A well-made suit has been the pinnacle of men’s fashion, dating back in some form or another to the 16th century. Men wore mantles or long-flowing cloaks with elaborate designs, particularly for royalty and the upper class. The doublet, or an undershirt worn under armor, was one of the first articles of clothing designed to change a man’s shape. The art of tailoring was born in designing the first pieces and rich men had all their clothes made for them by skilled and innovative tailors.
In 1565, Charles IX of France outlawed purses in a legislative move reminiscent of today’s conceal and carry laws. Men would hide daggers in their purse, so outlawing the accessory helped bring down the crime rate. With that, the pocket was born.
It wasn’t until 1820 when the fashion world was completely revolutionized with one simple invention: the tape measure. A tape measure allowed tailors to create general sizing. A standard set of sizes meant that for the first time a tailor could make articles of clothing before knowing the customer’s measurements. Customers entering the shop could find the clothes that fit them and purchase them off the rack, with only slight alterations needed. Clothes and suits could be produced in bulk, which significantly brought down the cost. Fashion as we know it was born.
Bespoke, Off the Rack, Made To Measure
Today, when a man buys a suit he selects one of three options: bespoke, made to measure, or off the rack.
- Bespoke- Bespoke suits are the most expensive, ranging from $2800 to $4800. This is because every aspect of the suit, from the fabric to the buttons, from the shape and cut to the contrast stitching, is designed to the client’s specifications and measurements. The piece is cut and stitched by hand.
- Made To Measure- A made to measure suit ranges from $800 to $1800. These suits are built partially in advance, but the client is able to make a few key decisions about the suit before it is sewn to his measurements. Some extra tailoring may be required after the piece is finished, but this is usually included in the price.
- Off the Rack- An off the rack suit is priced from $200 to $1000. Buying a suit off the rack means that you must find a good tailor to alter the fit. This is usually a separate expense. Off the rack suits can still be very nice, but they are not handmade and the customer has little to no control over the details of the suit.
Choosing the Right Tailor
There are a few key things to look for when you shop for a tailor. A bespoke tailor cares deeply about their product and will likely have a specialization. When you make an appointment with your tailor, he will be interested in what styles and designs you are drawn to and won’t rush you through a meeting. Remember that you get what you pay for: tailor with more experience will command higher prices.
Your tailor will take a lot of measurements in order to design a suit exactly to your body:
- Right and left sleeves
- Front and back chest
- Full chest
- Half shoulder
- Full shoulder
- Front jacket
- Trouser waist
One of the first things you will need to choose when you have a bespoke suit designed is the cut. Each style works to shape a man in a different way, accentuating or hiding different parts of the body to shape the silhouette.
The American suit has a boxy shape with little definition that was made popular by the Brooks Brothers in the early 20th century. This style features one center vent and no shoulder pads. The end result is a rather shapeless silhouette.
A Saville Row is a style that comes from England and does a lot more to accentuate a man’s shape. This style also features higher arms, carved shoulders and double vents.
The Italian suit closely fits a man and is designed for someone who wants to show off their physique. This style features a suppressed waist, no vents, and padded shoulders.
A newer style, the Athletic suit is designed for a man with a developed upper body who needs more room in the jacket without a proportionally larger trouser size.
Single or Double Breast
A single breast suit has two or three buttons while a double breast suit has four to six buttons. Deciding between the two will alter your figure, but beyond a silhouette, a single breast suit is more casual and a double breast suit is considered dressier. One other big difference between the two is what to do with them while sitting; a single breast suit should always be unbuttoned while sitting and a double breast suit should remain buttoned.
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Jacket Sleeve Buttons
Many jackets have buttons on the two to six buttons on the sleeve. Off the rack suits feature these buttons as purely decoration, but they can function on a bespoke suit. Functioning jacket sleeve buttons gives you the ability to roll up your sleeves without removing your jacket. These little details are what makes bespoke suits so special. The buttons should “kiss,” or touch slightly.
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Buttonholes come in three main shapes: bar-tacked, rounded-end, and keyhole. A bar-tacked is a casual, quick rectangle. A rounded end is oval shaped and easier to accomplish with hand sewing than a bar-tacked. A keyhole shape is a rectangle with a small circle at one end to insert the button. More than one buttonhole type on a garment is a mark of quality. Uneven or slightly imperfect stitching mark work done by hand, so this is one time where imperfect work actually denotes something of higher quality.
