Men's suits buying guide

A suit is an essential component of every man’s wardrobe. Suit tailoring is a time-honoured practice so there are many traditional details and conventions it helps to be aware of before you  buy your suit.  This guide will take you through the fit details and design features you’ll need to consider when making your choice, to help you find your perfect suit. It also offers advice on shirts and accessories to complement your look.

You can also watch this video for a visual guide.

How to get a great fit

Every man needs at least one good suit in his sartorial armoury. The path to choosing one that fits well can be challenging, but it’s worth taking the time as a suit’s not only an investment, but it can be one of the most powerful weapons in your wardrobe. Watch this video guide to putting together an occasionwear wardrobe, and this one about making your suit work harder.


Image of a suit

When you’re trying on a new suit jacket, the first thing to look at is the shoulders; the pads shouldn’t protrude beyond your shoulders. The ongoing trend for suit silhouettes is tighter with a slimmer fit than ever before, but the fabric still shouldn’t look stretched or pulled.

Watch this video about our Kin suit range, which is designed with a slimmer fit.

The back of the suit jacket should fall neatly in a straight line, with the bottom edge no lower than your knuckles. A good measure is being able to just curl your fingers up underneath the jacket. Jacket length is important; too long, you’ll look swamped, and too short and the fit will be really unflattering.

When fastened with one button, the jacket should fit closely around your stomach but not tightly. You should be able to put one hand inside the jacket and if you make a fist, the jacket should be pulled tight.

Sleeve length is also important - sleeves should never meet your wrist any lower than the base of your thumb. For a neat, smart look, you’ll want to be able to see a few centimetres of your shirt sleeve protruding beyond the jacket.

How to measure yourself

If you’re unsure of either your jacket or your trouser size, measure yourself using our tips below and then compare your details to our measurement table which will give you an idea of which sizes you should be buying.

To do this, you’re going to need a tape measure, and it’d be easier if you have someone else to take the measurements for you.

 

Jacket

Using the diagram to the right as a guide, note down your 6 measurements for the following areas:

Neck to shoulder

Body length

Sleeve length

Sleeve width

Waist

Chest

 

 

Trousers

To find out your trouser size, you’ll need to take down 5 measurements:

Leg length

Waist to groin

Hips

Thigh width

Ankle width

 
Image of how to measure a jacket
Image of how to measure trousers
 
Jacket
       
To fit
Measurement
Classic fit-Regular
Tailored fit-Regular
Slim fit-Regular
36" chest 91.5cm
Centre Back Length
77cm/30.3in
74cm/29.4in
72cm/28.3in
  Sleeve Length
63.8cm/25.1in
64.8cm/25.5in
65.3cm/25.7in
38" chest 96.5cm
Centre Back Length 78cm/30.7in
75cm/29.5in
73cm/28.7in
  Sleeve Length 64.4cm/25.4in
65.4cm/25.7in
65.9cm/25.9in
40" chest 101.5cm
Centre Back Length 79cm/31.1in
76cm/29.9in
74cm/29.1in
  Sleeve Length 65cm/25.6in
66cm/26in
66.5cm26.2in
42" chest 107cm
Centre Back Length 80cm/31.5in
77cm/30.3in
75cm/29.5in
  Sleeve Length 65.6cm/25.8in
66.6cm/26.2in
67.1cm/26.4in
44" chest 112cm
Centre Back Length 81cm/31.9in
78cm/30.7in
76cm/29.9in
  Sleeve Length 66.2cm/26.1in
67.2cm/26.5in
67.7cm/26.7in
46" chest 117cm
Centre Back Length 82cm/32.3in
79cm/31.1in
77cm/30.3in
  Sleeve Length 66.8cm/26.3in
67.8cm/26.7in
68.3cm/26.9in
48" chest 122cm
Centre Back Length 83cm/32.7in
80cm/31.5in
 
  Sleeve Length 67.4cm/26.5in 68.4cm/26.9in  
50" chest 127cm Centre Back Length 84cm/33.1in 81cm/31.9in  
  Sleeve Length 68cm/26.8in 69cm/27.2in  

