How to buy a suit – introduction
We’ve all seen the guys on the cover of men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire. They look likeable to us. How do we know this? Because if they weren’t likeable, then there’s no way that any editor worth his salt would put them on the front of their magazine.
What do we see when we look at the cover? We see a man we probably recognize from the world of sport, music or film. He’s usually smiling. An open, warm grin. He’s usually in a great suit. Combined with a crisp shirt and a quality tie. How would you describe him? We’ve had likeable. What about successful? Jet-set? Winner?
Maybe for a split-second you think, “Wouldn’t it be great to be him? Live his life? It must be awesome…” Then you trail off. Even in your own head, you stop yourself. You say to yourself, “Stop being ridiculous. Why would I want to be someone else? That’s a bit weird. Luckily I wasn’t thinking that out loud.” Then you buy the magazine.
Hold on. Why be so hasty? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be playing at a higher level than we’re currently at. It might be a bit odd to want to see what life would be like for our GQ man but completely understandable to want to be operating at more like our fullest potential.
The great news is that we can take elements of the GQ/Esquire cover man and make them our own. It can be us. Our faces and our bodies, with great hair and a great smile, all with the same quality of suit, shirt and tie that the cover guy enjoys.
Imagine what looking like that could do for you. Just visualize that for a bit. You’re in a crisp white shirt, with a perfectly knotted tie. You’re wearing a suit that fits you perfectly for your frame. You’re wearing shoes that are beautiful and your watch is an understated, elegant Swiss timepiece.
How do you feel? Confident? Able to take on anything that the day and life can throw at you? I’m willing to bet that you feel pretty amazing. Not quite used to it but definitely getting there fast.
This isn’t just possible; it’s soon to become your reality. In this guide, we’re going to show you step-by-step how to buy a suit that will get you looking like you are the GQ/Esquire cover guy. We’ll also show you what to wear with this cover-worthy suit.
Excited? Great stuff. Let’s get started.
How to buy a suit – the 22 essential rules
To have a suit that will fit you as well as they do on GQ/Esquire cover guys, you need to buy a suit that follows the rules below. Trust us, if you follow these rules, you will look and feel like they do.
It must be bespoke or, at very the least, made-to-measure (MTM).
What’s the difference? Bespoke means made from scratch. The cloth will be cut and stitched together to fit your exact body specifications. MTM is where a partially made suit (so not off the peg) is finished and altered to fit your body specifications.
Bespoke or MTM is not as expensive as you might think. In the UK, bespoke is available from around £350 upwards. The price rises for better fabrics and greater customisation. This is a very decent price point for this quality of service. A standard suit in a department store will be around £250. This will not fit well at all. So an extra £100 or so is not too much more to pay for a vastly superior product.
There are grades of bespoke service.
At the top end, which we can leave for now, are the tailors of Savile Row. Here are bastions of classic English tailoring such as Huntsman, Gieves & Hawkes and Kilgour.
At the best-priced end, we have online bespoke retailers such as www.asuitthatfits.com. These do great priced bespoke suits but for your first suit, I’d recommend leaving this for your first proper suit so that you don’t have to worry about taking your own measurements and submitting them to the retailer.
Let’s go to a tailor somewhere in the middle of these two ends. In the UK, these include www.dressedtokill.com who suit up the England rugby team and many TV broadcasters. Once you have found a tailor to approach, let’s go to the next rule. The tailor needs to pass these tests to earn your hard-earned money.
It has to be blue. Specifically a navy blue.
Why blue? First, let’s dismiss out of hand a black suit. Black seems to be a man’s first choice for his first suit. Maybe, because he perceives it to be safe. Maybe, he thinks it won’t show stains. Whatever the reason, unless it’s for a funeral or a tuxedo for dinner, it’s wrong. It just says to everyone looking at it, “I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to dressing.” Look at every style icon in a suit photo, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, The Duke of Windsor et al. and notice that in none of these photos is there a black suit.
Why not grey? A grey suit is one of the two staples of a suit collection, but if we’re choosing one for our first proper suit, it has to be blue, a dark navy or a light navy, but navy blue all the same.
We recommend a mid-navy blue, because it’s the most versatile.
The cloth has to be in a super 100 worsted wool or above.
Go for a mid-weight option for versatility.
The style has to be two-button,
not one-button or three-button. Three button means that the lapels will be too short and the potential button area is too long. This is rarely flattering. One button is too minimal and is rarely seen on a man’s jacket.
The jacket must be double-vented.
This refers to the bottom of the back of the jacket. A single vent has one ‘slit’ down the centre. A double vent has two slits, one either side. The reason it should be double vented is because a double ‘sits’ better on your rear. A single vent has the unfortunate effect of making the whole area stick out more, almost like a tent. A double vent rests more flatteringly on your rear.
