How to Wear a Suit: Unspoken Rules You Need to Know

Stock-Man-in-Suit-2, How to Wear a Suit

If you don’t wear suits all the time, knowing all the little style rules you need to follow is a daunting task. Many of them are unspoken and you’re only clued into them if you’re an expert or an avid fashion follower. So we took some time to round up the most important rules for how to wear a suit and put them into a simple, condensed cheat-sheet that you can easily refer to whenever you find yourself neck-deep in a three-piece. There are always exceptions and qualifications for each of these rules, so don’t take these as the end all be all to the suiting world.

Level I: The Basics

Stock-Man-with-TIe-Clip

  • Your belt should be relatively thin and also the same color as your shoes.
  • Your tie should always be darker than your dress shirt.
  • Your tie bar should never be wider than your tie.
  • If you’re wearing a vest, always keep the bottom button unbuttoned.
  • Always unbutton your suit before sitting down, or you risk ruining it.
  • Always remove the stitching on the vents and the label on the left sleeve before wearing a new suit.
  • Never remove the stitching of the jacket pockets and never use your pockets, they can easily be stretched out.

Level II: Finer Points

Stock-Man-Putting-on-Cufflink

  • The width of your tie should match the width of your lapel.
  • Your tie should just reach the waistband of your trousers or top of your belt buckle.
  • Your suit jacket should be just long enough to cover your pants’ zipper and butt.
  • The top button of a two-button (or the middle button of a three-button) should fall at or above your navel.
  • Sleeve cuffs should be exposed about half an inch.
  • Make sure that your socks are long enough that there’s no exposed leg when sitting down.
  • A good tailor can work wonders on a suit that you love, but know it won’t fit like it used to.

Level III: Style Savvy

Stock-Pocket-Square

  • A pocket square adds an extra level of polish, but make sure it doesn’t match your tie in either pattern or fabric choice.
  • In general, thin lapels are more modern, whereas wide lapels are more old-school (read: dated).
  • Opt for a charcoal or gray suit over black, unless you’re attending a funeral or other equally conservative event.
  • For a more fashion-forward look, the pant hem should hit right at the top of your shoe.
  • When you go without a tie, it’s best to keep your shirt collar on the smaller side.
  • Double vents in the back are more modern and fashionable.
  • Avoid over-accessorizing. If you’re already wearing a pocket square and a tie bar, you’ll want to reconsider that clever lapel pin.

Level IV: Shopping Smart

Stock-Man-in-Suit-Traveling-on-Phone

  • Choose fabric according to how often you’ll wear the suit. The most versatile option is a soft, but durable wool like super 120 (a measure of yarn fineness; any higher is too delicate for daily use).
  • When buying an off-the-rack suit, the number one thing to check is how the shoulders fit.
  • collar gap between your jacket’s lapels and your shirt’s collar can signify an ill-fitting jacket.
  • If you’re going for more formal business attire, opt for a double-button, notched lapel jacket.
  • For a more casual, trendy look, opt for a single-button peak-lapel jacket.
  • You should be able to slip your hand between your chest and your buttoned jacket such that it feels snug, but with room to move
  • Visible stitches around the edges of your lapels (called pick-stitching) aren’t necessarily a sign of a well-made garment anymore. However, they can be an attractive decorative flourish—as long as they’re subtle.

Level V: Additional Thoughts

Stock-Man-Buying-Suit-in-Store

For a few final ideas/things that didn’t quite fit into the above categories, we spoke with Alex Wilcox of Lord Willy’s in NYC. He’s an experienced tailor and knows a thing or two about suiting.

  • Never buy a suit just because it’s on ‘sale’, always buy a suit for the external appearance, not the label on the inside.”
  • “Choose a color or pattern that suits your personality. However, you should be wearing the suit, not the suit wearing you. When in doubt, go for fit over fabric.”
  • “Experiment with your ties, but keep the patterns simple. (A solid color is even better.) A nice break from the norm is the knitted tie. It gives a more relaxed, nonchalant appearance.”
  • “The ‘over 30’s’ should avoid ‘fashion suits.’ It’s fine to look contemporary, but you don’t want to look like you’re chasing fashion. Your defense for a suit should never be “apparently it’s the fashion at the moment.”

Article originally published on 03-19-2014. Updated on 03-20-2017 by Geoff Nudelman