How to Buy a Suit: Everything a Man Needs to Know

I didn’t 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 differently 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.

how to buy a suit

The First Step to Buying a Suit

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 salesperson 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 salesperson 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.

How to Measure Yourself for a Suit

If you want to skip the suit store and its 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. Cloth measuring tapes (also known as tailor’s tape) don’t cost much so they’re well worth buying. You can get one here through this link: Soft Measuring Tape in Both Inches and Centimeters

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 of 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 that 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, let’s 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

This being said, it’s 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 it’s 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 – The Different Parts of a Suit

A suit is made up of collars, gorges, lapels, pockets, buttons, and vents. Each small part of each suit can make a big difference in the appearance of the suit, so it’s important to know about them.

Take a look at the image below to see where each of these parts exist.

parts of a suit

Types of Suit Collars

The suit collar is a defining aspect of a man’s ensemble, elegantly wrapping around the neck while extending over the shoulders to add structure and style to the garment. This crucial detail, though predominantly designed to lie flat against the wearer’s shirt or skin, may vary in stiffness and orientation depending on the suit’s overall design and cultural influences.

For instance, the mandarin suit, inspired by traditional Chinese attire, features a distinctive upright collar that stands in stark contrast to most Western styles. This unique design lends an air of formality and distinctiveness to the suit. On the other hand, the majority of suit styles, especially those rooted in Western fashion, predominantly have collars that gracefully lay flat, seamlessly blending with the jacket’s lapel to provide a polished and classic look. These varying collar styles underscore the diverse ways in which cultural nuances influence and enrich global fashion trends.

What Are Suit Lapels and Why Do They Matter?

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 ’70s, but not as narrow as they were in the ’50s.  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.

Collars and lapels play a critical role in the overall aesthetic of the suit. Here are the primary types of collars you’ll encounter:

  1. Notch Lapel (Notch Collar)
    • This is the most common type of collar and lapel combination on men’s suits.
    • It features a triangular indent where the lapel meets the collar.
    • Appropriate for business, interviews, and everyday wear.
  2. Peak Lapel (Pointed Collar)
    • Traditionally seen on double-breasted suits, though they’re also found on single-breasted ones.
    • The lapel edges point up and outwards, towards the shoulders.
    • Often considered a bit more formal than the notch lapel and can be seen as a more fashion-forward choice.
  3. Shawl Collar
    • Rounded and continuous, without a break or notch.
    • Most commonly found on tuxedo jackets and dinner jackets.
    • Considered formal and is typically reserved for black-tie events.
  4. Slim Lapel
    • As fashion evolves, we’ve seen variations in the width of lapels. The slim lapel is a narrower version of the lapels mentioned above, especially popular in more modern, slim-fit suits.
  5. Wide Lapel
    • This is the opposite of the slim lapel. Wide lapels were particularly popular in the 1970s but can still be found in contemporary fashion, especially in power suits or suits meant to make a bold statement.

When choosing a lapel style, consider the event or situation where you’ll be wearing the suit, your body type, and your personal style. Different lapels can change the perceived proportions of your body. For example, a wide lapel can make your chest look broader, while a slim lapel can elongate your appearance.

Additionally, the quality and construction of the collar and lapel are crucial. A well-made collar will lie flat against your shirt collar without any gaps. If it doesn’t, it’s often a sign that the jacket doesn’t fit properly or isn’t of good quality.

What Are Gorges on Suits?

The gorge in the context of menswear refers to the point on a suit jacket where the collar meets the lapel. This intersection can play a subtle yet crucial role in the overall aesthetics of a suit. The placement and angle of the gorge can affect how modern, traditional, or dated a suit looks. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Height of the Gorge:
  • High Gorge: This is where the lapel meets the collar closer to the shoulder. It’s a modern style, often seen in contemporary suits. A high gorge can elongate the appearance of the torso, lending a more youthful look.
  • Regular/Mid Gorge: A mid-placement is timeless and can be found in suits designed for a broad range of wearers. It’s considered the most classic and versatile.
  • Low Gorge: This is when the lapel meets the collar closer to the chest. It’s an older style, reminiscent of suits from the mid-20th century. This style is less common in contemporary off-the-rack suits, but might be found in vintage collections or specialty designs.
  1. Angle of the Gorge:
  • This refers to how the lapel slants downward from the collar. A more horizontal gorge angle can look dated, reminiscent of 1970s styles, while a sharper, more diagonal angle is seen as modern and stylish.

