I must admit, I’m a bit of a silent critic when it comes to men and their suits. I walk down the street and see terrible offenders -- pants that are way too long, jackets that swallow the man like a cape, pleats that look like balloons. I want to stop the guy on the street, take him to the nearest tailor and impress upon him just how much better/younger/slimmer he would look if we trimmed this, hemmed those and adjusted that. But I try not to offer unsolicited advice. Well not to strangers anyway.
I do, however, understand why it can be so confusing. Just flicking through the pages of GQ, Esquire or the Barneys catalogue is likely to leave you even more perplexed. You’ll see wide, dramatic jacket lapels on a Tom Ford suit, next to Yves Saint Laurent’s skinny pencil thin lapels. And then there are the Thom Browne skin-tight pants hemmed above the ankle. All well-respected fashion houses with talented designers but who’s to say which one is right?
The answer? What’s right is what looks good on you, your body type and what’s appropriate for your career and lifestyle. And yet there are certain subtle styling and fit details that distinguish the modern man from the guy who’s been wearing the same five suits for the last ten years.
Read on for 10 tips that will ensure that your suits are not letting you down.
Keep it simple
The contemporary suit should be slim, streamlined and simple. And that doesn’t mean you have to be stick-thin to wear it. Even if you’re a taller or more muscular guy, extra fabric, long jackets and baggy trousers don’t hide anything, in fact they make you look bigger and sloppier than you should.
You don’t have to be aggressive and “in your face” with bold patterns or pin stripes to make a statement. A simple, two-button navy or charcoal suit that fits is an excellent starting point.
Check the shoulders
Make sure the jacket fits the shoulders well. If it fits in the shoulders you can easily take it to the tailor to make other adjustments to upgrade your style. If it doesn’t fit in the shoulders don’t buy it.
“The seam on your suit shoulder should lie directly above where your arm and shoulder meet,” says Arnold Brant Silverstone, President and Chief Design Director for Hickey Freeman and Samuelsohn. “Make sure the front of your suit closes comfortably -- always fasten at least one button to confirm the fit. The last thing you want are buttons that are being pulled too tight or the bottom of your jacket curling upward.”
Don’t get too comfortable
So how should your jacket feel when it’s on? According to bespoke tailor to the stars Ian Rios, a suit jacket should feel like a hug.
“It shouldn’t be loose, it shouldn’t be tight. You should be able to move comfortably but you shouldn’t feel so comfortable that you can play tennis. Suits are not built for that. If it’s too comfortable, it’s too big!”
A shorter jacket separates the modern suit from the ones that have been hanging in your closet for ten years. If you can easily cup the bottom of your jacket with your hands you are in good shape. Any longer and you’re basically wearing an overcoat.
Trim your sleeves
Your jacket sleeve should hit right at the wrist and should show about half an inch of your shirt cuff. And don’t be afraid to get those jacket sleeves taken in if they are too baggy. It will cost about $40 at the tailor but could give an older suit a total refresh, eliminate balloon arms and sharpen up your whole look.
Hem your trousers and check out your rear…
The most common mistake I see is pant length. A shorter break (the small crease caused when the top of your shoe meets the bottom of your trouser leg) is a more contemporary look. Let your pants just touch the top of your shoes for no break, or if you’re a taller, more muscular guy, a slight crease at the front is ok, but never let the hem go beyond the heel of your shoe and bunch up.
As for fit, Silverstone of Hickey Freeman says the seat of the pants is equally important. “When it comes to trousers a clean fit across the back always shows that the fit is right,” he says, “Otherwise the pants can hang in a sloppy drape that doesn’t flatter anyone’s body.”
A good tailor can usually take in the seat of the trousers if they are too loose, but too much tinkering will start to pull on the pockets and change the way the trousers fit in the wrong places. And it’s more difficult to let the seat out than take it in, so don’t buy if they are too tight in the rear.
Lose the pleats and cuffs
While you can still find pleats and cuffs out there on the racks, your best bet is to avoid them. Opt instead for flat front pants and no cuffs for a cleaner, streamlined, more modern look. Cuffs are occasionally suitable for trousers in a heavier fabric, such as corduroy, but if in doubt go without.
Wear lapels accordingly
When bespoke tailor Ian Rios helps his clients select the best lapel width for the man, he considers three things: his occupation, his body type and the width of the tie he wears. Obviously a very skinny lapel is going to look a lot more fashion forward and probably not be suitable for a lawyer, but perfect for an edgy advertising exec. If you want to be up-to-date but not too trendy, you can’t go wrong with a three inch lapel.
If you’ve got a few pounds to lose, the simple addition of a pocket square will draw the eyes away from the gut to the chest. A white linen pocket square will add a fresh, crisp, confidence-boosting element to your overall appearance.
Get yourself a good tailor
If you want a suit that is made to fit your body like a glove, no matter how short, tall, large or skinny you are, then pay up and get a custom suit (the only downside is that you may never return to off-the rack suits). But a really good tailor can work wonders, breathing new life into your existing suits. A nip at the waist, narrowing the sleeves, hemming the pants and maybe even slimming the pant leg will revamp and modernize your existing trousers and jackets.
So go home and take a look through your suits tonight. Try them on. Do you feel sharp and confident, or do you feel sloppy and out of date? Your suit should be working for you to emphasize your best attributes, if it doesn’t do that it’s time to part ways and go with a younger model.
Feel free to reach out with any questions and if you need someone to guide you through the process give me a shout!