How To Buy A Versatile Suit For Any Occasion

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

Every man should own at least one good suit. While different events often call for different attire, buying multiple suits around is a luxury few of us can manage. But don't despair: you'd be surprised how versatile one sharp-looking suit can be if you buy smart and get the right accessories. Suit up guys: here's what you need to know.

Photos by DVARG (Shutterstock) and Vinko93 (Shutterstock), Christian Mairitsch, Emilio Labrador, Miki Yoshihito, JMR Photography, Robert Sheie, and deejayqueue

Buying a suit can be tiresome and frustrating if you've never done it before. If you're not into formalwear at all, it can be a pain to spend so much on something you'll rarely wear. It doesn't have to be that way.

We sat down with some style experts at online custom clothing store Indochino and came up with some tips to help you get the most bang for your buck. Follow these tips to acquire the perfect suit: one that will work any time you need to dress up, whether it's for a job interview, a funeral, a fancy dinner, or a night on the town.

Consider Your Needs

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

The first thing to do before you start shopping is consider what you need the suit for. Even if you're not buying your first suit, you should still consider the occasion that inspired your shopping trip, and what other formal occasions you may encounter where you'll need to make use of your new suit.

Here's your rule of thumb: If you can make your purchase fit as many situations as possible, you're making a smart decision. If you're buying for a job interview, you'll want something classic and middle of the road, but try to look for something that will look good in other situations too. If you're buying because of a formal dinner or a banquet, you may want to go for a more casual look, but if you opt for something a bit more traditional, you'll get plenty of daytime wear from it as well. Ask yourself when you consider colours and patterns: "would this look good any other time?" Don't pigeonhole yourself into buying a suit for a specific event, and you'll be fine.

Remember The Rule Of Three: Fit, Style And Versatility

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

There's a lot to consider when you head to an online retailer or a menswear store to buy a suit. Fabrics, cuts, styles, colours: it can all seem overwhelming. However, you're buying for flexibility and to get the most value from your suit, you don't have to worry so much about a lot of those things. Simply emember the rule of three: Fit, style and versatility. Let's dive into each.

Fit: Wear Your Suit, Don't Let It Wear You

For most people, fit is the single most important aspect to consider when buying a suit. Obviously you'll want to make sure that it's comfortable, hangs well, and is easy to wear. If you're not sure how a suit should fit, check out this visual guide that illustrates how it should look while you're wearing it. It's important to make sure the jacket and pants actually fit -- this is a situation where buying large doesn't give you room to move, it just makes you look like a schoolboy wearing his father's fear. Shoulder pads should end at the shoulders, and your arms should hang straight and long, not bunched up around the forearm. Here are some more tricks to consider when trying to figure out if something actually fits. If you want to know what a good fit looks like before you shop), and this interactive guide will help too.

If you want to buy a well-tailored, well-made suit, you have options. You can visit an online measure-to-fit retailer like Indochino or Institchu, where you choose what you're interested in, send in your measurements, and they send you a suit crafted to your specifications. If you prefer brick and mortar stores and personal attention, hit your favourite menswear retailer. They give you the flexibility to come in, have your measurements taken, talk to someone and have your questions answered right there (and do ask questions!) You can have something made specifically for you, or choose something off the rack and have it tailored and altered to fit.

However, whatever you do and wherever you get your suit, make sure you get it properly tailored to your measurements. When I bought my first suit, the gentleman who took my measurements gave me his tailor's card and explained that every gentleman needs a good tailor the same way he needs a good suit. Don't assume a tailor will be expensive, either -- there's probably a tailor or seamstress in your neighbourhood who'd be more than happy for your business, whether it's a few pants hems here and there or fitting dress shirts so they look better on you. The money you'll spend is worth it for the sharp, well-fitted look you'll get out of it.

