A Definitive Guide to Suits

*written by Mr Jason H is a menswear maven and is always in the know of what’s up and coming, and what is always classic.

Enjoy!

A Definitive Guide to Suits

I work for a small dot-com company whose office is situated in a tower full of law firms – which means I have the luxury or wearing board shorts and flip-flops to work while being surrounded by middle-aged men in bulky, 80s-era suits. Thankfully, I’m not much of a board shorts and flip-flops kind of guy, but I still do a lot of mental-criticism with all the people I ride the elevator with.

I’m going to spill my mental knowledge of suits and tailoring, in the hopes that professional men everywhere will take note, and avoid the pitfalls that surround me daily.

The Suit

Unless you’re not living in this decade, or you’re over the age of 60 and just don’t care, you should aim for a slim and sleek silhouette. How slim you want to go depends on your age, physique and confidence, but most modern designers will be producing suits in the general slimness-range now.

Buying a suit goes one of two ways: you can opt for a more expensive bespoke suit, and have it tailor-made to your specifications, or you can buy an off-the-rack suit and have the tailor make minor adjustments to fit you. Note that in either case you are going to a tailor – if you don’t it’s not going to fit right.

In the case that you’re going off the rack, you’ll want to have the tailor take up the sleeves (the cuff should hit at your wrist bone), take the up legs (more on pant break below), and possibly adjust the arm width, leg width, and jacket width. The more you do, the more it will cost you, so it’s best to try to find a suit that already fits well in those areas. Tailors will rarely touch the jacket length, as it will ruin the proportions of the jacket to the pockets, so aim to have the back of the jacket just cover your butt.

Neil Patrick Harris in a slim Etro suit

Pant Break

The length of your pants also depends on your style, confidence, and the general look that you’re going for. A full break means that the fabric of your pant leg makes one hard fold while hitting your shoe. This look is very conservative, professional, and business-y – it’s what every old school tailor will do by default. A more modern approach is to go with a half break or no break. A half break will cause the pant fabric to bend a little before hitting your shoe, and no break means that the pant leg stops at your ankle. This summer, suits and khakis sporting no break and no socks was the thing to do, but for a professional environment you don’t really want to show your bare ankle – go with a half break and keep the socks on your feet.

Valentino model with no break in his pant legs

A Few More Notes

Okay, so you have your suit down, but a few more things you should know. Let’s start with the jacket lapel: those folds of fabric on the front of the jacket. There are a few variations, but the most common are the notch lapel, peak lapel, and the shawl lapel. You’ll generally find that most suits dawn the notch lapel, while the peak lapel is a little more formal, more high-fashion, and a shawl lapel is the most formal. A notch lapel is a good standard choice, but if you’re stylish enough to sport another variation, please do.

Kobe Bryant wearing a Gucci peak lapel suit. Above, NPH wears a notch lapel.

Next up, buttons. Leave suits with more than 3 buttons to NBA sportscasters. Two buttons are the best bet (only button the top button and unbutton it when you sit). One button is chic and a little more formal, but a little harder to pull off.

Two last notes about the width of your suit: if you stand against a wall and the wall touches your jacket shoulder before it touches your arm, the suit is too big. The jacket shoulders should stick out no further than your own shoulders. Finally, when the suit is buttoned, you should be able to fit the fist of your hand between the jacket and your chest – no more.

The Shirt

The shirt you wear under the suit is equally important as the suit itself, and even more so if you plan to take the jacket off. The number one thing that kills me is seeing people in shirts that sag, that pillow over the pant waist, or look like a balloon on the body.

A shirt can be bespoke or off-the-rack, but in either case you’ll again be tailoring it. As a general rule, the arm width should have just enough room to allow you to bend your arm without resistance, the arm length should extend a quarter-inch from the suit jacket’s arm length (or a quarter-inch under your wristbone – right where your thumb starts). A mistake is showing too much shirt sleeve under your suit; keep it sleek and trim.

The shirt body should be trim and fitted – get the back tapered or the sides taken in if the shirt is not snug. The length of the shirt depends on its use. If you’re only going to tuck it in, don’t mess with it. If you’re younger and also want to wear it untucked over jeans, take the back and front of the shirt up to hit around your side pants pockets.

