Men’s Suit Buying Guide: Everything You Need To Know

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Photo Credit: Ashley Weston

Buying a well-fitting suit is an essential rite of passage for every man to go through, but it can get overwhelming with so many options and styles to choose from. This is where we come in with this handy suit buying guide which will take you through all the fit details and design options you’ll need to know when buying your perfect suit. 

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How To Choose A Suit

A correctly fitted suit can make any man feel ready to take on the world. There’s no denying that buying a suit can sometimes feel like a minefield of potential faux pas – get the fit wrong and it can be completely unflattering, choose the wrong pattern and you might look more Beetlejuice than Bond, accessorise incorrectly and you can look a little bit lost.

Sounds daunting of course but by covering a number of the basics and doing enough research before entering the shop, you’ll ensure that you end up with a suit that really ticks all the boxes. Here at The Idle Man we don’t want you to feel when intimated when buying your perfect suit. So whether you’re looking for a completely new suit or looking to update an exciting one, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to guarantee your suit game is on point.

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PHOTO CREDIT: The Sartorialist

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Suit Measurement Guide

Regardless of how much money you’ve spent on it, an ill-fitting suit, whether it’s too tight and looks restrictive, or is too big and looks bulky and awkward, will never look good. The right fit can make or break a suit so think close to the shoulders, slim through the body and trousers but not too slim, well tapered with a break before the shoe.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kraftly

The path to choosing the correct fit can be a challenge but is well worth the effort to avoid discomfort when wearing your suit. Here are the main things to look out for:

  • The Shoulders – the shoulder pads should lie flat and should not protrude beyond your own shoulders. The seam of the shoulder should meet the seam of the sleeve where your arm meets your shoulder. If the seam that connects these parts of the jacket is hiked up or dangling down it will not sit right.
  • The Length of the Jacket – the back of the jacket should fall comfortably in a straight line with the bottom edge draping over the top of the curve formed by the buttocks but no lower than your knuckles. It should not flare at the back above the buttocks or fall past them and sag. When your arms are hanging straight down, you should be able to cup your fingers under the sides of your suit jacket.
  • The Length of the Sleeve – this should never fall any lower than the base of your thumb. In fact it should ideally show about half an inch of the shirt beyond the jacket cuff.
  • The Closure – the jacket should fit closely around your stomach but not too tight to avoid the awkward gaping at the buttons. A fist’s worth of room should be between yourself and the jacket.
  • The Seat– aka the ‘butt’. This should not pull tight against your buttocks – you will notice horizontal strains under the buttocks if this is the case, or drape loosely down the backs of your thighs – at which point you will notice gathered material.
  • The Trouser Break – this refers to the point where your trousers touch your shoe. The cuff should rest on the top of your shoe but it shouldn’t do much more than that, trousers that are too long will look sloppy.

The Slim Fit Suit

There is an ongoing trend for suit silhouettes to be tighter with a slimmer fit, this style is sharp and very contemporary but you will need to ensure that the fabric never seems stretched or pulled. The suits are often shorter in style with a more tailored, narrow fit around the chest as well as tapered trouser legs.

The trousers of the modern suit will often sit higher up on the shoe/ankle with a slimmer hem opening. They do not tend to touch the shoe as per the traditional rules. This cut falls in line with the current trend of going sockless or wearing vibrant socks with a suit.

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How to Measure for a Suit

At a tailors, such as the ones in Savile Row, they already have a tailoring measurement template to ensure that you always get the right fit. However if you’re on your own and, like 90% of the population, without a personal tailor, then it’s important to know how to take measurements for a suit.  Learning how to measure for a suit is essential if you’re not planning on buying a bespoke suit from a tailors (who will do the hard work for you). Simply measure yourself using the basic instructions below and use the suit measurement guide to ensure that you buy the most suitable size.

How to take measurements for a suit

Before you begin you’ll need a tape measure and a willing friend to help take the measurements. It is ideal if you wear a shirt or T-shirt and a pair of trousers that aren’t jeans when you are measuring and make sure to keep the tape measure taut but not strained.

Tailor measurements guide:

Neck – Measure around your neck at the level your shirt collar would sit. You should not feel restricted by the tape for a comfortable fit.

Shoulders – Measure from the end of your left shoulder to the end of your right shoulder.

Chest – Measure horizontally around the chest roughly at nipple level, under the armpits, and over your shoulder blades.

Waist  – Measure horizontally around your stomach at the level of the bottom of the ribcage.

Seat – Measure around your hips and buttocks at their widest point.

Thigh – Measure around the thigh at its fullest.

Nape to Waist  – Measure down the contour of your back from your collar to the area roughly opposite your naval.

Sleeve Length – Measure from where the seams on the shoulder meet to where you want the sleeve to end.

Inside Leg – Measure from the lowest part of the crotch of your trousers, keeping the measure taut, down to where you wish the bottom of the trousers to end.

Height – Measure parallel from the top of your head to the floor.

