How to tell if a suit is good
March 8, 2008 9:59 PM   Subscribe

How can you tell if a suit is good quality

What are the easiest ways to see if a suit is well-made?
posted by Autarky to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I read once that for the jacket at least it's all about how the shoulders fit, no bunching or hump around the back of the collar, but I can't say if that's a measure of quality or fit.
posted by JulianDay at 10:35 PM on March 8, 2008

Have the tailor put it on you. Watch while he/she takes the measurements. A good tailor will make the suit fit you.
posted by trip and a half at 10:56 PM on March 8, 2008

As the first two posters have pointed out, fit is the absolute most important characteristic, and shoulder width is very difficult to alter, so that should fit you off the rack.

As far as other stuff... you should be looking for high-quality natural fabrics (no synthetics, except possibly some kind of rayon lining). Look for a suit that's canvassed, rather than fused -- which means that the layers of the suit are stitched rather than glued together. If you can lift the fabric away from the interior structural materials without tearing it from them, it's canvassed.

There are other things -- a very fine suit often has working buttonholes, for example, and a bit of thread behind the lapel to hold the stem of a flower. But if you can learn to distinguish between low and high quality fabric and fused and canvassed suits, that will get you a long way.
posted by YoungAmerican at 11:22 PM on March 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seams shouldn't pucker. In a really nice suit, the lapel will roll, not be pressed into a sharp crease. Check the finishing of the small details -- buttonholes, as YoungAmerican mentions, as well as vents, hems, etc. You shouldn't see rough edges or fraying threads.
posted by katemonster at 12:10 AM on March 9, 2008

Lots here specifically here.
posted by agentofselection at 12:34 AM on March 9, 2008

Best answer: fit is the absolute most important characteristic

You can have a corduroy suit that fits you like a glove, but you're still wearing a corduroy suit. Don't do that.

Fit has nothing to do with the quality of a suit, because every body is unique, and therefore the ideal fit has to be tailored for any man. Nothing off the rack will ever fit you perfectly, only "close-enough" in some circumstances.

If its solely the quality you are interested in, then you want to look at 2 things - the quality of the fabrics used to make the suit, and the quality of the workmanship put into the suit.

Most high quality suits are going to be made of high quality wool, with an equally high quality silk inner lining (although I've seen a few very neatly done cotton suits in my day). Getting down to the brass tacks of the fabric quality is going to be hard unless you make an industry study of it, so it will be easier for you to rely on a) the price tag / suit label, and b) the advice of your tailor and/or store clerk.

The quality of the workmanship is going to be much easier for a layman to judge. As mentioned above, many mass-market suits in the states are factory manufactured, using things that simply shouldn't be in any decent suit, and no human hands ever touch them before they come out of the box in the store that you buy it at. Most of these do use glue for some of the stitchings, and no "quality" suit has anything but fabric and buttons in its make-up. The easiest place to tell if they are using glue is in the lapel of the suit - look for the stitching that goes at an angle, midway up the lapel, grasp the fabric on the front side of the lapel and on the back side, near the stitch, and pull them away from each other - if they come apart, you have a glued-together suit in your hands.

Other things to look for are the quality of the materials used in the buttons, and also how well stitched on the buttons in fact are. The exterior suit pockets should be (and always stay) sewn shut. The left inside pocket should have a button-down flap over it, and the right should be a straight slit across. The pants should have a coin pocket sewn into the bottom of the right hand pocket, and should have 3 fastenings for closure at the belt-line, ideally all buttons or 1 clasp (in the middle) and 2 buttons. The way to tell a quality suit pant is if the same silk fabric used to line the jacket is used to line the interior belt-line of the pants, and specifically whether that material extends down the inside of the zipper, across the crotch of the pant, and rises to meet the waistline again at the back of the pant. The pockets should all be made of this same material as well, approximately 1" inside of the pocket.

Pay attention to the details, and you will see whether or not the suit's creator did the same thing. Run your finger along the seams and feel for bumps, frayed fiber, etc.. The best suits are hand sewn from high quality fabric. But they aren't cheap.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:25 AM on March 9, 2008 [9 favorites]

There is a huge range of quality between some crappy suit that happens to fit you in the shoulders, and a suit with working buttonholes, which generally means it's custom-made.