When selecting a suit, it’s essential to consider the gorge’s placement and angle in relation to the suit’s overall style, your body proportions, and the fashion statement you want to make. It’s one of those details that might go unnoticed at a cursory glance but can significantly influence the suit’s overall vibe.

Suit Pockets Explained

Suit pockets are an essential functional and stylistic feature of a suit jacket. Their style, placement, and design can influence the overall look of the suit. Here’s an overview of the different types of suit pockets and some considerations associated with each:

  1. Flap Pockets:
    • These are the most common type of pockets on suit jackets.
    • They have a rectangular flap of fabric that covers the pocket opening.
    • Flap pockets can be tucked in if one desires a more streamlined look similar to jetted pockets.
  2. Jetted Pockets:
    • These are more formal than flap pockets.
    • They have a slender strip of fabric (or piping) that lines the pocket’s slit, with no external flap.
    • Commonly found on formal wear like tuxedos and dinner jackets.
  3. Patch Pockets:
    • These are pockets made from a separate piece of fabric sewn onto the outside of the jacket.
    • They are less formal and are often seen on casual suits, sport coats, or blazers.
    • They have a relaxed and sporty vibe, making them popular for less formal events or summer suits.
  4. Ticket Pocket:
    • This is a smaller pocket located above the standard side pocket, traditionally used for holding train tickets.
    • It’s a classic British detail, and while not particularly functional in modern times, it can add a touch of vintage or bespoke flair to a suit.
  5. Breast Pocket:
    • This is a standard pocket on the left side of the jacket’s chest.
    • It’s typically reserved for pocket squares or boutonnieres, rather than for holding items.
  6. Inside Pockets:
    • These are located on the inside lining of the suit jacket.
    • Useful for holding personal items like wallets, cards, or tickets to maintain the jacket’s smooth outer appearance.

Styling Considerations:

  • The angle and depth of the pockets can influence the visual impression of the jacket. For instance, slightly slanted pockets can create a dynamic, slimming effect.
  • Overstuffing suit pockets can ruin the suit’s silhouette. Always avoid placing bulky items in external pockets.
  • The choice of pocket style can either enhance or detract from the formality of the suit. For example, jetted pockets are sleeker and more formal, while patch pockets offer a relaxed appearance.

When purchasing or tailoring a suit, it’s essential to consider the style and placement of the pockets, ensuring they align with the desired look and function of the outfit.

What are Suit Vents?

Suit ents are the slits in the back of a suit jacket or blazer, primarily serving functional purposes but also influencing the style and fit of the garment. Their design can affect the ease of movement and the overall silhouette of the jacket. Here are the main types of suit vents:

  1. Single Vent (Center Vent):
    • This is a single slit located in the middle of the jacket’s back.
    • It’s a more traditional American style and was originally designed for horse riding to allow the jacket to rest properly on the saddle.
    • While it offers some movement flexibility, it can expose the rear more when you sit or bend, compared to the other vent styles.
  2. Double Vents (Side Vents):
    • These are two slits, one on each side of the jacket’s back.
    • Originating from British tailoring, side vents offer the wearer greater mobility and keep the jacket’s front and rear from bunching up when seated.
    • Generally considered more stylish and modern, double vents can create a slimming silhouette and are prevalent in many contemporary suit designs.
  3. No Vent:
    • As the name suggests, these jackets have no slits in the back.
    • This style is often seen in Italian tailoring and offers a very sleek silhouette when standing.
    • However, it provides the least mobility and can cause the jacket to bunch or ride up when sitting or moving.


  • Mobility: Double vents generally provide the best mobility, allowing the jacket to move with the wearer without disrupting its form. This is especially useful for those who are frequently on the move or sitting and standing.
  • Silhouette: The type of vent can influence the visual lines of the suit. No vent offers a clean line while standing, but double vents can maintain this line while moving.
  • Body Type: Some believe that double vents can be more flattering for fuller figures as they can help disguise the hips and rear, while a center vent may accentuate them.
  • Fashion Trends: While function remains consistent, fashion trends can influence the popularity of vent styles. For instance, double vents have seen a surge in popularity in recent years because of their flattering silhouette and ease of movement.

When selecting a suit, consider both the functionality and style of the vent to ensure it aligns with your needs and aesthetic preferences.

Read Up on Colors, Styles, Patterns, and Fabrics

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.  

Off-the-rack, Made-to-measure, and Custom Tailored Suits

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 bespoke 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.

These suits are designed to fit a broad range of body types but they are rarely a perfect fit. You can make some small alterations but will be quite limited in what you can change.

