Suits $200, $500, $1000 what's the difference
February 4, 2010 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Aside from how long it lasts, is there a visible difference between a $200 suit, a $500 suit and a $1,000 suit? I'm thinking about buying a new suit. I own one suit currently. I've had it for 20 years, and I've worn it maybe 20 times. So longevity isn't a concern for me. I want a style that won't look dated over time and I want to look sharp, but I don't want to spend any more than I have to. How much am I spending, and where should I be spending it? I'm in Los Angeles.
posted by willnot to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my humble opinion, the number one thing you can do when buying a suit is make sure it fits perfectly. You are more likely to get a well-fitting suit from a tailor than you are off the rack. It is a rare person on whom a 42-reg doesn't look a little baggy here, a little tight there. If I only owned 1 suit and only wore it once a year, I would spend a little extra money on it and make sure it fit me just right.
posted by jckll at 8:28 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you wear a suit once a year, I'd buy a cheaper one off the rack and get it tailored.
posted by decathecting at 8:31 AM on February 4, 2010

Or, what jckll said.
posted by decathecting at 8:32 AM on February 4, 2010

The primary differences between suits at the various price points you indicate are the materials it is made out of and the amount of customization you get.

The more expensive the suit the closer it is to being completely customized for you and the higher the quality of its materials.
posted by dfriedman at 8:32 AM on February 4, 2010

I don't know enough to answer your first questions about relative quality.

You can actually get pretty good deals on good suits (based on brand and full retail price) on eBay. You'll need to get them altered, which adds to the cost, but it still comes out as a good deal.
posted by OmieWise at 8:32 AM on February 4, 2010

Is there a visible difference between a $200 suit, a $500 suit and a $1,000 suit?

I'm somewhere in between... more of an $800 suit guy myself, but that's only because there are a couple of labels I trust to be well-enough made and long-lasting from experience. (And I'm sort of a sucker for sales.) But I'd have no problem buying and wearing a $200 one if it looked good: my closet certainly has some very cheap shirts and jackets, for example, that are pretty indistinguishable from the more expensive ones beside them.

Most important, though, I have always found that a good tailor can mean more than a good label. A good tailor can make any suit (even a $200 one) fit your own unique shape perfectly, and adjust it over the years so it keeps fitting perfectly even as your own size and shape, err... changes. The "guy in a cheap suit" cliche is more about an ill-fitting garment than a visibly inferior one, after all.

In other words: a cheap suit + a good tailor yields a better looking result than an expensive suit and bad (or no) tailoring.
posted by rokusan at 8:34 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

2nding jckll. In terms of off the rack suits, extra bucks frequently buy better fabric and tailoring, but not always. Cheaper suits tend to run baggier, and more expensive suits tend to fit the contours of the body more closely, but that's only helpful if the contours they fit are your own. I'd say bring a friend, try on a bunch, and buy the one that fits best, and then pay to have it tailored to fit just right. Sleeves can be shortened, but shoulders are pretty much the limiting reagent in terms of fit, so find a suit that fits well up top.

Here in NYC, we have Syms for discount designer suits. Theay have an enormous selection, but more importantly old school assistants and tailors who aren't on commission, and will give you their honest opinion and advice on fit. Hopefully LA has something similar.

Alternatively, if you have some chutzpah, you could go someplace super fancy like Barney's or Bergdorff's, try on a few great classic suits to see how they fit, and then either 1)buy one for big bucks or 2) seek out a suit with similar qualities elsewhere. The sales assistants there can give you great advice on what cut would work best for you, but I'd feel bad taking too much of their time without buying anything.
posted by abirae at 8:38 AM on February 4, 2010

Good advice so far, but note that if you end up going real cheap, it's possible to dip into the realm of lousy fabric (Target, I'm looking at you. Your suits feel like burlap). Any sort of a place that sells suits, Jos. A. Banks, Men's Warehouse, Macy's, etc. will have decent fabric down to their lower-end jobbies. And yes, tailoring is very important. Occasionally you'll find a suit off the rack that fits perfectly, but it's very rare. Depending on the shop, they may do some tailoring for free or at a reduced cost. I would say plan to spend around $300-350, and see a tailor.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:43 AM on February 4, 2010

I've heard good things about Jos. A. Banks. They have an incredible selection of traditional suits in a variety of sizes and tailoring styles, and they always have some kind of crazy sale.

