A suitable suit
December 17, 2006 11:04 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy a suit. But I don't know what kind of suit I want. I'd love some help with deciding.

Hi. My name is Alex, I am 26 years old, and I've never owned a suit. Although I have a so-called "professional job", the environment I work in is very casual - by and large we are a bunch of computer nerds usually seen in jeans and t-shirts.

I would normally not give any though to buying fancier clothing, but there is one factor that makes me consider it. Although I normally live in US, I am temporarily working in Beijing, China. The city is abound with quality tailorshops that can make a suit to my specs for crazy-cheap (compared to off-shelf prices in US). So far it looks like the going rate for a full suit from a well-recommended place is something like $70-100 US + cost of raw material. However, the language barrier prevents me from having an indepth talk with the tailor. The way things are, I would basically have to show them what I want (they have catalogs with photos of different styles) and pick the material, and then they can start taking measurements and going from there. But I have no idea what I want! Surely, the collective mind knows...

Here are some data points that can hopefully explain what I am after. The suit I will have made will like be the only one I will own for quite some time. I would like it to be suitable (groan) for 3 things:
1. Going to weddings. I am in the age group where the onslaught of wedding invitations from friends is imminent.
2. Wearing it to job interviews in case I start looking for new employment.
3. Wearing it to some sort of dress-up social event.

I would probably use the suit less than a dozen times a year. Some stats: I am male, 26, a bit on heavy side (5'11", 200 lbs), have lots of muscle in my legs on account of being a cyclist. I normally live in Seattle, in case that makes a difference.

Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated - especially if you can give me a style name or link to a picture that I can show to a tailor. Also, I think I will have the same person do a couple of dress shirts for me - so if any of you businessware-savvy peole know of styles that go well with particular suits, I'd love to hear about them.

posted by blindcarboncopy to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (44 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Double-breasted suits - where the material overlaps at the front rather than buttons together in the midline of your chest without overlapping (this is a single-breasted shirt) - often suit people with larger frames better. However, they aren't particularly fashionable at the moment. If you want something classic that won't go out of fashion, a very dark navy blue plain suit, single breasted with 2 or 3 buttons, will last you well. You can also take the jacket and wear it with other things, and generally dress it up or dress it down.

On dress shirts, I don't think you can beat double-cuffed shirts - these are the ones where the cuff is twice as long, folds back on itself and is fastened with cuff links. Get yourself some nice cuff links, pair this with a classy suit and you will look great at weddings or interviews.
posted by greycap at 11:08 PM on December 17, 2006

I would go with a black or charcoal grey, light wool 2 or 3 button suit. This can work for funerals, weddings and job interviews. The material is adaptive to most climates and he color is adaptive to most events. Most of the bespoke people here in town will have a variety of styles on manaquins and you should be able to point to what you want.

Incidentally, there is a BJ meet up in the works for later this week. Perhaps your new suit and where to buy it can be a topic of conversation at said event. I have to get some made in the month or so, if you need more help I'm at hotmail.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:17 PM on December 17, 2006

Just my opinion, but I think my tastes may be more conservative than greycap's, but I wouldn't go with either a double breasted suit or a french cuffed shirt for a utility suit.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:20 PM on December 17, 2006

Best answer: I find double breated suits to make younger gentlemen look rather stiff. this is something you can pull off if you have a certain distinguished look...

that being said, I highly recommend you check out this little book: The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style by Nicholas Antongiavanni is a suprisingly delightful read and filled with tons of little bits on style.

also great is the GQ's forum at mens.style.com. lots of people with vast knowledge there.
posted by krautland at 11:30 PM on December 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'd go for a dark navy suit. I find that navy adapts itself to shirts and ties better than black or charcoal. That is, a dark navy suit with a conservative combination (say a white shirt and dark red tie) looks completely professional. The same suit with a slightly lighter blue shirt and bright pink tie is very casual and hip. You get the idea. Black and charcoal suits just aren't as versatile.

