Basics of buying a formal Suit Jacket

A well-fitting suit makes you look powerful and attractive. Imagine the custom-made suits of James Bond – is there anything sexier? But that comes at a cost. You will have to dig deep into your pockets to get a good enough suit.

If you want more than one, (and you will, once you own one and you see the reaction of your colleagues) it can set you back a fortune.

When you are planning to buy a suit, you will have to consider many things other than your budget (which is ‘the’ primary consideration) – like fabric, occasion, and the different style elements of the suit.

How to buy a Suit Jacket

Tailored suits or Off-the-shelf

suit jacket buying tips

The first consideration is where you are going to shop – not the shop per say, but whether it is ready-to-wear or made-to-measure.

Ready-to-wear suits are suits that you can go and buy from retail shops in one afternoon, unless there are alterations which may cause a few days delay.

They are made in sizes decided by the manufacturers and you are supposed to fit into one of them, whatever your body peculiarities.

Slim average-sized men can go for ready-to-wear with very few alterations if any, but how many are slim and average? By the time a man gets to the point of buying more than one custom-made suit, he is usually no longer average-sized as per their specifications.

Bespoke suits (made-to-measure) are customised, made to your own measurement. 

Many factors contribute to the decision of choosing bespoke and ready to wear – one of them is time. Made-to-measure suits will take some time to be made, sometimes even months, depending on the tailor.

If you want a suit urgently, the consideration of tailoring it by bespoke tailors doesnot even arise. 

Primarily the main reason why many chose ready-to-wear over custom-made suits is the expensiveness of bespoke suits. 

There are people who choose bespoke out of necessity – because of body defects like a protruding belly or a stooping shoulders which simple alterations cannot solve.

For eg. If your stomach is wider than your chest you may have to choose a bigger sized suit ready to wear jacket but then, it may hang loose at the shoulders or arms. So to get a well fitted suit jacket you will have to go for bespoke tailors.


buying suit jackets

Different occasions call for different styles of suits. For example, your wedding suit will be different from an office suit. It is alright if you have one suit and you are using it everywhere but if your budget permits you can buy more than one according to the occasion you will be wearing it to. 

suit styles

You can decide on the different styles of suits you want to wear according to the formal dress code you have been asked to follow for events. For eg. for a black tie event you will need a very formal suit but for a black tie optional event you can relax the formality quota a little bit. For more details on this checkout the post on formal dress code

The formal suit can either be single-breasted or double-breasted. The preferred lapel style is shawl lapel, but you can also use a notched lapel.

The pockets can be either flapped or jetted. The jetted pockets will give it a neater slim look. A four-button sleeve is a must in a formal suit.

The trousers worn with the formal suit jackets can be cuffed or uncuffed; dress pants are worn with a sharp crease down the center of the leg.

The preferred pocket style for a tuxedo is jetted.

A more casual suit jacket doesn’t have shoulder pads. They are single-breasted and come with notch lapels and flap or patch pockets.

Related post : Most common Dress codes.

Cut and length of the suit

The three famous cuts of suit jackets are American cut, British cut and the Italian cut. Most of the features of the suit jacket described below can be categorised in these cuts.

American cut jacket is a 3 button single breasted jacket with a loose fit and a straight silhouette.

A london cut jacket is a 2 button single breasted jacket which is slightly longer, with a slightly shaped waist, side vents and wide padded shoulders. This style is more suitable for a tall man.

The Italian cut is a shorter jacket with a more pronounced shaped waist and slimmer fit.

Silhouette of the suit

Suit jackets usually have two silhouettes- Natural or soft silhouette & Structured silhouette.

A natural silhouette is known as the American cut where padding is not used or used sparingly.

The structured silhouette, also known as the British or European cut has a padded shoulder and stiffer canvas. It is as the name suggests structured. Other than these silhouettes, you can go for a more shaped waist.

Shoulder of a suit

There are basically three styles to choose from. The soft shoulder, natural shoulder and rope shoulder. A soft shoulder jacket has an unpadded shoulder. The Natural shoulder on the other hand has a very slight ridge at the shoulder seam. What makes a rope shoulder different from the other two is that it has got a prominent ridge at the shoulder seam and the sleeve head stands above the shoulder line.

Choosing the shoulder line usually depends on your body structure. If you have naturally broad shoulders you do not need a broad-shouldered suit.

Usually, it is a choice between the soft shoulder and the natural shoulder styles. The rope shoulder is seen less as it can easily go wrong for many body shapes.

Lapel of a suit

buy a suit

There are three kinds of lapels. Notch lapel, Shawl lapel and Peak lapel. The notch lapel has a small triangular notch cut into it. The shawl lapel has a smooth line with no cut or whatsoever.

