Men’s suit styles are not all that complicated. The main thing you really need to know is that there are four main styles. Everything else is just a hodgepodge of the 4 mixed up so you can’t tell.
Which style you choose is really a matter of preference. One has to consider his body type, personal style, and where he plans to wear the suit.
The key to understanding these styles is to know what they are in their pure form. You can buy an American Sac suit or a traditional British suit or you can buy them with a twist.
Just remember that the more conservative your job, the more conservative your suit should be. Trendy suits are great when you’re trying to show off your fashion style, but they aren’t great for getting people to focus on your sales and forecasting presentation.
In those types of situations you want the suit to help you blend in rather than stand out.
This being said, trendy suits do have their place and you don’t have to dress like you are going to a lunch meeting when you are going out on the town or wearing a suit to church.
Read through the various styles below to get a more in-depth look at what these suits are about.
Knowing what you’re looking for will put you in a better buying position and reduce the feeling of helplessness that many people get when spending money on something they really know almost nothing about.
The American Suit Style
American suits, (also known as sac suits), have been around as long as the United States itself. This style is the most versatile and can be used in any setting.
Traditional sac suit jackets have two buttons, medium sized lapels, and three outside pockets. Two of these pockets are flap pockets located towards the bottom of the jacket, while the third one is on the upper left breast of the suit. It can be worn with a pocket square or without.
Jackets are single vented with natural shoulders. Some people make the mistake of adding large shoulder pads on them, but it rarely makes them look better. I would only advise this for tall men with scrawny shoulders. However, even then the shoulders should only be enhanced to make the man’s shoulders look natural rather than thick and muscular. Too much padding is just too obvious, even to the casual observer.
Pants can invariably be flat front and do a great job showing off a mans natural leg shape. The bottom of the pants are un-cuffed and have a natural break at the dress shoes. Pants should angle back towards the legs at the ankles.
This style is great for men with large chests. The two button style will form a nice V shape around the pectorals and accentuate them. Flat front pants will conform to the leg and show off a mans overall fitness.
If you’re looking to only own one suit for your wardrobe I highly recommend making it this style. However, with full disclosure I must say that I am American and my opinion may be a bit biased.
AMERICAN SUITS – EXAMPLES
This is a picture of a typical Sac suit. As you can see it has two buttons and naturally sloping shoulders.
The pants are flat fronted and conform to the legs better than trousers with pleats.
American Suit Designers
Keep in mind that a suit made in America is not necessarily an American style suit. This is also true with suits made in Italy and in Great Britain.
Some classic examples of American made suits are Hart Schaffner Marx, Brooks Brothers, and Anderson Little.
Joseph Abboud and Hickey Freeman are also great examples, although they generally just fall under the same ownership as HSM now.
Tom James is a good example of a state side suit company that makes bespoke suits for U.S. citizens.
The English Suit Style
English suits are cut with classic British style, elegance, and formality. This type of suit is great for formal occasions, interviews, the office, and when you want to make a firm appearance.
The traditional single-breasted British style jacket will have three buttons. The double-breasted jacket, which is also popular among the English, will generally have a six-on-two arrangement where two parallel columns of three buttons exist but only a couple are actually fastened.
British suits traditionally have three pockets and strongly tapered sides, providing a more formal aura. It will have two side vents and minimally padded shoulders, but some models do come with one vent. Waists will be streamlined with one flap pocket on each side.
This is all opposed to Italian suits, which generally have strongly padded shoulders, minimal tapering on the sides, and a sleeker look. Both of the aforementioned styles are opposed to American suits, which range from more relaxed, to more trendy, to some permutation of the other models.
Solid colors, of course, exist in classic Navy, Charcoal, and Black but look to see mostly pinstripe and plaid designs.
Pants will be pleated or double pleated with a quarter inch cuff at the bottom. Cuffs should always have a slight break at the dress shoes. The pants should never scrape the ground for two reasons. One, you will quickly ruin your pants. Two, it creates a disheveled, unprofessional appearance.
Ripped or Tailored?
A major advantage to English suits is their forgiving nature. Three button suits do a much better job at hiding a man’s potentially protruding gut or weak chest. The pleated pants also do a great job of hiding not so shapely legs. So, in addition to hitting the gym or taking up a sport, a tailored English suit can make you seem like you are in great shape.