You should try on both double and single breasted styles to see which you like better. Though, if you pick single breasted, I'd opt for three buttons.

Finally, if you have a gal pal (or can borrow a friends girlfriend), take her with you. A second opinion is invaluable in these things. (Of course, any well dressed male friend would do, too.)

But may I ask one thing? If the suits are so cheap (and those prices are fantastic) why not get yourself 2-3 suits?
posted by oddman at 11:32 PM on December 17, 2006

If you only want one suit, I'd go with either navy or charcoal, with three buttons. I wouldn't get a double-breasted as they are not always in fashion, whereas a single-breasted suit is fine even if the doubles make a comeback.

Big legs? Pleated trousers are probably a good idea, as they provide a bit more room around your thighs.

There's lots of pictures of classic suits at the Fedora Lounge. And good advice at the English Cut blog --- especially this post.
posted by robcorr at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2006

Color: Yes, grey and black work, but if you'll be spending time in the US, navy is IMO the way to go. If you wear grey in the US (at least in New York or Chicago), someone will tell you that you look "British." Which is fine, but maybe not what you want.
Fabric: Don't go cheap. Buy the best practical fabric you can afford. If I were in your shoes, I'd opt for Loro Piana Super 120s. YMMV.
Cut: It takes balls to go double-breasted, which is not quite as fashion-durable and therefore I would suggest a single-breasted two or three-button jacket. I'd ask them to knock this suit off for me, but you should look at Bluefly, find a few suits you like, and take the picture(s) with you.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2006

four or more button = fruity
double breasted= fruity plus

Both of those can be great suits, and I have them in my closet. However, you are looking for a single suit to fit your dress up needs into the near future. Get yourself a three-button suit, somewhat conservative so as to make it useful for many different events. Make sure it isn't too baggy. This is sometimes, although less often now, an issue with Asian suits. I would buy several suits there if I were you.
posted by caddis at 11:58 PM on December 17, 2006

Best answer: Since you're just beginning, I have this advice:

Take a stylish girl friend with you (and audience always helps) who's opinion you trust: because let's face it, when you look good in a suit you can wear it almost anywhere. If you have a stylish gay friend, that's just as good (I took both when I chose the shirt for my wedding suit).

Go to a high-end department store, and spend some time trying on different types of suits. Pay attention to how the suit feels on your body, in my experience, and I have several suits, a well made suit is also a pleasure to wear, they just move right.
Anyway, try on all sorts of colors and styles, taking pix as you go. When you find the one that works, that's the style you should copy.

Note: I know I'm advocating potentially wasting the time of an attentive employee at a place like macy's. Normally I wouldn't think that's cool, but blindcarboncopy needs the education. It's a one-time deal.

In fact, for this reason I'd say go off-hours (not on a weekend day- go on a weekday night) and be up-front about what you're doing.

I'm 5-11 and 195 and I looove the 3 button suits I have. A good cut makes me look 10 pounds ligher. I wouldn't go double breasted, it's not nearly as versatile. I'd agree with caddis too: if you can have several suits for around a hundred bucks each, buy as many as you can reasonably afford. That opportunity doesn't come along often.

Final note: great deals on suits can often be had in second-hand stores in the good parts of town. Here in San Francisco, there's an amazing store in a tony part of town where you can buy a year-old Armani suit for under 200 bucks (!) I swear.
(For the sfites: Goodbyes in Laurel Villiage on Sacramento a couple blocks west of Presidio)
posted by asavage at 12:19 AM on December 18, 2006 [7 favorites]

it's interesting Caddis says that a DB suit is "fruity plus" because double breasted is much more stylish than a four (or more) button suit (ugh, those are hidious)
posted by scalespace at 12:25 AM on December 18, 2006

I'm no expert - my own closet needs more formalwear, so dismiss this as you see fit, but I kind of think it might be better to get a suit that is all about your #1 & #3 purposes, rather than a business-like suit that works for #2. Businesswear to a wedding or social occaision looks kind of like dressing down to me. I'd take the opportunity to get something just a wee bit closer to a tux or tailsuit.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:40 AM on December 18, 2006

