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How to Buy a Suit

suit buying

I did not know how to buy a suit the first time I needed one and it cost me.  It was before a man could just “Google” anything he wanted to learn about and I was left to the mercy of my local salesperson.

The people I worked with weren’t too hard on me, but I probably spent much more than I should have.  Hopefully what you learn on this website will lead to things working out different for you.

One of the main points of this website is to make you an informed buyer.  Read through this post and you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.

Lets get started!

The first thing you absolutely need to do is to get your suit measurements.  You can do this at home with the help of a friend, or you can head to the nearest suit store and have them take your measurements for you.

Getting measured will quickly tell you what size you need to buy.  If you ask a suit salesman for help buying your first suit and he doesn’t want to measure you, it’s probably best to leave and find another one who will. This sales person either doesn’t know what he’s doing or is simply too lazy to help you.

I once went into a store with a friend and my friend asked the sales person to take his measurements.  The guy responded with, “you look like you’re about my size – here try this jacket on”. Needless to say, we left quickly.

Ideally, you’ll go to a store that will measure you once up front, and then again after you have purchased the suit. The second set of measurements will be for the tailor to alter the suit to your exact specifications.

Getting Measured at Home

If you want to skip the suit store and their salesman’s sales pitch, you’ll have to get your suit measurements yourself.  This is also true for those who want to buy a suit online or in a thrift store.  Don’t worry though, getting your own suit measurements is an easy process.

Items you will need:

1. 1 cloth measuring tape.

2. 1 competent friend.

3. 1 sheet of paper

4. 1 pen

suit measurements

I imagine you have all of these instruments with the exception of the cloth measuring tape. The best thing to do about this is to have the friend that you call to come over and help you, pick one up on his/her way over. These can be purchased at big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target for a few dollars, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one.

Steps to Getting Measured:

Jacket – Put your arms out to your sides and have your partner wrap the tape around your chest, just over top the nipples. Make sure that the inches side is facing out. The number you get here is your jacket size. Write it down. Next, you’ll get your sleeve size by measuring from your shoulder down to your wrist.

This is especially important when getting a custom-made suit tailored, but less so when buying an off-the-rack model. The reason for this is that with an off-the-rack suit jacket, you’ll most likely be getting the suit’s arm length tailored to suit your needs after you purchase the suit anyway.

Pants – Wrap the tape around your waist, making sure you have the inches side facing out. This is your waist measurement. Next take the tape from your crotch all the way down to your ankle. The number you get here is known as your inseam.

If you feel uncomfortable with somebody around your crotch you can always measure from your waist down to your ankles and subtract 11 inches.  This is the average distance of this area on a pair of suit trousers.

While you have somebody over, you might as well get your shirt measurements.

Shirt – Start by measuring the circumference of your neck. This number will determine what shirt collar you’ll buy. Next you’ll want to get your sleeve size by measuring from your shoulder to about a quarter inch past your wrist. The reason for this is because you want part of your shirt to show when you have your suit jacket on.

Final Step – The last step you’ll need to take is to pay your friend back for buying the cloth tape measure. Getting your suit measurements has never been easier!

Now that you have your measurements, lets talk about what you’re actually going to buy.

It’s possible you could just buy any old suit, wear it to your interview, get a great job, and make money rain down.

how to buy a suit

Picture of money raining down on you after making the perfect suit purchase.

This being said, its a good idea to know what you need and what you want before going shopping, so that you won’t have to spend money like its raining down from the sky.

If you have money to burn, just buy multiple suits – don’t waste it all on one poor purchase.

Let’s take a deeper dive into what a suit is actually comprised of.

Suit Anatomy

parts of a suit

Collars

The suit collar is the part of the suit around the neck which overlaps the shoulders. Suit collars generally lie flat, but can be stiff and upright depending on the suit style you choose. For example, a mandarin suit will have upright collars, while all of the other styles will have collars that lay flat.

Lapels

The lapel is the part of the collar which extends down the chest. Suit lapels are generally three to four inches, but vary between suit designers. You’ll also find that as styles change, so do the widths of the lapels. Lapels tend to be more narrow now than they were in the 70’s, but not as narrow as they were in the 50’s.  As with anything, hold onto your suit long enough and your lapel width will go both out and back into style.

