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The complete guide to suits and jackets

Thanks to great variation in designs and styles, both jackets and suits are wearable in a vast number of contexts. They’re among the most fun garments to experiment with, and they raise wearers, which is the basic idea. This guide introduces you to the world of suiting and comprehensively covers all you need to know to buy the right suit and jacket. Welcome to the complete guide to man’s most timeless garments.

By Johan Hedelund | Guider | 2016-12-19

Wearing a suit is mainly about confidence. A great fit and a good deal of confidence, along with the posture that comes with it, connect the wearer and garment so they both come to their own. Subsequently, confident men are usually comfortable wearing suits and blazers. They don’t mind dressing up but are rather glad to make an elegant impression.  Meanwhile, for those who shy away or feel uncomfortable, it’s usually a question of determination and finding the right garment. The right jacket or suit helps you define and accentuate your personal style and expression. They make you feel well-dressed, not dressed as something you’re not. Many even claim that the suit makes the man, but above all, the man needs to wear the suit confidently. Being able to dress neatly is a natural part of being a man. Just like a driver’s license – you can probably manage without it, especially in the city and if you’re well-connected, but when you need to buy a refrigerator or go on a road trip with your friends, you’ll wish you had one if you don’t already. Eventually, you will be going to a wedding, a baptism, someone’s graduation, funeral or a better party. Having read this guide, you won’t have to stand idly asking for help getting dressed.

”Patterns must match perfectly around seams and pockets.  There are no excuses for stripes or squares being off whether they are matched by a tailor or in a computer.”


How detailed the information depends on what guide you read, but whatever the fashion police say, the world of suits is open to all. Besides, suiting has gotten more casual and relaxed lately with much greater versatility. Today, anyone can find the perfect blazer. In the beginning, however, it was a work jacket for sailors. During the 1800’s, it became an everyday sports-and-leisure jacket, and when the suit came in the 1870’s, the suit jacket finally gained access to finer parlors.
The purpose of this tutorial is to explain the features, materials and designs you need to know in order to choose a suit that suits you.  Therefore, we won’t write about Barchetta breast pockets or the shirring in Neapolitan shoulders – others do that splendidly – the idea here is to come in handy when you buy a whole suit or a suit jacket. Starting off with the jacket, there are a few quality marks that are good to know.


•    Interfacing is a thin layer of linen or canvas in between the fabric and lining of a jacket. Half and full canvas suits evenly distribute tension, allowing the suit fabric to drape properly and mold to your body with time. Fused suits have glued interlining and are cheaper, but get stiffer and might eventually bubble as the fusing detaches.

•    Seam allowance is the fabric that extends beyond the seam when the garment is sewn. With the seam closer to the edge, the seam allowance decreases as the garment size increases. Therefore, both suit pants and jackets need proper seam allowance for a tailor to be able to accommodate for you putting on weight.

•    Functional cuff buttons or ‘surgeon cuffs’ are an important feature to many but overrated according to some. While once indicating a bespoke jacket, today they rather indicate working buttonholes. Some cuff buttonholes are simply decorative and covered by the sleeve lining. If you go for fully stitched ones that aren’t cut open yet, you can alter the sleeve length and still open them later.

•    Patterns must match perfectly around seams and pockets.  There are no excuses for stripes or squares being off whether they are matched by a tailor or in a computer.

Buttoning

Button choices affect fit and appearance. The more buttons, the higher the button stance and the more buttoned-up the impression. A too low closure on the other hand might seem a bit draggy. You optimize the fit of the jacket by making sure the buttoned button levels with your waist. Choose a high button stance if you have a high waist. Lately, as jackets gradually have gotten shorter, button stances have gotten higher.


Single- or double-breasted indicates if a jacket has one or two button rows. Single breasted jackets can have one, two or three buttons (even though Willem Dafoe had four in The Boondock Saints in ’99). The more formal, double-breasted jacket has two rows with two or three buttons each, and the top two out of a total six being decorative. Double-breasted jackets generally look a bit wider than single-breasted.

