I need suit buying advice
November 27, 2017 6:32 AM   Subscribe

I need a suit, am completely lost, and would really appreciate any help or advice.

Ideally, this would be my one, all-purpose suit, acceptable for weddings, funerals, and even the occasional back tie optional event. Is that doable? I won't wear it often, so I would hope to get years of use out of it. I know it should fit well (fwiw, I'm 6' tall with a slim, athletic build) but beyond that, what should I look for in terms of style and quality, and what's a reasonable budget? Brands or retailers to look for or to avoid? Thanks in advance.
posted by lost_cause to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Totally doable. Get a dark grey to be most similar to black (for funerals and black-tie-ish events); actual black often looks funereal.

There are a few ways of getting a new suit: the cheapest is just to buy something off the rack i.e. like you'd buy other clothes. If you find something that fits, great. Next up is to buy something and have it adjusted to fit you. Finally, you can have a suit made from scratch, which is expensive. You probably want off-the-rack, unless you have real trouble finding something that fits.

Suit styles don't change much. You probably want a single-breasted suit (double, which has two columns of buttons, is kind of old school), and probably a European cut (tighter fit=looks better but less comfortable, vs American cut which is loose). Jackets should be longer than you think (if your arms are at your sides your fingers should be around the bottom of the jacket) and trousers shorter (visible socks). Usually you'll wear the trousers around your waist instead of your hips, which feels weird if you're used to wearing jeans.

Cheaper suits will be polyester which has a sort of shiny look to it. Fancier ones will be not-polyester, probably cotton or wool and maybe a blend. In the UK I'd expect no less than £150 for a decent quality off-the-rack suit, but you might find them on offer.
posted by katrielalex at 6:47 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Given how rarely suits are worn today, lots of men get by with just one suit if they're not in a profession that requires one. Navy blue or charcoal are suitable for almost all occasions. Men's fashion in suits does change, but very gradually. A suit in mainstream style now will still look fine in 8-10 years.

I'm very happy with a custom Indochino, but with Made-To-Measure suits it's very important to get your measurements correct (have a tailor do it).
posted by justkevin at 6:55 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wear suits only occasionally -- basically the same cases you mentioned, plus work events a few times a year. If you can wait, my advice is to go to Jos. A Bank and buy one of their mid-level "Signature Suits" on sale. With the on-site tailoring, it should run you about $300. They have rotating sales all the time, so if it's not on sale now it will be soon in the future. No one ever buys one of their suits at full retail, which would be kind of a rip off.

As suggested above, always buy wool, and if you are going to buy just one suit, get gray or navy.
posted by AndrewInDC at 6:56 AM on November 27, 2017 [5 favorites]

There are a number of startups that are selling suits now. I got my wedding suit at Black Lapel and I've been super happy with it; my boss got his from Indochino and was also pleased. Most of these services have some kind of retail space (Black Lapel is on a floor in midtown NYC) and are filled with extremely helpful people, so if you can get to one of those, I'd say go for it.

You could go to Men's Wearhouse and get someone to help you, but the suits I bought there were less than stellar. They just didn't really fit right; the custom made ones are a bit more expensive, but I think it's well worth it.
posted by gchucky at 7:01 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are so many good, cheap, online made to measure stores that there is basically no reason in this day and age to buy an off-the-rack suit. This is doubly true because the most important part of how a suit looks is fit, and a tailored off-the-rack suit will never look as good as an MTM suit unless you have a very specific body type. At this point, the price is more or less comparable (really, you’re looking at maybe a hundred bucks more, which if you’re only gonna have One Suit isn’t the worst).

+1 for Black Lapel, I’ve used them before and I’m really happy with the result.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:20 AM on November 27, 2017

I have purchased two suits in my life. In both cases I walked into Mens Wearhouse (or whatever the equivalent was 10 years ago), found a salesperson and said "I need a suit for weddings, funerals and whatever else. I am clueless. Please dress me."

Both times I came out with a suit that fit well, looked good, and was within my budget.
posted by bondcliff at 7:25 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you want it to look more timeless, do not go too far into current trends. Specifically, the visible socks and too-small jacket look will not age well, on top of the fact that if you gain any weight at all your tight jacket won't be able to button. You should still go for a "European" cut, but for longevity I would make sure the jacket doesn't pucker when it's buttoned.

I like my trousers with just a bit of a break in the crease. "No break" but still touching your shoes would be a nod to current trends; if your trousers don't even reach your shoes you've gone too far into the trend and you won't get years of use.

In general: just get all wool, not a blend. Cotton isn't formal enough, but wool/silk would be nice if you can afford it. Avoid all polyester. Double-breasted jackets will give you a barrel chest if you don't have one, but they tend to start looking dated and only get worse from there unless you have a really specific body type. One button jackets are current; two button jackets are timeless (button the top but never the bottom when standing); three button jackets have a specific look to them you will either very much want or not want at all (never button the bottom, always button the middle, and whether you button the top depends on you and the jacket); four buttons is too many unless you need to pass for Italian.
posted by fedward at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Let me help. I know things.


1. *Fit* matters a LOT with a suit. If your suit doesn't fit, it's almost not worth it. Consequently, only go mail order if you have a good local tailor who can help you get it right.

2. Navy or dark grey. Don't get fancy. Black sounds appealing sometimes, but it's not actually appropriate in most contexts. Dark navy you can wear to a daytime wedding or a fancy nighttime function.

3. Patterns: No.

4. Two buttons.

5. Wool blend.

6. Side vents are more current today than center vents, but both are acceptable. Avoid anything that has no vents at all.