The Shirt Collar

In general, you’ll see these popular variations of shirt collars: the straight or point collar (found on most button-down shirts – the points of the collar are close together and go down), the spread collar (the points shoot away from each other – you’ll want to pair this with a wider tie knot like a full windsor), and the button down collar (buttons attached to the points – think east-coast, oxford shirts).

The width and length of your shirt collar is a big factor in considering what tie and knot to wear. For thin ties and small knots, wear a smaller collar with points that are short and thinner than normal. For a bigger knot, choose a heavier, spread collar.

Drake in Emporio Armani and Tom Ford – skinny tie small collar, big tie big collar

A final note about shirts – make sure when buttoned you can comfortably fit a finger between the collar and your neck. Any more and it’s too big, any less and it’s too small.

Ties, Tie Length and Tie Knots

If you’re going along with our slim suit trend, then you’re going to pair it with a slim tie. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a sliver of fabric like a Dior runway model, but the width of a tie is much thinner today than in previous decades. Have a variety of ties of various (slimmer) widths that you can pair with different shirts and different knots.

A tie when tied around your neck should hit at the beginning of your belt buckle (or pant waist if you’re going beltless). This, like a pant leg, can go shorter if you’re slim and fashionable and a risk taker, but a safe bet is to keep it there.

There are many variations of tie knots that I won’t get into. A general four-in-hand knot is an asymmetrical knot that is very easy and works well with thin ties. I often do a variation of a four-in-hand that loops the tie around one additional time, giving my thin ties a little more hefty knot. If you’re doing a business, professional knot, opt for a windsor, or full windsor if you’re feeling really brash. Google tie knots and learn them!

Accessories

There a few accessories that I consider must-haves. Firstly, collar stays. These are the little plastic things that go in your shirt collar and keep it from folding and looking bad. Throw away those cheap plastic ones that came in your shirt or from the dry cleaner, go to Bloomingdales and get some metal ones of various sizes (or ivory if you’re that guy).

Another trend right now are tie bars and pocket squares. Blame Mad Men and Don Draper for this – they were really popular in the 50s and 60s and have since made a comeback. Tie bars should never be wider than your tie and should be worn no higher than the breast bone (though they used to be worn much, much lower). I prefer the sleek straight pocket square, with again about a quarter-inch showing, but you can be a little less of a square and wear it casually stuffed in your pocket if you prefer.

Will Arnett in Dolce & Gabbana

Though this has nothing to do with what you wear – I’ll throw it in and say to go out and get some nice wooden hangers. They’ll make your closet look and smell better, as well as treat your clothes more nicely.

Shoes

While writing that headline, I just reminded myself of that Youtube clip.. you know, “omg shoes”. But seriously, shoes.

The best investment I’ve made have been in my shoes. They’ve lasted years, work with tons of different outfits, and they’re the number one thing people notice. You can’t go wrong with a solid pair of thin, European, pointed toe leather lace-ups. If you’re wearing square-toe shoes right now, or those bulky dress-shoe-tennis-shoe hybrid things, pay special attention.

Ferragamo Revial – My black lace-ups

You should aim to own a few pair in both black and brown – lace-ups for suits, professional endeavors, or just to have a sleek look, and drivers or loafers for keeping it more casual. If you get a nice pair of loafers/drivers, you can wear them with your suit, khakis, or shorts.

Ferragamo Plinio Loafer

If you can’t tell, I’m partial to Ferragamo (for good reason!), but Gucci and Prada always make shoes I’m envious of too. For something cheaper, check out Reiss.

Ferragamo Newland – brown captoe oxfords

A few more of my anal retentive pinpoints: get a cobbler! Don’t shine your own shoes, leave it to a professional, especially if you are investing in an expensive pair. The cobbler can also clean gunk off your shoes, fix scratches, etc. Also, invest in a quality pair – minimal leather pieces on the shoe, leather sole, and they’ll last forever. Finally, buy shoe trees. When your shoes aren’t on your feed, keep them in shoes trees and in dust bags. Ask my girlfriend, my closet is full of shoes in bags. Your shoes won’t crease and they’ll smell nice (cedar shoe trees).

That pretty much sums up my suit know how. I could go into a few more things but at the end of the day fashion is whatever you want to do and how you do it. If you ignore everything I’ve written and wear something completely different, it’s awesome and it’s your fashion choice so long as you know what you’re doing and you’re confident about it. For the general public who are curious as to which buttons to button and how long their tie should be, take note!

Me – Dior suit, Dolce & Gabbana tie, bespoke shirt

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