At a party last week a nice young man asked me what my top five tips would be for wearing suits. It sounded like a nice practical question, so here we go:


1. Have a ready-to-wear suit altered
Most men that buy suits don’t have them altered, but for £50-£100 you can make the suit look twice as good and twice as expensive. Always put that money aside in your budget when buying ready-to-wear. Make sure the neck and shoulders fit well when you try it on; don’t worry about the waist (trousers or jacket) or length of sleeves or legs. Then get all those points altered – and make sure it’s done by someone good, preferably a tailor, so the waist adjustment is worked effectively into the chest and skirt.

2. Button your jacket
There’s no point having a suit that fits if you don’t button it up. When you’re standing, it should be buttoned. Always the waist button (top on a two-button suit, middle on a three-button), never the bottom button and only the top if it’s a three-button suit with no roll. As the folks at Wilkes Bashford put it to me yesterday: remember ‘sometimes, always, never’ when looking down a three-button jacket.

3. Made to measure and bespoke is worth the money
In the UK you may find that a ready-to-wear suit costs around £400, made to measure is £600 and bespoke over £1000. Each one is worth that money in terms of how it will fit, aside from questions of quality or longevity. Some body shapes get more out of MTM or bespoke, given their lack of average proportions, but I maintain that it is worth the money for anyone. Spend your money on these levels of fit rather than on bigger labels or more expensive cloths: a bigger Super 100s number just means it’s thinner.

4. Spend money on shoes
Whenever you see someone in a nice suit, the next thing you do is look down. And their shoes nearly always disappoint. Too many sharp suits are worn with sharp (read pointy) shoes. This is largely because cheap oxfords and derbys put men off and they don’t think it’s worth spending hundreds of pounds on shoes. It is. Spend at least half the money you’re spending on your suit on a good pair of shoes. A bespoke suit deserves Edward Green, not Barker.

5. Have some colour, somewhere
If you don’t like ties, that’s fine. But for god’s sake find a way to wear some colour somewhere else. A pocket handkerchief, a cardigan, anything. There’s nothing more depressing that seeing a group of young men outside a pub where everyone is wearing a dark suit, a blue shirt and plain shoes. You all look the same and you all look dull. Find another way to introduce colour or, reconsider the tie. There are few enough excuses for a man to wear coloured silk around his neck without fear of ostracism. Take advantage of it.
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Bob

I followed this advice to some extent. I struggle as I’m below a 36 chest and narrow at the waist. So I got a 36 inch chest suit from Hugo Boss, nice fabric (glen check), went to a tailor, the only one in my own town, and got it adjusted. This involved taking off the collar and taking the back in to bring the shoulders together, he said this would naturally shorten the sleeves. He also did a similar operation on the trousers.

The result was mixed to say the least, the suit now hangs oddly due to the back fabric being taken out at the top but not at the bottom where the flap between the sidevents is. The trousers have an odd overhang at around knee height making them billow out at the side. It’s a two button jacket but (due to the odd hang) if I fasten only the top button the jacket falls too far open at the bottom. The arms are still too long. He did nothing with the waist which is still very much wider than my body.

That cost me £330 for the suit, £125 for the ‘adjustment’. I spent £120 on some Barkers which I now learn aren’t up to much. All for an interview which turned out to be via telephone. Needless to say my first experience with tailoring has left me feeling a trifle bitter.

Daniel

Simon,

A great post, and a format worth repeating.

I’m always pleased when you mention the importance of good shoes, but wonder why you single out Barker as an inferior brand? To my knowledge, they are all made in Earls Barton (near N’pton), using traditional techniques. They do admittedly make a few more ‘budget’ models (in the £150 region, which tend to have a lower quality upper), but their higher-end styles (£200+) represent very good value for money, particularly when set against the RRP of better-known brands (Church’s, Tricker’s etc.).

The only other thing that sprang to mind was that Barker do occasionally lean towards style over fashion: I’d have to confess I’ve never been tempted by their trendier offerings. Barker Black would be the exception, if they weren’t so absurdly overpriced and “over there” (only available in US). Fortunately, there’s been some crossover in the use of the lasts.