Lapels for tuxedos come in shawl, notched, and peaked models. However, suits are almost always notched or peaked. When a suit does come in a peaked model, it is usually a double breasted model.

Gorges

The gorge is the part where the collars meet the lapels. Higher gorges make a man look longer, while shorter gorges can make a man look thicker. This is important to note when trying to choose a suit that flatters your particular body.

Pockets

Jacket pockets can be flap, slit, and besom. Flap pockets provide additional material to cover the opening of the pocket. Slit pockets do not have anything covering the opening. Besom pockets have welts at both the top and bottom and add extra detail.

Vents

Vents are vertically slit openings on the back of the jacket. They can be found in both single vent versions and double vent versions. Also a suit can be made without any vents. The advantage of having vents is to allow for more mobility and flexibility in the suit.

It can also help cut down on heat, hence the term vent.

Now that you know what makes up a suit’s anatomy, you should take a look at these three guides on suit colors, suit styles, suit patterns, and suit fabrics.

If you don’t care to read them and just want a basic wedding/funeral/interview suit, buy a wool, two button, American style suit in dark gray or dark blue.  

One More Thing

You have your measurements, you know all about the different parts of a suit, you know what style you want, what color you want, and what fabric you want it to be made out of.  It would seem that the only thing that’s left for you to do is to actually buy the suit.

Unfortunately, before getting your credit card out, there is one more thing you have to learn about suits.

A suit can come in three different forms.  These include the off-the-rack suit, the made-to-measure-suit, and the custom tailored suit.

In most cases, you’ll be looking at buying a made-to-measure suit, but here are the differences between the three types so at least you’ll know what you’re buying.

The Off-The-Rack Suit

An off-the-rack suit is a suit that you would buy just like you would a pair of jeans or a polo shirt.  You’ll match up your measurements with those of the suit and try it on to see if it fits you well.  If it does, you’ll buy it and wear it as-is.

The Made-to-Measure Suit

A made-to-measure suit is similar to the off-the-rack suit in that you pick one off a rack that fits your measurements.  The difference is that you’ll only be going off of your waist size and your chest.

Once you’ve selected a suit you want to buy, the suit will tailor everything else to fit your particular body.

They’ll typically need to adjust the pant length, the sleeve length, and they may need to take in the waist of the jacket.  Over time, you can have these suits re-adjusted to fit your growing or shrinking body.

This type of suit is the most popular type to buy since it is much less expensive than a custom-made suit while still providing the buyer with a customized fit.

The Custom Suit

The custom suit is a suit that is built from scratch.  Instead of choosing a suit, you’ll choose a tailor, a fabric, and a style.  The tailor will then create your suit especially for you.  This is a time and labor intense process and it is priced accordingly.

Let’s Go Shopping!

Unless you’re going with a custom tailor, you’ll need to go to a store or hit the inter webs to make an online buy.  Here are some tips to help you on your journey.

Store Buying Tips

Map out a few stores that you would like to go to before heading out. I know that nobody wants to be driving all over town these days, but try and make a point to visit three or more stores before making your purchase.

When buying a suit in a store always go to the store wearing a dress shirt and if you already own a suit, your suit. If you don’t own a dress shirt yet, put one on in the store.  This will help with sizing, plus going from jeans and a t-shirt to a suit will make any suit look good on you and you’ll want to be objective.

Once you have your potential new suit on, put everything you would normally have in your pockets while wearing the suit to see what it feels like.  Just remember to take them back out before you leave the store.

Use the buddy system. If you’re going to a store to buy your suit take a friend along with you.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Its always nice to get a few opinions before making a decision.
  • In the case of an aggressive salesman, your buddy can help run interference.
  • A friend can make the whole process less boring.

Shopping for Suits Online

Knowing how to buy a suit online really isn’t much different than knowing how to buy one from a brick and mortar store.  If you followed my advice and took your measurements earlier, you’ll know exactly what size to look for.

The key difference with buying a suit online is that you may need to find a tailor to make adjustments to your new suit.  Just be sure you like the suit before taking it to your tailor as you won’t be able to return it once it’s been altered.

Thanks for reading this post – I hope it helps.  While you’re here, you might as well read my guides on suit accessories and dress shoes as you’ll need to buy them too.

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