I've had bad experiences at the Men's Warehouse with overly forceful sales people who have tried to push very weird (read "teal") suits, and lower end suits that fall into the Target-poly-burlap-sack category.

Brooks Brothers has good sales and good sizes, but their suits lean too baggy for my taste.
posted by abirae at 8:53 AM on February 4, 2010

I have 3 suits from Jos. A. Banks that I picked up at one of their super-duper sales. Basically, their suits are overpriced without a sale, and a good deal with one. I think this one was buy one get two free or something crazy. Anyway, solid quality for the price, though nothing that blew me away. The first tailor they had work with me was absolutely terrible though; put me into a coat that was too big, and then suggested a ton of tailoring. Later, I found someone else at the store to work with, and actually found a coat that fit without needing any serious alterations.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:57 AM on February 4, 2010

Yes! Yes! There is a million times difference between a $200 and a $2000 suit! In fabric, attention to detail, sexiness, cut, buttons, and, most importantly, tailoring.

Yes, you can buy a decent suit and get it well-tailored and you will look absolutely fine, as everyone has said.

But. If I only wore a suit once a year, I'd get something incredibly sexy and expensive and devastating and all-purpose.

To be fair, most people cannot really tell the differences. But for those who can tell, we can really tell. And we are judging you in a cheap suit. Sorry. (But good news! There's both a Zegna and a Vuitton on Rodeo Drive! Get something fabulous and you will feel like James Bond.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:06 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

The difference is that the more expensive suits tend to have a greater chance of standing up to closer scrutiny - the scrutiny by yourself as you get used to the suit and discover what it really looks like on you.

This allows for a $1000 suit to fail, and a $200 suit to excel. But it'll probably be the other way around ...

What you also get for $1000 is that you have to spend less time hunting to find a good suit. You can get the best suit in the world for $200, but you may have to spend a lifetime looking for it.
posted by krilli at 9:09 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm going to agree with everyone else that fit is the most important aspect of buying a suit. As far as some actual differences between a $200 suit and a $1000 suit:

-Wool instead of polyester or blends
-Hand stitched lapels and button holes
-Horn or MoP buttons instead of brass or plastic
-Surgeon cuffs (working button and button holes on the cuffs)
-Fully canvased (the actual suit material essentially floats on the lining rather than being fused to it giving you better lines and making you look less rumpled)
-Lapel rolls smoothly rather than being creased

Also a dark charcoal or navy two button notch has been in style for over the past 50 years and will probably still be in style for the next 50 years. It's pretty conservative but if it fits you right you can still make a dashing and stylish figure.

Last note, please buy nice shoes to go with your suit as more people will probably notice your shoes rather than the subtle differences between a $200 and $1000 suit.
posted by woolylambkin at 9:29 AM on February 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

You can tell the difference between a good suit and a bad suit. Most important thing is the fabric. Ever notice someone stand up at a party and their jacket has all these crinkly marks on it where it's gotten creased? That's a cheap suit. Good suits are nearly impossible to crease, making you always look sharp. Ever looked at a suit and thought it seemed really thin or delicate? Cheap suit. You never realized you could tell the difference because you've never paid attention to it. You probably judged that some people looked more put together without knowing why. But you've noticed. In this, RJ and I completely disagree. Anyone can tell a good suit from a bad, and so a good suit is essential.

Having said that, you don't need to pay $1000 for a good suit. I see you live in the LA area. Sir, head down to the garment district. Suits are on Los Angeles Street between Seventh and Ninth. Start by looking at a few expensive suits just to know what they're like. Then, you should be able to get a pretty solid suit for $300.