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Since their humble origins hundreds of years ago, pockets have developed into a wide range of styles. Some pockets are designed for a certain function while others are purely decorative. Pockets affect the silhouette of the suit, so different pocket styles can be more appropriate for certain body types.
- Bellows- Accordion-style pleated pockets.
- Piped- The fabric is folded at the opening to emphasize the pocket.
- Flapped Besom- This is a pocket with a flap that can be tucked away.
- Chest- The pocket found exclusively on the left breast.
- Flap- A pocket with a flap.
- Hacking- A pocket cut at an angle.
- Patch- Seams show on this pocket, giving it a patch appearance.
- Slant- This is an angled besom pocket.
- Ticket- A small pocket the size of a ticket on the right side.
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Vents are small flaps in the garment that provide the wearer with increased comfort and greater flexibility. Vents also help keep the fabric from bunching and creasing and allows more air flow. Jackets will have one or two vents, usually either in the center or to either side. Choosing a jacket with one vent will give you a more tapered look while a double vented jacket will accentuate your build.
Lapels form the collar of the jacket, and are most commonly notched. A notched lapel has a V cut into the either side. Lapels can also be peaked, or point to the shoulder. Peaked lapels are more common on double breasted suits.
The Perfect Fit
No matter what body type you have, a well-fitting suit will make you look better. Here are the main points to look for in the perfect fit:
It all starts with your shoulders. The fit of your jacket begins with your shoulders and works its way down from there. If your suit is not appropriately tailored for your shoulders, it is going to be reflected as being too loose or too tight further down the jacket. The jacket of your bespoke suit should fit smoothly across your shoulder line, and hence not be bumpy. There should be sufficient material over the shoulder blade to allow for fabric to extend from under the armhole, thereby providing flexibility.
When standing straight, ensure that your shoulder seams lay flat against your shoulder, and connect the jacket torso to the sleeve at the edge of your shoulders. Please note that the shoulders of a suit can never be altered properly, so please ensure this is the part of your fit that you get right!
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Your suit jacket collar should lay flat against your shirt collar, which in turn should sit well against your neck. All of these should touch lightly against each other, without creating any significant gaps. If gaps exist, it is an indication that the suit is too loose, and if too tight, and if there is bunching up under the jacket collar, it is an indication that it is too tight.
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The armhole of your jacket should be cut high, but not high enough where it starts cutting into your armpit and creates a degree of discomfort! What is critical is that the armhole fit provides functionality. Does the jacket allow you to move your arms freely, without impeding the natural functionality that your jacket needs on a daily basis. For example, if you are highly engaged in public speaking and gesticulate towards the crowd, you will need a greater degree of movement and hence a slightly lower / looser cut armhole.
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Ah yes, the reason you decided to buy a suit in the first place! To get that perfect piece of clothing that would fit meticulously around your body like you were poured into it. So how should a suit jacket fit around your torso? The jacket should flatter the natural curvature of your body by caving in towards your lower back. Vertical creases in your jacket indicate that it is too lose, while horizontal creases are a clear signal that your suit jacket is too tight.
Your suit jacket should be sitting close to your chest without gaping wide open. Your jacket shouldn’t be flaring up, nor should your lapels be hanging too loosely from your body. As a litmus test, you want to be able to slide your hand under your lapels with your top button or middle button fastened.
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Another critical test when assessing torso fit is to fasten your suit buttons and see if it feels constricting. If your suit jacket hugs you comfortably without feeling constricting, it is a sign of a well fitted suit. Your suit jacket shouldn’t be fitting too tightly, creating an ‘X’. An ‘X’ in your jacket simply means that it has been tailored too tightly. Please note that this ‘X’ shouldn’t be visible when you are standing straight, but may naturally appear as you move around in your suit. The key is to have a jacket closure that fits comfortably, yet one that is still tapered enough.
Your jacket length is essential to maintaining your perceived body proportions of your torso to your lower body. Too long or short, and your body proportions are going to look severely displaced! Ideally, the hem of your suit jacket should sit approximately around the middle of your palms, with your arms fully extended by your sides while standing up.
Looked at alternatively (literally!), your suit jacket should fall past your waist and drape over the top of the curve formed by one’s backside.
