Menswear Friday – How to wear a suit

posted in: Style advice | 14

Maybe the suit is no longer required in many workplaces. That could be just the reason to wear one.

A nice suit can be very flattering on a man, and often makes him look both taller and slimmer. Trousers with a jacket cannot provide the same effect. It would help you stand out from the crowd when everyone else looks less than sharp in their chinos, baggy jumpers and fat shoes. And some jobs and tasks require a suit, if you want to look professional  – at least for presentations, interviews and when you want to boost your authority. If you are not a life long suit-wearer, or you come from an ordinary rather than an upper class background, you may need some pointers (according to some recent research).  If you want to look like you know what you are doing – sharp and impressive, with the polish that is required, you need to learn the language of the suit.

Here you go.

  1. Make sure your suit fits well – most importantly in the shoulder area.
  2. Make sure your trousers are not too long or too short and that the jacket is the right length in both the body and the sleeves
    Di Caprio in too long trousers
    Trousers that are too long
  3. The higher cut the sleeve the easier the movement, otherwise you get that 1980s American sit com look
  4. You don’t want an obvious gap between the edge of your collar and the edge of your lapel (it means your jacket is too small or your shirt is too big)
  5. The lapel and tie width should be the same. James Bond has it right here, although I am not sure what is happening with his shirt collar.
    Lapel and tie the same width
    Lapel and tie the same width
  6. Modern lapels and ties are relatively narrow. If you go for a more vintage look (ie broader) ensure the lapel and tie balance out
  7. Don’t forget to match your shoes and belts too, ie both black or both brown. A belt is not essential but if you wear one don’t make it too wide. The slimmer and slighter you are, the slimmer and slighter the belt.
  8. Avoid black for a suit – it’s a bit flash. Dark grey wool (charcoal) is generally the best colour if you only have one suit. Navy or blue greys are always lovely too.
  9. With a black dinner suit or a dark grey suit always choose black shoes. Black also looks fine with lighter greys and all the blues.
  10. Brown shoes work well with navy, lighter grey and browner suits. However they are slightly more casual and are not welcome in the City of London (in senior roles).
  11. Single vents used to be fashionable. Now we are back to double vents again. These work well on larger frames and allow easier movement
  12. For a youthful, fashionable look you can wear a one button suit with peak lapels. Avoid if you are over 35 or at all portly.
  13. Generally the best look for most men is the two button suit. The deep V makes you look taller and slimmer so make sure the first button is relatively low down on your chest
  14. Three buttons are OK if you are long and thin, but never do them all up.
  15. And always undo them when you sit down
  16. Double breasted looks good on Prince Charles and larger men, but they need to be very well fitted, so are generally better avoided
  17. Coordinate, don't match, your hankerchief
  18. A pocket square (handkerchief) can look nice with or without a tie. But don’t have an exact match with your tie.
    Boateng purple suit
    Ozwald Boateng in purple suit
  19. An off duty suit can be a nice addition to your wardrobe – for evenings out, parties or presentations etc – these could be worn during the week if you are in a creative occupation.

14 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Thanks for this. I always learn from your menswear posts as what I know about suiting is more intuitive than practical. Interesting about the lapel and tie widths.

  2. Yoric

    Excellent blog! We should teach this in school!!

    Bond is wearing a collar pin which is what is making his collar look weird!

    Also, it used to be said that wearing a belt was an admission that your trousers weren’t bespoke! Maybe a bit of a moot point in these days of “off the peg” tailoring! Virtually all men’s trousers used to come with waist adjusters anyway…it was well recognised that we put a bit of weight on in the winter – something we seem to have lost!

    No idea what Dicaprio was thinking with those trousers! A titanic error!

  3. Hari

    Wow I had no idea men’s clothing had to follow so many rules! Reminds me of how women used to be regulated by their attire eg to quote Dior in his Little Dictionary of Fashion: “In town you cannot be dressed without gloves any more than you can be dressed without a hat”. It seems women have progressed in this instance far more than men.

    • Yoric

      You don’t necessarily have to follow the rules, but you do have to know them to break them effectively! 🙂

      On your point about hats and gloves, my grandfather was convinced he once didn’t get a job he was interviewed for because he didn’t have a hat and gloves with him! He was ever the iconoclast!!

  4. Yoric

    There is of course the 2 and 1 rule too! Any suit has three basic elements, suit, shirt and tie. Only one of these should be patterned! The chap above Boateng is breaking this rule most effectively, but it effectively holds true!

  5. Elle

    I just found this on the Colette blog and thought you might be interested:

    ““I know a lot of people who dress up with great misery. A lot of self-doubt. A lot of voices from the past. They dress a certain way to protect themselves against those denigrating voices. So part of what I like to do is to help people and give them the power and the language, verbally and in the expression of their clothing.” — JJ Lee, interviewed by the Westender

    Did you read The Measure of a Man: the Story of a Father, a Son, and a Suit by JJ Lee? ”

    Sounds fascinating….

  6. Kim Hood

    It is so much more difficult for men to look bad in suits than allowing them any sartorial freedom! My own dear husband frequently looks appalling left to choose for himself (socks and sandals anyone?) but fine in a suit. I’m partial to men in winter coats – not seen too frequently now but my father had a gorgeous tweed coat I wish I still had.

  7. ellen

    Saving this for my sons, who someday will need this advice (suits not really worn in Seattle, for the most part, and certainly not in our family!). Thanks!

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