An ordinary American man has seldom any need for a tux or tails. If you are going to have one suit, I wouldn't go for a tux.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:49 AM on December 18, 2006

People actually wear black suits? I bought one in college and it retrospect it seems like the tackiest thing I ever purchased. For a funeral or almost-but-not-quite-black-tie event, charcoal or navy seem dark and somber enough. And you can wear those colors during the day too. But a black suit seems more appropriate for trendy night-club than a business setting. But maybe people are wearing black suits and I just assume it's charcoal?
posted by mullacc at 2:33 AM on December 18, 2006

Strongly recommend against double-breasted. Particularly on a big guy - that's a LOT of fabric crossing your belly. Twice.

I would get a classic 3-button navy blue single breasted suit. Get normal notch lapels, flaps on the pockets, a 1 1/2 inch cuff on the pant, discreet pleats, and make sure you have a nice lining in the pants as well, not something cheap that feels like an old 1970s snowsuit.

If you're really particular, make sure the buttons on the sleeves of your suit jacket really work.

Start looking around now for different vent options. No vent is kind of German and can be a little severe. A single vent is classic. Double vents are also classic, but if you have a big ass, the trap door can look like it's flapping a bit.

I would also get a few tailored shirts - just the thing to go with a nice suit.
posted by mikel at 4:13 AM on December 18, 2006

robcorr writes "Big legs? Pleated trousers are probably a good idea, as they provide a bit more room around your thighs."

Pleated trousers are never a good idea. Flat-front is much more stylish.

caddis writes "four or more button = fruity stylish"

There, fixed that for you. Homophobe.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:43 AM on December 18, 2006

black suits are for funerals. Period.

As for the style, take your girlfriend (or some other girl) with you to a decent men's suit store locally and try a bunch on. Find out what looks good on you, both in terms of cut and color.

If you've never worn one before, you don't want your first buying experience to consist solely of impersonal internet advice and a foreign tailor.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 5:23 AM on December 18, 2006

I agree with the others that you don't want a double breasted suit and that you should go for a basic dark navy. I would *not* get a French cuffed shirt if it's your default shirt-with-suit, since it's considered too formal for certain uses (job interviews in particular). A three-button suit would be more obviously appropriate if you were taller, but you're at a height where three or two would work well.
posted by raf at 6:15 AM on December 18, 2006

I highly recommend the "borrow a gal pal" advice. I bought my first suit last year and I borrowed my best friend's girlfriend for the job. There's nothing like a savvy person to accompany you to help debunk salesman bullshit.
posted by DrSkrud at 7:26 AM on December 18, 2006

I agree with those who recommend a conservative dark grey or navy suit with a single-breasted, 3-button jacket. Don't do pleats or cuffs on the trousers. There is a lot of info on the web about styling details - get familiar with the issues and you'll feel a lot more confident about your decisions.
I don't know if it is true in China but in Korea when you get a suit made, you always make sure to bring your own poly/cotton blend thread, and insist the tailor use it. Otherwise he/she will use cheaper cotton thread, which isn't as strong.
And look over examples of the tailor's work: make sure his/her seams are clean, no puckering, buttonholes handmade, buttons sewed on properly (complicated to explain: look for examples in a department store), etc.
As long as you're doing this, why not get a few pairs of dress trousers and some bespoke shirts?
posted by annabkr at 7:35 AM on December 18, 2006

A couple of additional comments:

First, you mention you are on the heavy side. Then DB suit are not for you. You have to be skinny to pull them off. Plus, you have to keep them fully buttoned all the time due to the excess material so they are not as comfortable.

Second, be careful when choosing fabrics. You want to make sure that you get a matte finish. Asian tailors (well at least in Singapore, I don't know about China) tend to feature a lot of shinier fabrics. While they may look fine in a small swatch, they really stand out in a full suit.
posted by rtimmel at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2006

I had a similar problem - I went to a customer service-oriented men's store (In this case, Men's Wearhouse but S&K is similar). They knew how to pick out clothing and I didn't have to make any huge decisions, just pick out colors.

