The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Suit


Regardless of career, budget or lifestyle, for most of us a suit is a prerequisite. Length, cut, fabric, budget…getting it right is no mean feat. Whether you’re buying high street, high end or bespoke, we enlisted the help of master tailor Neil McCann to be your guide.

If you’re buying off the peg, be clear about your body shape and stick to a style that works for your shape. Skinny suits don’t do much for larger frames  just as double-breasted jackets and more traditional cuts don’t suit very slim frames. 

The arms of the jacket should be halfway down your thumb. When relaxing your arm to your side, raise your thumb so it points to your neck, ensuring your arms stay straight. If you don’t see a crease in the arm of the jacket, this is a good guide that you have chosen the correct arm length.

The cuff of your shirt should be visible at the end of your jacket. Your shirt should be fitted but unrestrictive. You can’t go wrong with a white shirt and it’s good to have a few options in terms of cuffs and collars. Make sure to have a double-cuff shirt style in your wardrobe for formal occasions. If you want to wear colour with a business suit, choose light blue or light pink over patterned – garish prints and bright colours can be distracting in the workplace. TM Lewin or Charles Tyrwhitt offer good-quality shirts at great prices.

The trousers of a suit should have one break in them, be straight legged and traditionally with turn-ups. Nowadays there is far more emphasis on a fitted trouser.

If you’re tall, choose a suit that will keep you in proportion. Long legs can be overcome by lengthening the front and back jacket length. If you’re a smaller man, a slimming suit can help elongate your silhouette. Slanted outer pockets on a jacket can help make a suit less like a single block of fabric. Any tailor or alteration workshop should be able to undertake basic alterations on a suit like lengthening a trouser or slimming the fabric around a bicep. It is worth asking the store you are buying from if they have an in-house alteration service – many do.

"If you only buy one suit, go navy."

The best high-street shops for suits are Esclot, Suit Supply – where alterations are undertaken in store – and TM Lewin.

If you only buy one suit, go navy. It can be worn on nearly every occasion from business events and weddings to funerals. Avoid a linen suit for the winter or suits made of silk – they’re expensive and won’t last.

Don’t be afraid of colour, especially if you have a darker skin tone. Grey looks great in the city; blue looks great in the sun; and green, teal and steel are becoming more popular suit shades these days. Chalk stripes are common with those in the insurance industry, double-breasted suits are making a comeback and I am seeing people wearing patterned dinner suits more often. With the right shirt, tie and shoe combination, a pinstripe suit can still look great.

Look out for fabrics sourced from the north of England or the north of Italy as the water to produce the material is extremely soft there. There are all sorts of fabrics on the market and they are usually divided up by weight and wool content. Heavier suits are made to be more durable, so they can be worn in winter, whereas lighter-weight suits will be more appropriate for warmer climates.

Three-piece suits are increasingly popular and are best worn with a double-breasted waistcoat. Waistcoats can add an element of practicality to the suit, holding a tie in, while also exuding warmth and sophistication.

Tie selection and knot style must be accurate to the rest of your outfit. A large Windsor knot can often be ungainly and stand out in an interview. If the occasion calls for it, a bow tie can be worn with a suit, but choose a more traditional cut or double-breasted style of suit.

Pocket squares and ties look best when matched as closely as possible. If the tie is particularly loud, contrasting it with another loud colour is risky. If you’re wearing a plain tie, use a brighter – perhaps patterned – pocket square to add style.

Wearing no socks with a suit is never ok. Socks should only be visible when colour paired correctly. Choose light blue socks with a navy suit and green socks with a grey suit. Black works well with every colour. Patterns are an alternative if you want to mix things up. As a general rule, underwear and socks are about the only thing you can really personalise when trying to dress smartly. Needless to say, this should be done within reason: a grey business suit with orange sock is questionable. Pantherella provides a wonderful selection of British-manufactured socks for particularly smart occasions as well as for more relaxed attire.

When matching a suit and shoes, your options include loafers, brogues, oxfords, derbies, and double and single-strap monks. The one rule is: no brown in town. Most brown shoes look terrible with a navy suit, so choose black to be safe. Black shoes also look great with grey. Suede shoes can be an effective contrast against a sleeker suit and single-piece leather oxfords work well when paired with one made from heavyweight flannel. For any discerning gentleman, oxfords, brogues and loafers can be worn to nearly all occasions.

The giveaways of a cheap suit are a large gap between shirt collar and suit collar – this is a sign of ill-fitting; when the line of the shoulders is either too long or too short; the button hole is not in the correct place due to cheap manufacturing; and creases occurring in the back and at the top of the bicep because the jacket is the wrong size.

Made-to-measure is not the same as bespoke. Made-to-measure suits are created from block patterns, with some measurements adjusted for the customer. With bespoke, an individual garment is created from scratch. Hackett provides a good made-to-measure service.

"The end product will be as close to perfection in a garment as is possible"

In a bespoke tailoring consultation, you can expect to unload a lot of information about yourself both in terms of tailoring details and personal topics that may impact on the suit. At McCann Bespoke, a consultation usually lasts an hour with around 15 minutes to find out about the client and their needs, 15 minutes to discuss fabrics and which fabric would suit best, 10 minutes to select styles of the suits, 10 minutes for configurations and photos, and 10 minutes for measurements.

The process will take six to eight weeks or 12 weeks, depending on whether you order a semi-bespoke suit (from £1,000) or a full bespoke suit (from £1,600). Suits can, of course, be altered once they are made. Alterations can vary widely in cost, time and easiness. For example, hemming trousers is straightforward, but changing the sleeve pitch can be more challenging.

Bespoke suiting has many benefits to an off-the-peg alternative. The whole process will be more of an experience and should be more captivating and intriguing due to the personal nature of each consultation. The end product will be as close to perfection in a garment as is possible, whereas off the peg might always have the feeling of being slightly ill-fitting.

Savile Row should be the first port of call for a discerning gentleman looking for a handmade suit made in England. The tradition speaks for itself. My favourite Savile row tailors include  Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman and Maurice Sedwell.

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