PG essentials : Ground rules for choosing a suit

Hugo JACOMET

PG essentials : Ground rules for choosing a suit

As Parisian Gentleman now has almost 2,000 articles, we understand that newcomers may feel befuddled about how to navigate the site with ease, since the sheer number of articles is becoming a labyrinth of information on the subject of men’s style.

Aside from using the search bar which is fine-tuned to pull up most any subject in menswear–we’ve prepared this series as a gentle guide for those taking their first steps into the world of personal elegance.

To this end, today we begin a series of articles entitled “PG Essentials”, which caters to beginners, but which can also be useful to more seasoned sartorial-minded.

To begin choosing your next suit, determine whether you prefer:

Double breasted, single-breasted, or three-piece suit ?

Even if the classic two-piece, single breasted jacket has been ruling for the better part of the last two decades, since a few years, we are witnessing a bit of a stylistic renaissance in the world of refined men’s style.

The double-breasted suit is coming back stronger than ever, and many waistcoats are finding their way into many-a-man’s wardrobe.

In fact, the design possibilities have never been as large as they are today. This small revolution requires a more extensive knowledge of a few fundamental notions, if only to help you feel as though you’ve made the right suit choice.

The Double-Breasted Suit

For many, it is the quintessential elegant man’s suit : it has an undeniable aura, thanks to a striking visual appearance. The double-breasted suit is by nature, very structured and clear-cut.

Typically worn in its 6 on 2 version (that is, 6 buttons, two of which are active) or 6 on 1 (6 buttons with one active), the suit should always feature ample peak lapels.

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By essence, the double-breasted coat is more formal than the single-breasted coat. It should always be worn with buttons fastened, even when seated (except, of course, in some regions of Italy) – and never with a waistcoat.

A very elegant piece indeed, with a unique flavor. However, it is a piece that has to be chosen wisely, as each approximation will show itself more than with a single-breasted coat. Moreover, each morphological rule should be respected with scrupulous care.

If you are tall and slim, the double-breasted suit is an excellent choice : it puts a strong emphasis on the horizontal plane (thanks to the 6 button structure) and has the tendency of enlarging the shoulder line.

If you are short in stature or stout however, the double-breasted should be considered with care – the excess of fabric compared to the single-breasted, as well as the emphasis on the horizontal lines will tend to accentuate any excess of thickness.

A must-have piece nonetheless, but to be considered with care and education.

Read more on the DB subject here : Fear Not the Double-Breasted Suit

The Single-Breasted Suit

The most common style – however, the single-breasted suit truly has benefited from the great men’s style comeback of previous years. Peak lapels are becoming more common (whereas it used to be a ‘double-breasted specific trait’), and waistcoats, whether single or double-breasted, are also back in full force.

You can’t go wrong with a beautifully cut single-breasted coat. It has the advantage of lengthening the silhouette, all the while, narrowing the waistline. Stout people should be well-advised to choose a single-breasted suit that is particularly well-adjusted, for if chosen too large in size, a single-breasted suit can accentuate a strong body to a fault.

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Besides, a well-adjusted single-breasted suit will be especially comfortable and allow for great freedom of movement, as it able to move naturally with the body.

This suit is usually worn with two buttons in town and with one button for evening events. The three button variant can be worn by those with a disposition toward ‘a vintage look’, but has almost disappeared from the mainstream.

However, the 3 on 2 version (3 roll, 2 working buttons), where the first button is inserted in the lapel roll, is on the rise, especially among the Italian style lovers; it is said that when a button is inserted into a lapel roll, it can make for a nicer “roll” on the lapel because the tailor finds it easier to work with the material.

The single-breasted suit is also very versatile, as it can be worn open, which is ideal when indoors, or when it it is hot outside.

Read more on the Lapel Roll here : Signals of a Handmade Suit : The Lapel Roll

The Three-Piece Suit

While it used to be reserved for very formal occasions, since a while now, the waistcoat is well on its way to once again, become a staple of a men’s wardrobe.

The waistcoat should always be buttoned – except, in some cases, the last button – and worn under a single-breasted suit only.

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The waistcoat itself however, can be either single or double-breasted. Lapels on a waistcoat are optional, and can be of various styles – depending on the design of the suit.

  • With a single-breasted coat with notch lapels, the waistcoat (whether single or double-breasted) should be worn without lapels.
  • With a single-breasted jacket with peak lapels, the waistcoat should be chosen without lapels (if single-breasted) or with its peak lapels (if double-breasted).

Perfectly suited for shorter people, as the waistcoat covers any belts one may wear on the trousers, and extends the leg line substantially. This iconic piece of tailoring culture adds a little bit of emotion to any outfit.

Read more here : What’s Different in Menswear for 2017

The fabric

Understanding the properties of the various suit fabrics available can prove especially valuable when choosing a suit for the warm season.

So let’s go over some fabric fundamentals again, reviewing the main animal and vegetal fibers typically used :

  • Merino Wool : The Merino breed of sheep is a world champion in terms of wool production. Of Spanish descent, this breed is now globally present – though the bulk of this breed comes from Australia and New Zealand. As far as wool is concerned, Merino wool is very much a weaver’s favorite, and it is used in the world’s most luxurious wool fabric.
  • Mohair Wool : The mohair is a wool fabric made from the fleece of the Angora goat. Hailing from Asia Minor, it has the unique characteristic of being extremely thermally insulating yet still breathable, all the while remaining very light. A premier choice for summertime.
  • Cashmere : Cashmere fabric is made from the long wool of the Cashmere goat. Nothing short of a natural wonder indeed, of which Mongolia is the main producer. Mixed with a bit of wool, cashmere provides a light fabric, with a wonderfully fuzzy and silky touch. Cashmere is also famed for its insulating properties, as well as for looking quite naturally luxurious. It is mostly used as a cold season fabric.
  • Linen : Linen is a plant from the Linaceae family, cultivated mostly for its fibers. On the technical side, linen is quite remarkable : it can withstand large quantities of water as it is quite absorbent, and proves to be very resilient despite being very light. Compared to its animal counterparts, linen doesn’t suffer from the sun’s UV rays. It is one of summer’s chief fabrics.

