How to Buy A Suit: The Complete GQ Guide
1. Beware of the sales guy
He’ll tell you whatever you want to hear—that everything looks great on you, that the store’s tailor can fix any suit. And you can almost be guaranteed his sense of style will be different from yours. For all these reasons, you need to know as much as possible about how a suit should fit and what kind of suit you’re looking for before you walk through the door. Remember, you’re the boss, not him.
2. Know why you’re buying a suit
Are you hunting for a suit that you’re going to wear to the office once or more a week? (If so, keep it dark and classic.) Or are you looking for a suit you’ll wear a few times a year to weddings and funerals? (Black or navy is a safe bet.) Is it a suit you’ll wear to job interviews? (If so, you want to be well dressed but not better dressed than the guy interviewing you, so nothing too pricey.) Or is it the kind you’d wear with sneakers and a T-shirt, or wear just the jacket with a pair of jeans? (Think designer, not Brooks Brothers or Hickey Freeman.)
3. Start at a department store
When you’re ready to start shopping, grab a friend who won’t hesitate to provide you with a blunt opinion, and head to a store like Barneys or Saks or Bloomingdale’s. You’ll be able to view a variety of brands instead of just one. Once you’re inside, do a lap of the suit floor by yourself. See what styles are carried—what grabs your attention. Look at prices. Ask for a salesman when you’re good and ready.
4. Know your size
It sounds obvious, but it’s not. The most crucial element of a suit is its fit, and not many sales guys understand how a suit should fit or, more specifically, how you want yours to fit. Before you step into a dressing room, get a handle on the various components of a suit…
The suit’s shoulders should hug yours; shoulder pads should not protrude beyond your own shoulders. If you stand sideways against a wall and the shoulder pad touches the wall before your arm does, the suit is too big.
You should be able to easily button the jacket without it straining. Conversely, there shouldn’t be too much space between the button and your chest—no more than a fist’s worth.
When your arms are hanging straight down, you should be able to cup your fingers under the sides of your suit jacket. However, these days, with shorter suits in style, some jackets reach only about an inch beyond the cuff of your suit sleeve.
5. Start thinking about the number of buttons
Now you need to think about the style of the suit itself. The first thing you need to consider is the number of buttons on the suit. This will determine a good deal about the cut and fit. Here are some basic pointers:
The three-button suit became the dominant look in the 1990s; it now seems to be the standard young man’s choice. Instead of opting for one of those high-cut versions, look for one with a roll-over lapel—one in which you button the middle button, encouraging the soft lapel to roll over the top button.
For years the two-button suit was the go-to conservative, Capitol Hill getup. Now every fashion label imaginable is designing two-button suits, except they’re making them more streamlined and modern. This cut is what’s most in style right now.
If you’re looking for something rakish, a bit more high-style, try a one-button suit. It’s not for everyone, but if you can pull it off, it’s a sleek look.
6. Think about the vents on the back of the suit jacket…
A center vent is all-purpose; it is both modern and traditional. You can’t go wrong.
Side vents are more European; a bit more suave.
A ventless jacket is just plain wrong. It says you think it’s still 1986.
7. …and the type of lapel
A notch lapel—what you see on most business suits—is the standard. You’re always safe with a notch lapel.
A peak lapel is more old-school and elegant. And now it’s enjoying a comeback with the high-fashion crowd. It makes a statement.
8. Now head to the dressing room
If you’re not wearing a dress shirt and dress shoes, ask for them; a good store should be able to hook you up. Then, find the three-way mirror and size up your suit. And not just the jacket. Consider the pants, too: They should be comfortable, and the rise (where the pants sit on your waist) shouldn’t be too high or too low for your taste. If you don’t think the pants fit right, try on another suit.
9. Know what a tailor can—and can’t—do for you
Here are the areas you should direct your tailor’s attention to:
Shoulders: If your suit doesn’t fit in the shoulders, it’s not going to fit anywhere else. Salesmen will tell you they can reduce or reshape the shoulder pads—don’t listen to them.
Pants: If the pants are an inch or so too tight or too large in the waist, a tailor can usually fix them. But if it’s more than an inch, you’re asking for trouble.
Jacket: A tailor usually will need to alter the length of the sleeves. Insist that you’d like a quarter inch of shirt cuff to show. The sides of a jacket often need tapering so they contour to your torso. And check out the collar: Many times there is a roll in the back of the suit jacket, up near your neck. A good tailor can correct this.
10. Pick it up
When you return to get your suit after it’s been altered, always try it on again. Often, it will need another tweak or two so it fits as perfectly as you want it to. Congratulations, you’ve bought a suit.