Here's an easier rule of thumb. Does it cost over $700? If so, it's probably pretty good. Does it cost between $200 and $700? It's probably the equivalent of pre-fab suburban housing. Does it cost less than $200? It's probably polyester, and cut in a way that will not be in style in a couple of years.
posted by bingo at 6:27 AM on March 9, 2008

Why are people talking about tailoring? That has nothing to do with the quality of a suit.

The primary considerations are the material and the construction. The thread-count of a suit is only a good indicator of quality to a certain degree. In general, if the thread-count is higher than 100, you're OK. Anything more than that and you're no longer talking about quality but preference. For example, Porsche and a Ferrari both make a fine automobile--the fact that one might have ten layers of paint and the other only 5 doesn't change the fact that you're getting a quality car. Suits with crazy-sick numbers should be avoided (average "good" numbers are around 120... crazy-sick numbers are like 180), not because it's an indication of a bad suit--it's just that they tend to be less robust and will wear out quicker.

Suit fabrics come in 100% wool. On very, very rare occasion (if you live on the Equator, for instance) lighter materials like cotton or silk may be substituted. But that is all. There should be laws against calling anything that uses a synthetic blend a suit. In fact, you should forget that I even made mention of cotton or silk. Suits are made of wool, unless you dress in nothing but suits, in which case you probably know enough to avoid embarrassing yourself. Also, the collar must have a liner underneath it to maintain the shape. This liner must also be made of 100% wool.

Seams must be stitched. Glued seams are asking for trouble. In general, the tighter the stitching, the better the suit. Look on the inside liner... that's where shortcuts will be taken. Hand-stitched isn't necessarily better than machine-stitched, but it certainly is more indicative of a good suit.

Good suits have horse- or goat-hair layer between the outside and the lining (called a canvas). Sometimes you can feel it, sometimes you can't. Ask whomever you're buying it from if it's a canvas or a fused suit. If they don't know what you're talking about, it's fused.

There must be four buttons on the sleeves. These buttons must have real, functioning companion button holes. The button holes should be hand-stitched.

So it is written, so it shall be done.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on March 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I second agent of selection's links.

Look at the seems and how well the fabric is matched, but more importantly how it hangs on you and the hanger. A good suit has some shape to it, a pleasant form and stiffness in the shoulders. This keeps it from wrinkling horribly. Bad suits always need pressing.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:00 PM on March 9, 2008

allkindsoftime: The exterior suit pockets should be (and always stay) sewn shut

Why is this? What's the difference between having the pockets sewn shut and being open, or even (shock!) unpicking the pockets after you buy the suit?
posted by ranglin at 5:19 PM on March 9, 2008

Some people say that you wreck the shape of the suit by opening the pockets and putting things (or your hands) in them, stretching them out. I've never really experienced that myself, but people say it.
posted by Mid at 7:12 PM on March 9, 2008

@ Civil_Disobedient: Pish tosh. Linen and seersucker make wonderful suits, suitable for climes far north of the equator.
posted by J-Train at 9:08 PM on March 9, 2008

Some people say that you wreck the shape of the suit by opening the pockets and putting things (or your hands) in them

Bingo. The pockets will start to bulge and hang, and it just looks generally sloppy. Only pockets on the inside of the suit should be considered functional.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:56 PM on March 9, 2008

(For the record, I used to be a merchandise manager for men's tailored clothing for Federated Department Stores - basically I coordinated the annual product lineup that the buyers for their various divisions (Macy's, Rich's, etc.) purchased every season. Our senior manager, a real prick of a human being, taught me the glued-lapel trick mentioned above. He used to love walking into a vendor's showroom and pulling apart their suit right in front of them. Probably still does. Asshole.)
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:01 PM on March 9, 2008

Yeah, seconding allkindsoftime's sentiments: won't it severely piss off the salespeople if you start tearing apart the suits?
posted by Deathalicious at 10:38 PM on March 9, 2008

won't it severely piss off the salespeople if you start tearing apart the suits?

Yeah, if they notice what you're doing. Don't be obvious about it, and don't do your test with too much gusto - just a little tug should be enough to feel the tear of fabric from glue inside the lapel. That said, the tearing is on the inside, and the next guy who buys that suit is never going to know that the glue came apart inside that lapel.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:44 AM on March 10, 2008

Cary Grant's suits (at least in the movies) had functional exterior pockets which he frequently used. If Cary Grant is wrong, then I don't wanna be right.
posted by katemonster at 1:36 PM on March 11, 2008

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