Best choice I ever made in re: clothing.
posted by Fuka at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2006

Response by poster: Everyone, thank you very much for all the great advice! Looks like most people recommend a navy single-breasted 3-button suit - that's what I will start my search with and see where it takes me. Here in Beijing I have nobody to advise me on fashion matters, but I will be visiting US in early january, and it seems that a visit to an upscale department store for some mock-suit-shopping will be in order. I really appreciate all the thoughts expressed here - lots of things I haven't ever thought about have been brought up.

I also appreciate the advice on double-cuffed shirts. I have one that fits me great and I love it - I just didn't know what they were called. Now I will definitely get a couple of them.

The reason I don't get several suits is because I honestly don't see myself wearing them more than a dozen times a year. Cheap as they may be, I think one suit is all I need for now.

Krautland: thanks for the book recommendation, I'll check it out.

Pollomacho: thanks for the meetup pointer, you will have email.. um, soon :)

Everyone else, please feel free to keep the advice coming!
posted by blindcarboncopy at 8:20 AM on December 18, 2006

I strongly recommend Shanghai over Beijing for clothing, it is essentially the center of the Chinese garment industry, and when I was in Beijing, it was recommended to me. You will find better tailors there, who charge less. Also take a Chinese person with you when you go, whatever the city.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:40 AM on December 18, 2006

Everyone's leaning Navy for the most part, which is fine - although if you want to get really technical it might not be your best bet depending on your skin tone and hair color, but I digress.

Not sure what's up with the black-hate, you suit racists, but black can be a nice, clean, thinning look on a guy (try it with a white or blue shirt and a black tie). I wear them all the time - usually a pinstripe, but I have a nice plain black that I wear to work and the occasional wedding. Its kind of a corporate look but it also says crisp and professional (think Hitman or Agent Smith).

That said, I'm wearing these in NYC and Chicago for the most part, so that plays into it a bit.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:35 AM on December 18, 2006

Navy or charcoal. Go to Mens Wearhouse and let the experts help you pick something that looks good on you. Trust me, not a week goes by that those guys don't help somebody pick their first suit. Hopefully they can teach you enough that the next time there's a sale at Macys or Nordstrom, you will actually know what you are looking at and whether or not it is a good deal.
posted by ilsa at 10:58 AM on December 18, 2006

Best answer: i'm all in favour of the charcoal suit.

three buttons is good for a big guy. two buttons means the V of the jacket gapes open and you look like a mobster. four buttons is too metrosexual and will go out of style soon.

SINGLE BREASTED. please don't do the double breasted.

before you go get one made, make sure to try on different off-the-rack jackets and look at your back view (take a digital camera and have a friend snap photos if you need to). the back of the jacket may or may not have a vent, or vents, at the bottom- slits cut into the fabric. vents can be single centred, double, or side.

sometimes a single vent will gap open and look weird, like an open fly. but if you have a big strong cycler's ass, double vents may stick out like a little cheerleader skirt, no good. try the various styles and see which fits best. just make sure the back of the blazer sits flatteringly on your bum- particularly important on larger men. ventless may be the way to go.

wear a charcoal suit with a blue shirt and dark blue tie,
or a black shirt and any colour tie,
or a black-pinstriped shirt and a black tie.
you'll look great. meow.

i think this site has some good tips.
posted by twistofrhyme at 12:07 PM on December 18, 2006

I second everyone above who recommended against black. It's generally not something you want to wear to work or casual office events. Go with charcoal or navy. Think about having side vents on the jacket so it drapes more easily when you're sitting down. This is personal opinion, but I think pleated trousers just look awful when the pleats are folded outwards. When the pleats are folded inwards (that is, toward the opposite leg), you won't get the awkward pant balloon when you sit down. I recommend flat front pants.
posted by subtle-t at 12:07 PM on December 18, 2006

The reason I don't get several suits is because I honestly don't see myself wearing them more than a dozen times a year. Cheap as they may be, I think one suit is all I need for now.