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Other Things You May Want to Consider When Buying a Suit

Buttons

The Three Button Suit

The three button suit was big in the 1990s and is not widely found in contemporary suits. The three button suit has a high button stance creating a higher ‘V’ on the chest, consequently it can sometimes look a little bit stuffy and outdated. It does sometimes work well with the taller gentleman (6’4” +) who does not need the desired elongating effect that two or one button suits do for most guys – in fact a three button suit can make really talk men look more proportioned.

The Two Button Suit

The two button suit is most commonly found in today’s suits which creates a deeper ‘V’ and longer lapels than a three button suit – this is generally more flattering for men by elongating the torso.

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The One Button Suit

The one button suit is the most cutting edge of choices creating a sleek and sharp look for the suit. This style is not for everyone and some conservative types may view it as being ‘too cool/hipster’ as it creates an even lower ‘V’ which doesn’t suit everyone’s taste. A number of the popular slim fit suits are now using the one button on their jackets to reflect the modern twist on a traditional garment.

The Lining

Noticeable linings on suit jackets were once only widely available on the more expensive suits but now, having proved very popular, they are available on suits at all price points. The lining of a suit is not merely for cosmetic reasons but can add structure and weight to your suit. A fully lined suit jacket is heavier, warmer and has a thicker look to it. As a result the suit jacket lays nicely over the contours of the body and will not not crinkle or catch on your shirt as easy.

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The higher end suit linings will mostly comprise of silk which is very comfortable but obviously more expensive. The cheaper options usually consist of synthetic materials such as; bemberg silk, rayon, polyester, and acetate and, these can often lack durability or do not breathe well. Shop bought suits will usually have the lining already sewn in which doesn’t provide too much personalisation when it comes to colour and pattern choices.

Options for personalised suit linings include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A bold contrast – a dark grey suit with a purple lining, a light grey suit with blue lining, a red suit with a deep red lining, or a navy suit with a rusty orange lining are all great options.
  • A subtle contrast – a slightly darker or lighter shade of the colour of the suit can be a classy and understated touch.
  • Contrasting patterns – if wearing a patterned suit e.g. striped, then a block coloured lining will look great. If wearing a block suit then a pattered lining will add a vibrant flair – a common favourite is the paisley pattern.

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Pockets

Pockets, much like the lining of a suit, present themselves in a variety of options depending on different levels of formality, price, and utility.

The most formal pocket is the jetted pocket which sits flat to the suit with the pocket being sewn into the lining of the jacket and only a narrow opening visible on the exterior. Due to being almost invisible this creates a sleek, well-groomed appearance.

Flapped pockets are slightly less formal though they are still often found on apparel intended for formal occasions and are the most common form of pockets found in men’s suits. Flapped pockets are also more practical than jetted pockets as they prevent the contents from falling out – we’ve all been at the peril of a cracked phone screen due to things slipping out of our pockets!

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Rarely you may come across a diagonally cut flap pocket known as a hacking pocket which, as the name suggests, derives traditionally from English riding gear and consequently will often be found on bespoke suits made for that exact purpose. The hacking pocket does have another purpose however as with the upward diagonal angle of the pocket the eye is drawn towards the sternum making the man wearing the suit appear slimmer and taller – ideal for the larger gentleman who wants to hide a few pounds.

Working our way through the hierarchy of pocket formality, we find ourselves at the least formal patch pocket. The pocket is created by sewing a patch to the exterior of the jacket and is most frequently found on the casual suit options such as summer suits.

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The Chest/ Breast Pocket should never be used to store items such as your keys or phone because it will distort the shape of the jacket making it appear lumpy, the only item that should ever be housed in this pocket is the handkerchief or pocket square. On cheaper suits the chest pockets are square shaped and those that are pricier will have an angled crown pocket which is angled towards the chest.

The internal pocket is very useful and will make you feel ever so suave when you pull out your business card, Amex, packet of tik-taks (we’re not all Patrick Bateman types). If going to a tailor the possibilities can be made as specific to your needs as you can get. In modern times such pockets are often used to carry mobile phones and iPods.

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Some housekeeping rules for your suit pockets:

  • Sharp objects such as keys should ideally be kept well clear from your suit pockets as they will often rip the lining.
  • Avoid carrying bulky items in your pockets as they can adversely affect the silhouette of the jacket.
  • Many new suits come with the pockets sewn up – the jacket will fall neater if the pockets are left sewn up but if wanting to open then do so carefully by unpicking the stitches.

Waistcoats

Often considered as the ‘third part’ of a suit, the waistcoat is not only practical as an extra layer of warmth in the colder months or worn on its own with a shirt in the summer months, but it can quickly make an outfit more or less formal depending on the occasion. The waistcoat has suffered an ill fate in recent times with its use often being associated with snooker players, air stewards, waiters, gangsters, and 16 year olds at their school prom but, if worn correctly, the waistcoat is a great addition to any suit.

