How to Choose Suits: Your Guide

A man walking through a parking lot in a fashionable suit.

Find the perfect suit.

Have you asked yourself the question, how do I choose suits that are fashionable and practical? I'm going to arm you with the knowledge you need to buy a great suit that will be flexible and stylish. Are you ready?

The factors you consider when purchasing your first suit are simple and are summarized in the style trifecta.

1. Nail the fit.

If a suit does not fit you in any way, do not purchase it.

2. Pay attention to the function.

You want to consider whether this suit satisfies your needs. If you need a business suit, you want to go with something that's classic and conservative.

3. Look at the fabric.

You want to watch out for the quality of the fabric such as the details that went into the stitching.

These considerations may seem unimportant, but if you fail to nail the style trifecta, you're going to end up purchasing a suit that does not serve you.

I know what a lot of you guys are thinking: Selecting a suit is a lot more complicated than fit, function, and fabric. What about accessories? We will discuss those in other articles. For now, let’s concentrate on the suit itself.

Suit Fit

Avoid Loose or Tight Fits

A black suit hanging from a hanger.

The suit you choose must fit you in the shoulders. If it doesn't fit your shoulders, do not buy the suit. Look for suits whether the shoulder point of the suit perfectly matures the point of your shoulder.

It should not extend beyond an inch, it should be an inch closer to your neck than the outside of your shoulder. I cannot say this enough: make sure your suit fits your shoulders perfectly.

Issues with the fit of the torso of your suit are usually not visible until you button up. If the suit is too tight, you're going ruin your look with the dreaded X-where the right and left side of your suit meet at the button and wrinkle to form the shape of an x.

You know a suit is too loose if you can fit your fist between your torso and suit.

A good tailor can bring in a suit by about two inches.  He can also let it out about an inch and a half if there is extra material, but beyond that you're going to need to size up or size down. Why only two inches?

Because excessive tailoring throws off the proportions and the placement of the pockets and other details.

Summary: You want to make sure the jacket fits you correctly in the shoulders and the torso before you buy it.

Jacket Length

Next, we want to look at jacket length. Put on your suit, stand up straight, put your arms down next to your side. The jacket needs to fall to the knuckle of your thumb.

Make sure that the suit covers most of your buttocks. If it is an inch short or long, you are fine. In fact, you may want it to be a bit shorter if you are a shorter individual. Leave it a bit longer if you are a tall individual.

Sleeve Length

Let’s talk suit sleeve measurement. To measure the sleeves accurately, you want to wear a well-fitted dress shirt. Relax your arms while wearing both the suit and the shit. The shirt sleeve should extend about a quarter of an inch to three quarters of an inch beyond the suit sleeve.

If you do not have a well-fitted shirt, make sure the suit sleeve extends to your wrist bone.

Of all the measurements we have talked discussed, the sleeves are the most forgiving. You can adjust most off the rack jackets about an inch to an inch-and-a-half either way by lengthening or shortening.

The exception to this rule are jackets with working surgeon cuffs. The problem with these cuffs is that they can only be adjusted by about a quarter of an inch either way. If you buy a jacket that has working surgeon cuffs, make sure that the sleeve length is already perfect.

The Collar Fit

Pay attention to the jacket collar. You have a problem when the jacket’s collar sits far off your neck.

A tailor adjusting the fit of a suit.

A skilled tailor can easily adjust this error. You should also look out for the sleeve pitch-the angle which the jacket designer attached the sleeves to accommodate the angle of hanging arms.

Men who stand very erect, such as former military employees, run into this issue. They need to have the entire sleeve taken off and readjusted. If you're a gentleman that slumps, the pitch will be off as well.

Occasionally, you're going to put on a jacket and notice some shoulder rumpling. This could be on one side or both sides. This could be because the jacket is damaged or because it does not fit your shoulder type.

If you see this be very careful. Talk with the tailor see if they can get it adjusted to fit you. If not, do not buy the jacket.

The Trouser Fit

A suit is a jacket and a pair of trousers made from the exact same fabric. So we need to talk about the fit of the trousers.

Let’s consider the fit in the waist. Most trousers can be brought in about an inch-and-a-half and they can also be let out about an inch-and-a-half. Anything beyond this will cause distortion that will change the positioning of the pockets and throw off a lot of the proportions.

Get rid of any excess material in and around the buttocks. When you've got a great fit back there, you will look great when you take your jacket off. If you have way too much material, you look like you could be wearing a diaper.

