Buying a suit off the peg shouldn’t bring your style down a peg or two. Shop wisely, and you can pick up Savile Row quality for a stitch of the normal price.
Recognising said quality, however, is more difficult on the high street. Which is why we enlisted some expert help to spot the little-known features that make for a money-looking suit.
“Fabric is arguably the most important element of a quality suit, and it should be breathable, soft and strong,” says Rob Williams, director of clothing manufacturer Hawthorn, which makes suits for some of the biggest high street names. “Avoid man-made fibres like polyester – they may look passable to begin with, but since they retain heat, the suit is prone to wrinkles throughout the day.
“Instead, opt for wool fabrics that use a ‘Super’ or ‘S’ scale to define the composition. This refers to the amount of times the yarn is spun during manufacture, so the higher the number, the finer and lighter the fabric may be.”
“High-quality stitching is easy to spot since it will be clean and strong – something that adds shelf life to a suit,” says Williams. “Look for consistency within the stitching, as lower quality suits usually boast irregular patterns or a lack of pick stitching.”
For the uninitiated, pick stitching refers to the fine stitches you’ll find around the edge of the lapel or breast pocket. “Although it serves no functional purpose, it’s an extra process that suggests greater care.”
“Opt for buttons made from a quality material, like horn or corozo buttons,” says British tailor Richard Thompson. “Plastic can look cheaper, and thus makes a suit look the same – bespoke and premium suits rarely boast shiny buttons.” It’s not the mid-noughties and you’re not in the Libertines.
“The canvas of a suit refers to the construction of the blazer, and there are three main types: canvassed, half canvassed and fused,” says Williams. “I’d recommend opting for the first two, in which a layer of horsehair – the traditional choice for such a process – is inserted between the suit fabric and the lining. A fully canvassed suit boasts a full layer of reinforced cotton along the entire front of the jacket, whereas a half canvassed suit will line just the lapels and chest.
“This particular fabric is advantageous as it holds the shape of the suit, but actually moulds to the body over time.”
“Most – if not all – suits have buttons on the cuffs, but fully-functional buttons are a sign of a quality,” says Williams. “Working buttons mean extra effort has been taken at the construction stage, and is therefore a tell-tale sign of craftsmanship.”
“Silk is the most commonly used natural material in suit lining, and is a great indicator that corners haven’t been cut in the manufacture,” says Williams. “If another fabric is used however, there are still ways to check quality.
“First and foremost, check the lining lays flat. Poor stitching ensures bulges and ripples that make for a sub-par suit, and stitching to the edges should be checked for consistency. If you commit to a suit regardless of this, expect the lining to strip away over time due to poor construction.”
“A well-fitted suit should allow free movement,” says Ian Gardiner, chief executive of designer retailer Pritchards. “Look for a blazer with a chest front shaped through the waist – this’ll grant a masculine shape, and will move with your body allowing for a better fit.”
If you don’t have that off the peg, it may warrant a visit to your local tailor. Since Gardiner argues that a blazer should fit as opposed to hang, a minor alteration will result in a more flattering shape (and won’t cost the world, either).