Top tips for wearing a waistcoat:

  • Fit is essential – much like your jacket, make sure the arm holes fit snugly around the shoulders but aren’t too tight so that the material is strained.
  • The waistcoat and t-shirt combination is a phase that should stay firmly in the past with nu-rave neon gear.
  • Don’t be afraid to combine complimentary colours and textures with your waistcoat and suit.
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Accessorise Your Suit

When it comes to accessorising your suit you could be treading on thin ice between subtle enchantments and novelty clutter. Keep the accessories classic and minimal and make sure the colours of your accessories compliment your suit. If you are wearing a navy or dark blue suit for example, brown will go nicely as they bring out the best of each other. For black suits we would recommend sticking with minimal black accessories and for a lighter coloured suit, a light brown colour wont appear so harsh next to the lighter tones.

Accessories can include a variety of things from the obvious essentials to something a little extra that adds that stylish touch. Watches are always a must, they create a sophisticated finish to the suit, this is the same for a smart belt and tie. Not all suits have to be worn with a tie, especially if you’re looking to tone it down and appear slightly more casual. Sunglasses are an option that fall between a must and a style enhancer, these can be a fashion statement or generally needed on a sunny day. Hats, scarfs, pocket scarfs, cuff links and brighter socks are all options for you to accessorise with. They will also depend on the type of suit and the colour of your suit so make sure not to over do it.

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How Much Should you Pay for a Suit?

One of the biggest elements that determines where you will buy your suit is the cost. But how much are suits? What’s the average suit price? Where is the best place to buy a suit? Well, suit prices vary from under a hundred pounds to thousands depending on where you purchase them from, so it is up to you to determine how much you should spend on a suit.

Suit Prices

  • The Basic Suit e.g. from a High Street shop will cost approximately £100- £200
  • The Moderate Suit e.g. from a designer shop will cost approximately £350 – £1000
  • The Top End Suit e.g. from a bespoke tailors will cost approximately £3500+
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Where to Buy Your Suit

To ensure you find a suit that fits you perfectly it’s important that you know your sizing, your general body shape and your price range. You’re not necessarily going to get an ill fitting suit just because you bought it online or at a high street store, and as long as you’re aware of what you want then you’ll easily be able to get the perfect suit.

When buying your suit: 

  • Trust your own opinion – be aware that the Sales Guy may only be there for your commission (this is usually in High Street shops). You may be told that anything and everything looks good on you so it can sometimes be worth bringing along that one friend who is annoyingly blunt to avoid purchasing an unflattering suit.
  • Ask to borrow a pair of the shop’s smart shoes and a dress shirt when trying on a suit.

Advice at the Tailors

When at the tailors: 

  • If picking up your suit after any alterations, always try it on again to ensure that it is inch perfect.
  • To tip or not to tip? This one is completely your call. It’s like a trip to the barbers – some people tip and others don’t.
  • Listen to your tailor – they will want you to leave their store looking a million bucks. If they’re telling you that something is too tight/ loose then swallow your pride and take their advice.
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General Suit Etiquette

Here’s a list of basic things you should remember when you’re wearing your suit.

  • Never button the bottom button of a suit jacket.
  • Always button the top button of your shirt if wearing a tie.
  • Always unbutton your suit before sitting down, or you risk ruining it.
  • Tweed/wool suits are great for the winter and cotton/ linen suits are best for the summer.
  • Make sure that your socks are long enough that there’s no exposed leg when sitting down.
  • A suit can be worn without a tie for casual occasions.
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A Whole Lotta History

Let’s do a brief bit of homework before we jump into the practicalities of how to buy a suit. The suit, as we know it today is a number of garments which are crafted from the same cloth for formal, business or lounge occasions. It was founded during the early 19th century in what has been dubbed as a period of ‘sartorial revolution’ (think flamboyant tailcoats, matching waistcoats and breeches, and a cravat…oh and usually a curly wig to top it off).

Throughout history, as with all fashion, the suit evolved and changed often as a result of the context of the time. For example, the vibrant suit accessories and relaxed wider leg often worn by the men of the 1920s epitomised the decadence and loose moral restrictions of the ‘jazz age’. Whereas the 1970s saw suits become tighter in the leg with flared bottoms alongside a tight fitting jacket often in a bright velvet material or an exuberant pattern as a result of post 60s androgynous fashion.

1920s 1970s Suit
1920s advertisement and Keith Richards in the 1970s
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Throughout many changes in fashion however one phenomenon has remained at the epicentre of the contemporary suit and that is London’s Savile Row. The name is synonymous with top quality men’s bespoke tailoring and is a mecca for those wanting the best suit that money can buy.

Men’s Suit Buying Guide

  • In order for your suit to fit correctly, knowing your measurements will help a lot.
  • Research is key, knowing what type of suit you want regarding buttons or pockets will speed up the process.
  • Having a contrast or bold lining will instantly add the wow factor to your suit.
  • A three piece suit can smarten up the look, bringing it all together.
  • Experiment with accessories, hats, pocket squares, watches, you name it.
  • The price will ultimately depend on what you decide, but investing in a good suit will go a long way.
Burgundy Suit Street Style
PHOTO CREDIT: The New York Times

On That Note

Whatever the occasion for buying your suit whether is it for the office, a wedding, a funeral, your graduation, a dinner, or even a casual suit for everyday wear, there a number of things that you must consider before parting with your cash. The aftercare of your suit is also just as important to ensure that you and your suit will enjoy many happy years together.

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