”Rules are you should also unbutton your single-breasted jacket when you sit down – or dance – unless you have a very good reason not to.”


Never button the last button, on any suit jacket or blazer. Jackets are actually designed and cut to account for the last button being unbuttoned, making them very uptight-looking otherwise. Rules are you should also unbutton your single-breasted jacket when you sit down - or dance – unless you have a very good reason not to. The double-breasted jacket however, should remain buttoned at all times. The importance of following the rules depends on the formality of the occasion, but knowing them is essential. On a 3-buttoned jacket, the top button should be left unbuttoned if it’s a 3-roll-2 with rolled lapels.

Lapels

Jackets usually have either notch, peak, rolled or shawl lapels. The difference between notched and peaked is seen at the gorge line where the lapel meets the collar. Notched are the most common and least formal. Peaked are customary on double-breasted jackets but quite rare on single-breasted, and shawl lapels (since they resemble a shawl) are seen exclusively on tuxedo jackets. Rolled lapels are rounded and have the top button rolled in, making the characteristic, 3-buttoned 3-roll-2 jacket look 2-buttoned. However, rolled lapels give any jacket or coat a more elegant appearance than distinctively pressed folds do.
Lapels also affect the impression of the jacket. Really wide ones make you look 70’s style. The lapel width should match the width of your necktie. Recently, really slim lapels and ties have been in style and slim and long lapels make you too look slimmer and taller too, whereas shorter and wider lapels create the opposite impression. Similarly, gorge lines have moved higher up the shoulder to accommodate for higher button stances.

Pockets

Pockets also have a great impact on a jacket’s style and can be fun to experiment with. The classic and most common choice for suit jackets are two side flap pockets and one breast pocket. Some people like a smaller ticket pocket over their right side pocket, a classic British feature. Flapless pockets are more formal, called jetted or welted, and mostly seen on tuxedos. Patch pockets, the least formal, give a casual appearance and are often combined with a regular breast pocket. However, a patch breast pocket gets a really nice shape from a tucked-in pocket square while the jacket stays close to your chest.


Normally, pockets are sewn shut on new jackets. Leave them closed and never use them and the jacket will keep its shape better. You need to open your breast pocket to get your hanky in though. Like button stances, pockets have moved up as jackets have gotten shorter and as with lapels, pocket flaps have gotten narrower.

Vents

The backs of jackets are usually split by vents, originally to accommodate for horsebacks. They still provide a better shape, especially when you are seated. Coats have vents too, as do skirts, occasional shorts legs and so on. Traditionally, English blazers are double vented meaning they have side vents, and single or center vents are more common for Italian blazers, whereas American blazers have no vents at all.
Vents on new jackets are often sewn together. You must open them and remove the thread before wearing the blazer, or you’ll look like you just came from the fitting room. Discreetly reminding someone who forgot theirs is in other words a good deed.

Fit

After all, the fit is by far the most important thing. Many people find it a bit intimidating because of trends, age spans, official or self-proclaimed experts, rules and brands, but the fastest and easiest solution is to simply find a retailer with contemporary and well-fitting suits for you to choose from.
Shoulders and chest are crucial. The back, waist, arms and length can be altered, but the shoulders and chest make up the foundation. The jacket shoulder must end where your shoulder ends or you’ll look too small for the jacket. If your upper arm extends from under the jacket shoulder, your jacket will look too small. Also, make sure the lapels lay flat against your chest, even when you move around. Try it on with a sweater underneath too if you intend to wear one. Shoulder pads are fine as long as they don’t give you 80’s shoulders. If you have narrow shoulders, feel free to wear some padding. The term ‘unconstructed’ is not sacred. In fact, a suit jacket is supposed to even out and compensate for the less flattering features of the wearer. Try to go for find a personal fit that suits your needs rather than lavishly following every trend.

Fabrics

Suits and jackets come in many different fabrics in different variations and are suitable for various circumstances. Light linen jackets are perfect for summer whereas heavier wool fabrics are great under your winter coat. Some people argue that suit fabrics shouldn’t be mixed, especially with synthetics such as polyester and elastane, but such blends often make garments better-looking as well as more pliable and more easily maintained. A hint of elastane in a pair of narrow suit pants can perform miracles when you get on your bike.


