You'd probably rather weed the lawn, sit through your nephew's third-grade dance recital, or have your wisdom teeth extracted with and an X-Acto knife. But unless you've downloaded technology from a CD-Rom the rest of us missed, a new suit is not going to find its way into your closet unescorted. You'd love to send somebody else out to get it wouldn't you, the same way you acquire your underwear. (The fact that barely half your shorts fit correctly is merely a coincidence, huh?). Unfortunately, it's unequivocal. You have to go out and buy this garment yourself. So get moving. No whining that you don't know how. It's time you learned. There's a new world out there. You'd be surprised what can happen if you dress like you're part of it.
WHY TO BUY
Before you embark on your usual random mall meandering in search of the Holy Grail rendered in Harris Tweed, decide what you are buying a suit for. Knowing a suit's purpose in your wardrobe will narrow your purchasing field of vision. Who knows? You may even develop the ability to edit your wardrobe. (Rejection can be an invigorating experience, especially when your realize it's your herringbone jacket, and not you, that is the being scrutinized.)
Business? You're in luck, unless you don't like plentiful options paired with comforting familiarity.
Well-dressed night on the town? Go as high fashion as you can without feeling uncomfortable.
Once a year at weddings? Buy something versatile enough to wear again, even if you think you won't.
Want year-round usage? Wool crepe sheds wrinkles. It's cool enough for most summer days, but warm enough for an average winter. (Sorry, Fargo.)
Determined to look more together on vacation than your kids think possible? Now, we're talking an un-constructed jacket, or one with at least three buttons, perhaps a wider leg that looks great with a boot shoe. Other pant options include a leaner, uncuffed leg in a summer-weight fabric that complements a dress sandal.
WHAT FABRIC TO BUY
The more specific you can be about fabric, the better. This doesn't mean you have to know the ratio of wool to silk in a blend. Common knowledge and common sense will do. Traveling while on business? Then linen is out. Find low maintenance appealing? Then linen is out. Want your money's worth with a year-round garment? Then linen is out.
What you need to know:
Many wool blends unwrinkle quickly, wool crepe and wool/viscose blends are the quickest to do so as well as the most comfortable.
Cotton weighs almost nothing. But it has the least drape, and is the fastest to lose shape from excessive dry cleaning.
Corduroy jackets are great jackets for art directors and teachers, bad jackets for an interview. Corduroy pants make your butt look bigger, regardless of your job.
Polyester, born again as microfiber in forms as diverse as viscose, ramie, PVC (fake leather), is now pliable, resilient, occasionally luxurious, often sexy, and no longer the standard bearer of cheesiness.
Do not buy polyester solely to avoid wrinkles. Wrinkles, as that damn mirror likes to remind you, are natural.
If you're wrinkle-phobic, we offer these crease (crass?) comments: You can sustain the permanent press effect over long periods of time only if you never sit down. In fact, avoid leaning, reaching, and turning too quickly. Better yet, find a convenient wall with flattering lighting and don't move.
HOW (AND WHERE) TO BUY
You don't know what wool crepe or viscose is, do you? Don't worry. It's amazing how many guys don't know what linen is. Whether you're swatch savvy or find even rudimentary fabric classifications as cryptic as Cold War nuclear codes, you must locate two things prior to shopping for a suit:
At least one men's store that doesn't make you feel as if you're being judged as to whether or not you're worthy of its time. Any ideas?
A salesperson in that store who likes his mission, does his homework and most of all, listens. He or she is the most desirable accomplice to have in tow, far more valuable than being accompanied by a male friend, which practically ensures your purchasing either nothing or a near duplicate of something you already own; or by a female one, which guarantees your dressing the way she sees you and permanently quashes any attempts to indulge in secret sartorial daydreams for fear of looking foolish in her eyes. As for blood relations, shop with them when you're looking for a burial plot.
Try as hard as you can to go shopping alone. Tell the others and yourself you're going out for the paper and just keep walking. As for those fearful of being sold a bill of no-goods, how come you have no trouble heading off a steam-rolling real estate agent, debunking an effusive car salesman, or disbelieving "Robbie", your waiter for the evening, when he perkily proclaims, "Everything is good!"? A snow job always sounds like a snow job. Relax, and pay attention. You'll know when you are learning something.
BUY THE BEST (YOU CAN AFFORD)
What do you want to spend? Better not try getting out of this by saying you can't afford new clothes. Thanks to extraordinarily sophisticated advances in technology, good looking, well-constructed suits that flatter you and offer enough quality to provide all day comfort can be found at any price level. In fact, there are now machines used in the manufacture of "hand-tailored" suits that are actually programmed to drop stitches. But a well-constructed suit does not guarantee a suit that fits well.
Consequently, regardless of how high your price ceiling, and even if you have no intention of investing this much of your paycheck, try on an expensive suit, especially if you have never done so. This could prove to be a revelation because it will provide you with a frame of reference as to what a suit should do for you, how one can look on you, and what you ought to feel like in it. It's why a struggling law student test-drives a Porsche. It's the reason we have museums. You can't devise standards unless you realize the range of possibilities. Is a taste of honey worse than none at all? Yeah, well don't blame us.
BUY THE RIGHT FIT
Great tailors can work magic. There are two areas, though, where their nimble fingers are of no use. If a suit jacket does not fit in the shoulders -- if it puckers, drops too low, or is too restricting -- or if a jacket is too short or too long, TAKE IT OFF. If you can't find the same one in a different size, too bad. Pout if you want to, just don't talk yourself into buying. Shoulders are to a jacket what a foundation is to a house. You tinker with shutters, not with a foundation. Pockets, inner lining, and silhouette also complicate toying with jacket length. (Remember, once someone starts cutting, you own it. No matter what the price, it's not worth the risk.) Besides, tailoring should be about altering and improving fit, not design. If you slid behind the wheel of a Ferarri, and your head smashed up against the roof of the car, would the salesman banish your doubts by imploring you to "Relax! Slouch a bit."? Do not compromise. Do not be persuaded.
BUYING FUSED vs. UNFUSED JACKETS (We swear, this is worth knowing.)
OK. Listen up, because there is one less than obvious technical element you do have to be aware of: the difference between a fused and an unfused jacket. Between the fabric and the lining of the lapel, shoulder, and chest pieces is a layer of reinforcement. The engineering of this middle layer is an essential factor in determining a suit's durability and price. Expensive garments utilize the insertion of one or more plies of either horsehair or regular canvas. There is not a machine yet made that can insert and secure this middle layer. Hence, an unfused jacket is always made by hand. More labor, more cost. But because the horsehair or canvas remains free-floating, suspended by hand-stitching, it al