Below is a list of areas you should consider, and my recommendations on each:
Colour: The two most useful and fundamental suit colours are navy blue and mid-grey. They go with the greatest number of shirts and ties, can be anything from casual to wedding attire, and suit most colourings. If you want variation, one of these could be in a pinstripe. Make sure the stripe is not too bold or too close together. Avoid checks, at least to start with.
Cloth: Both should be wool. Cotton and linen are summer extras, and there is no need for cashmere or silk blends. The average weight of wool used in suits is nine to eleven ounces. For you (Pete clarified that he would like one suit that would be comfortable even in a Hong Kong summer, and another that would survive an English winter) I would recommend one lighter weight – perhaps seven or eight ounces if you can find it – and one heavier – more like twelve to fifteen. Flannel is a nice alternative, but would be too heavy for most of the year in Hong Kong. (The vast majority of wool suitings are worsted, which is wool that has been combed and flattened to appear thinner and crisper. Flannel or woollen suitings are not combed and are thus rougher.)
Ignore the “super” wool numbers. This refers to the width of the wool’s individual strands – the higher the number, the thinner the strand. Thinner wool is more delicate and more expensive, but also less long lasting. Anything around super 100s or super 120s will be fine for you.
Buttoning: Two or three-buttoned jackets are most usual. Two is a little more fashionable and also suits more men, as it has a deeper neck line. Three, particularly with little ‘roll’ (how much the jacket opens when only the waist-button is fastened) can look boxy. If in doubt, try on both in a shop and see which you prefer.
Lapels: Go for notched lapels, which looks like a triangle has been cut out of each. Peaked lapels can look rakish, but are more an option for later on. Use your own eye on the width of the lapels. If they look too wide, ask for narrower ones (the tendency is towards wider lapels in Asia).
Trousers: Let them sit on your hips wherever they feel most comfortable to you. This will probably be a little higher than where you where jeans, but not as high as they were traditionally worn – on the natural waist, nearer your belly button.
Trousers tend to be wider in Asia than the west, so watch our for that and ask for them to be narrower. If you want a precise instruction on how wide they should be, measure your existing suit trousers (the width at the bottom, doubled for the circumference). The length is traditionally such that there is one break in the front of the trouser when wearing shoes, but none in the back. Or, when you stand in them without shoes, the back just touches the floor. I like mine a little shorter than this, but it only works with narrower trousers (which I also generally prefer).
It’s worth avoiding belt loops if you can, as this looks far smarter. If you lose or gain weight the trousers can always be taken in or out. If you want a compromise, ask for side tabs – small, adjustable straps on either side of the trousers that can cinch them in a little. The trousers should fasten on at least two points, whether buttons or hooks, preferably three. One should be at the end of a length of overlapping material.
The trousers should be plain fronted. Pleats only suit two types of people: those with expanded girths, and those who wear their trousers on their waist. Oh, and get two pairs of trousers to each suit. They will last twice as long.
Pockets: There should be three outer pockets on the jacket, two on the hips and one on the breast. The first two should have flaps, the third should not. Unless you want to be flashy, don’t go for a ticket pocket (small extra pocket above the right-hand waist pocket) or for sloping, ‘hacking’ pockets.
Trouser pockets should be cut as overlapping material rather than slits in the trousers, though they can be cut at an angle to avoid them gaping.
Sleeves: The sleeves should have four buttons each, that just touch each other and all undo – though only the show-off actually leaves them undone. When your hands are at your side, the sleeve should reach your wrist bone, where the hand joins the arm, and it should leave exposed a small sliver of shirt (under half an inch). Again, sleeves tend to be longer in Asia so you may have to insist on this.
Jacket others: Go for two vents at the back: this allows you to put your hands in your pockets without buckling the shape (no vents) or unveiling your arse (one vent).
The jacket’s length should be such that it covers your arse well, and your fingers extend a little beyond it when they are at your side.
The strength or padding of the shoulder depends on how broad and square you think your shoulders are – only ask for less padding or a natural shoulder if you think they need no help at all.
– Pete, if you have any other questions please ask them in the comments below and I will attempt to answer them. I will also do a separate blog in the near future that will give advice on what to look for when your suit is on, to tell if it fits.
I would like advice about buying my first made to measure suit, I live in the UK, Suffolk.
Bit nervous and would like to have a few clues about who to see and what bto look for.
Comment by Chris Gilgan — April 19, 2008 #
Excellent tips! And they cover almost everything you need to know, when buying a suit. Although I would appreciate more info on materials (and money to afford to go to a tailor 🙂
Comment by Vladimir Cupal — April 20, 2008 #
Great article Simon!
Comment by Roderick Mallia — April 20, 2008 #
Hi Chris – I’m afraid I’ve only ever had suits made by tailors in Hong Kong. I know of others to recommend in Bangkok and Shanghai, but none in the UK I’m afraid – all out of my price range!