Style: Choose Timeless, Flexible Patterns And Cuts

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

Remember, the goal here is to get a suit that works in almost any situation, and at different levels of formality. Not all formal affairs are alike. An awards dinner is different from a job interview, which is different than a fancy dinner date. If you choose timeless, sharp styles that are well fitted to you, you'll look good in the same suit in all of those situations. Indochino has a few customisation suggestions that will play up your body type:

Slimmer guys should consider having their jackets made with broad lapels to broaden their shoulders, and one vent to keep the slim look. Larger guys should opt for two vents for maximum manoeuvrability. Regardless of shape, no one should select pleated pants. Another common customisation is with pockets, and while slanted pockets are trendy, flat pockets are more timeless -- and should be chosen with flaps (which can always be tucked into the pocket) for versatility.

The modern suit style is a "slim" cut, but if you're choosing a style that's timeless and flexible, you may want to go for a more traditional fit. Still, get it tailored to you so whatever cut it is looks great on you.

Versatility: Select Options That Work In Every Situation

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

Versatility is another important factor to consider. The benefit of choosing classic or timeless styles and cuts is that you'll have a suit that you can wear just as well at a job interview as you can out for drinks with your (hopefully) new boss. Next, you'll want to choose a suit type and a colour that works in virtually any situation.

When you're picking colour, skip the black. Black is for funerals. Don't get black. A classic charcoal or navy is your best bet, and will be the most versatile. You can wear either to almost any occasion -- even a funeral.

Flat black may seem like it goes with everything, and at one time it probably did, but flexibility demands a different colour. A plain black suit can look great if you can pull it off, but for most people it's a bit too formal and too dark, and actually limits your accessory options. If you gravitate towards black (as I do), opt for charcoal or navy instead. You'll be close enough to feel comfortable and you'll look great. If you want a pattern, go for something simple and understated -- basic pinstripes, for example. Stick to classic fabrics, like wool and wool blends (merino and cashmere).

At the end of the day, you want a suit that would look good if you were to wear the jacket with something else, or the slacks with a different top like a vest or sweater. That kind of flexibility is worth your money, and gives you multiple permutations of the same outfit that you can match to the occasion you're dressing for. However, you want to be careful how often you omit components from your suit -- you don't want the pants to fade faster than the jacket, for example, or vice versa, and they wind up not matching when you need them together.

Use Accessories For Personality

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

Whether it's your first suit or your tenth, you should think about accessories: Shirts, ties, shoes, belts, cufflinks, and so on. Again, you don't have to spend a fortune here. A few broadly applicable choices can work with any event any time you need them, but if you saved some money on the actual suit, you might consider spending a little on accessories that let you express yourself, or work with the event you're headed to.

I'm a pretty flexible when it comes to shirts -- I've found that if you can pull them off, darker shirts and jewel tones work well (especially with lighter charcoal suits -- with dark navy or black suits dark shirts tend to muddle together), especially on larger guys. However, if you're just getting started or have no intention of taking off your jacket, a charcoal or navy jacket with a lighter shirt underneath generally looks great.

When it comes to ties, I generally prefer more conservative tie approaches that that work in more situations -- solid colours, simple patterns, and geometric designs. Ties are one place where people really try to "express themselves", so they can get goofy pretty quickly. Stick to the basics and you'll look sharp and classy. If you want a little guidance, here's what our style expert suggested:

Get a few button-up shirts if you don't have any, and while white is still the classic choice and the most versatile, you can swap in any lightly saturated shirt where you'd wear a white. Light blues and purples are perennially popular and in style.

Get some patterned ties -- a few stripes, a polka dot, another pattern and a solid black. The novice should pair them with solid shirts and jackets. For more advanced guys, follow the major-minor-major rule of pattern mixing. Pair two bolder prints with a subtle print in a similar colour palette. For a more understated look, reverse the order and try a minor print on the suit, a major print on the shirt, and a minor print on the tie.

The beauty of shirts, ties, and accessories is that they really make your single suit more flexible. If you're doing something more casual, where a modern look is called for, you can follow Indochino's advice and grab a purple or coral coloured shirt and even go without the tie. Suit up and you're ready for a night out with the guys. Have a job interview the next day? Switch the shirt for a classic white or cream, put on a classic solid-colour or patterned tie, and you're off to make a great impression. No need for different outfits.