Proper tailoring can give this suit a formidable and authoritative look. Wear a pinstripe model to add even more power to your look.
The Italian Suit Style
The Italian suit,(also known as the European suit), sparks great interest in any fashion enthusiast. You can find this style on the runways of all male fashion shows.
The traditional look on this jacket is double breasted with large lapels and slit pockets. A classic model will be completely vent-less. Shoulders will be gently padded to add some bulk without making the suit look unnatural.
Pants are pleated and cuffed with both button down pockets and slit pockets. The cuff may end with a slight break at the shoes or it may end slightly above the shoes with no break.
Tall men with lean builds look both trendy and stylish in these models. However, many fashion consultants feel that short and stocky men should steer clear of anything resembling double breasted.
I disagree that short and stocky men can’t wear double breasted suits. While the suit will look bulky at the midsection, a double breasted suit will hide a large belly much better than a British model.
The key to making this suit work for a bulkier man is to have higher gorges to elongate the torso. Leaner men may go with shorter gorges, while average men leave them at the standard position.
ITALIAN SUIT EVOLUTION
Keep in mind that suits made in Italy aren’t always going to be double breasted suits. In fact, most suits today are single breasted suits. This includes the suits that come out of Italy.
Traditionally each area of the globe had their particular styles, but today you can get any style you want from almost any company you want.
Also, you can find double breasted suits with vents and single breasted suits with large lapels and slit pockets. Suit styles are constantly changing and as long as you have the money, you should be able to find something that you feel looks great on you.
The Mandarin Suit Style
The mandarin suit is a unique style associated with eastern cultures.
Many nations in Asia along with many religious sects use this style suit in day to day activities.
The most apparent notice of this in western society is the catholic priests weekly uniform. In fact, you really won’t see too many other Westerners wearing a suit with a mandarin style collar.
This suit has a mandarin style collar, meaning the collar is short and stands erect rather than at a downward facing angle.
The difference is this collar stands straight up rather than lying flat on the shoulders and chest like a typical British, Italian, or American suit.
Jackets are also noticeably different in that they have buttons all the way up the jacket and do not end until they close the jacket up at the neck. This causes the average jacket to have five to six buttons.
Here is a good example of this type of suit. Notice that even though it is very different looking, it is still well crafted and very handsome.
Accessories worn are the same in theory, but must be adapted to the jacket. For instance a mandarin shirt is often worn with this style jacket. Also the tie is often non-existent, while the pocket square takes the central role in adding a touch of style to the outfit.
You’ll also notice that some designers make a mandarin suit that works well with a typical dress shirt and tie. This is nice for those looking to wear a mandarin style suit without sacrificing their favorite shirts and ties.
Now that we’ve covered the basic styles, we need to talk about the different designs to choose from. Designs come in the form of button numbers, jacket styles, and trouser styles.
The Suit Jacket
The suit jacket can vary in number of buttons, lapel width, and collar style. It can also come with different pocket styles as well.
One Button Suits
The one button suit is one of the least popular suit models on the market. In general, you’ll find that the two and three button suits dramatically out sell the 1 button suit.
Reasons for this vary, but you’ll find that the one button jackets typically don’t match up well with many body types.
For instance, many short people find that the one button suit jacket only accentuates their small stature. It makes the wearer look almost incapable of wearing a two button suit jacket.
However, short and stocky men can benefit from a one button model. This is because the single button centers nicely on their stocky frame and provides for a nice focal point.
Just don’t wear this if your beer belly is bordering on its nine month of pregnancy. Your stomach will become the focal point and it will not be flattering.
Tall men tend to do better with more buttons on their jackets rather than less.
The exception comes with very tall and very lean men. For some reason the single button makes them look fashionable rather than frail. You can get a good visual of this by simply watching any tall and skinny runway models.
Two Button Suits
The 2 button suit is the standard executive suit worn by businessmen all over. This type of suit is the number one choice among Americans for all types of events requiring a suit.
You’ll find that two button suits and three button suits make up most of the suits that you see for sale.
As a result of this type of suit being so popular, you’ll have no trouble finding it in all sorts of colors, patterns, and styles.
The 2 button style is usually set lower than the top button of the three button suit, but can be styled more like the 3 button suit at times. This look is a good happy medium for those that want to wear a two button without having to bear so much of their chest.
This is a picture of a charcoal gray two button suit that I sold on Ebay. As you can see, the designer decided to sit the buttons up almost as high as you would put the top button on a three button suit.