Sorry I can’t be more help
Comment by Simon Crompton — April 20, 2008 #
Simon, I have to agree wholeheartedly with Roderick, this is an excellent article. I would like to add one thing that I am very particular about in tailoring as it regards pin stripe patterns. It is critical, at least to me, that the lines of a pin stripe (or any stripe for that matter) match up in the final tailoring. I have seen far too many tailored items, in fine fabrics, where the stripes do not line up, and in my view that completely ruins the end result. Regards, Nicola
Comment by Nicola Linza — April 22, 2008 #
I got measured last Saturday and have my first fitting tomorrow. I have more or less followed your advice so far, except that on the winter suit I decided to go with only one pair of trousers, as it was all getting a bit expensive. Maybe this was a false economy, but I don’t wear suits that often.
Also, both are pinstripe, because almost all the fabrics I was shown were pinstripe. I had a look at the non-pinstripe jackets on the rack in the shop and they all looked a bit blazer-like. The pinstripe on the blue suit is very light (I hope).
The thing I found most difficult was being shown dozens of tiny squares of fabric and trying to imagine what they would look like as entire suits. Not easy at all.
Thanks for clarifying on the lapels. I guessed there were different sorts, but had no idea what they were…
Truly a man after my own heart.
I’ve used a Bangkok tailor to clone a bespoke suit I had made in London some time ago. However, while they can be coaxed into getting the cut just right, the tailors i’ve used fell sadly short on the fabric front, as did all of their neighbours. Does your man in Bangkok carry tweeds and decent checks or would you suggest getting fabric here? If he does, a referral would be much appreciated as I’m heading over there again shortly.
Is he fairly resourceful? I train occasionally so have oddly shaped shoulders and have a hell of a time explaining that they have to rotate the sleeve in the shoulder socket to accomodate my deformities.
Also on exercise-related problems, G Star do a couple of great slim-fit jeans that accomodate ahem…fuller thighed men. Excellent dark blue denims for those that dont mind lower-waisted jeans.
Thanks for the recommendation on G-star jeans, I’ll give them a try.
The tailor I refer to is in Hong Kong, rather than Bangkok, but if you want his contact details please tell me and I’ll post them here.
He does have a good range of checks, and some very nice Zegna and Loro Piana wools. A colleague out there is having a suit made with him at the moment that is a lovely Zegna navy blue – it’s more like £300 but still a third of the retail price.
In Italy if you get to a small village they all have tailors who’ll do you one for around$400/500 dollars. Especially in the South
Little bit off topic, but also connected to tailors in Asia… I remember you have reviewed Indochino few months back and I would like to ask, if you had a chance to evaluate them again. I’m asking, because they seem to be expanding very quickly and they are providing some new services (customization etc.)
I have not had a chance to try them again, but I have to say I would not recommend them after my experience.
I own a lovely suit from Seize sur Vingt that cost me about $4000 and would like to have the suit “cloned” by a tailor in Shanghai or Hong Kong. I have three questions:
1) Would it be foolish to mail the suit to the tailor?
2) Would the tailor have to take the original suit apart in order to duplicate it?
3) Do you have any recommendations on specific tailors?
1 – It should be ok, but if it’s your favourite ever suit it’s a little risky. Use registered mail at the least.
2 – No, he would pretty much just be using the measurements. You’d have to tell him that it’s fully canvassed etc though if it is.
3 – I have used Edward Tam in Hong Kong (search the blog for his name). A solid Hong Kong tailor at around £300 for a suit. But not the ultimate. WW Chan is very good but a different league on price.
Thank you for these helpful insights, Simon. I have recently started wearing tailored clothing (not because my job requires it but from personal preference). In order to put together a wardrobe at limited cost I have picked up a few pre-owned suits (one a navy pinstripe, the other a taupe nailhead, both Corneliani for Ralph Lauren) which I propose to have altered by a tailor. These suits have a fairly classic cut, 3-button, double vented with double pleated trousers. I shall need to have trouser inseam lengthened again as I am quite tall. As I understand from your blog, I can ask a tailor to alter pretty much everything except the shoulders on a suit?
how bout black colour for the suit? wldnt that be more easy to match than navy blue or grey?
Sorry, and how bout slim-fit jackets? are they too informal for conferences and seminars?
Crane Brothers in New Zealand do bespoke suits for upwards of NZ$1200.00 in a wide range of nice fabrics.
I am planning a last minute trip to Thailand and am hoping to pick up a few essentials in Bangkok on arrival (linen trousers and shirts etc) for use on my travels. At most, alterations (e.g. shorten leg length) would have to be complete within 24-48hrs. Do you have any recommendations of where to go (or avoid)?
Best wishes and many thanks,
In Bankgkok? No I’m afraid not Andrew, I’ve never been there