Buying a suit can be a daunting task on par with buying a car or a home. Aside from the nuts and bolts of what you’re comfortable spending, there are factors to consider such as your time frame, the event for which you’re buying (if applicable), how often you’ll wear it, what alterations will need to be done, and a myriad of others. On top of this, buying a suit could cost you anywhere from $150 to upwards of $5,000, and you can’t always trust a salesperson to steer you in the right direction.
To that end, we’ve covered what we feel are the five most important considerations when buying a suit, in no particular order: timeline, budget, frequency of wear, event, and education.
A very important questions to ask yourself is “When do I need to wear this suit?” Some men are procrastinators and will give themselves a week to buy one, whereas other men are stronger planners and will give themselves a couple of months. As a rule of thumb, you will want to give yourself as much time as possible so that you can account for every element that could be out of your control: shipping, alterations, the actual creation of the suit, shopping time, etc. More specifically, you should think of whether you’ll purchase a ready-to-wear (“RTW”) suit or a made-to-measure (“MTM”) or custom suit.
Purchasing RTW is generally the quickest way to get your hands on a suit and on average should take two business from purchase to pickup. Add an additional business week (not a calendar week) if you’re shopping online or if a store has to have something shipped for you. Once your suit is in the hands of a tailor, the maximum turnaround time should be about two weeks. Even if you’re told that you can pick your suit up and wear it in a week, allow two weeks just in case they don’t get something right the first time.
If you decide to purchase a MTM suit, you should budget three to eight weeks depending on the company you’re working with. In this scenario the suit needs to be made from scratch and is generally not done on the premises, so you have to budget time for the creation of the suit, shipping, and, if you’re a first-time customer, alterations once the suit arrives. Many men have the misconception that a suit made specifically for them will fit perfectly upon arrival, and while this is often true for repeat customers of MTM companies (they have your measurements on file after working out the kinks in the first go-round), it is almost never the case with first-time customers. You wouldn’t expect a rookie who just got called up from AAA to hit a home run on his first at-bat, would you?
If this is your first time going after the Holy Grail of tailored menswear, leave eight to twelve weeks open on your calendar. The full custom process involves more fittings than the MTM process, and each stage can involve shipping time if the garment isn’t made on-site. Even if the garment is made on-site, the tailors working on it will be moving slowly as most of their labor is done by hand, not by machine. This is the highest quality suit available, and the attention to detail you’ll get means that you’ll have to wait.
As we budget time for the three suiting categories above, we can similarly budget funds.
RTW suits tend to be the least expensive on the market because they’ve been mass-produced by large companies; this is economy of scale at work. While you can find cheap suits for as little as $150 (note the term “cheap” as opposed to “inexpensive”), these are often made from material blends that involve synthetics like polyester or rayon. While fine for a lining, this will yield a sub-par fabric. Thankfully, you can find decent, 100% wool suits at stores like Men’s Wearhouse for around $300 or so. Once you start getting into price points over $600, don’t buy RTW unless your time frame is such that you need the suit as soon as possible.
Should you go this route, you will have to pay additional charges for alterations. Budget anywhere from $50-$150 for this depending on how much surgery the tailor has to perform.
With suit-making technology what it is nowadays, you can buy a well-constructed MTM suit for as little as $500. If you have the time, you should select this option as it offers higher value than RTW. Depending on fabrics, you can spend up to $2,000 on a MTM suit, but generally you’ll get a wonderful product for no more than $1,000.
Anyone who tells you you’re getting a custom suit for less than $2,000 is lying to you about either the product or the price. The labor on true custom garments is expensive and while you can try to manage cost by selecting a cheaper fabric, this is equivalent to putting faux leather seats in your Bentley. That is to say, it’s nonsense.
Budget no less than $2,000 for a full custom suit. We do not recommend spending more than $5,000 on even a fully custom suit, as there tends to be a point of diminishing returns with the incredibly fine fabrics that get you to that price.
Frequency of Wear
Another important aspect to consider is frequency of wear, or how often you plan to wear the suit. In this regard, you should consider the fineness of the fabric (its “Super” number) and also its color and pattern.
Salespeople will often use super numbers as selling points, and a common misconception is the higher the number, the “nicer” or “better” the fabric. This line of thinking is reinforced by the proportional relationship higher super numbers have with price. What this number actually refers to is the fineness of the wool, not necessarily its quality. Finer fabrics feel wonderful but aren’t as durable as less fine ones, so if this is going to be a workhorse suit that sees action once or twice a week, we recommend Super 120’s or something in that range. This wool will feel nice on the hand but also wear well over time with proper care.
It’s important to note that although the market nowadays will sometimes give us as high as a Super 250’s wool, there is often a point of diminishing returns around the Super 180/Super 200 mark. Though price continues to increase along with fineness, extremely fine fabrics are again less durable and don’t wear as well over time. In our opinion, these are often too delicate to justify their expense.
On the other hand, if this is going to be a wear-it-once-every-two-months-to-make-a-splash suit (or even a tuxedo, which most men don’t wear more than three or four times a year), feel free to splurge on the most buttery fabric you can get your hands on.