7. Beware extremes in design. For example, it's super trendy right now to have very skinny lapels. This will look dated very, very soon. A more traditionally cut suit will look good almost indefinitely. (For example, when I lost a bunch of weight, I gave away a couple suits that were a decade old, but that didn't look outdated at all, because I chose very classic tailoring.)


A suit is not cheap. The fact that few men wear one daily now means that quality has retreated to the fancier end of things, and the lower-end (say, sub-$500) has become terrible.

You can get a GREAT suit for $750 if you shop carefully. Happily, there is little reason for a casual suit wearer to go much higher than this even if you're flush.

It will be challenging to do so for less than $500. Plenty of folks will offer one, but generally these are poorly made and will fit and wear badly.


You want to stay traditional here, because you want this suit to be useful long term.

Consequently, old line men's shops are probably the best place to go - not in the least because they tend to have onsite tailor for the inevitable alterations.

(About that: Almost nobody can wear a suit off the rack without some alterations. The jacket won't be quite right across the shoulders, etc. Get your suit tailored.)

Maybe you don't actually BUY there, but Brooks Brothers has been the gold standard for a long time.

Much lower on the hierarchy, but still useful, is Joseph A. Banks. Their lesser lines are really kind of crap, but if you need something in a hurry that'll last a season or two, it's not a terrible idea. Their nicer suits are actually well made and will keep, but are also priced accordingly. The big thing about JAB, though, is that they have deep sales VERY often.

If you live in a decent sized city, there's probably a freestanding men's store that's been in business for a long time. (Somehow, they survive.) Check them out, too. The last suit I bought was actually from a shop like this in Jackson, Mississippi (in order to match my brother at his wedding). It was about $800 (which was quite low-end for the shop, but that doesn't mean "bad suit" in a joint like that).

I don't have anything from Suit Supply or Indochino, but my SENSE has been that they TEND to be more fashion forward, which reduces the useful life.

Big department stores are iffy at this point. There was a time when a regular department store like a Macy's could sell you a good suit, but nowadays they tend not to employ people who can help you make an informed decision. I'd avoid them. The exceptions are upmarket, like Nordstrom. If you have a Nordstrom in your area, definitely give them a look, because their customer service is legendary for a reason.
posted by uberchet at 7:35 AM on November 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

uberchet has covered almost everything. The only thing I don't see covered by anyone so far is the choice of jacket construction: full canvas, half canvas, or fused.

Most things you pick up off the rack at a department store these days will be fused, the least expensive of the three. Two things to keep in mind: One, it is also the least durable of the three - eventually, depending on how much you dry clean (which should not be as often as you probably think, no matter which construction choice you make), the glue will start to lose its power. And two, however it fits when you first try it on, that's pretty much how it will always fit (short of alterations). It will never really conform itself to fit you any better. That may be fine for your purposes, but it's something to be aware of.

The made to measure online folks will offer half canvas (and in fact may not offer fused at all). It's much more durable, so for most folks, it's usually worth the step up in price given how much longer it will be before you start thinking about replacing it. Bonus: over time as you wear the jacket it will look even more like it was made to fit you, as the canvas takes on your shape a bit more each time you wear it.

Full canvas is much more expensive and probably not worth it unless your dress habits change considerably and you are starting to look for something for daily use.

I have a made to measure from Blank Label, and (as is I think the case with most of the online made to measure choices) while they had a lot of fashion forward options, you could certainly choose more classic options - you have a fair amount of fine control on things like lapel size, button holes, pocket placement, and pleating. One thing I particularly liked about the vendor I chose is that they had a brick and mortar store near me, so I was able to get a free fitting from a qualified tailor and a free adjustment after it came and I tried it on.
posted by solotoro at 8:09 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have been to Nordstrom's suit department with several friends and relatives, and it has been among the most excellent shopping experiences ever. They are experts and they are kind to the confused (and to the not-confused). Amazing service and great quality.
posted by quadrilaterals at 8:23 AM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would have written everything that uberchet did, but now I don't have to. If you are still in Tennessee, the easiest thing for you (but not the cheapest) will be to go to a Nordstrom department store. There are two in Nashville and one in Memphis. You could look around and eventually find something that will work well and would be cheaper, but with your level of knowledge, and if you can budget for it, the fastest thing is let an expert handle it for you.
posted by seasparrow at 9:28 AM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

My brother and dad went to Men's Wearhouse to get suits for my wedding (and read so blatantly as people who never wear suits that when the sales guy met them, he literally said "so, good news or bad news?") and I was legitimately impressed with the cut and style of the suits. They are more up on the current style than you might think (my dad was unnerved by the relatively slim cut of his suit compared to the last time he'd had to wear a suit roughly 20 years ago), and the prices are reasonable.
posted by cakelite at 9:29 AM on November 27, 2017

I don't mean to be That Guy, but I see several folks suggesting discounters like Men's Wearhouse.

You will do much, much better stepping up to Nordstrom, or even Joseph Banks. MW is a deep discounter, and the (lack of) quality shows.
posted by uberchet at 12:26 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another great thing about Nordstrom suits is that they provide free adjustments should you gain or lose weight after purchasing a suit.
posted by monotreme at 3:00 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all of the advice! I went to the local men's store and tried on what was undoubtedly a very nice, well-made suit, but the $900 price tag was a little more than I was willing to spend. After looking at a few other places, I ultimately ended up buying one of Jos. Banks' higher end suits for half that. It seemed to tick all of the quality check boxes everyone mentioned, fit surprisingly well off the rack, and after alterations, will be perfectly adequate. Thanks again.
posted by lost_cause at 6:18 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Is there something cheap I can buy to make a Pixel...   |   Examples of libertarian market successes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.