There is a lot to consider when purchasing as suit, and if to done correctly a well-made suit is an investment. The 2 most important consideration are fit and construction. This guide will focus on the fit, however it is important to understand that a poorly made suit will not fit the same as a quality constructed suit, and this is more evident over time.
A well-fitting suit is essential for both comfort and style. Here are some key things to look for when trying to find the perfect suit fit:
Shoulder fit: The shoulder seam should align with the natural curve of your shoulders. If it extends beyond your shoulder, the jacket is too large; if it's too short, it will look too tight. There are different tailoring approaches to shoulder lines such as a classic British Shoulder with a sturdier pad to an Italian shoulder with very little padding. However, regardless of the style you choose, the fit should still be proportionate to your natural shoulder line.
Jacket length: The jacket should cover your seat (buttocks) and the bottom of your zipper. Standing with your arms natural by your sides, the bottom of the jacket should be inline with the knuckle of your thumb and your jacket should form a gentle "V" shape from your shoulders to your hips.
Sleeve length: The jacket sleeves should end at the base of your thumb, showing about 1.5cm or 1/2 inch of shirt cuff.
Chest fit: The fit through the chest when buttoned and standing neutral should be firm but comfortably. If the jacket is tight through the chest, you will see visual cues such as a nasty chest break through the lapel where the jacket is pulling or gaping. A small chest will also cause the back of the jacket to pull between the shoulder blades and possibly through the bicep. When the chest is too generous you will find a collapsing or bunching of fabric near the sleeve.
Waist fit: The way the jacket fits through the waist will depend on your own personal tastes, however there are a few things to consider here. The jacket should contour to your waist without excessive pulling or looseness. There should be enough room for you to comfortably move and breathe.
Collar fit: The collar should lay flat against your shirt collar or neck without any gaps. This can sometimes be difficult to get right when purchasing of the rack as the collar is only offered as standard cut. For those who have a posture where their head is forward alterations the best solution is custom made.
Back fit: The back of the jacket should sit clean without any pulling or alternatively any pleating or excess fabric. Again, there can be variations here depending on your preference and the purpose of the suit such. You should have enough room to be able to move your arms freely within reason. We are not playing cricket or rowing a boat here. When required, unbutton your jacket if you find a tailored fit restricting.
Trousers fit: The trousers should sit comfortably at your natural waistline and not slide down or feel too tight when you move. If you have a large stomach, then the “off the rack” suit will sit incorrectly and most likely pleat just under the waistband.
Classically the length should be such that there's a slight break (a small fold) at the front of the pant leg where it meets your shoe. However, the length will vary according to the style preference and shoe selection.
The trousers should fit well around your seat and hips, allowing for comfortable movement without excessive tightness or sagging. A tight trouser at the seat will cause the pockets to open.
The leg width will be dependent of your own personal preference. A natural shape that narrows towards the cuff is best. If you like to wear your trousers a slim as possible then consider a fabric with stretch.
Tailoring and Alterations: Most people will require some level of tailoring when purchasing an “off the rack” suit, and it’s important to know these will be additional charges to the purchase of your suit. If the tailoring is extensive and expensive then a pre-made suit may not be the best solution for you.
The best advice is to consult with a knowledgeable salesperson or a professional tailor. An expert will be able to guide you in the best brand to fit your shape, purpose and save you money on alterations.
In part 2 we look at suit construction and why it is important to choose quality over price.