Wool
The versatile wool fabric forms the foundation of most suits. Depending on how many times the fiber is twisted, wool can be woven extra heavy or extremely light. Sturdier wool has been twisted fewer times and is warmer and more durable. Tweed is a kind of rustic wool, often found in warmer jackets in earthy colors. Fine wool is more sensitive and feels smoother and more luxurious. It’s also breathable making it feel quite cool in the summer. Wool suits can come in virtually any color.

Cotton
Heavier cotton is found in both jackets and suits and works excellent in the spring and summertime. However, it is usually denser than really fine wool and thus can feel a bit warmer. Due to a more casual appearance, cotton suits are typically easier than more formal wool suits to split up and pair with other garments. Cotton suits come in many and often expressive colors.

Linen
The beautifully sparse, crisp and high-class-yet-casual and slightly irregular linen fabric is cool and perfect for summer suits. Some people argue the linen suit is unbefitting formal occasions due to its easy wrinkling, but pressed and well-dressed, the linen suit is as good as any other.


Flannel
When brushed with a fine metal brush, wool blends become roughened and fuzzy giving them a wonderfully matte surface and sophisticated appearance. Just like the parts from cotton suits, flannel suits can easily be split up and paired with other garments.  Flannel typically tends to come in shades of gray or brown, and when it starts to get a bit worn you can brush it again to regain its surface.


Jersey
Thanks to the jersey jacket, no one can say blazers are too dressy. Jersey is most common in sweaters making the jersey blazer seem like a mix between a blazer and a sweater. While often rejected by puritans, jersey suits are loved by many elegant casual wearers. Some think they have an upper age limit, but they can be truly attractive when you’re off work.


Other garments you may encounter are silk woven in to add luster, just like mohair from the Angora goat. Cashmere provides a very soft feel that is great for informal blazers but a tad too delicate for pants. Also, raw denims like the ones in chambray-like shirts can actually work great in summer suits.

Patterns

Solid suits make up for a good start. Most people would rightly agree that navy and charcoal are more versatile than black. For weddings, baptisms, graduations and most work days, black is a bit unsuited. On nights out on the other hand, black will work just as well if not better. And then there are a number of patterns to choose from. Naturally, pattern-matched blazers and pants strengthen the coherent and unified impression of a suit. Some classic as well as some flamboyant patterns are good to know.
Pinstripes are thin vertical stripes that make up for a classic business pattern and make you look taller. Glen check, Prince of Whales and Tartan are traditional check patterns. Also, Windowpane consists of panes out of what resembles pinstripes but can come in many colors. Herringbone and Houndstooth are traditional woven patterns, often found in rustic pieces.

Suit trousers

Suit jackets and trousers have to be made for each other so that their color, texture and luster match. Even if a pair of trousers look like they will go together with a jacket, they might still reflect light completely different when you step outside. Unless you’re sure, choose contrasting pants instead. Jeans, especially raw, black or blue, will do unless there is a more formal dress code. If a blazer comes with pants it should show. They often hang on the same hanger.


Nowadays, contemporary designers usually make pants with a nice and narrow fit. You just have to decide on length. Classic dress pant legs should end at the sole of your shoe, though nowadays, many prefer a shorter leg to achieve a slimmer silhouette without the pucker. If you ask your tailor to shorten your pants, tell him not to cut off too much in case you change your mind. Center creases are mandatory on dress pants. Pleats – the small creases at the waist in the front – are optional. Flat-fronts are more contemporary. Cuffs are optional too. Some say a mark of quality while others call them clumsy.

Accessories

Ties and bow ties are classic accessories that make you look more elegant and formal. Self-tied bow ties will always add flair and personality to your look. Basically, the knot is the same as the one you tie your shoes with. Just beware of colors and patterns that are too out of control for the occasion. Otherwise, you risk looking exaggerated.

