Clothing trends have never been more casual, but there’s still a place in every modern man’s wardrobe for a suit.
Your job may not require you to wear one. And you may mix in social circles where streetwear is king – but, whether for a wedding, job interview or formal party, most men have a need to slip on some tailoring at least once or twice in a year.
However, given the broad selection on offer from various brands, at a vast array of price points, investing in a new suit can seem like an intimidating prospect.
With this in mind, we consulted the experts for advice on what you can (and should) get for your money, whether you’re spending a week’s wages or a month’s rent.
Just as an expensive suit doesn’t necessarily mean a good suit, an inexpensive one doesn’t always mean a bad one. But, when shopping at entry level, it’s important to manage expectations and know what to look for in order to get the best suit for your (admittedly small) stack.
More often than not the fabric is one of the key elements affecting a suit’s price. “Generally, at under £100, you will get a variety of cheaper fabrics, such as 100 per cent polyester,” says Nick Tahir, head of buying at River Island. “A poly-viscose mix is one of the better man-made materials [because it’s more breathble].”
Charlie Casely-Hayford, co-founder of fashion label Casely-Hayford and who has also designed suits for Topman, points out that the construction of a more affordable suit will also differ to more expensive options. “Everything you get under £100 will be fused, which means it is glued [rather than sewn] together. The upside is the price,” he says.
“The suit will deteriorate after a while, and you also get ‘bubbling’ from the heat of laundering. But if you’re looking for a first-time suit, whether you’re leaving school or it’s your first job, [the high street] does very good £100 versions.”
As well as how it feels and how it’s made, how a suit fits is also affected by the amount handed over at the till. These days, high-street stores offer a range of cuts, from spray-on skinny to relaxed, all of which will be based on the average age and style of its customer.
“[With suits under £100], everything’s quite cropped and close,” says Casely-Hayford. “You have to have a particular physique for it to look good. But if you do, it’s one of the best suits you can get around that price point.” Tahir agrees that the fit is generally slimmer at this bracket. “[Many brands use] a stretch fabric, which gives added comfort, especially when catering to a customer shopping for skinny and super-skinny fits.”
Increasing your budget by the cost of a night out may not seem like much, but it can yield significant benefits when it comes to the suit you purchase (and save you a hangover in the process).
Patrick Grant – the esteemed British designer who makes suits for his Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons, fashion brand E. Tautz, and Hammond & Co. at Debenhams – points out that moving up a price bracket immediately gives you access to better fabrics including wool, which is prized for its warmth and resilience. “For suits [around the £150 mark] you’re often getting a wool-poly mix,” he says.
And you can get a slightly more mature cut that’s more tailored than trend-led, making it ideal for a range of events and occasions. “At Hammond & Co we have two different cuts: we have a classic Savile Row-proportioned suit, and then we have a second, slightly shorter cut.”
River Island’s Tahir agrees that it’s a case of more moolah, more wool-ah, but also cites improvements in the construction of the jacket. “As well as a finer count, which gives a better ‘handle’ or touch, you’ll also start to find details such as checks, or [textured] fabrics, better lining quality and even button details at the sleeve guard.”
This is largely down to the fact a higher price point allows the brand to use better mills in manufacturing hotspots like China, India and even Italy, many of which have experience producing for premium high-street and even high-end names.
Whether you work in a slightly more formal office or you’re a serial wedding crasher, if you plan to wear a suit on the regular, it pays to invest a little more.
Maxing out at half a month’s rent may not buy you Savile Row, but it certainly buys you traditional elements found on the golden mile, according to Casely-Hayford.
“More in terms of the aesthetics than the construction,” he explains. “If you take the collar up on a decent suit you’ll usually have what’s called a turn back collar. It’s a little bit of cloth which was used to change the angle of the notch on the lapel. It’s obsolete, but it’s considered a sign of quality that you don’t get on high-street suits.”
According to Grant, there are several other signifiers to look out for that, if found, can elevate a premium suit to belie its relatively modest price tag. “For [around £250] you can get a beautifully cut suit which has all the classic hallmarks of a Savile Row suit – the length, the proportions of the lapel and the position of the buttons.”
As well as a more sophisticated cut that will outlast trend-led designs, Tahir mentions that the quality of the cloths used continues to climb. “When you move up to £200-£500, that increased investment will be reflected in the fabric, with things like Italian wool. The other aspect that changes is where you have it made, whether it’s Italian-made or something from closer to home.”
We know, we know: £1,000 is more than most guys spend on a two-week summer holiday to Antigua (all booze included), so why would you part with that much for a suit?
Well, for starters your wardrobe investment will last far longer than any tan, mainly because it’ll share some details more often associated with made-to-measure and bespoke suits.
“You’ll be introduced to things like a rope shoulder, for example,” says Casley-Hayford, referring to a technique used in handmade suits to make the shoulders appear broader. “You might also see a ticket pocket. Top of the game suits from Tom Ford and Brioni, which cost over £3,500, have these elements.”
Though the cut favoured by different labels and tailors will be more distinct at this price than on the high street; as a rule of thumb, Grant believes most lean toward a classic, straight-cut suit. “The jacket is softer on the shoulder, the button position is lower, and they’re squarer on the front. The trousers are also cut a little higher and fuller in the leg, but are tapered, and they’re typically pleated.”
The incremental increase in fabric quality also takes another leap. “At just below £1,000, everything is going to be 100 per cent wool. Or you may get a bit of silk in there,” says Casely-Hayford. “The fabrics for a £250 suit might be about £40 a metre at retail. Whereas the starting point for a suit that’s just under £1,000 is £100 a metre at retail,” adds Grant. Antigua can wait.
Most everyday guys can’t imagine spending more than £1,000 on anything other than perhaps an apartment deposit. But shell out for a suit with this price tag, and there’s a high chance it’ll occupy prime real estate in your wardrobe for decades to come.
“You’re getting the best quality cloth with all the traditional details and trimmings you’d expect from a Savile Row brand,” says Casely-Hayford. “The half canvas [rather than fused] construction is going to mould to your body over time, it’s going to be a lot longer lasting, and you’re usually getting a better product in terms of craftsmanship [because] it may not be fully machine-made.”
It goes without saying that you can expect top-notch tailoring straight off the peg at this price, but opting for a semi-bespoke service is an excellent way to ensure that second-skin-like fit.
“With made-to-measure you are getting something that is made to the right size in a cloth of your choice,” says Grant, who offers this service from £1,450 (made-to-measure at Casely-Hayford starts from £1,200). “When you move from your £1,000 ready-to-wear to the £1,500 made-to-measure, you’re getting pretty much the same construction and cloth. What you’re paying for is the additional cost of making it to your size,” adds Grant. That, and the kudos that comes when you drop that intel into conversation. Casually, of course.