* Short jackets measure 3cm/1.2in shorter in sleeve and centre back length

** Long jackets measure 3cm/1.2in longer in sleeve and centre back length

Trouser
       
To fit
Measurement
Classic fit-Regular
Tailored fit-Regular
Slim fit-Regular
30" waist 76cm
Seat (at widest point)
49.5cm/19.5in
50cm/19.7in
49.5cm/19.5in
  Inside Leg
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
32" waist 81cm
Seat (at widest point) 52cm/20.5in
52.5cm/20.7in
52cm/20.5in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
34" waist 86cm
Seat (at widest point) 54.5cm/21.5in
55cm/21.7in
54.5cm/21.5in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
36" waist 91.5cm
Seat (at widest point) 57cm/22.4in
57.5cm/22.6in
57cm/22.4in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
38" waist 96.5cm
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Seat (at widest point) 59.5cm/23.4in
60cm/23.6in
59.5cm/23.4in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
40" waist 101.5cm
Seat (at widest point) 62cm/24.4in
62.5cm/24.6in
62cm/24.4in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
79cm/31.1in
42" waist 107cm
Seat (at widest point) 64.5cm/25.4in
65cm/25.6in
64.5cm/25.4in
  Inside Leg 79cm/31.1in 79cm/31.1in 79cm/31.1in
 

* Short trouser measure 5cm shorter in inside leg

** Long trouser measure 5cm longer in inside leg

 

All in the detail

The difference between suits is often in the little details. These can say a lot about the suit and could give you a dash of individuality.

Colour and pattern

For the office, opt for a blue or a grey suit, as black is usually considered too formal for work.

 Watch this video to find out more about occasionwear

 Suit fabrics can be plain, or come in many different weaves and patterns. The more popular weaves are:

·    Herringbone - unsurprisingly, resembles the skeleton of a herring

·    Hounds or Puppytooth - a traditional pattern that looks like a repetition of the outline of a dog’s head

·    Birdseye -  made up of many small dots

·    Pinstripe - one of the most perennially popular, probably because it suggests confidence

·    Pick and pick - sometimes known as sharkskin, this has a slight sheen 


Image of a suit


Fabric

Sometimes a suit will be described with a ‘super’ number; such as “Super 120s”. This number refers to the fineness of the individual fibres that make up the fabric. Higher numbers designate a thinner fabric, which will also make it smoother and silkier. Higher super numbers are also rarer, and so the price will be higher.

Consider the purpose of your suit when looking at the fabrics available. If you’re intending on wearing the suit for travel, or you’d like to pack it up for trips, you could try a suit made from wool blended with a little polyester. A suit that’s 90% wool and 10% polyester will better resist creasing, so you can arrive at your destination looking impeccable.

Buttons 

Two-button fastenings are the prevailing fashion for suiting now, but the traditional three buttons also look smart. One-button fastenings create a sleeker look for the suit but this isn’t for everyone as it can look dressier.

Tradition dictates that the bottom button of a suit jacket should always be left undone. So, if your jacket has two buttons you’ll only fasten one; if it’s a three button jacket you’ll fasten two.

Another traditional detail you’ll find on your suit jacket is the buttons on the cuff, originally designed to allow surgeons to roll up their sleeves when attending patients. Contemporary suits generally won’t have working cuffs, but the buttons remain.

Lapels

Lapels are created by folding over the front edges of the jacket to create the traditional V shape at the front.

The ubiquitous lapel shape for modern tailoring is the simple notched lapel. There’s also the peaked lapel, which has a retrospective feel of early 20th century style, and the shawl lapel, most commonly seen on dinner jackets.

Another detail worth noticing in relation to the lapels is the use of‘meltons’; located underneath the back of the collar. This sturdy piece of felt offers strength, durability and helps to maintain the collar’s shape over time.

Pockets

Suit pockets are usually jetted or flapped. Jetted pockets sit flat to the suit and were originally designed to give easy access to the wearer whilst on horseback. Flapped pockets will help to prevent contents from falling out.

When you buy your new suit, the pockets are often sewn up so you can choose whether you want to leave these as they are, or unpick the stitching. If you can resist the temptation to use the pockets, the jacket will fall in a neater line if you leave the stitching in place.

You should also look at internal pockets and consider how many you’d like. Modern suiting is becoming more inventive, with internal pockets provided to fit your mobile phone or MP3 player.


Construction

Suits are constructed in one of three ways: canvashalf-canvas or fusedconstruction.

