How To Choose A Suit: 7 Critical Factors To Understand

There is nothing quite like what a well-fitted suit does for a man's self confidence. The right cut and colour can make any man feel like James Bond when walking into a room. In this post, we cover the critical aspects you should consider when choosing a suit.  

The key factors when choosing a suit are:

  • Your budget - where to save and where to splurge 
  • Off the peg, made to measure or bespoke
  • Fabric
  • Colour
  • Cut
  • Suit details

How to choose a suit style
Good suits brands
How to choose a suit color

What Determines a Suit's Cost?

What are the key elements that make up the costs of the suit? Firstly, you take the fabric which forms the foundation of the suit, which can vary from cheap synthetics to quality wool and silk blends.

More on fabrics below but effectively cheap synthetics don't breathe so can quickly become stifling. Quality wool suits, or lighter fabrics such a linen do breathe and therefore regulate the body temperature better. 

Next is the means of construction. A cheap suit will likely be laser cut in bulk and then machine sewn. As you move up the pricing scale you have higher quality fabrics that can either been machine made off-the-peg through to fully hand-stitched garment. 

Hand stitched suit

Another key element is how the interlining within the suit is attached to the suit fabric. You may be asking why do suits have interlinings? The reason for this is fabric is 2 dimensional whereas a suit is 3 dimensional, so the interlining gives the suit structure, so it not only fits you better but provides a more flattering profile.

There are 3 main types of interlinings, fused (also called glued), half canvas and full canvas. 

Fused Canvas
This is where the canvas is fused directly to the suit fabric. This is the cheapest way to mass produce suits. The problem with this method is there is no flexibility in the suit and after a period of time, the jacket can start to blister. This is where the fusing breaks down and the interlining starts to move which causes visible blisters in the jacket at which point you'll probably have to throw it away. Everyone is different but this is generally within 2 to 3 years of regular wear.

Fused canvas

Half Canvas
This is where the upper part of the interlining is hand sewn so has flexibility and good shape, with the final part of the jacket being fused. This gives the benefits of the full canvas around key fitting areas such as the chest, while also keeping costs down as the maker doesn't have to sew the full canvas in, which takes a lot more time.

Half canvas suit jacket

Full Canvas
This is where the jacket has a full canvas interlining that is sewn into the jacket. This means the canvas moves with your body so after a period of time your jacket will actually start to fit you even better than when first worn. It also won't bunch under the fabric and allows the jacket to breathe. Obviously to hand sew the canvas it takes time which is why full canvas jackets are much more expensive than fused or half canvas.

Full Canvas

Canvas images source: Black Lapel

One thing to keep in mind is that it's often worth setting aside some budget for an additional pair of trousers since these will wear out quicker than the jacket. If you do decide to do this, it's also important to wear the trousers alternately so that they wear in line with the jacket.

Off-the-peg or Bespoke?

The obvious difference between an off-the-peg jacket and bespoke or made-to-measure jacket is that the off-the-peg jacket is designed to fit a general body shape, so the armholes will be lower and it will be less shaped.

Low arm hole

Made-to-measure (where classic patterns known as blocks, are altered to fit your measurements) and bespoke (where a pattern will be created specifically for you).

This means that the most important factors such as the shoulder, neck and chest should contour to your body. You can see our video series from a Savile Row tailor here: Tailoring Series

Made-to-measure is a clear step up from off-the-peg, but as with full and half canvas the time it takes to create a bespoke suit is where the extra cost comes in. A made-to-measure suit can be a very good stepping stone to bespoke. With a good tailor, it should still fit you well.    

With bespoke the possibilities really are endless. If you decide to seek out a well-known tailor such as those on Savile Row in London, you will benefit from quite literally decades of experience in individual pattern cutters and tailors.

Savile Row

Many of the tailors on Savile Row have a specific style that they are well known for, such a more or less structured, however a bespoke suit is exactly that, created for your needs. What you really pay for on Savile Row is the guidance one receives not just in terms of fit and fabric but also style, trends, maintenance and capturing your personality.

Savile Row Fitting

Whether you go for made-to-measure or bespoke, an experienced tailor will create or alter a piece that enhances your physique and redefines the way you stand, walk and look and is therefore worth the extra investment.

Fabric

You should always aim for a quality fabric when selecting a suit. Many fashion lines boast extravagant designs for tempting prices but always at the cost of the fabric. Textile companies such as Scabal of Savile Row provide premium fabrics to tailors all over the world.

Scabal Fabric

Synthetics, of course, have their place in making a suit at a reasonable price. Cheap synthetics tend to be lightweight, hot and unsatisfying while good natural fibres conform to your shape with a softness and weight. Natural fibres are also hardier than synthetics which can tend to blister after a certain amount of time.

It goes without saying you should avoid a shiny suit at all costs. The overall investment in fibres tends to be in the source and processing, with natural fibres having to be grown and undergo extensive treatment.