Color and Pattern
In addition to fineness, color and pattern should affect your frequency of wear as well. A simple rule of thumb is as follows: The plainer the suit, the more often you can wear it. If you’ve bought a solid navy or grey suit, for example, you can wear these more often as they are more nondescript and versatile in terms of pairing with shirts and accessories. You can wear a grey suit three times in a week and you likely won’t even be noticed for doing so. Striped suits are, if a bit less versatile, still common and can be worn often. Seasonal suits (flannel in winter, cotton/linen in summer) will have limited wearability due to their weights, and boldly patterned suits should be worn more rarely. If you throw on a grey suit with oversized purple windowpane twice in a week, for instance, then you become The Guy In The Grey Suit With Oversized Windowpane.
The next thing to consider is if you’re buying your suit for a particular event. Here are some common events and suggestions as to what to buy for them:
If it’s your own wedding, work with your spouse to decide what you’ll wear. If it’s a casual daytime affair, a nice suit with some festive accoutrements will do nicely. If it’s a formal evening reception, you should wear a tuxedo. If it’s a casual beach wedding, think khaki.
If you’re the Best Man or a groomsman, wear whatever you’re told, even if it’s one of those rental tuxedo monkey suits. Under normal circumstances we at Bespoke Unit are completely in favor of putting forth a solid sartorial image, but sometimes you just need to play ball.
If you’re a guest, make sure to check the invitation for a dress code. If it says “black tie” you must wear a tuxedo. If it says “black tie optional” then you can wear either a tux or a dark suit, with charcoal or black being your best options. In the absence of a dress code, rely on your good judgement. Is it a beachfront wedding in Mexico? You’re probably good in a linen suit with no tie. Is it in the bride’s parents’ backyard? Throw on a suit and tie, but make it fun and festive. This is a huge celebration, after all.
If you’re attending a funeral you should wear a dark suit, period. This is a time to show support to the bereaved, not draw attention to yourself. Charcoal, navy, and black are appropriate selections here. Pair with a white or light blue shirt and a simple dark tie, preferably black or dark blue.
For most job interviews, you should wear either a medium-to-dark grey or navy suit. Exceptions would be interviews for creative positions (which will likely be more casual and less conservative), jobs with clothing/fashion companies (where you’ll be judged on your ability to dress well), and positions as a skilled tradesman (interviewing for a General Contractor position in a suit and tie might actually disqualify you for the position instead of the other way around).
As a rule of thumb, err on the side of dressy and conservative. Simple dark suit, white or blue shirt, simple tie, and take it easy on the jewelry unless it’s a tasteful watch, your wedding band, or a class ring.
You should look great on date night. If it’s a first date, it signals to your potential partner that you know how to dress while simultaneously putting your most handsome self forward. If it’s your monthly date night with your spouse, dressing up will show him or her that you care about the romantic aspect of your relationship. This goes a longer way than most men tend to think it will.
Either way, think about where you’re going. If you and the Missus are fancy-shmancy opera-goers, then you can bust out your tux or a nice dark suit. If you’re heading out for a night on the town, perhaps a lighter-colored suit, bold shirt, no tie, funky socks and some killer shoes are what you need. Have some fun with it, and give your significant other something to brag about. It’s fun to be arm candy sometimes.
After all this, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself on suits in general. Tailored menswear is its own world with a rich history, extensive jargon, notable names, and pitfalls. This is particularly important because good suits aren’t cheap and too many salespeople are either unscrupulous or misinformed. You wouldn’t just go out and buy a car without researching the make and model, or at least getting a trusted referral to a dealership, right? Would you go and buy a home without knowing how it was constructed in the first place? The same line of questioning should apply to your suit wardrobe. Here are some important things to know about suits, but keep in mind that there are other articles on this site that will go more in-depth than what’s written here:
Suit jackets are all made with some kind of canvas that rests between the fabric and the lining. This gives the jacket structure and shape; in its absence, it would flow on you like a dress does on a woman. There are three common ways to make a suit jacket, which are:
- Full canvas: This is how all suits were made before the age of mass production and how higher-end suits are still made today. The canvas is made of natural fibers (generally a horsehair/linen blend) that’s tacked (stitched) to the fabric and “floats” in between the lining and the fabric (you will sometimes see the term “floating chestpiece” that refers to this). It runs down the length of both of the jacket’s front panels. Over time it molds to the wearer’s chest in a similar fashion to a shoe breaking in over his foot. The lapels are also stitched with this canvas (if you rub the lapels of such a suit, it will feel a bit like sandpaper), which offers a handsome lapel roll. It offers a superior look and increased longevity.
- Fused canvas: A result of mass production, this is a fast, inexpensive way to make a suit. Instead of natural fibers, synthetic materials are used up around the chest and shoulders and it’s glued to the fabric, not stitched (as is the lapel). The production savings are passed on to the customer but they don’t have as strong a presentation as full canvas suits, nor do they last as long.
- Half-canvas (less often referred to as “semi-canvas”): A happy medium in between fused and full canvas. A canvas chestpiece is used but doesn’t run the full length of the garment; it only covers the chest, which is the highest-stress area of a coat regardless. It will also have a stitched lapel. This offers the look of a full canvas jacket while saving on construction costs.
As covered above, wool suiting fabrics are gauged by their fineness and assigned a Super number. The thing to remember is that Super 120’s offer a sweet spot in which you get a pleasant hand in conjunction with durability.