Luxury wools are classified according to “super” standards ( i.e. Super 100s, Super 120s, Super 150s etc.)

These super numbers correspond to a complex nomenclature which includes the measuring of the fiber’s diameter, for example, 100s correspond to a fiber of µ18.75, 150s corresponds to a diameter of µ16.25 and so on and so forth).

The most precious and light of fabrics are often woven from very fine fibers, chosen for their lightness, their comfort, as well as for the way they feel to the touch. Yet, the diameter of a fiber may not account solely for a fabric’s finesse, since the type of weave and fabric type can also play a part.

Choosing a fabric should be an educated choice, not only taking into account one’s tastes, but also one’s lifestyle and environment.

Read more about the subject of suit fabrics in the three following articles :

Canvassing

Canvassing is the first telltale sign of the quality of a coat.

A “canvassed” suit means a layer of canvas cloth is inserted between the two layers of coat fabric.

Such a canvas (usually made of wool) is said to be a “floating canvas” which means that canvas fabric and is never glued  to the coat fabric.

This canvas insert is, in a way, the backbone of the suit, allowing it to breathe, while at the same time, gracefully hugging your overall body silhouette. On highly traditional pieces, an additional piece of canvas is added, also know as the “chest piece” which is made from a blend of wool, linen and horsehair to structure the front of the coat from chest to shoulders, very much like a plastron would.

To check whether a coat is canvassed or not, try to pinch the fabric from one side and then the other side near the first button of the coat, attempting to “separate” the two pieces of the fabric. If you feel a third layer of fabric between the two, then the jacket is canvassed. However if you can’t separate the two layers of fabric, then the jacket is “fused”, or glued.

Read more about canvassing in the two following articles :

The Drop

The drop is an important factor to look for when choosing a ready-to-wear suit.

The drop is a number, usually between 6 and 8, denoting the ratio between the chest size and the waist size. It is mostly used to choose the size of your trousers that corresponds with the size of your ready-to-wear coat. The higher the number, the snugger the fit of the jacket.

As a rule of thumb, if you are of a slim build, then you should veer towards a drop eight (8). Conversely, if you are of a stouter build, then go towards a drop six (6).

The Fitting

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When trying on a suit, be sure to fill your pockets with everything that you would usually carry in them : cellphones, cardholders, keys, wallet and so on. Lots of unseemly pleats can be avoided, if anticipated.

You would also be well-advised to try your suit on with a shirt and shoes of the style and dimensions of which you routinely wear. This will allow you to see in advance if any adjustments will have to be made in terms of length of the sleeves, height of the collar, and length and width of pants.

After putting on the trousers and coat, stand naturally in front of the mirror.

Be particularly wary of any fabric opening, or “gap” occurring between the nape of your shirt collar and the back of the suit collar (“collar gap”, is to be avoided at all cost) or conversely, that there aren’t any horizontal pleats at the base of the collar.

Your coat collar should allow about 1.5cm (~0.6″) of your shirt collar to show in back. If more fabric is showing, then the shirt collar may rub against your nape, while in turn, showing less shirt fabric will give the impression that your coat is slipping from your shoulders.

The coat should also be wide enough to allow fabric to “fall” gracefully in an uninterrupted line from the shoulders to the bottom of the sleeves.

The waist area of the coat should be slightly tight when buttoned, as to respect the natural shape of the body. You can tell if your coat is too tight if “X” shaped lines are forming on one side and the other of your active button.

If said lines are too pronounced,, then the waist should be loosened up a little. However, bear in mind that keeping a very slight “tension” on the active button level is de rigueur if you want to give your jacket a little extra bit of personality.

The ideal length of the coat is rather simple to determine : the jacket should cover your buttocks, but no further.

The flaps at the rear of the jacket should drape perfectly perpendicular to the ground, whatever their design.

The sleeves should also keep a neat line – ideally free of creases on the upper part of the arm. If your posture makes your arms push forward or backward, then the sleeves should be removed and rebuilt with an added rotation to accommodate your posture.

The coat sleeve should stop at the wrist bone. An aperture of around 15cm (~6″) in diameter is advised, as the sleeves should naturally surround your shirt sleeve.

It is important to keep in mind that your coat sleeve should make contact with your shirt sleeve. A gap too large between the two is particularly unseemly.

For further reading see Signals of a Good Handmade Suit : Zero Collar Gap.

Patterns and Motifs

The basic rule here is simple : stripes tend to lengthen the silhouette, while checks tend to make the silhouette bulkier. Stripes are well advised if you are of a stout frame, and checks are a good choice if you find yourself on the slim side.

Read more about how to mix patterns in the following article :

Colors

The most simple rule is : a dark colored suit for formal events (dark blue or black), a blue suit for work, and a grey suit for less formal occasions.

While this formula is not void of good common sense, you will want to refine the color formula to your own taste as you further your sartorial journey.

To be continued…