I imagine that if you’re not a daily suit wearer, you want the one or two suits you own to last a long time, and to be stylistically relevant for as long as possible.

The most versatile suit you can own would be a medium-weight wool suit (super 100s or 120s) in a medium grey, with a two-button, single-breasted, double-vented jacket.

Despite the detail of that description, there is still a lot open to interpretation.

  • Cuff or no cuff?
  • Can I have pattern and texture on grey fabric?
  • What is the ideal lapel width?
  • How much break should my trousers have?

While there are many little details to look out for—or adjust, if going custom—pay particular attention to these five areas when shopping for your next suit.

I want to help you avoid certain trends so you can land on the most timeless silhouette possible.

Something to note: You may very well end up with a boring suit. Let’s just be real here. It’s like going to an ice cream shop and ordering plain vanilla.

However, you will have a suit that transcends most, if not all, possible suiting trends for a very long time. I can’t say forever, but at least for a decade or two.

You could always inject it with a little personality by wearing an interesting shirt, tie, or pocket square.

Another thing: It’s not bad to have a “trendy” suit. In fact, I don’t have a 100% traditional, trend-free suit. And you may not want to either.

First, let’s define the spectrum

Imagine a spectrum that spans left to right. Left being über traditional, right being every current suit trend out there right now.

It’s like a style spectrum. A SUIT style spectrum!

Boom. Suit Style Spectrum™.

suitstylespectrum

click to enlarge, and please, read the fine print

Anyway, imagine the SSS (I abbreviate everything) and where you’d like to land. The further left you are, the more classic your suit is, and theoretically, the longer it will be relevant.

This is your traditional Brooks Brothers– or Paul Stuart-type suit.

The further right you go, the more your suit reflects current market trends, and the bigger your chances are of looking dated in a few years as said trends change (assuming you go full-tilt).

Below, I’ll point out a few areas that need your attention, how men are currently wearing their suits, along with your more traditional options.

Choose to follow the more conservative route for one, a few, or all of these… it’s up to you.

Fabric Pattern

Bold suiting fabrics are always exciting to own. They spice up an otherwise drab uniform, and you can be more creative with putting together looks.

There’s a problem with bold, obvious patterns, however.

If you only have one or two suits, the bold one will be instantly recognizable the more you wear it. People will know you only have one or two suits.

With solid grey (or navy), people won’t know if you have one suit, or ten.

The Classic Choice: Once you have your basics down, feel free to invest in more exciting fabrics. But for now, get something basic.

What’s considered basic? Solid navy or grey (medium grey to charcoal). I personally prefer a medium grey. It’s easy to wear no matter the season, and as far as a darker colored suit, you have your bases covered with the navy.

If you want to step up the interest level a bit, you can go for a subtle texture like sharkskin or birdseye, but avoid stripes or checks.

Lapel Width

As of writing this, it seems wide lapels (3″ / 9cm and wider) are the norm. I’ve seen suits where the lapel peaks touch the shoulder seam (!!!).

Rewind back a few years, and most lapels were slim or skinny (2″ / 5cm or slimmer), to match all the skinny ties and short collars.

Funny how the proportions we favor can shift within a few short years.

This whole thing is cyclical, too. We’re eventually going to go back to skinny everything, and then back to wide again. Who knows, if you’re reading this five years after I wrote it, it’s possible that slim lapels are en vogue again.

The Classic Choice: Go for a lapel width where the widest point is roughly half the distance to your shoulder seam.

lapel_width

widest point halfway to the shoulder seam, via

For me, that’s about 2.5″ – 2.75″ wide (6.3-6.9cm).

If you’re 6’5″ with broad shoulders, a 2.5″ lapel may be too narrow. And if you’re small with narrow shoulders, 2.5″ may be too wide. It’s all dependent on your build and proportions.

And remember the width of your lapel should be similar in proportion to your tie and shirt collar.

Trouser Leg Width

It seems that fuller cuts (as well as pleats and higher waists) are coming back into style, although most people are still rocking a trim silhouette.

trouser_width

varying leg widths, via

Some border on skinny, which looks fine if you have the body type that supports it. See my point above regarding lapel widths and proportions.

The Classic Choice: A relaxed, straight leg fit with a rise that allows you to wear above your hips, though not necessarily high enough to wear on your natural waist.

A “relaxed fit” being one that’s still flattering and not at all wide or baggy, but not slim like your denim may be.

Trouser Break

Most fashion-forward individuals favor no break, where the trouser cuff grazes the top of the shoe.

This looks great if done correctly. The pants should also be tapered; if they’re a straight cut, having no break isn’t as flattering.

trouser_break

perfect break, via

The Classic Choice: A half break. This is a good middle ground, considering a full break can sometimes seem like too much material bunching at the ankles, especially if you have a fuller leg and wider opening.

Trouser Taper

I personally think a slight taper is more flattering, especially with a slim or straight leg.

Choose a leg opening narrow enough so your cuffs aren’t flapping in the wind if you go with a half break. The actual width varies, since it will depend on the width of your pant leg, which depends on your build, and so on.

via

example of a nice taper, via

The Classic Choice: If your trousers are a more classic silhouette, you obviously will have no taper. It will be straight all the way down to the leg opening.

