How to Buy a Suit

Something as personal as buying a suit is tricky. In general, off-the-rack suits fall into two brackets. The first have “fused” or glued-up interlinings and are completely machine-made. These must account for 95 percent of all suits sold ranging from $100 to $1,100. The second bracket, at the higher end, include handmade interlinings and other details and can go for up to $5,000. Handmade is certainly better, but most people spend less.

In this lower bracket, ignore designer labels. In fact, ignore labels and price tags altogether. The machined label suits are made using identical methods of manufacture. They’re produced in minutes, usually in an Asian or former Eastern Bloc country. Many of the less expensive brands are made in the same factories as the dearest—exactly the same but with a different label sewn in.

It’s helpful to know that most houses have a pattern cutter who designs the basic look of their suits, usually with two aims: first, to produce garments that fit most people, and second, to get their style into garments without anyone noticing. We all have egos. Designers will try to get more shape in the waist or a longer line, usually driven by what looks good on them. Of course, clothes that look good on one person would not necessarily look good on everyone else.

When you’re shopping, here are a few things to look for:

Cloth: Make sure it’s suitable for the purpose. Business, wedding, or bar mitzvah? Pick a solid gray or blue worsted wool. Keep it classic. Don’t shop after watching an Austin Powers movie.

Style: It’s usually more practical to own a single-breasted, two- or three-button front. Never choose those dreadful four-buttons; they reek of cheap designer rubbish and look totally stupid once you’re over 20.

Fit: Again, ignore the labels. Just because it’s claiming to be a posh product doesn’t mean it’s going to fit you the best. Try everything in your size. They’ll be different—only slightly, but enough to make the difference between being comfortable and uncomfortable. Style is when people are comfortable in their clothes.

Alterations: If you’re between sizes, take the larger. Pay $100 to have it altered, and get the sleeves and trousers the right length. If needed, get that extra shape where you want it. Do all this properly and you can end up with a $100 suit that looks like it cost $1,000.

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