”Keep them separated in the same way you separate the scent of your cologne and your toilet cleaner.”

A handkerchief can effectively defuse a blazer. You don’t have to wear it folded formally, firmly and neatly. Instead you can wear it casually puffed into your breast pocket. Let it complement the colors in your shirt but also your tie or bow tie, your jacket and the rest of your outfit. Your hanky and tie shouldn’t have the exact same pattern and colors though. If nothing else, it looks too ready-made. Also, ties were originally elegant symbols of affiliation between Croatian soldiers and later adopted by the English upper class since King Louis XIV of France started wearing them, whereas the hanky was just for blowing your nose. Keep them separated in the same way you separate the scent of your cologne and your toilet cleaner.

Iconic suit wearers

Through the years, a few men have made their mark by wearing suits exceptionally well. Even if you’re not looking to adapt a certain style, their sheer spark can be most inspiring making them well worth checking out. Especially the ones bold enough to experiment with personal style outside of their comfort zones. The world consists of pioneers and followers. Pioneers are always the most interesting.


L’Avvocato, Gianni Agnelli, one of Italy’s most well-dressed men, introduced the term Sprezzatura, or sprez – to deliberately do something perfectly imperfect. He broke one style rule at a time until he had his own unique style. Gianni was the grandfather of Lapo Elkann, the New York-Italian entrepreneur and true style icon who can play down a double-breasted suit like no one else. Elkann makes extremely well-dressed formal wear feel swimmingly casual. He dresses according to his mood, wearing bright yellow like others wear navy, and he often questions why women should dress sexy and not men.


Fred Astaire also wore very elegant suits comfortably and with ease. Some of England’s finest tailors made his well-fitting suits, still referred to by sartorialists talking about the great fit and freedom of movement that high-cut armholes provide. The Great Gatsby – with Robert Redford (1974) and Leonardo DiCaprio (2013) – reflects the suiting of its time. Both versions elegantly recreates the 20’s although very differently. James Bond too deserves an honorable mention. High-end suiting has always helped build his character, either through Daniel Craig in classy pinstripes, George Lazenby in a creamy linen suit and purple shirt or Sean Connery in bespoke suits from the venerable Savile Row. Additionally, these films have demonstrated the past half-century’s tuxedo styles as well if you’re interested.


The duke of Windsor is also seen as major style icon. He became famous in 1936 as abdicating king and controversial dandy. After 326 days as King Edward VIII of Great Britain, he wanted to marry American Wallis Simpson. As a divorcee, she couldn’t marry the king who then abdicated for love and became a duke instead. His stylistic super power was meticulous attention to detail and his comfortably well-dressed style “Dress soft”. Thanks to bespoke features such as elasticized girdles and elongating high-set waists, he seemed a lot taller than his 165 centimeters. With groundbreaking fabric choices and pattern matching, he would always outshine his bland, dull and still royal relatives at various events.


Swedish King Carl XIV Gustaf is an exemplary wearer of suits as well. As admiral in the Swedish navy, he sometimes wears a dress uniform too. The formal and royal nature of his office makes it difficult for him to wear anything but blue, gray or black, though the King sometimes improvises. If we’re lucky, we might see him in other colors and patterns and occasionally out hunting in more earthy attire. Also, John F Kennedy deserves a mentioning as a forefather of the preppy style. Attending both Princeton and Harvard, he had a fondness for sober garments such as single-breasted jackets with soft shoulders. Nowadays, few icons manage to carry the torch their predecessors left behind. David Beckham seems to win most ‘best-dressed polls’ and George Clooney, Ryan Gosling and not the least Chuck Bass induce some hope of an elegant future.


Altogether, it is probably the countless number of characteristics and the way wearing a suit always stays in style that make up for the best part about suiting. The feeling you get from wearing a great-fitting suit remains unparalleled and unless you’ve found your way into the world of suiting yet, it’s high time. A few end notes would be to keep a relaxed approach and not to take it too seriously. As long as you commit whenever wearing a tie, wholeheartedly, as in everything you do.