Setting the top up like that worked very well with this suit because it was a slim fit suit and was very streamlined. It became narrower towards the waist and on the right owner should fit snugly.
Had this suit been made to fit a more portly gentleman it may have flared out awkwardly.
Shorter people tend to look better in a two button suit versus a three button suit. This is because the three button can overwhelm a person with a shorter torso.
Conversely, a tall and lean person can sometimes look overgrown in the wrong 2 button suit. You’ll notice that I said tall and lean and not simply tall.
This is because thicker men have an easier time pulling off the two button suit even when they are taller than average. In fact, many body builder types prefer this type of suit because it conforms to their thick muscular frame better than a three or four button suit would.
Three Button Suits
The 3 button suit is the standard in British style and design. This style jacket gives off a more regal and formal look.
It is also much more forgiving to those with less flattering body types. For instance a man with a large belly and small chest will be able to cover both of these areas with the front of his suit jacket.
Three button suits are appropriate for all sorts of occasions and can be worn to office and even interview settings. This suit will give the wearer a nice refined look in comparison with its American two button counterpart.
The price of a three button model is the same as a two button model of equal design, stitching, and material. Also you will find that all designers will have this style jacket within their lineup.
When buying your first suit or even additional suits, you can’t go wrong with a three button suit. This suit has enough buttons to look well on tall people and few enough buttons that most short people will still look just fine in it.
For this reason, the 3 button suit is hands down the most popular suit button design on the market and in the closet. You’ll find that finding a 4 button suit or some other variation can be difficult if not impossible in some makes, but rarely ever in a three button model.
The three button suit and the two button suit are always easy to find in any size, color, make, or model.
3 BUTTON SUIT EXAMPLES
The pictures below show a slim man and a man that would be best served at a big and tall suit store. Just as a side note, never button the bottom button.
The guy on the left is breaking one of the most basic rules of suit wearing by buttoning the bottom button. If he forgets to unbutton it before he sits down, it will most likely break off.
As you can see, both of these men look good in their three button suits. The man on the left gets to take advantage of the fact that the suit will cover some of his excess weight and smooth everything out for him. It also accentuates his large shoulders and makes him look powerful.
The man on the right gets to take advantage of the fact that the suit makes him look thicker and covers his slim chest. You’ll also notice that the cut of the suit is tailored in at the waist line to show off how fit and trim he is.
Who Should Wear a Three Button Suit?
As we said earlier, the three button suit is a versatile one and can look good on many different body types. This being said, you’ll find that the person that most benefits from the three button suit is the tall and slender man.
The reason for this is that this type of buttoned-up suit jacket will not create the elongated torso appearance that a one or two button suit can create on a man. A tall and thin man’s torso already looks elongated and adding to this look with a minimally button adorned jacket is simply unnecessary.
Four Button Suits
The 4 button suit hasn’t been popular among the masses in over 100 years. However, this suit does have its uses and can be seen every now and then at parties, weddings, and even the office.
This suit is popular among tall and thin athletically built men looking to wear a suit that looks a bit more natural than a three button suit tends to look on them.
The rule to wearing a four button suit is to make sure you never ever button up all four buttons. Fastening all four buttons on four button suits will cause them to look more like trench coats than suit jackets.
Also the man wearing a 4 button model needs to make sure that they have enough room up top for nice size lapels and an attractive tie to show through. Very short men simply are not going going to have enough torso to fit four buttons on the jacket without going very high up top with them.
4 BUTTON SUIT EXAMPLES
Below you’ll see two examples of men wearing four button suits. Although it may be hard to see because the picture is a bit dark, you’ll notice that the guy on the left is almost being choked by his top button.
This man doesn’t look terrible in the suit, but he is about one inch away from it. On the plus side, the suit does seem to make him look stronger as it does add a bit of thickness to his upper body. However, we really can’t tell if he is fit or not, since the suit is covering him up almost completely.
Man On The Right
The guy on the right seems to be tall enough to wear a four button suit without any issues. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend he wear anything less than a three button suit.
His neckline isn’t quite as low as you would find with an average sized man in a 3 button suit, but it is low enough that his suit still looks natural.
I’d also say that he could probably use a tailor to bring the suit in a little closer, but that discussion can be saved for another page.
In conclusion, if you want to wear a 4 button suit, make sure you are tall. Otherwise, stay away from them completely.
