If sartorial history tells us anything it’s that dressing up a few hundred years ago must have been a lot easier. Not a lot of creativity was required when there were rules to dictate that a gentleman was to wear white tie to dinner, and so on. However, around the mid 17th century marked a major change when King Charles II actually imposed a subtler less conspicuous dress code for noblemen of the court, which started an evolution of men’s fashion toward a more common one size fits all uniform. This was the lounge suit, or the modern business suit as we know it today, which arrived in the late 1800s as the default casual garment for the upper class and formal attire for the lower class. It slowly replaced the casual but stuffy Victorian morning dress of tailcoats, which are still common today in British weddings.
In our increasingly laid back society the humble suit is really the only remaining formal* attire, and it is spread quite thin across so many events, work dress codes and even cultures. No one can blame a man for a bit of confusion; think of how a politician wears a suit versus a wedding groom, or stylistic nuances between say Britain and Italy. Combine that with the abundance of options in a global economy, and then simply putting on a suit is a bit more complicated than the old days. With the hope of easing some anxiety, I’ve created a cheat sheet of Do's and Don'ts for both wearing and choosing suits.
*Note: I’m not referring to black or white tie here
1. Pay close attention to fit when buying off the rack especially on factors that can't be tailored. These are the things that that should fit perfect from the start:
2. Mix different types of patterns and pattern scale when coordinating shirts and ties (e.g. large check suit, fine pin stripe shirt, polka dot tie and so on). You don’t want stripe on stripe on stripe.
3. Enhance the look of your suit with tailoring:
4. Make sure the sleeves are tailored to allow about a quarter to a half-inch of shirt cuff to show
5. The width of your tie, the lapels and shirt collar should be similar. You don’t want a skinny tie with wide lapels.
6. Skip the belt. Belts bisect the suit and disrupt the silhouette. Suits were actually designed to be worn without a belt.
7. Buy the best quality suit you can afford. Suits are one of those things that are worth spending money on, but make sure to know what to look for. Many designer labels actually charge very high prices for low quality suits. One good quality suit is better than three poorly made suits.
8. Go ahead and dress it down by ditching the tie and opting for a denim shirt and Chelsea boots.
9. Try and experiment with some less common suit styles such as double breasted, peak lapels, or patch pockets. This is a great way to have a little fun and mix it up. No need to take things too seriously.
10. Put as much effort into your shoes. Shoes are the essential foundation of a well-executed suit look. Don't be that person with the perfect suit that is ruined with un-kept ugly shoes.
1. Match pocket squares to ties as it looks cheap and tacky. Quality ties generally don’t come with matching pocket squares anyway.
2. Wear black suits during the daytime unless it’s required. Black suits are rather harsh in daylight and may create a security guard look. For evening wear, go for it.
3. Get carried away with sock flair. Keep it subtle and classy. When you think about the silhouette of a suit as a whole, an overly loud pair of socks, while drawing attention to your shoes, disrupts the continuity and detracts from the chest area, which should be the focal point.
4. Allow your trousers to billow around your feet. This is probably the most unsightly thing people do. There are various guidelines for tailoring and a range of acceptable lengths from a slight break to no break. If you go no break make sure the pant leg is tapered well.
5. Over accessorize: you don’t need to wear a lapel pin/flower, pocket square, tie bar, collar pin, flashy belt bucket and colored laces all at once; less is more.
6. Assume that finer more expensive fabrics are better. Ultra fine cloth can be very nice and give a luxurious feel and look, but isn't always practical for every day suits. For one it's difficult to tailor, and it's far more delicate and can wear out or damage easily.
7. Get caught up in focusing only on the "super" number in buying suits, which refers to a measure of how fine the wool fibers are. Overall wool quality is much more than the fineness, and the super number has largely been misused as a marketing gimmick. The numbers are often exaggerated and mislead less educated consumers about the overall quality.
8. Dry clean your suit too much. It is very hard on the fabric and will only shorten the life span. Invest in a suit brush to clean off dirt and dust. You can also spot clean if needed.
9. Fasten the lower button on a two-button jacket, a double-breasted jacket or a waistcoat.
10. Mindlessly take the advice of sales reps. Do your research on brands, fit requirements, quality and think about what styles you like.