If you are looking for a formal suit, then you can choose a suit with a shawl lapel. Tuxedos always have a shawl lapel. 

The most formal lapel option for a suit jacket is the peak lapel. In a peak lapel, the lower edge extends over the upper edge. 

In a Tuxedo jacket the collar and lapels and the pocket flaps can be in satin. The satin lapels of a tuxedo can be a contrasting color from the rest of the suit jacket. 

Button closure of a suit

suit buttons

Now you have to choose between single-breasted and double-breasted. It refers to the buttons on your suit jacket.

A single-breasted jacket has a single row of buttons. You can choose between one, two, 3 or 4 button single-breasted jackets. 2 and 3 button single-breasted style jacket are most suited for formal office suits

In the double-breasted jacket, one side of the jacket overlaps the other and is secured with a double row of buttons.

Vents in a suit

suit vents

The vent is a slit given on the lower back of a jacket. There are three styles of vents available in a suit jacket. Side vents, center vent and closed vent.

Side vents – there are two vents one on each side of the back of the coat

Center vent – the vent is made in the middle of the back of the jacket.

Closed vent – there are no vents or slits. This is not a very popular style.

Pockets of a suit jacket

pockets suit jackets

There are three main styles of pockets when it comes to a jacket. The patch pocket, the flap pocket and the jetted pocket. The patch pockets are separate pieces of fabric sewn onto the sides of the jacket. The pocket can be straight or slanted.

A jetted pocket is opposite to that of the patch pocket. It is a cut in the jacket’s surface with the pocket bag hanging on the inside.

A jetted pocket gives a sleeker look to the jacket and is most favoured with formal jackets and tuxedos. A jetted breast pocket is popular for suits. Inside ticket pocket can be added for an extra interesting element.

The flap pocket is a highly versatile style where flaps are attached to the pockets on either side of the jacket. 

Sleeve length of a suit jacket

The length of a suit jacket preferably should be such that, half an inch of your shirt length should be seen after your jacket sleeve hem.

Sleeve buttons of a suit jacket

sleeve buttons of suit jacket

A suit jacket always comes with buttons on the sleeve. It can range from one to four. The number of buttons on the sleeve indicate the formality of the suit. Fewer buttons mean a casual suit. More the buttons, more formal the suit. 

Interlining used in the suits

You can choose between a full canvas or a half canvas suit. High end tailors will use cotton canvas as interlining. It is sewn in carefully. But if the suit is cheap it will have syntehtic interlining inside which is glued inside. As you know you will be more comfortable in a suit with cotton or other natural fabrics than in a synthetic material.

Fabric/color and patterns

When you look at a shop’s rack for suit fabrics you will be mighty confused – so many fabrics in so many prize ranges. If you have the budget to go for any fabric, two very important criteria are the breathability of the fabric and its softness and also wear.

The best and most common fabrics for the suit are wool, cotton, linen, cashmere or silk. Among them, wool is the most durable material. Silk and cashmere are often used for suits worn for formal or glamorous events. Suits are available in synthetic materials but they are not as breathable as natural fabrics.

You can also choose blends that gives the benefit of breathability and anti-crease. Infact many of the wool material that are available are blends.

The cotton and linen materials are best suited for warmer weather. The tropical weight wool is lightweight and is also ideal for warmer weather.

Related posts :Best fabric for suits ; Different types of checkered patterns ; Different types of stripes; Tweed fabric; Different types of wool fabric.

Choose the color that suit your complexion and build. You must know that dark colors make you look slimmer unless you have been living under a rock. But that doesnot mean you make a beeline for black. There are other dark colors too. A black-colored basic suit is commonly chosen for formal evenings and funerals. Charcoal and navy blue are safe colors that suit most.

Your body shape

Men with tall and slim body shapes can wear any suit silhouettes. For the rest of them, a lot of defects in the body shape can be camouflaged by the selection of a suitable style. If you want a slimmer silhouette you can choose the Italian cut – it is a dapper style suitable for young men. For office going comfortable suits, the American cut suit jackets are better. 

For a person with a thick waist, straight hanging designs are better that those which accent the waist. Single-breasted jacket style is preferred over double-breasted. A three-piece suit with waistcoat is very nice, but for some it can create an overstuffed look.

Suit buying is easy if you have answers to these basic points of what suits you. If you breeze through the buying process, it will not make the cut and you would have wasted all that money and opportunity. After all, you buy a suit for that extra shine.

Related posts : Guide on purchasing fabric; How to buy leather

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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