How to Buy a Good, Versatile Suit for Any Occasion

Next, pocket squares and shoes. Both are important to consider, and can change the formality of your look. A pocket square can instantly add formality to your suit, especially when it's flat white or matches your tie. Shoes on the other hand can be tricky. Black shoes will serve you well at a wedding, a funeral, a job interview, or a night on the town. Just take good care of them. Here's some recommendations from Indochino:

A white pocket square goes with everything, and a subtle tie bar (which should always be narrower than the width of the tie) will add more flair. A bow tie can make for a fashion forward casual look when in an unusual fabric, and a more formal look in a traditional black silk.

Shoes finish off the look. If you only have the budget for one pair of dress shoes, make them dark brown. Get genuine leather and keep them well-polished, and they'll last for years -- and no one will know how much (or little) you spent on them. Most shoemakers also make belts, so when you're looking a belt (which should be matching, with a conservative buckle) using the same manufacturer is the easiest way of ensuring a perfect leather match.

Bow ties may put you off. Don't let themSwitching from a standard tie to a bow tie can turn a wedding suit into a after-party suit in minutes. Don't be afraid to branch out, but stick to what you're comfortable wearing.

The bottom line though is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to get a suit that looks great on you and will rise to whatever challenge you're presented with. The same suit can be perfect for a night on the town, a Sunday morning at church, a big presentation at work, your best friend's wedding -- whatever event may come your way. If you choose something versatile and some smart accessories, you can even pull out parts of it and mix and match to get more sharp-looking mileage for your hard-earned dollar.


Comments

    A slim fit suit with a French cuff shirt is by far my favorite suit look. It’s relatively timeless with a mix of modern and classic. Also get the shirt fitted too, nothing worse than having an ill fitted shirt. It's relatively cheap, and some dry cleaners tend to offer the service too. So if you've currently got a suit your swimming in this is an option.

    A badly fitted shirt shows, be it too much material making a skinny guy look fat, or too little material making a larger guy look bigger than he is with his stomach and chest looking ready to bust out (especially when seated).

    I also tend to steer away from the black suit. It’s great but every other guy at the party, network function, wedding, christening etc... is rocking a black suit. It’s the ones not in black you tend to notice more...and remember. So if you intend to stand out without being too flamboyant move away from black (unless it’s a black suit and tie affair and then it’s all about the cut).
    I’m not huge on patterns, but if you do go down that track it’s best to keep it relatively mild. Same goes for ties, nothing too busy, but know your tie knots, they do make a difference (half windsors typically the safe bet).

    This also goes for shoes. A Cuban heel mid boot in a tan colour mixes well with most suits and looks killer.

    …and yes I attend a heap of network gigs and functions for work.

      Agree with everything except the Cuban heel boot, unless you're really short and could use the boost, or a flamenco dancer.

        Not all cuban shoes are equal, some heels are larger than others. But you make a very good point. Granted I'm not short and I'm all left feet when it comes to dancing. But it is something to consider for the vertically challenged and Antonio Banderas dancers.

        ...But then I give Imelda Marcos a run for her money with my collection of shoes. You'd think the wife would like that too, but sadly no since it's me that drags her all around town shopping. :P

          My shoe collection is going the same way. And my watches. I regret nothing!!

    A medium grey goes with anything. I've had black and navy suits, but the grey suit has been my favourite - pretty much any colour shirt, tie and shoes will go well with it. For tailored suits, look for material that's super 150 wool or above (it's expensive, but worth it). When I got my first tailored suit I couldn't afford the better material, which made the thing really heavy and hot in the summer - but it did last me for 5 years. You can always add an overcoat in the winter.

    Don't do online - the time and money spent with a decent tailor will be worth it. Everyone is different - even if the measurements are right, how you move in the suit cannot be measured. That's why fittings are important - it gives the tailor an idea of how the measurements are going to work on your body. They can make minor adjustments to allow the suit to fit you. I've never walked away from a fitting without asking the tailor to make an adjustment here and there, even though the measurements were right - you just have to wear it and get the tailor to look at how it hangs on you.

    And my advice to anyone new grad who's looking for their first suit, is to get one with two pairs of pants. You wear the pants all day, but the jacket is only on when you're out the door. Always dry-clean the jackets and pants together - the fade will stay consistent.

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