To me, in your situation, potentially wearing it an average of 0.5 times a year would be well worth buying for. You've got the unusual opportunity to experiment here due to the highly affordable cost, and in addition to any suit/s you acquire, what you learn could be some level of useful for much of your life.

It sounds like you'll be back&fourth between China and USA a little before your gig changes. If so, start with a suit, do the mock shopping thing, etc, then later, get a tux or something more specialised. As has been pointed out, you might not get much opportunity to wear something like a tux, but I think there is something to be said for having stuff like that in the closet, and the cost is so low that Why Not? When the situation presents itself, there is no worry about what you will wear, or whether a business suit will be ok, you're ready to go.

That said, if your size/shape fluctuates noticeably, then owning an item that you'll only use over the long-term loses some of the utility.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 PM on December 18, 2006

caddis writes "four or more button = fruity stylish"

There, fixed that for you. Homophobe.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:43 AM EST on December 18

Get a life. Fruity does not equal gay. (and mods, if you are going to delete this comment, at least have the good sense to delete the one it refers to.)
posted by caddis at 1:07 PM on December 18, 2006

The problem with a double-breasted suit on a younger man is that people sometimes think 'oh, double-breasted, he's covering his belly'.

Charcoal or navy, single-breasted, three-button, nicely-cut. Flat front trousers, no cuffs: cuffs shorten your legs. Possibly a pinstripe, though that may get you mistaken for a Brit. (Heck, if you can find British expats, they may well have connections in Beijing who get the tailoring done in Shanghai or across the water from HK.)

And get two while you're in China where the tailoring is cheap. Two suits worn on alternate days will greatly outlast two suits worn consecutively. (Heck, get three: one charcoal, one navy, and one more -- a DJ or a summer suit -- for good luck.)

Even if you're content with just the one suit, at very least get a spare pair of trousers: the fabric will match perfectly, and trousers are subject to much more wear and hazard than jackets. You don't want to give up a jacket because you can't replace the trousers. I speak from experience here.
posted by holgate at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2006

I wasn't going to reply, but I only own one good suit and it is black (and four-button, but that's not my point). A black suit is suitable for many, many occasions and I would recommend it highly, against the advice from others here.

Having said that, I live in Toronto where black is de rigeur and one can wear black head-to-toe to a party and be perceived as stylish. Other places may indeed find a black suit to be too severe. But I find it practical - it works for weddings, funerals, evening parties, etc.

Get a fancier shirt to wear to parties, white shirt with power tie for business, french blue shirt, etc, etc. Black is never out of style and it always matches black shoes.

I hate navy suits. Depending on the exact shade of the colour and things like stripes, etc, it's always on the edge of going out of style. Plus I fund it to be a bit too 'salaryman'. And do you wear black shoes, brown shoes, what? Too confusing for me. The worst I can say about a four-button black suit is that it's always about to come into style.

It's tough without professional advice - getting a suit from a bargain Chinese tailor is not for the inexperienced, but if you get good fabric I doubt it will be a net loss for that price. You're young and can always get another suit. Order something that looks good to you and I doubt you'll regret it completely.
posted by GuyZero at 1:27 PM on December 18, 2006

As far as the whole black / not-black argument, I'll speculate this:

Those recommending against black are either a) from a more typically casual work-environment or b) not from a major metropolis.

I'm not using that to say either side is right, just pointing out that you might be able to use it as a barometer for what you end up going with.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:33 PM on December 18, 2006

With all due respect to allkindsoftime, I've worked in two major metropolises (NY/Wall st. area and Hong Kong), and solid black suits are just not prevalent. I'll add that black or dark charcoal suits with pinstripes are not uncommon. Solid black, however, not so much.
posted by subtle-t at 2:05 PM on December 18, 2006

Also, as to Guyzero's question on what color shoes to wear with navy suits, black and cordovan are both ok.
posted by subtle-t at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2006

I strongly disagree with the comment that black suits are only for funerals. That's nonsense.
posted by gen at 3:11 PM on December 18, 2006

For the material go with 100% wool. Definitely get 2 pairs of trousers!

