Everything You Need To Know About Suits (And A Good Deal More)
Times have changed for the suit, but we all still need a good one. Streetwear may have come to dominate our wardrobes while our office spaces – however they look now – err on the casual side of things. Still, the desire to put on a suit persists as long as we still want a measure of formality and to look as good as these men do in the movies.
Whether it’s a black suit for a formal event or a three-piece for a more traditional cut, tailoring remains a necessary part of our lives. If you’re getting married, you’ll need a wedding suit. Celebrating someone else? A tuxedo.
Suits can also be one of the highest-value elements of our wardrobes, so it pays to know a thing or two about them. While tailoring lingo can be as exhausting as a three-day wedding party, our comprehensive guide will hopefully make things a little clearer on the different styles of suits, from tweeds to double-breasted styles; construction, colour, fabrics and what to wear it with.
01. The two-piece suit
The most common style of suit, comprising a matching jacket (either single- or double-breasted, see below) and trousers. Simple, no? But to get it really right, you should listen to the tailoring masters on the secrets of a well-fitting suit. Jacket sleeves, for instance, should never be worn too long – you should always be able to see the cufflinks. Trousers should sit at the hip, not lower. And jackets should sit firmly on the shoulders. There are plenty more features that go into the making of a great suit, so it makes sense to get to know your lapels, vents and pocket patches. Put simply, suits are not for slouching in.
02. The three-piece suit
A three-piece suit consists of a matching jacket, trousers and waistcoat. The style was popular before the advent of central heating, as the waistcoat provided an additional layer of insulation. In its recent revival, the three-piece is regarded as more formal than the standard two-piece, making it a better option for dressier occasions (think weddings and the races) – but it’s also a dapper choice as a business suit on office-bound days. A pinstripe suit is the classic option here.
03. The double-breasted suit
This is a suit where the front fastening of the jacket overlaps. It usually consists of two vertical rows of buttons, with a single row of buttonholes. There is often a single button on the underside to secure the closure from the inside. Double-breasted styles are best avoided by men with larger frames as they add bulk.
04. The single-breasted suit
A suit with a jacket that fastens with a single row of one, two, three or, occasionally, four buttons; the buttons are fastened left over right as standard. Single-breasted suits tend to be a cooler option on warmer days, as there’s less fabric than there is with double-breasted styles. Linen is your go-to here, if you’re feeling extra breezy about it. Additionally, you can leave a single-breasted jacket unbuttoned without looking untidy.
05. The dinner suit
The dinner suit, known as a tuxedo in the US, usually consists of a black, white, cream or midnight-blue jacket crafted from wool, and black trousers with a black silk or satin stripe down the side of each leg. The jacket is either double- or single-breasted and is worn with a white double-cuff shirt and black bow tie. It’s appropriate for any evening function that stipulates a black-tie dress code, such as the company Christmas dinner or an evening wedding reception.
Canvassing refers to a suit jacket has been constructed with supportive internal padding, which means the suit will mould to your body shape with wear and prevents sagging with age. Nowadays, most suits are fused using glue and do not have this internal canvassing, so do not last as long.
Deconstructed or unstructured indicates that a suit is made without structured padding and other reinforcements. It gives it a more laid-back, fluid feel. This construction method was first pioneered by Italian tailoring houses, which tend to favour a more relaxed approach. And as the iconic Italian actor Mr Marcello Mastroianni proved, it’s a look that is still extremely powerful.
This is when a suit is personalised and made to the exact specifications of an individual client, down to the smallest detail, from start to finish. Also known as “custom-made”, it involves a consultation, measuring, fabric selection, cutting and numerous fitting sessions. A step below bespoke is made-to-measure, where a partially constructed suit is altered to the measurements of a client. Finally, there’s ready-to-wear, meaning an off-the-rack suit that has been cut and sized to fit the most common body shapes. For that, it’s good to know the ins and outs of buying a suit online.
Black suits aren’t necessarily a good day-to-day style – so we wouldn’t advise them for the office. They’re best for formal or eveningwear. Navy suits are far more versatile than black ones. So much so that if you had to buy only one suit in any colour, it would probably be a deep-blue one. Navy suits are your friend. And they go well with most colours of shoes, too.
There’s only so much information you can glean from a photograph, especially as, in tailoring, the feel and texture of a suit’s fabric is as important as how it looks. So unless you’re meeting your tailor in-person, it pays to know a little about the fabric choices. Linen is synonymous with summer while a Prince of Wales check is as classic as they come. Whether you opt for wool, silk or a blend, the main considerations here are the occasion and the weather forecast. Seersucker is a great lightweight option for summer; gabardine if it looks like rain. But the choice, as they say, is yours.
As a general rule, you should wear shoes that are as least as dark as your suit. Black is so dark that it isn’t even, strictly speaking, a colour and it absorbs all other colours of the visible spectrum. So, this one’s rather easy – wear black shoes and black shoes only. Navy suits go well with most colours of shoes, too. But in our view, they go best with variations of dark, rich browns. Brown shoes go well with brown suits but just make sure they are different shades. And to answer the question we get asked a lot, can you wear sneakers with a suit? In short, yes. In the right context, pared-back sneakers will sit comfortably beneath most suit trousers.
Avoid dry-cleaning (it’s bad for the fabric) – Mr Thom Whiddett of Thom Sweeney dry-cleans his once a year at most, and you should consider doing the same. Press it properly, store it well (no squishing, please) and take it off as soon as you get in. Let your suit air out overnight before putting it back in a bag or hanging it in your closet. If you’re taking your suit on a journey, may we suggest you take a minute to see how to pack your suit in a suitcase.