Men’s style – choosing a good suit

posted in: Style advice | 8

Even in today’s more casual work place most men need to wear a suit. Here are some things to think about when choosing a good suit

  • colour
  • texture
  • style (eg single or double breasted, height of front fastening and number of buttons)
  • cut, ie the American (or Sack suit), Italian (or European) & British (or Savile Row).

Colour

Most suits for work are grey or blue – and within this there are lighter and darker tones, brighter and more muted colours, and there are some warmer versions. I have covered colour extensively already.

Texture and pattern

Very slim men can ramp up the texture and pattern.

Tom Ford
Tom Ford suit

If you are heavier, lighter weight fabrics, smoother cloth and plain or very subtle patterning are better.

Style

A single breasted suit with a curve at the front hemline will give an impression of length and stature, so this is the best look for a smaller man. A double breasted jacket with a squared off hemline has the opposite effect and will make a man look bigger. A very tall or large man will generally look much better in a double breasted jacket. However there is a DB fad going on at the moment and most men look silly in them. Only one of these three looks agreeable in the DB (the other two should burn them)

Prince Charles, Ryan Gosling and David Beckham in DB suits
Charles, Ryan and David

The smaller man who insists on wearing a DB jacket should consider two rather than three buttons, as worn by the Duke of Windsor and members of the Japanese royal family.

In terms of button placement think about the space created between your shirt collar and the first button. A lower front will make you look taller, whereas a jacket that fastens high will make you look shorter. Here an American politician shows how nice a deep V can look.

Elliot Richardson
Elliot Richardson

Cut

Now let’t turn to cut. There are three types of suit cut, and this affects the whole fit and look of the suit as well as the details. The thing is, each style suits one of the three different body shapes.

The Continental (Italian, or European) cut

Clark Gable in Italian suit
Clark Gable in Italian suit

This suit suits men who have an angular body shape. An angular body has

  • a difference of 7 inches or more between chest and waist measurement
  • shoulders obviously wider than hips
  • weight gain not obvious

The modern Italian style suit has become fashionable, and many of its features have been appropriated by other styles. But its architype would be the classic Brioni & Cardin suits of the 1950s. The shoulders are fully padded, with no back vents, flapless pockets and a definate tapering towards the waist for a pronounced V silhouette. Usually made from lighter fabrics to reflect the warmer climates on the continent.

Classic English – the Savile Row cut

Man in blue Marks and Spencer suit
M&S Savile Row suit

This suit suits men with a straight body shape.

  • less than 6 inches between waist and chest measurements
  • visually straight body (irrespective of weight)
  • weight gain usually results in a tummy

The suit typically has two buttons, two vents, a tapered waist and neat slim shoulder pads. The armholes are significantly higher than the American style; the fastened button is to the waist, making the jacket appear longer. The shoulders have less shape than the Continental style, but more shape than the American sack style. Most modern business suits conform to this shape. Traditionally heavier fabrics are used than in the Italian suit, due to our wonderful climate.

The American sack suit – less fitted cut

Ivy League students in sack suits
Ivy League students in sack suits

The sack suit has a more generous cut and suits men with a contoured body.

  • overall appears somewhat soft
  • when you put on weight you appear round and bulky
  • a thicker neck can give a stocky appearance

The Ivy League men of the 1920s made the sack suit popular.  The American cut suit typically has more natural shoulders without shoulder pads, one vent in the back, straight hanging lines and flap pockets. Traditionally there are three buttons, but only the middle one is ever used. The top button is often concealed as part of the lapel. The proportions are more generous with a  looser fit and wider armholes which give the sack suit its boxy appearance.

 

8 Responses

  1. I have to confess that the only time I am taken in by a label is when I see an Armani suit. They make me drool and no it is not the models wearing them!

  2. Great post packed with sound advice for the stylistically challenged man. Good news is that I haven’t owned a DB suit since I was 25. And that’s a long time ago.

  3. I don’t know if I guessed right about which person looked nice in the double breasted suit… was it Ryan Gosling? >_<

  4. […] you  have found a suit that suits you, you probably need to get a shirt too. Now of course a suit can look nice with a […]

  5. Thank you for this post, Kate. I have been trying to construct a jacket for my husband and and am a bit puzzled as to what would be a good style for him. He is tall and there is a good 7 inch difference between the chest and waist, and his hips are quite narrow too. So I think he is the angular type. However, because he doesn’t exercise, his belly is beginning to protrude right under the chest, and anything with darts at the front only emphasises that issue. Yet, I don’t want a boxy jacket either. Maybe your illustration for the very deep V opening could be a solution? I want it to be a relaxed semi-formal thick wool jacket that can be worn with jeans.

    • Now I have met him I can respond!

      I would go for a structured jacket in the European style, perhaps in a tweedy fabric in cool colours. I think a deep V and well padded shoulders should be fine at keeping the tummy disguised and covered up. Obviously it has to be big enough across the girth but I don’t think you should even consider a boxy look.

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