Stay away from pleated trousers as they are not flattering. Flat front is definately preferable.

There's nothing wrong with a black suit, but I personally prefer black with a subtle pinstripe. Look at the materials on offer and see what you like.
posted by Rc at 3:21 PM on December 18, 2006

Those recommending against black are either a) from a more typically casual work-environment or b) not from a major metropolis.

I questioned black suits up-thread based. I lived in Manhattan for about a year ending this summer and have worked at major financial institutions for the past four years. Black suits are rare, in my estimation, and can look silly when worn during business hours.

GuyZero wrote, "Other places may indeed find a black suit to be too severe. But I find it practical - it works for weddings, funerals, evening parties, etc."

I think a black suit is appropriate for the situations mentioned by GuyZero. But, so is a dark charcoal suit and you can wear that during business hours as well. So, why bother with black?

I may be biased because I hate black shoes. I'll wear my dark brown shoes with a navy or charcoal suit.
posted by mullacc at 3:55 PM on December 18, 2006

dirtynumbangelboy: "Pleated trousers are never a good idea. Flat-front is much more stylish."

Agree to disagree. I quite like (some) pleated trousers. And if you have big thighs, then the pleats can make them feel more comfortable and look less ridiculous, as they actually fit the shape of your leg.

A cyclist (like the OP) is likely to have big thighs but "normal" calves, and the pleats open up some more room at the top of the leg without leaving the pants baggy below the knee.
posted by robcorr at 8:08 PM on December 18, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed STOP - if you want to debate fruitiness, take it to metatalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:00 PM on December 18, 2006

I'm really surprised no one has mentioned this, but one of my favorite things about getting bespoke (or pricey off the rack) suits is that you can have side tabs instead of belt loops on your trousers. Women's pants have these much more often, but they let you go beltless without looking like Larry King in suspenders - or resorting to being the guy that's hiking up his pants all evening. It's obviously personal, but I think trousers without belt loops just look great.
posted by milkrate at 12:57 AM on December 19, 2006

Flat-front trousers are for casual wear or non-classic explicitly "fashion" suits. Traditional suit pants should have pleats and cuffs.
posted by mikel at 7:07 AM on December 19, 2006

3-button, single-breasted dark gray or black suit. You can probably pick one of those up at Men's Wearhouse for pretty cheap. If you want to buy only one suit, this will do for practically all occasions.

For summer, you can make it a light gray/black.

I'd recommend having suspender buttons installed, I always like to have those personally.
posted by clevershark at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2006

As long as you're over on that side of the world (Beijing), if you get the opportunity before coming to the States go to Seoul and get a custom made, hand-tailored suit. Some of the best in the world, and very cheap (comparatively).
posted by matty at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2006

Charcoal, maybe even with a light pin-stripe. 3 buttons is cool too. I understand that Italian-cut suits work well to slim down a wider frame. I recently got a no-vent suit which looks good, and I'm somewhat hesitant of getting double-vented jackets.

Getting tailor-made clothing in Asia is great, though it can cause headaches especially with a language barrier. Having an interpreter WHO'S WILLING CONVEY YOUR WISHES (and not their own) is crucial. (I had many clothes tailored in Shanghai, and will be getting another suit when I go back next week!)

Don't feel bad about sending the product back for alterations/revisions if the tailor brings you something you don't like or that looks bad. He/She will naturally tell you everything looks good ("Ni hen schuai!") whether you really do or not. Have folks ready to give second/third opinions.

Also, track down some other expats who've been around a while and see what they know of tailors. Someone's got to know someone! And be aware that if a tailor is good at making women's clothes, that doesn't necessarily mean they're good at men's fashions.
posted by 53B3L1U5 at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2006

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