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How To Buy a Suit

Aug 17, 2007
The men's business suit: ubiquitous, ingrained, versatile, mandatory, and a staple of industrial age attire for over one hundred years. Considering how fashion trends normally fluctuate wildly even in the space of twenty years, it is amazing how little the basic business suit has changed. About the most variety offered is the color scheme, which varies through navy blue, gray, khaki, and camel. Here's a quick, easy guide to picking out the clothing ensemble which you'll spend a good portion of your life wearing:

Choosing a jacket style: The two-button, single-breasted jacket is a popular style, but three or four button jackets are also available and are usually seen in colder climates. Only thin men should wear formal double-breasted jackets, which tend to add bulk to your figure. They have to be kept buttoned at all times, or else the jacket hangs awkwardly.

Select a fabric, its color, and pattern. If you opt for a patterned fabric, check to see that the patterns line up at the shoulder and lapel seams. High-quality worsted wool is the most seasonally versatile fabric. Cotton and linen are better for summer wear. Avoid blends that are made with too much polyester, as they don't breathe well and look too cheap. The days of the polyester leisure suit are long dead, in places other than coastal California. Crumple the fabric to make sure it bounces back instead of wrinkling. You want a durable fabric that will go without dry-cleaning and pressing as much as possible.

Selecting a pants style: Pleats make pants dressy and provide room for movement without risking tears, while flat-front pants have a slimming effect. Cuffed legs are formal, add weight to the suit and can make the leg seem shorter. Pants without cuffs elongate the leg and are more informal.

Test the jacket for a good fit. Make sure the collar lies flat against the back of your neck and shows at least a quarter of an inch of shirt collar rim. Shoulders should be lightly padded and neither too boxy nor too sloped; the idea is to make your shoulers square and neither round nor padded like a linebacker. Sleeves should reveal about a third of an inch of shirt cuff and fall five inches above the tip of your thumb.

Button the jacket and sit down to verify that it is comfortable and doesn't bunch up. Also make sure the pants sit on the waist, not the hips, and the pant cuffs drape over and break slightly at the tops of your shoes. Check that your socks aren't visible when you walk.

Conventional wisdom holds that tall men should emphasize horizontal lines and avoid pinstripes. Double-breasted suits often flatter tall, thin male figures. Short men should consider the single-breasted, shorter jackets in pinstripes or dark solids. Heavier men should also opt for pinstripes and avoid double-breasted suits, and pick darker colors.

In buying a suit off the rack, you have to take whichever pants come with the jacket. If this is the case then the jacket style should take precedence over the pants style. Remember that you can always tailor the pants to suit your fit and style later; for instance adding cuffs is a common alteration. Buying a jacket and pants separately will give you more style choices, and is a good approach in any case. It may be difficult to match the garments, though, but you should of course buy them in the same store which is more likely to stock matching items.

It's always a good idea to get 2 pairs of pants with each suit, not just one. Your pants will wear out much more quickly than your suit coat will. Most days, you will wear your suit into the office, but hang up the coat for most of the day. It's the pants that take a beating, especially around the knees and the seat. With two pairs, you won't have to worry about that shiny worn look and you'll have insurance in case of a stain, tear or zipper break.

Picking out your suit is something that perhaps you should go do by yourself. Friends and loved ones have a tendency to steer you to ridiculous ideas in fashion which they won't have to wear themselves. This might seem like overstating the case, but it still holds that your suit will be your professional attire, and you will hate to get stuck with something that didn't seem like a good idea as soon as you wore it the first day.

Seek out the help of the sales person who knows how to make you look good, with the proper fit, color, fabric, and accessories. Far too many men buy what their lady tells them to buy, and they usually leave the store looking like it, too. Take the suit home, without any alterations, if the store will allow you to do that. Test it out at home for a day, before taking it back to be altered. This way you will have a much better idea of what adjustments need to be made.

Now for the accessories: Acceptable colors for belts and shoes are black and burgundy or cordovan, though recently mahogany has started to gain acceptance. Light browns such as saddle tan and its ilk should be reserved for use with casual wear. The belt and shoes must match one another, at the very least in color category if not perfectly in shade. The belt's buckle should be silver or gold, and other metallic objects worn with the suit, such as cuff links, tie bar, tie tack, and watch, should match the belt's buckle. Where watches are concerned, the more formal the occasion, the thinner the watch should be. Analog watches with hands are more formal than digital watches. In the most formal situations, the most acceptable choice is either a pocket watch or no watch at all. Generally speaking, one should not wear rubber sole dress shoes. Leather soled shoes are not only traditional, but more importantly they almost always have uppers that are of a far better quality and have a much more appealing appearance.
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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