Don't ever go to a department store for a suit. Seriously. I was tempted to use the blink tag on this. This is one of the great things about living in LA. Let the poor saps who live elsewhere put up with that crap. You think you want to because it's a bit easier. Only it's not that difficult to navigate the garment district. There's a few blocks of nothing but suits. Try a random place. Ask their prices. Head to the next one, repeat. You will be blown away by the difference in value. You'd pay double or even triple at a department store. (Also, FYI, you should also do this for jewelery. $1000 pendant for $200? Yes please.)

So, in summary: Absolutely worth it to get a good suit, but there's no need to pay a grand for it.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 9:41 AM on February 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

A $500 suit is a $200 suit that's not on sale.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:43 AM on February 4, 2010 [4 favorites]

Once you can identify good fabric (wool) over bad fabric by touch, the most important bit from wolly's list of good-suit hallmarks is the difference between a suit that is fully canvassed and fused. Things like surgeon's cuffs are generally found in made-to-measure suits because it makes the arms damn hard to tailor, and how often do you plan on rolling up your jacket sleeves? A fully canvassed suit will sit better on your frame, and move with you better than a fused jacket will. They're tough to find cheaply though.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:02 AM on February 4, 2010

I agree with blue beetle. A $500 suit is not often a good deal. It's not expensive enough to be of a nice fabric, or have nice lapels, or great detailing. It won't look too much better than a $200 suit. It's almost certainly still made on a machine, out of machine cut blanks, and the lining will be fused.

I think that the breakpoint for high-quality suits comes at $800 or a bit higher. You'll still need to have it tailored, but the workmanship starts to show at this point.

Another option is to ask around lawyer or consultant friends: All big cities have a parade of professional tailors who come from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Paris, Milan, and other suit capitals.They often set up shop in a hotel suite for a couple of days and their clients come in, get measured, and pick out fabrics. This is one way to get a made-to-measure suit with your details for $500. They'll bring books of fabrics with them so you can see the difference between a $250, $350, $500, and $1000 suit. They can source their materials from the same weavers that Zegna, Prada, and others use. So you can get one of "their" suits (from last season) for half price. But it would be made to measure.
posted by zpousman at 10:19 AM on February 4, 2010

Don't forget the corollary: a $800 suit is a $400 suit that's not on sale.

For some reason it doesn't work as well for $1000 -> $500, but 50% is a typical discount. In my experience, you can get really solid suits that retail for $700 - $900 for around $300 - $500. These are solid good quality suits.

It's harder to find the >$1,000 suits on sale, and when you do, $600 - $900 is typical. These are the Zengas, Thom Brownes, Burberrys, etc. They generally look great, the cuts are flattering etc. but the price starts to creep into the bespoke range.

And as woolylambkin said, good shoes go a long way. Menswear never has the same kind of phenomenal discounts as womens fashion (presumably because it rarely reaches the same stratospheric prices for high fashion, and is less trendy), but a classic pair of $300 shoes is nicer than 2 pairs of $150 shoes. It's really hard to find classic shoes for under $200 these days, and buy have I looked. If someone has a way to find good mens shoes for under $200 I would love to hear it.
posted by abirae at 10:46 AM on February 4, 2010

I have had uniformly bad experiences at Men's Wearhouse -- things like them somehow managing to convince me that something ugly/ill-fitting was actually attractive/well-fitting, lying to me about a frequent customer program that supposedly gave cash back (but actually gave a practically-instant expiring gift certificate back), etc. etc. Never shop there.
posted by paultopia at 10:53 AM on February 4, 2010

In a pinch, you could also try the clearance section of They have some more fitted suits besides their usual style, and I think they have a good return policy, but double check. has some high end suits for 50-80% off (really tempting prices!), but their return policy is awful, so tread with caution.
posted by abirae at 10:53 AM on February 4, 2010

Please let me recommend Brooks Brothers - tailoring is available even at their factory stores and they often have excellent sales for suits. I've owned two now, wear them all the time, and they've held up splendidly. At this point in my suit-wearing-life I buy everything from them, shirts, ties, suits. Don't go to Men's Wearhouse.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:23 AM on February 4, 2010

I've heard good things about Thick as Thieves in LA.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:31 AM on February 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

For shoes to go with that suit, see this recent Askme.
posted by lalochezia at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Woolylambkin hits all of the major qualitative differences right on the nose, but in my experience you won't find the last three bullet points on most suits under $1000.