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Jacket Sleeve Length
Your Jacket Sleeves should lay straight, with no visible creases. Horizontal creases are a clear indication that your jacket sleeve is not properly aligned. Your Jacket Sleeve should be long enough where it reaches the bottom of your palm, but at the same time exposes approximately ¼ to ½ inch of your shirt cuff.
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Dress Trousers are constructed to sit at the waist which can range anywhere from your natural waistline to just above your navel. You want to ensure that your trousers have enough room when standing up, sitting down or cross legged .
Regarding the length of your trousers, they should brush gently against the top of your shoes, without fully exposing your full pair of shoes! Break refers to the amount of material that creases where your pants meet your shoes. Too much break, such as a half or full break, and you will ruin your silhouette. No break, and you will look like are clearly trying too hard. A quarter break is generally deemed appropriate, so as to show some imperfection, but minimal enough to still display a clean, sleek aesthetic and silhouette!
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The ‘seat’ of your pants is a gentler way of referring to the fit of your backside. I think it would speak to most people’s preferences to wear pants that do not fit too tight or too loosely around one’s backside.
Given that there is minimal damage control a tailor can do regarding ill fitted pants on the rear side, you should ensure that your pants fit as snugly as possible.
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Heavier men should choose pleated pants and a three button jacket, which adds height. Avoid spread collars, wide lapels, and wide tie knots. Heavier men should stick to regular point collars and proportional accessories. Vented suits are a must for comfort and flexibility.
A thin man should opt for a single-breast, two or three button jacket with padded shoulders, wide lapels and vents. Vests with more detail such as a flapped pocket will add more width, while patterns like plaids and stripes will also make you look bigger. Beware adding height with vertical stripes!
Taller men should reach for a two or three button, single breasted jacket. Looser, straighter fitting jackets with squared shoulders will make height seem more proportional. A wider cuff on pant legs will help your body seem proportional as well.
Short men can appear taller with a two or three button, single breasted jacket with side or center vents, and patterns like vertical pinstripes, herringbone, and chalk stripes. A medium trouser break or narrower cuff will also make a short man look more proportional.
Beyond solid color suits, there are a wide variety of classic patterns that all adapt well to certain situations, seasons, and fabrics. Every well-dressed man should know how to pair each of the these five patterns: pinstripe, brown, plaid, linen, and seer sucker.
Pinstripe suits have a lightness about them that makes the wearer look sophisticated but relaxed. The proportion of the stripe to the space in between the stripes is something to play with to match your build and the rest of the patterns in your outfit. Navy or chalk gray pinstripes match a lot of other different colors and patterns, while more colorful stripe colors can give you a pop of color.
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Brown suits can be adapted for the season by choosing a lighter or darker shade. Brown works very well with blue and green hues, but it’s surprisingly easy to match brown with just about any color. Many men shy away from brown because they fear they will look dated, but the secret lies in a fresh and crisp color combination. It’s important that your shoes are always a slightly darker brown than your trousers.
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Plaid suits work best in fall and winter, but can easily be adapted year round. Plaid is very multipurpose and can be used at a wide variety of events, including more casual ones. Beginners to plaid should start by matching solid colored accessories and a dress shirt. With a little practice, it’s easy to match plaid to other patterns (including other plaids). When designing a color pattern, draw out the minor colors in the plaid for a cohesive color scheme.
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Linen suits are the best item to reach for in the heat of the summertime. Because linen suits crinkle easily, they are not ideal for work situations or anytime you’ll need to look crisp after sitting for a period of time. Light colors like cream and khaki are classic for linen, although there are many more options available.
Seersucker is a fabric made of stripes of smooth cotton sewed to stripes of puckered cotton. Traditionally, seersucker is blue and white although you can find just about anything you’d like. Seersucker is similar to linen in that it will wrinkle easily. Seersucker provides an overall classy look with a laid back flair.
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The main challenge of wearing a suit in the summer time is selecting one that won’t keep you too hot, which can lead to over sweating and body odor. Cotton is the perfect summertime fabric because it is porous, light, and breathable. Open weave cotton will look see-through when you hold it up to a light. Summer colors are pastels, creams, and beige.
Seersucker and linen are increasingly popular, especially for a dress shirt. Although you’ll have to have forethought and be careful not to crease these fabrics too much, they can help you stay much cooler in the summer heat. Any muted, light tone will work such as light blue, light gray, light pinstripes, khaki, or even a mild plaid.
