Buying an inexpensive suit: The Complete Dappered Guide
Above Suit: Alfani RED Grey Sharkskin Slim Fit- $274.98 (but can be had for as little as $200)
A lot of these tips have been spread throughout this website, dropped in here and there with reckless abandon. It’s time to get it all in one place. For those who have visited Dappered with some frequency in the past, much of this will look familiar. If you’re a newbie, know that all this “advice” comes from personal experience, by way of doing the opposite. Here’s to hoping you’ve avoided some of the many mistakes I’ve made in the past…
Most men hate dressing up. They’ve been told since they were knee high to a clearance rack that a suit is uncomfortable. Most guys truly believe they look stupid in a suit. Plus suits are so expensive, why should they invest that much cash in something they’ll hate wearing?
Sorry fellas. Those are all lame excuses. The truth is a man can buy a suit that he’ll look great in, and more importantly feel great about wearing, all for less than $300. Sometimes for even cheaper than that. It’s just a matter of knowing a few key tricks for picking out a suit, then what to do with it after the purchase. Follow these few suggestions and a $250 suit will look better than some CEO’s $1500 luxury getup. Here’s how to do it:
It’s all about fit. Make sure you’re buying the right size.
The vast majority of suit wearing men are wearing suit jackets that are at least a size too big. Guys, repeat after me: You are wearing the suit. The suit is not wearing you. Convinced you’re a 40 regular in the jacket? Just try a 38. You might be surprised. What you don’t want is a jacket so big that the shoulder pads jut out over your actual shoulders. Here’s an old trick: Put the jacket on and stand next to a wall. Slowly lean into the wall with your shoulder. The pad and your shoulder should hit at the same time. If the pad hits the wall first then scrunches up? It’s too big.
If you’re anywhere close to being in shape, you need to be buying “trim fit” or “athletic cut” suits. Those usually come pre contoured at the sides of the jacket, and will often have less shoulder padding. Both of those features will give you a natural, masculine V-shape. Normal suits will leave you looking like you’re stuck inside a barrel of cloth. Don’t let the sales person try and talk you into a bigger suit. They’re used to the types who believe comfort = loose. It needs to fit, and after tailoring it’ll move with you. More on that later.
Know your fabrics and brands
Stick with natural fabrics like wool. Skip polyester which is almost always cheaper. Wool moves better and is much more breathable than plasticized poly fabric. Some brands like Kenneth Cole make their suits in both wool and synthetic. Always check the tags, and stick with wool.
Also know that every brand is slightly different. A 40 regular in a Tommy Hilfiger Trim Fit from Macy’s might actually be a 40 short in an Alfani Red. Both available at the same department store, but different shapes once you put them on. And stick with brands that seem to cater towards a younger (meaning under 40) audience. So along with Alfani Red and Hilfiger, give Calibrate (Nordstrom), and DKNY a spin.
If you want to splurge a bit and get a suit custom made for you? Take a look at Indochino. They’re a custom suit company that makes suits for around $250 – $500. Plus they pay up to $75 worth of extra alterations done by your tailor, and they’ve got an iron-clad guarantee. Whatever your choice, skip the boxy Ralph Laurens and Jos. A Bank suits your Grandpa favors.
Go to the store prepared
When you head out to go suit shopping, make sure you’re wearing what you plan on wearing with a suit. Meaning: A pair of dress shoes, your favorite dress shirt, and a great looking tie. The fitting room is a dress rehearsal for your potential suit. You want to see what it’ll look like after the purchase.
Don’t be shy about bringing a friend or significant other with you. You need an honest opinion to balance out the sales guy who will be in your ear from the start. The sales person might honestly be trying to help, but more often than not they just get in the way.
After the Purchase: Get it tailored. It’s absolutely crucial.
Even if you bought a trim fit suit with extra contouring at the sides, you’ll need to get it tailored post-purchase. Your suit is like your hair. You need a professional who knows what they’re doing to give it the right shape. Like wearing a jacket that’s too large, most men believe that suits fit perfect right off the rack. Not true. You should at the very least consider having the jacket sides brought in a bit more and the sleeve length adjusted so you’re showing ¼ inch of shirt cuff.
Be warned: a tailor can’t adjust the thickness of the shoulder pads, and shortening a jacket is a pretty messy job. So get those two things right off the rack. To see if the jacket is the right length, leave your arms loose at your sides and curl your fingers upward like you’re about to grab the handles on a wheel-barrow. The jacket should end precisely in that valley in your fingers. If it bunches up? It’s too long.
Treat your inexpensive suit carefully
There’s a reason why a cheap suit is cheap. It cost less to make from materials that aren’t super high quality. After you get it tailored, store your suit in a breathable garment bag so dust and fabric munching bugs can’t get at it. Also make sure the jacket is hanging on a wide shouldered hanger. Gravity. She’s a cruel force. And if the hanger your suit jacket is on is a standard thin plastic or (good grief no) wire hanger, the shoulder pads will pinch, crease, and droop down over it.
Know that there’s no need to cut the pockets on the front of your suit jacket open. If you like wearing a pocket square, then go ahead with the chest pocket. But the lower pockets should stay closed. That’ll help your jacket keep it’s shape.
Dry clean your suit as little as possible. If you didn’t sweat in your suit, then don’t have it cleaned. Unlike expensive suits which have a third piece in-between the exterior and interior layer of fabric (called a canvas) cheap suits are usually “fused” or glued together. The harsh heat of the dry cleaning process will often melt the glue and cause ugly wrinkles to form as the glue settles back into uneven clumps.
Do cut the brand label off the sleeve if there is one. It’s not like the label on the back of your Levi’s. So the maker’s mark has to go.
What else? Leave any other tips for cheap suit buying in the comments section below.