And if it's too tight, you are going to rip those trousers-especially if you are dancing.

You need to consider the trouser break. Whether you go with no break, a quarter break, half a break, a full break is a matter of personal preference. I'm not going to say which one is right for you, but you need to make a choice. You don't want to be that guy that didn't consider this variable and is wearing trousers that are two inches too long or an inch too short.

You know how to find the perfect fit. Congratulations.

Suit Color

Function

The most important consideration for suit color is function. Remember the style trifecta? Ask yourself, What is the function of the suit? Do you need it for interviews, do you need it for your first job, do you need it for important events? You need to purchase a suit that serves that particular need.

You basically have two choices: a solid colored suit in navy or charcoal gray. Those are your best options. Why?

A man buttoning his charcoal grey suit.

The right color can make you look younger or older.

Because those colors and designs compliment the widest variety of shirts, shoes and accessories. They are incredibly flexible, they are part of an interchangeable wardrobe. They will work in just about any situation.

Choose charcoal gray if you are a young man who looks young. Choose navy if you're a little bit older. Navy is going to make you look younger, charcoal gray is going to make you look more mature.

Let’s talk about the black suit. It is probably the most common suit. I don't recommend this choice because it is too stark.

They are really only useful for black tie, white tie events.

I understand that some of you found a suit for a great deal. Maybe you already own a black suit that was given to you. If it fits you well, if it serves its purpose, and you really think it looks great, go for it.

I’m not going to argue or say you are wrong.

Let's talk about light gray. There are plenty of lighter gray jackets out there. They are beautiful suits, but they are not formal. I would not recommend this choice for a first suit because it is too casual.

Light gray and blue will give you a great, but you will stand out when you're next to people in navy blues and charcoal.

Patterns

I love patterns, but I do not recommend them for your first suit. Why?

People will remember the pattern. You cannot wear the suit as often. You do not have a lot of flexibility here.  For that reason, patterned suits are not good first suits.

If you need something for a job interview and need it now, and there is a patterned suit on sale, go for it. It will work in a pinch.

A man in a pinstripe suit with a popped color.

Doesn’t he stand out?

Patterned suits make great 4th or 5th suits. But, they should not be your primary option. Tan suits do not make good first suits. Tan suits are very casual that you can wear every now and then during the summertime. They are a 6th or 7th suit. Do not purchase a tan suit as one of your first five suits.

I love pinstripe suits. They look good, they work well for business, but they are also very memorable, and this is not good if your options are limited.  If you wear suits on a daily basis, and you have many of them, pinstripes are a great option. Again, they are not good first suits.

The Number of Buttons

The number of buttons on a suit is not too important. Three-button jackets and two-button jackets are both fine. I'm not going to say that you need to go with one or the other.

Rule of Thumb: Two-button jackets work best for most men, but if you are in great shape, I think a three-button jacket will look amazing.

The awesome feature of three-button jackets is that you can button both top buttons. Remember: always button the middle button and never button the bottom one.

Sleeve Buttons

Most jackets are going to have three to four sleeve buttons. You will occasionally see five buttons or two buttons on a sports jacket. The number of buttons not really a big deal.

Buttons become important if they are made of brass, gold or something very high contrast like mother-of-pearl.

Avoid pearl, brass, and gold. They are going to stand out, so they are not great for your first suit.Most jackets are going to have three to four buttons. You will occasionally see five buttons or two buttons on a sports jacket. The number of buttons not really a big deal.

Buttons become important if they are made of brass, gold or something very high contrast like mother-of-pearl.

Avoid pearl, brass, and gold. They are going to stand out, so they are not great for your first suit.

Lapels

A suit lapel with a yellow flower pinned to it.

Notch lapels are classic. They've been around for a long time. They are one of the most common lapels out there. They are great for a first suit.

There are also peak lapels, the most formal of all the lapels. You probably do not want peak lapels on your first jacket. Why?

They are a bit too fashion-forward. You will see them on designer jackets, jackets that are coming out of companies trying to be bleeding edge.

Vents

Briefly consider the back of the jacket. There are three types of vents: double vent, no vent jackets, and single vent jackets. I prefer double-vent jackets. They are the most expensive to manufacture, but they give the most flattering look, particularly while walking.

The single vent is going to look bad when you put your hand in your pocket, because it will expose your backside. Unfortunately, these are common because they are cheap to manufacture. No vent jackets are occasionally used for slim fit cuts.

You have nailed fit, function, and fabric. If you follow that information you're going to get a suit that works great.