BONUS: Jacket Length

A few years ago, suit styles were trending towards narrower, tighter, slimmer, and shorter.

To an extent, slim is here to stay (thank God), but since you’re shopping for a more classic look, you don’t want to overdo the tightness or the shortness (of anything, really).

The Classic Choice: Your jacket needs to be long enough to cover your butt. Plain and simple.

More specifically, the bottom of the jacket should be at the point where your glutes curve in and meet your thigh.

There’s room for interpretation here. Because of my build, if I get a traditional length jacket, it appears too long on me, so I prefer mine slightly shorter (but still having ample butt coverage) to stay visually proportioned. You’ll have to experiment with a few lengths to see what works best for you.

When jackets are cropped short and a man’s butt is exposed, I always think of that episode of The Office when Michael Scott wore a women’s suit.

Lady suits are cropped short; a more traditional men’s suit should not be.

Finally

There are many little stylistic details to pay attention to when shopping for a suit.

But, assuming you want as “classic” a suit as possible—classic is in quotes because, in reality, classic is somewhat of a moving target—figure out where you want to fall on the Suit Style Spectrum™, pay attention to these five (six!) areas, and you should be good to go.

Questions? Concerns? Other potential problem areas to watch out for? Let’s hear em in the comments.

 

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18 Responses

  1. ITPLEASESBULBA on

    This gets me a step closer to online suit ordering.still not confident but I’ll try one day when I have money to burn

    • Barron on

      Most online shops are comparable to what you’d pay off the rack, except for the fact that it’s custom. There are a few humps to get over (measuring yourself, taking it to a tailor, adjusting your measurements on their website) but once you’re past those, you’re golden.

  2. Russ Perkins on

    I am definitely more on the traditional side of the SSS and I like the representations given on the article, but can you give some examples that are for the more budget conscious people like me?

    • Barron on

      What’s the budget? >$200, try Combatant Gentleman online. Or if there’s a JCP near you, try their Stafford brand. They have a few lines, but find the one where their suits are made from mostly wool or all wool.

      • Russ Perkins on

        >$200 would be great! But I am willing to up to $350, I have looked at Combatant and I definitely like the selection. I will look into JCP. Thanks!

  3. Joshua on

    When purchasing from places like Suitsupply, while it is of tremendous help to heed the advice of the people working there, if you have any preferences as to the leg width/opening and trouser breaks, I feel it is to your benefit to let those people know of them since the suit is going to be tailored to be your specifications as well as preference anyway.

    • Barron on

      Definitely, and that goes for when you’re visiting your tailor as well. They may have suggestions but if you want it to be more tapered, have less break, etc., just let them know.

  4. Jak Carsten on

    For a flat front suit, what is your opinion on cuffs? I know the standard flat-front suit comes without them, but designers like Tom Ford insist on cuffs with that style. Your thoughts?

    • Barron on

      I personally like cuffs on everything, assuming there’s enough fabric. It looks cleaner without, but I prefer them with. Totally personal preference.

  5. Andy Budnik on

    I love the Office reference. That ep was hilarious. In regards to suits, after reading this and the other fit articles, I’m finding it incredibly hard to find a jacket that fits as it should. My shoulders are very muscular and somewhat wide. I am 5’9″ 175 and my chest, lats and back are all bigger than most normal sized people. Slim fits make me look trim, which I want, but finding a jacket to accommodate my shoulders is tricky so that it doesn’t bunch up where the shoulder meets the arm. My arms seem to fill out the entire sleeve and creates a bunching near the shoulder, whether I have a 40, 42, or in some cases a 44. Of course when I do find a jacket that fits in a 44, it makes me look boxy and would require a good deal of tailoring to make it fit slim elsewhere. Any thoughts on this?

    • Barron on

      I was dying when I first saw that episode; that scene especially.

      Most likely you’ll need to go with a more traditional cut suit (allows for more room) and then get it tailored in the body so it fits your V shape more. Slim cut suits probably won’t work for your build.

      Or you could try MTM online, since the suit is designed directly from your measurements.

  6. Bo on

    This really is great, great stuff. I find it interesting that you note 3″ seems to be the norm though — I feel like the Ludlow suit is still somewhat “in” for the most part, as are slimmer lapels? Even the Crosby suit from J. Crew is about 2.5″, right? But then again, I look for a slimmer lapel naturally as a slim guy! So maybe it’s that!

    Also: That reference from The Office. CLASSIC episode.

    • Barron on

      I don’t think 3″ is the norm, although I see lapels (mostly on the #menswear crowd, but even around the streets of nyc) going wider and wider.

      I just checked, and one of my suits’ lapels is 3″ wide at its widest point, which was about halfway between the neck and the shoulder seam. So (relatively speaking) 3″ isn’t THAT wide, assuming you have the same proportions as me.

      That’s why I couldn’t give an absolute measurement, because everyone’s build is different.

      I have plenty of J.Crew suits and sport coats with the 2.5″ lapels. I still like them, and to me, they’re still relevant. For my proportions, they may be a little narrow, but I don’t mind a bit of variety in my collection.

  7. Donna Neumann on

    Great wrap up of classic style! It is is worth spending more for a classic suit because of the return on your investment….not to mention how easy it makes decisions about what to wear….you can never go wrong with this style.