I think Brooks Brothers is your best bet. They have two clearances during the year. Unfortunately you just missed the one from around December to January but they have a second from about June to July. They'll usually have their $1000 suit selling for $600-$800, and in my opinion they're the most consistent suits of good quality in that price range.

With the exception of Zegna, I'd stay away from any big name brands (Burberry, Prada, etc) because they'll usually have an unjustified "luxury name" tax attached to the price.

Thick as Thieves is mentioned above, and I've heard good things about them too, but the skinny lapels of their house cut are a bit fashion forward. These things are a bit cyclical, thanks to Mad Men it appears that skinny lapels are making a bit of a comeback, but you should probably stay away if you are looking for something classic.
posted by C^3 at 12:18 PM on February 4, 2010

I've had nothing but great experiences at Men's Wearhouse, and have bought/had tailored several suits there over the years.
posted by Roach at 1:29 PM on February 4, 2010

Well, one thing no one mentioned is that cheaper suits tend to deteriorate faster with the number of dry cleanings.

I would say a primary difference is the fusing someone mentioned, and the details of the sewing and seams.

My suggestion would be, instead of getting one suit get two--one the cheapest you can find and the other one the amount you can affort minus the cost of the first suit.

I would make the better suit pure black. The other one chose something a little more adventurous--but still conservative--that strikes you.
posted by supremefiction at 2:35 PM on February 4, 2010

Jos A Bank is terrible. I bought a suit there. It didn't fit that great. Worse, however, is that it didn't last long. The fabric around the pockets started to unravel. Buttons started to come off. One of the suits they had on the rack had an obvious fabric defect, and one of the shirts had a mark on it. They have these "buy one get one free" sort of deals because their stuff is cheap and overpriced. If you see them coming up, cross the street.

Mens Wearhouse is awful too. I have rented tuxes there twice (the first time was for a wedding; the second time was solely my fault.) The sales chick was 100% disinterested--her boss told her to get to her counter to help a customer, and in front of the whole store she started talking about what a chore that would be. The head tux guy was not even wearing a suit--he had on jeans, a t-shirt, and a big puffy ski vest. I would have cut him a little slack--maybe it was his day off and he had to come in or something--but he wasn't even wearing a tie when I came back to return the tux. Meanwhile, another suit sales guy was not even wearing a suit--he did have on a tie though--and he was standing around on the sales floor checking his BlackBerry. He didn't even speak to me when I was standing around in the place waiting for someone to help me. I didn't even know he worked there until I saw him in there when I returned the tux, sitting on his duff and talking to his ill-dressed compadre.

Bank and Mens Wearhouse might as well be evil twins. Don't step foot in either one of them, not even to buy a pair of socks.
posted by massysett at 2:49 PM on February 4, 2010

I was not impressed with the Garment District at all. Perhaps I did it wrong, but it was all cheap crap. I didn't find a single suit that wasn't made in China.

I ended up with a nice suit, $600, from Brooks Brothers. Although, I did stop at Versace on Rodeo just to say that I tried on both the cheapest and most expensive suit in LA on the same day.
posted by hwyengr at 3:39 PM on February 4, 2010

In Australia, identical summer weight wool suits are sold as Hugo Boss for $1000, Studio Italia for $600 and Uomo for $300. Same suit. Different label. Different price.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2010

Anyone have an opinion about J Crew suits?
posted by emkelley at 5:58 AM on February 5, 2010

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