Everything You Need to Know About Buying a New Suit

By Max Berlinger

When it comes to matters of style, we live in carefree times, where CEOs sport hoodies and Casual Friday has taken over the whole dang work week. Still, every man should have a suit or two (or five) in his closet. For job interviews, weddings, meeting-the-parents, and other situations where a bit of formality is called for, there’s nothing better looking—and easier—to put on and look instantly pulled-together, than a classic suit.

Now, that doesn’t mean shopping for a suit is something to be phoned in, so we’re here to help navigate the tricky waters of tailoring. Express designer for men’s tailoring, David Marmon — a man who knows how a suit should fit—talked to us through some of the most crucial things a guy should look for when searching for the perfect two-piecer.

SHOP: Extra Slim Burgundy Cotton Sateen Suit, Performance Dress ShirtExtra Slim Burgundy Cotton Sateen Suit Pants

“Whenever I shop for myself or I help others shop, here are the things I look for,” Marmon reveals. “You want to look at the waist—the natural waist, where the top jacket button hits.” So, no, when we say waist, we’re not talking about your hips. It’s closer to under your ribs, and there should be a gentle tapering in there. “You can only take it up so much, so it matters how tapered or slim it is. You don’t want it to pull too much or be too roomy either. I like it to be slightly pinched at the waist. I’m very much in the middle. I don’t want it to be roomy, but I don’t want it to flare out at the waist.” This gives you a bit of shape and structure, something like an hourglass figure, but, you know, manly. Otherwise, you just look like a big suited-up rectangle.

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“The sleeve is a really big deal and people forget about it,” Marmon says. “It’s complicated to alter the sleeve — not the length, per se, but the shape of it. Make sure to look at the sleeve in profile to see how it lays around your arm, if it gives your arm a nice shape as opposed to looking like a big sack.”

Marmon says to make sure and spend a few minutes in the jacket moving around as your shoulders have a wide range of motion, and you want to make sure the jacket moves with you. “You want to be able to see the arm in the sleeve, without the fabric pulling or it bursting through. You don’t want to hide it, for the sleeve cap to be so strong that you can’t see the arm in there. You should be able to see the arm without too much stress.”SHOP: Slim Plaid 100% Italian Wool Suit Pants, Perforated Low Top Sneakers

“Pants are the easiest thing to take to the tailor if you want to take them up,” says Marmon. “People talk about the break a lot,” he says, referring to the place your pant cuff ends (for example no break means it’s slightly cropped whereas a “full” or “deep” break means there’s extra fabric and a slight folding over at the cuff). “But you can change that by cuffing it, hemming it, people use double-sided tape. However you should look at the shape of the pant from the thigh to the knee. You can have a lot of shallow points there like the fabric folding on over itself and wrinkling at the knee, or it can be  too tight, where it’s pulling at the crotch or in the back. It’s important to have a nice clean line from your waist to the floor, on both the front and the backside.”

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“Do a 360 in the mirror. That’s so important,” Marmon says. “When you put on a jacket, looking at yourself in the mirror isn’t enough, a lot of crazy things could be going on in the back, that you’re not seeing. Bring a friend, ask a salesperson what’s going on back there. Take a picture on your phone.”

Here’s a thought: bring your most fashionable guy friend of a lady friend who reads Vogue and loves shopping with you and have them give you their honest opinion. Shopping is intimidating but having a pal giving you advice makes it way, way easier. Oh, and treat them to lunch after, as a reward.

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While it may seem like the bigger the guy, the bigger the suit, that’s actually not quite right. In fact, the opposite is true — a slimmer suit will give guys larger dudes more shape. “Get a suit that is actually cut a little bit slimmer, because it fits in the places where it’s important: the shoulders and the waist. It also gives you the illusion of the shape you’re going for.” While brands — us included — use terminology like “extra slim” or “slim” to denote the fit, that’s not meant as a directive of who should be wearing it. Slimmer fits actually can slim down guys whereas a “classic” fit is more a stylistic note, for guys looking for a more laid-back look. The more you know!

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Guys, exciting news! Suits don’t have to be worn as blazer-and-pants ad infinitum, forever and ever, until you die. You can mix it up (cue cheers).

“In terms of styling, a suit jacket can be worn on its own as a blazer for going out,” Marmon says. “You can mix it with other dress pants or even jeans. There’s an interesting emerging thing over the past year or two: guys dressing down dress pants, like putting on a smart pant with a sneaker and a dress polo. That very simple, basic contemporary silhouette, but with elevated items, whether it’s a dress pant instead of chino and a nice clean white leather sneaker as opposed to a running sneaker.” The options are endless.

A word of advice though: “If you’re going to wear two different colors, make sure they’re not too close, or else it looks like you got dressed in the dark,” Marmon says. “It’s important that if you’re splitting them up it feels intentional.”

And in terms of underpinnings — that’s a fancy way to say what’s under your suit — it’s 2018 and the time has come to experiment. Try a nice T-shirt on warmer days or a turtleneck or crewneck sweater during chillier months. Swap out a classic Oxford for a denim shirt or a loud color or pattern, the fact that you’ll be wearing a jacket over it helps soften a crazy move to something a bit more palatable. The sky’s the limit, so go forth and have fun.