. For your purposes, the trick is knowing what needs to be done and then knowing how to manage your tailor. Don’t let him tell you how much of a break you want in your trousers: You tell him. You’re the boss.
Here’s what a good tailoring job will run you:
Most suits are cut too full, including the sleeves. Have them narrowed. It makes a difference.
Tailors hesitate to shorten sleeves. Be adamant—your sleeves should end at the break of your wrists.
Jackets need to be brought in at the waist, to create that V effect.
Have your pants slimmed an inch from top to bottom. Then shorten them. The narrower the pant leg, the less break you need.
6. Go Short—Shorter Than You Think
Your suit is (probably) too long
You might have noticed, on the runways and in our pages, that guys are wearing much shorter suit jackets these days. And it’s a look we like. Partly because it goes with the slimmer, trimmer suit style, and also because most guys wear their suits too long.
Here’s the deal: You should be able to easily cup your hands beneath your suit jackets. Going full-on Thom Browne short isn’t for everyone, but there’s no denying the impact of this wave. The average suit at J.Crew or Club Monaco is cut considerably shorter than it was five years ago. The days of the average guy wearing a three-to-five-button suit are thankfully behind us.
7. That Year-Round Suit Ain’t Cutting It Anymore
We like to think that you should dress like you eat—seasonally. Not only is it a way to bring some variety to your wardrobe; it’s also sensible. When the temperature drops, reach for heavier, warmer fabrics. When it’s hot and humid, keep your suiting lightweight and pretty much cotton exclusively.
8. Freezing Your Ass Off? Conquer Winter in Style
The man in the gray flannel suit. You can’t get more timeless—and flawless—than that.
You don’t want too fine a wale (so people mistake it for velvet) nor too wide (which can look a little too Greenwich, Connecticut, Christmas party).
Perfect for those transitional months when you can skip the overcoat and just throw on a scarf with your trim-cut tweed sports jacket.
9. …And When It’s Muggy and Miserable, Keep Your Cool
When the temperature surges past seventy or so, it’s time to shelve your wool suits and go lightweight. Yes, khaki is probably the best-known of the summer suits, but don’t limit yourself: Designers are doing a range of cotton options, including navy, black, and even plaid.
Whether you have the confidence to pull off a white one is your call. Other go-to cotton options include seersucker (go with gray or pale blue stripes) and whipcord (which has ridges like corduroy—without the fuzziness).
Finally, there’s linen, the lightest material of them all. Just make sure yours is cut sharp and slim, unlike the stuff you see flopping in the sea breeze in the Florida Keys.
10. It Might Get Loud…So Mute It
We dig a patterned suit, but when we show one in the magazine, or wear one ourselves, we like to keep it subtle. Our aim is to inject a bit of personality without making the guy look like a buffoon.
Don’t Look Like Pee-Wee Herman
Right now, we really like a shadow plaid suit. It’s more of a suggestion of plaid than a full-on one, like a classic Prince of Wales. It’s easy to wear and offers just enough oomph.
Go for a Thinner Pin
For pinstripes, we tend to avoid bold Wall Street stripes and go with either a fine-line pinstripe (tightly spaced superthin stripes) or a solf chalk stripe on a heavyweight flannel, like the one on the right. Both will elicit compliments, not guffaws.
11. Don’t Get Taken to the Cleaners
• Do it infrequently. Dry cleaning can be brutal on suiting fabric. A suit is an investment; you want to preserve its integrity.
• If it’s looking creased and wrinkled, take it in to have it steam-pressed. This is especially good for cotton suits, which wrinkle more easily.
• And if you’re in a bind—or just in some funny hotel in a foreign city—hang it up in the bathroom, blast a hot shower, and close the door for ten minutes. It’ll look—almost—like new.
Three Styles That Help You Stand Out
No. 1: The New Slim, Trim Double-Breasted
• If you want a double-breasted suit to look modern—and not like something from a gangster flick—keep it short and trim. And avoid Dick Tracy-grade shoulder pads, too.
• Keep the jacket buttoned (including the interior button). It doesn’t hang well when undone.
• And unlike with single-breasted suits, unless you want to look like a singer in the ’80s R&B band, go for a higher-cut six-button suit instead of a low-slung four-button model.
No. 2: The Young Man’s Three-Piece
• A three-piece suit announces itself loudly and clearly—which means you sould opt for a relatively subdued shirt-and-tie combo to provide balance.
• Fitwise, think about the vest. It should hit at the belt buckle (not dip past it), and it should wrap snugly around your torso.
• Mix it up. Ditch the jacket and stride around the office in just the vest (very manly, indeed). Or you can always leave the vest at home and wear the suit as a conventional two-piece.
No. 3: The Winning Peak Lapel
• For the best-fitting peak-lapel suits, stick with two-button models. They create a more fluid shape. Three-button ones tend to be too boxy.
• These are elegant business-to-evening suits. Leave the sneaks and tee in the closet.
• Want to one-up the dude in the office next to yours? This is the power suit that’ll do it.
The Cheat Sheet
• A suit’s gotta fit right or it isn’t worth wearing.
•In order to make sure that it does fit right, find yourself a good tailor.
• You’ll never go wrong wearing at two-button suit with a fairly narrow lapel. It’s both classic and completely modern.
• Flat-front, relatively trim pants; very little break at the ankle.
• You should be able to easily cup your hands beneath the hem of the jacket; if you can’t, it’s too long.
• Show some cuff. It’s the mark of a (well-dressed) gentleman.
• Dress with the season—cotton suits in summer; tweeds, flannels, and corduroys in winter.
• If you’re going to wear a patterned suit, keep the patterns subtle. You want a smart suit, not a kooky one.
• If you ever can afford to get a bespoke suit, get one made. It’s worth every penny.