I have no experience of Edward Green shoes, so they may well be superior to Barker (your posts on the renovation of your Oundles were certainly impressive). But I’d say that there was far less difference between EG and Barker than between Barker and Loakes.

Great, great blog. Keep it going!

Daniel V.

Anonymous

just like to say you’re journal is great and correct in all matters sartorial! (especially in terms of people buttoning every button and those bizarrely widespread pointy shoes). but what is wrong with Barker? i had always seen it as a reputable shoe maker? matthew s

Anonymous

Pardon the ignorance. What is the difference between a made-to-measure and a bespoke suit?

Anonymous

I think tie is abolutely obligatory. And if you don’t look good in a beard, make sure to shave properly. Otherwise you may end up looking like Tom Ford.

Anonymous

I always check the backside of the lapels in order to decide whether it has a canvas that is sewn on the front fabric. Look for the small dots.

Anonymous

Absolute genius, Mr C: The Guru of The Last and Shears and for all that you have done for The Row, you deserve a special award at next year’s Golden Shears! Keep up the Great work!
JvB

Anonymous

Suit without tie = ugh! The very idea of it I find repulsive.

Anonymous

Great post, Simon.
What is your take on the DB suit? (or jacket)
How does one differentiate in terminology between a 6-button that buttons at the bottom button, vs one that buttons at centre?
A few guidelines please re: buttoning/unbuttoning a DB jacket when seated. What about all the options, shirts, neckwear, jumper (sweater), turtleneck, etc.
I mentioned the turtleneck, because the image of Ralph Lauren in a P of W check is one of my great favourites.
This is sounding more and more like I’m asking you to write a post re: DB suits, jackets, blazers, and all their permutations. Please. Thanks!

Anonymous

follow-up:
“Suit without a tie = ugh!” vs Ralph in his t-neck.
It really is time for Permanent Style to weigh in!
(I find 4-button DB jackets inherently tacky… Your observations?)

mrtwice

Very good advice. Thanks for the first on the list. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has not been fascinated by Barkers.

Anonymous

We need more Simon Cromptons to go around, dispensing invaluable advice. What we have today are those who rubbished themselves as fashionistas without an iota of clue as to what men actually will/ought to wear. Great,great blog.Keep up the good work!

Anonymous

Simon, How does one get a collar with good stand? Is it a product of the shirt itself or using some starch during the ironing process?

George

I do find it slightly odd that you criticise those who wear blue shirts with their dark suit without a tie when you confess in your next post that 90% of your shirts are blue and in other posts mention that you often do not wear a tie….

That being said, I do love this blog, though agree with others that singling out Barkers when most men walk round in Clarks, a little unfair.

The Shoe Snob

Simon, Great Post!! I couldn’t agree more.

-Justin

Dave

I’ve been reading these posts for about 5 months now, and they are all very interesting. However, this is one of the better ones. I always buy Ready To Wear, or as we say in Canada Off the Rack (OTR). I have always had great luck with this, but I have to say that it took three tries to find a seamstress that knew her business and made the suit look and hang the way I wanted. @Bob, don’t let one experience turn you off!

Mme Shoe

Simon, as always great advice.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I would have to disagree on the shoes though. A good bespoke suit deserves handsewn bespoke shoes not r2w.

Why stop the good fit/craftsmanship at the feet? You spend more time on and in them then anything else… other than bed perhaps?

My advice is always to buy the very best shoes that you can afford. So go for handsewn bespoke shoes and a made-to-measure suit rather than a bespoke suit and cheaper shoes.

Edward Green for ready to wear definitely or Trickers for the heavier, all-English look.

Jake

Knot- Windsor, or double Windsor, or something else?

Toby

Hi, really enjoy the blog. Just wanted to ask:

What is your opinion on 3-piece suits? Do you think a navy or a dark grey suit is better?

Jack G

Hi Simon,

I realise that this is an old post, but I’ve just found your site today and I’m working my way through a lot of it!
Please could you just briefly explain the rule for never fastening the bottom button on a suit? I have heard it before, but never understood it.

Thanks
Jack