The jacket must cover your backside but absolutely no longer.
Too long and we’re getting into the realm of ‘this wasn’t made bespoke’. The length of a jacket being either too long or too short is a red flag that the suit was bought off-the-peg.
The front of the jacket should end at your inner groin when standing.
The bottom edge should be level with the point at which your trousers split into two legs.
The jacket sleeves must, when standing with your arms at your side, be no longer than the joint between your hand and your forearm.
Ideally, the end of the sleeve should be about an inch shorter than this. This allows, when the arm is fully extended, that there be a flash of shirtsleeve visible, as the shirtsleeve should be slightly longer than the jacket sleeve. Only slightly longer.
The arms of your jacket should be fitted not baggy.
The line should be close to your arm but it shouldn’t be too tight (restrictive when worn) or too baggy (like a boy wearing his older brother’s suit).
The sizing of your jacket should be fitted but not too close to the body.
We want to be mobile in our suits. Think 007 who can run, jump and fit in his suit without ripping it.
The trousers should be flat-fronted not pleated.
Pleated makes you look unnecessarily heavier in the lower belly area because of bunching of fabric. Keep it flat-fronted.
The trousers should not have turn-ups.
Your tailor will give you this option but turn-ups look untidy. Keep the line of your trousers clean and opt for without.
The end of the trousers should, when standing upright, be touching the tops of your shoes but there should be no rumples or excess fabric bunched at the top.
The effect we are looking for is that when you are seated, the end of your trousers should rise revealing your socks.
The trousers should be tapered but not skinny fit.
Tapered means that the cloth is cut wider at the thigh than it is at the bottom. It will look narrower at the ankle than at the thigh. If you imagine you are wearing shoes with lace-ups, then the hem should be narrow enough that you can see the laces exposed.
The cuff-buttons should be functioning buttons.
You should be able to unbutton and button the cuff-buttons. If your tailor says that he cannot provide this functionality, then this is a red-flag as to his abilities. Seriously consider walking away at this point. I’m not exaggerating. This cuff function is a clear signal to those in the know, that your suit is bespoke. So much so that many with bespoke suits will leave the end button undone to signal this. Get four buttons.
Be restrained on the lining colour.
We’re striving for elegance not noise with our suit. Opt for a dark navy or a purple.
The lapel width. Get one that is classic.
Neither too narrow or too wide.
Make sure you go in for at least one fitting.
At this fitting, make sure that all of the above rules are observed. Great tailoring is in the details.
At the final fitting, again, make sure that all of the above rules are observed.
There’s nothing wrong with spotting something that’s been missed or that is wrong. In fact, this is training your eye to become more detail-orientated, a trait that will repay huge dividends the more advanced your dress sense becomes.
Congratulations! You now have your first proper suit! A moment to savour.
Bonus: Essential Items to Complete Your GQ/Esquire Look
Now that you’ve nailed how to buy a suit, you need a few items to complete your transformation to GQ/Esquire cover guy. You need these to be at the same level as your suit or else they will detract from all the effort that you put into getting your suit made.
I recommend a pair of black Oxfords in a wing-tip brogue from an English shoemaker. The best shoemakers originate from Northampton. Here you’ll find the cream of shoemakers such as Crockett & Jones, Church’s, John Lobb and Grenson. The shape is essential to how shoes are perceived. Perception is split-second. I can tell instantly how good a man’s pair of shoes are. As an example, look at the beautiful Dylans in a high shine black from Grenson. For much more information on shoes we recommend, please see here.
Your tailor will make shirts or he will be able to outsource this to a trusted supplier. Opt for a white dress shirt with a classic collar. After white, go for light blue and a light pink. Make sure the collar size is not too tight for your neck or too loose. The sleeve length should fall no longer than the wrist when the arms are by your side when standing. Remember from above that we want the jacket sleeve to be slightly shorter than the shirt sleeve so that we always get a flash of shirt sleeve under the jacket sleeve. Opt for a double cuff. If you don’t want to go bespoke with your shirt at this stage (although I can promise you that once you do go bespoke, nothing else will ever do), then head to a dress-shirt supplier such as TM Lewin, who will have variations on sleeve length and collar size. Opt for as fitted a shirt as you can get.
Something simple. It has to be classic. Opt for a single colour at this stage. Navy. Green. Go for a 100% silk tie or a knitted tie. Learn how to tie a half-Windsor or full-Windsor. It’s very easy. The end of your tie should just about touch the top of your trousers when standing up. The knot should not be too big or too small. If it is, then redo.
You now look the part from head to toe! Enjoy it. Go somewhere like Central London and walk around. Get used to the feel of a great suit and great shoes. Check out cafes, galleries, museums and restaurants. Enjoy the feeling of suiting up like a GQ/Esquire cover guy because that is you now!