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In fall, the inconsistent weather can make it difficult to dress appropriately. Dressing in layers not only helps solve that problem, but it also makes you look very dapper! Jackets, blazers, and fabrics like tweed add textural variation and make your outfit look more interesting. Woolen and knitted pocket squares and ties are also a great way to add texture, even if they don’t add much protection against the elements. Fall is a great time for rich colors like olive green, burgundy, and mustard.
Vests are another great layering solution, although it’s important to make sure that you don’t show any dress shirt between your waist and your belt. A fitted shirt will help you avoid bunching under your vest. Instead of a vest, a cardigan is also a smart fall look, although more casual.
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In winter, you’ll need to bundle up against the cold weather but still be able to dress down to a comfortable office temperature. Winter dress coats are a must, such as a pea coat which can cover your suit, keep you warm, and look great with a scarf. Dress in layers for additional weather protection.
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Color theory is an important part of matching pieces together, creating outfits, and choosing accessories. We could teach an entire liberal arts class on color theory, but a simple introduction will suffice for our needs. First and foremost, you should print a high-quality image of a color wheel and place it near your accessories, in your closet, bedroom, or bathroom mirror. You will reference it often while learning to mix and match pieces.
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The color wheel allows us to harmonize colors along certain themes. The color themes are time-honored and proven to help you look good, so you should always make sure that your color scheme matches one theory listed below.
- Contrasting - Contrasting colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel: red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow.
- Triadic Colors - Triadic colors split the color wheel into thirds (blue, red, yellow or green, orange, purple). This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use all three colors, because as we know, blue and red look good together and so do blue and yellow. With triadic color, you want to let one color dominate and the others play minor supporting roles.
- Monochromatic- Monochromatic choices focus one color only and use different tones and shades to create interest and contrast (a navy blazer with a light blue shirt and a striped blue tie).
Matching Tie Patterns and Pocket Squares - Color and Scale
Matching ties and pocket squares to each other and the other parts of your suit can be a bit complicated until you have some time to practice. Now that you understand a bit about how to match colors, let’s talk about patterns.
Patterns don’t have to be different from one another in order to match. In order to avoid looking overwhelmingly patterned, vary the patterns by size or proportion. One example of this would be a wider, bigger plaid with a smaller, tighter plaid. Another example would be a big, spaced out polka dot pattern against a tighter, smaller-dot pattern. Alternating patterns is an easy way to avoid this, such as matching a checked shirt with a striped tie. When in doubt, completely different patterns such as floral and stripes will work together.
Beginners can start by matching patterns to solid colors, such as a solid color dress shirt with a patterned tie. Don’t match solid on solid if neither has a pattern or a remarkable texture. Patterns are a great way to introduce variety and express a more nuanced style.
Tonal considerations are also important- the way the colors interact with one another. High tonal pieces have more color contrast within them while lower tonal pieces are more muted.
Balancing tonal considerations can add another dimension to a tie and pocket square combination.
Pocket squares should complement but never match your dress shirt and tie. In the 1920s, pocket squares were always nearly identical to the tie. Today, that looks dated and boring. Varying fabrics, textures, colors, and patterns all make your choices more interesting and dynamic.
Folding your pocket square can also change your silhouette and create drama. There are a lot of different pocket square folds for experienced dapper gentlemen to try, but the three main folds to know are the square fold, the puff fold, and the edged puff.
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To view our beautiful range of silk and linen pocket squares, where you can filter your search based on matching tie and shirt colors, please click here!
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Matching Socks and Shoes
Although many men get stumped by which shoes to wear with their ensembles, there is actually a fairly standard rule to follow. Socks should always be the same shade or darker than trousers, such as dark gray socks with light gray trousers. One particular case that needs to be considered is when you choose brown trousers: your shoes should be darker than your trousers, and your socks should be darker than your shoes (the darkest of three shades of brown). All men need two pairs of dress shoes: one brown and one black pair. Although you can experiment with other colors and styles of dress shoes, these two classic pairs will match with every outfit you can create.
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It may seem like a lot to process for a beginner, but with a little practice, any man can look like a million bucks in a bespoke suit. When you begin to feel overwhelmed, go back to the basics and avoid taking risks. Once you’ve mastered the basics, expand and experiment with a limitless number of combinations of texture, color, patterns, and fabric.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it!
If you would like an even more in-depth understanding of bespoke suits, please feel free to check out our E-Book: How To Create The Perfect Bespoke Suit!