Wool being spun

With this distinction covered, the basic rule is that you should choose a suit for its cut rather than the fabric it is made from, as a good fit in the plainest fabric will still look outstanding while an ill-fitting suit in good fabric will not do yourself or the fabric any favours.

A good suit is like a second skin rather than an embellishment. For your everyday suit, it is fair to assume that you will be facing inclement weather as well as hot offices and transport. Therefore medium-weight wool is advisable.

In terms of seasonal fabrics, wool obviously forms most ‘winter’ fabrics like tweed but is just as capable of being spun and woven for a lightweight summer jacket. Linen and cotton are the most lightweight summer fabrics. For a sample of extreme luxury, blends are available of silk, wool and linen to make the most of the benefits of all three.

Colour

The simple rules around colours are as follows:

Save the black suit for black tie events. Although you're not really breaking any style rules wearing a black suit in a business or semi-formal environment, it's more a case of bending style conventions. 

[Find a formal black suit image]

For semi-formal or business attire the classic colours are a navy suit or charcoal suit. Navy is an elegant colour and works with most accessory colours, while charcoal is almost a blank canvas and you either go for a monochrome look or contrasting with whites always working well.

[Find an image or a navy suit and one of a charcoal suit]

For the summer months, you can go for a lighter weight wool, usually 250g or less, or a linen or linen blend. Creams or light greys always work brilliantly well in the summer sun. 

[Light grey suit image] 

The pink suit that caused such rebuke in The Great Gatsby would still be eye-catching and more acceptable today, but should be saved for coastal holidays, in this piece we're focusing on the all-rounder everyday suit. 

Cut

For the simple but effective touchstones of an elegant cut, one needs look no further than our video series of collaborations with Cad & the Dandy of Savile Row which can be seen here: Tailoring Video Series.

To consolidate, the sleeve length of a jacket should end around the width of a finger above the end of the shirt cuff that sits comfortably where a bend of the hand will just touch it. Outside the tailor’s studio bear in mind personal preference always applies here and so one need not be too fastidious.

The length of the jacket should cover the seat, the armholes should be cut high, and there should be no collar gap on the back of the jacket.

In terms of the shape, every Savile Row tailor has a house style. Bespoke or off-the-peg, the style is largely broken down into various binaries. Would you rather a traditional, 1930s-style fitted three piece or a lighter, modern Italian style? Do you want to look like a powerful businessman or a genteel aristocrat? Do you want a quintessential ‘English’ style or a more international style? These may all seem superficial considerations, but the end result of each can be vastly different.

Suit Details

Considering the wide variety of embellishment details, lapels often form the most commonly debated topic. Notch lapels are more conservative and understated while peak-lapels evoke classic early 20th century tailoring and have a distinct Savile Row quality.

[A close up image of a notch lapel and one of a peak lapel] 

Peak lapels also have the effect of broadening the chest. With regard to width, it is generally best to match your figure for a consistent proportion and the tie should correspond to this.

In terms of vents, double vents are generally seen as more European than traditional English, however, they do allow one to reach your hands into your pockets without disrupting the line of the suit.

This practicality extends to reaching for keys and travel cards, the latter of which could benefit from the below. Ticket pocket: The ticket pocket is a thoroughly modern metropolitan invention. Aesthetically the addition adorns the waist and emphasises the shape of the jacket whilst offsetting perfect symmetry.

Buttoning: There is a general agreement that three buttons is too many. Two is the classic selection that makes a pleasing silhouette. One is a very prominent trend at the moment and is very elegant, but will likely follow through into a distinct past fad. Double breasted has a robust early 20th-century style, best with four buttons and the bottom left-side button undone.

[Double breasted suit image]

Curved or straight edge: The bottom line of the jacket varies in infinite degrees between a sharp right angle and a curvature resembling a riding jacket. Double-breasted suits should always have a right-angle.

Pocket slant: Slanted pockets have the effect of narrowing the frame, which on a narrower figure can look very sharp. This also draws more attention to the vibrant touch of a Rampley & Co silk pocket square.

The Waistcoat

The resurgence of the waistcoat has been a blessing to menswear. This is no longer a statement but bordering on an essential. Be sure to buy your waistcoat with the rest of your suit rather than buying two pieces and hoping to find a matching one. The fit of this is just as important as the rest of your suit.

[Image of a suit with waistcoat]

The length should ensure the waistband of the trousers is covered, with the bottom button left undone as is traditional. Lapels are an excellent touch while the choice of the number of pockets and flaps are all down to individual taste.

One word of warning would be to avoid the temptation of a luxurious double-breasted waistcoat when your jacket is also double breasted, as this could look rather too wrapped up. You can, of course, wear a contrasting waistcoat, such as red with a grey suit, but why sacrifice the superior elegance of a matching three-piece set.

Conclusion

All that remains to be stated is that a man’s suit is all about the man. While these ‘rules’ form a structure of the basics to understand, the end result and how you feel about your suit should come from within. Spend hours in fitting rooms, seek advice and keep looking. Make sure that what you come away with looks and feels like you.