A suit with a canvas construction will have an inner layer made of canvas, which is there to shape the suit and give it stability. The canvas absorbs the heat and moisture from your body, helping it to mould to and memorise your shape so that you’ll get a better fit from the suit over time. This construction is difficult and very time-consuming, so you’ll only find canvas construction on top-end and bespoke suits.

A half-canvas construction has a canvas inner layer but this doesn’t extend all the way down the jacket. The canvas will only be in the upper part of the suit, so it will give you a great fit around your shoulders. Suits with a half or full canvas constructions have a free, more natural fit.

Fused suits don’t have this inner layer. Instead, glue is applied to the fabric to stiffen it and give practical water repellence to the suit fabric.

AMF stitching

AMF stitching is found on some suits, often around the edges of the lapels. Its function is to keep the canvas interlining in place. Only one traditional machine can perform this stitch and it’s very time-consuming to use, so this is the reason you’ll only usually see AMF stitching around the lapels.

Country of origin

Britain and Italy are particularly associated with the very best of tailoring, thanks to long histories of being at the forefront of suit design.

The home of British tailoring in Savile Row has tailors well regarded around the world. Unfortunately though, apart from Savile Row, a true method of manufacturing a suit in England is no longer in existence. For our British collections, we do however, source cloth from various mills in England and Scotland. Aside from suits, we do offer shirts and ties wholly manufactured in Great Britain.

Find out more about Richard James of Savile Row in this video

Italy is associated with beautifully-constructed tailoring of the highest standard, and remains a source for both cloth and suit manufacture.

Complementing your suit

Office wear can be a very sombre and conservative affair, but choose a few choice accessories to inject colour and personality, without flouting convention.

Shirts

Firstly, you’ll need to get your collar size right: Too tight and you’ll feel like you’re choking all day; too loose and the shirt will look ill-fitting.

Take a tape measure and wrap it around your neck, just below your Adam’s apple and measure in inches. Add half an inch on to your measurement for comfort to find out your collar size.

Shirts can have single (fastens with a button) or double (usually needs cufflinks) cuffs. Single cuff shirts were considered less formal than double, but this is shifting as they become more popular.

There are many different collar styles, as fashions change over time. The most common for everyday shirts is the spread collar, as it allows ample space for a tie knot.

Image of a Pink shirt


Finally, you’ll need to think about colours and patterns. In terms of plain shirts, every man needs a few white shirts in his wardrobe. Add to this pinkand blue, which are both classic shirt colours and are easy-to-wear. Lilac and purple shirts  are also becoming more popular. Branching out into striped and checked shirts will introduce colour and interest to your look.

Waistcoats

The third part of a 3-piece suit, a waistcoat adds an element of confident, traditional style and provides a useful extra layer in colder months.

Image of a waistcoat


Cufflinks

An essential if you’re wearing a double-cuff shirt. Cufflinks come in all shapes and designs, from novelty to ornate. As they’re a small and subtle accessory, you can play around with the design as much as you like.

 If you’ve chosen coloured cufflinks, you can either tonally match them to your shirt so the colours complement each other; or you can go for a shirt in a different colour to make your cufflinks stand out.

Cufflinks


Ties

Similarly to shirts, ties can demonstrate individuality amidst your more conventional attire. When you’re matching your tie to your shirt, there are a few things to consider to ensure you find an accomplished combination. Consider these essential tips on matching shirts and ties:

1. Make sure the shirt and tie have at least one colour in common

2. Tie colours should generally be darker than the shirt colours

3. Try not to pair patterns of the same size or type; for example, pin dots will often work well with stripes. Stripes can match well with stripes but you need to vary the scale between the tie and shirt

4. Contrast a bold pattern with a more subtle one

Ties are constructed in a way to allow them to tie in a knot and not wrinkle. To make sure your tie recovers its shape, store it unknotted in a hanging position, except for knitted ties, which should be rolled for storage. If you can’t hang your ties, rolling them is better than folding.

Image of a tie


Shoes

Finally, the safest bet with a suit is traditional black, but brown will instantly de-formalise your suit if you’re wearing it straight after work. Just make sure your belt matches, but if you’re suit is black,  be safe and stick with black shoes.

Watch this video to find out how to make your suit work harder.

Find out more about John Lewis Kin suits in this video - well designed and keenly priced, and ideal for a first suit.

Shoes