The upside to these suits is that they are usually inexpensive and they are ready to be worn as soon as you buy them.

Off-the-Rack (OTR) Suits
DefinitionPre-made suits available in standard sizes, ready for purchase at many clothing retailers.
FitDesigned for a broad range of body types based on average measurements. Fit may not be perfect for all.
AlterationsMinor alterations like hemming trousers or adjusting jacket waist can be made. Major changes can be challenging and costly.
PriceTypically more affordable than made-to-measure or bespoke.
Turnaround TimeImmediate, unless alterations are needed.

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.

Made-to-Measure Suits
DefinitionSuits crafted based on specific measurements, starting from a pre-existing pattern adjusted to fit those measurements.
FitProvides a better fit than off-the-rack suits since they’re tailored to individual measurements. May not account for every nuance of posture or body shape.
CustomizationOption to choose fabric, lining, buttons, and some style details. Range may be limited compared to bespoke.
PriceMore expensive than off-the-rack but typically less costly than bespoke.
Turnaround TimeTakes longer than OTR due to customization, usually several weeks.

The Bespoke Suit

The bespoke 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 a custom suit, especially for you.  This is a time and labor-intensive process and it is priced accordingly.

The primary advantage of the bespoke suit is that it will fit perfectly. On top of this, you’ll be able to choose the exact style and fabric that you want.

Of course, this suit comes with two major disadvantages as well. The first disadvantage is that it is going to cost you a lot more than a made-to-measure or off-the-rack suit. On top of this, you will probably have a long wait ahead of you. A good bespoke suit tailor is going to want to do multiple fittings and it could be several months before you have your suit.

Bespoke Suits
DefinitionSuits crafted from scratch based on numerous measurements. There’s no pre-existing pattern; it’s made uniquely for the wearer.
FitOffers the best fit of all options. Bespoke tailors consider multiple facets of your physique, from measurements to posture, ensuring a suit that complements every aspect of your body.
CustomizationThe highest level of personalization. Choose every detail—from fabric and lining to lapel style, pocket placement, and more.
FittingsMultiple fittings are common in the bespoke process to refine the fit as the suit is being made.
PriceGenerally the most expensive option due to the labor-intensive process and high level of customization.
Turnaround TimeIt takes the longest, often several months, because of the detailed craftsmanship and multiple fittings involved.

Embarking on a Suit Shopping Adventure

Purchasing a suit, whether for the first time or to add to a growing collection, is a significant decision. If you aren’t taking the custom tailor route, you have the options of visiting brick-and-mortar stores or navigating through online platforms. Here are comprehensive guidelines to ensure a smooth shopping experience.

How to Buy a Suit from a Physical Store

  1. Planning Your Route: Before setting out, list down a few stores you’re interested in exploring. Although roaming around town might seem tiring, it’s beneficial to compare offerings from at least three stores before finalizing a choice.
  2. Dress Appropriately: When planning to buy a suit, it’s vital to go prepared. Wear a dress shirt and, if you have one, your own suit. This not only aids in getting accurate measurements but also allows for a fair comparison. Slipping into a suit from casual attire might give an inflated sense of its fit and style. If you don’t own a dress shirt, the store will likely have one for you to try.
  3. Check the Pocket Capacity: It’s a small detail, but once you’ve donned a potential suit, fill its pockets with items you’d usually carry. This gives a sense of its practicality. Just ensure you empty them before you leave.
  4. The Buddy System: Consider shopping with a trusted friend. This offers several advantages:
    • Multiple perspectives enrich decision-making.
    • They can help in navigating through sales pitches and potential upsells.
    • Shopping becomes a more enjoyable and engaging experience with good company.

How to Buy a Suit Online

  1. Measurements Are Key: The essence of online shopping is having accurate measurements. If you’ve taken them as suggested, you’ll easily filter and find the right sizes.
  2. Tailoring Post-Purchase: The main distinction between online and offline suit shopping is the fit. When buying online, there’s a likelihood the suit may require adjustments. It’s prudent to identify a local tailor who can refine your suit to perfection. Just ensure you budget for these tweaks.

Remember, a suit is an investment, and the right choice can boost confidence and make lasting impressions.

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.

Robert Phillips

From classic styles to the latest trends, I take pride in empowering my visitors with knowledge that enhances their personal style and boosts their confidence. As an advocate for the art of dressing sharp, I'm committed to inspiring men to exude sophistication and charm in every step they take, one perfectly fitted suit at a time.

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