Five Button Suits
The 5 button suit is more of a “Hollywood” type of suit than a traditional business or formal wear suit. This suit has so many buttons that even tall men will not have enough room for normal neck lines or lapel styles.
Five button suits can be found from designers such as Steve Harvey, Tayion, Michael Kors, and even Fubu. Also you will notice that many online companies will sell 5 button zoot suits with long trench coat like jackets.
The colors, materials, and prices will generally be different than their two and three button brothers.
This suit really shouldn’t be worn in your typical office. When working for a design company or something else edgy, then you might be able to get away with this type of suit during day to day business.
This being said, never wear a five button suit to an interview. The suit looks dramatically different than traditional suits and will not fit well in a formal or an informal interview.
A formal interviewer will want you to wear something standard like a two or three button suit, possibly a 4 button suit if you’re on the taller side.
An informal interviewer on the other hand, will not want you wearing a suit at all. If you do come to the interview wearing a suit, he’ll wonder why you look so out of balance in it. He probably won’t be thinking, this guy has too many buttons on his suit, he’ll probably just think you don’t look very good.
5 BUTTON SUIT EXAMPLES
Here are two pictures of people wearing five button suits.
The guy on the left is wearing a three piece suit with stripes running down it. It actually has 7 buttons on it, but as you can see, even the first 5 buttons go way past the point at which buttons normally stop on suits.
The suit on the right is a 5 button suit with a mandarin collar. Mandarin suits typically have lots of buttons running down them to cover people up more like a button down shirt would.
As you can see, these suits are not something you normally see on Wall Street. However, the designers aren’t really trying to sell them for this purpose. They are meant to be worn fashionably and if you do like the way they look, then feel free to wear them to parties, to church, and anywhere else that you only wear a suit for fun.
Six Button Suits
The 6 button suit should only be used in fashion shows, costumes, and possibly parties. This jacket type is certainly not something that would be acceptable in the normal business environment.
People that might consider wearing a suit jacket with so many buttons would be men trying to be fashion forward or trend setting. This practice rarely works in their favor, but it does create some interesting looks.
Men looking to wear six button suits should probably leave the jacket completely unbuttoned. Leaving the jacket unfastened will allow for your shirt and tie to remain visible even with such a large jacket.
Designers like Gino Cappeli and Nipon sell some interesting 6 button jacket pieces. They price out at around the $100 range for a new model.
The other type of six button suit is the double breasted suit version. This suit is sometimes referred to as a six button model, because it does indeed have six buttons.
However, although this suit does have the requisite number of buttons, only one or two of them are actually used. Two of the buttons will be able to fasten the suit together, and two will sit alongside of them to form a visual square.
The final two buttons on this jacket will also be purely decorative and will usually sit up close to where the collars intersect.
You’ll find that this type of suit can look very fashionable, and can even cross over into the world of business. However, this is not something that is very common, and I really wouldn’t recommend wearing this type of suit into the boardroom.
Save this suit for church, for parties, or for evenings out on the town.
6 BUTTON SUIT EXAMPLES
Below you’ll see both versions of the 6 button suit.
The picture on the left is the first type of six button suit we talked about. It is a single breasted suit with buttons that extend well below the waist.
On the right is a picture of the double breasted six button model. It is shown without a shirt and tie, but could be accessorized with them quite well.
As you can see, these suits look much different than your classic models. I was an outside salesman going business to business in four different counties for well over a year, and not once did I run into anybody wearing either of these suits. In fact, it was rare to even see somebody wearing a double breasted suit at all.
Suit Designs for Trousers
Suit trousers can come in the form of pleated trousers, double pleated trousers, and flat front trousers. Pleats are areas of the suit leg that are sewn together. This is done at the very top of the trousers around the crotch area.
Double pleats are just pleated trousers in a double pleat pattern while flat front pants do not have any pleats at all.
The bottom of the suit trouser legs can be cuffed or un-cuffed. Cuffed means that the bottom of the pant leg is sewn up about a half inch to an inch up the leg.
Un-cuffed pants just go straight down like a pair of jeans would.
The general rule is that if your pants are pleated, they should have cuffs. Flat front trousers should not have any cuffs.
You’ll find that American style suits usually have flat front pants while classic Italian style double breasted suits have pleats.
There you have it, suit styles from top to bottom!