Here at The Manual, we firmly believe that every man should own at least one suit. One sharp suit can cover you for job interviews, weddings, funerals, and nearly any other event that requires formal attire. However, some men — particularly young men — are hesitant to go into a legitimate suit store and splurge on a new, nice-fitting suit. Tony Spear — the president and owner of Este’s Men’s Clothing in Portland, OR — has a few simple tips on how to buy a suit without feeling intimidated or taken advantage of.
1. Don’t Take Any Sass
A few decades ago, men’s clothing retailers could succeed despite being rude to their customers. Today, online reviews make it very difficult for jerks to do well; there’s no reason to tolerate a salesperson who seems impatient, rude, or snobby. “Any purchase should be made from someone trying to help you — not someone trying to sell you,” says Spear. “You should never feel intimidated when you’re buying something.” If you’re uncomfortable at any point during the suit-buying process, it’s your right as a consumer to get out of there.
2. Consider Your Suit-Wearing Habits
It’s OK to walk into a suit store without a clear vision. A trustworthy salesperson will ask you a series of questions to help you zero in on your ideal suit. Still, it’s a good idea to have some idea of what you want; do you want a suit for a particular occasion, or are you looking for a reliable outfit that will work for just about any formal situation? Maybe you’re looking for a workhorse suit that will stand up to hundreds of wears over three to five years. “If you’re seeing the same client two days in a row, it’s good to have two suits,” says Spear. “If you’re going to work in an office and you’re wearing the same suit three out of the five days, one suit is fine. You shouldn’t worry about your co-workers, because everyone’s on a clothing budget.”
3. Don’t Worry Too Much About Material
A pushy salesperson may try to convince you to buy some uber-fancy material that bumps the total cost up a few hundred dollars. For your first or second suit, we recommend skipping the premium fabric options and going with reliable, affordable, timeless wool. Rather than worrying about materials, you should focus your time and energy on getting the right fit. “Fit is key,” says Spear. “Everybody likes nice fabric, but you can see the look of a bad fit — you can’t see how bad the fabric is.” Once you have several suits in your closet, then you might experiment with linen, cotton, spandex, whatever. If you like the feel of the material, and it’s reasonably priced, we say go for it.
4. Navy and Charcoal Are Gold
Though black suits were popular once upon a time, you really don’t see them as often these days. Today, navy and charcoal are where it’s at. “If you’re just starting a wardrobe, get a navy suit and a charcoal gray suit,” says Spear. “Now you have three outfits. You have the navy suit, you got the charcoal suit, you got the charcoal pant to wear with that navy suit coat. That’s how you start a wardrobe. That and 5-6 shirts.”
5. Off-the-Rack Suits Are Just Fine . . .
If you simply don’t have the funds to drop $1000+ on a tailor-made suit, then don’t. Going off the rack is a perfectly respectable way to procure a new suit. “There’s nothing wrong with $295 suits,” says Spear. “If you’re wearing it once or twice a year to holiday occasions, funerals, or weddings, it’s OK as long as it fits.” That said, you shouldn’t expect much from suits that are fused (read: glued) together. Buying a high-quality suit off the rack and having a tailor adjust it to your contours is a great compromise between buying a fused suit and 100% custom suit.
6. . . . But Every Man Should Have One Tailored Suit
If you have the means, you’d do well to have a suit tailored. Again, it’s all about fit; when a suit fits just right, you can feel it — not just in terms of comfort, but confidence as well. “Everyone should have a custom suit at some point in their life — even if it’s just one,” says Spear. “A $1200-1500 tailored suit over 10 or more years comes out to about $125 dollars a year.” That’s not an outrageous amount when you consider that you’ll look absolutely perfect while wearing your bespoke suit. Also, you shouldn’t worry about gaining or losing weight — it’s not hard for a tailor to “take in” a loose garment or “ease” a tight one.
Learning a few things about how to buy a suit should help demystify the process. You’ll find that buying a suit is not a big deal — just tell the men’s sales associate what you want, and pretty soon you’ll be looking your best.