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What to Know When You’re Buying a Suit

BY: Reuben Westmaas | Mar 3, 2017

smiling man in suit standing by motorcycles

The great thing about men’s fashion is that there’s a suit for every body type and every occasion. When it comes to actually buying a suit, though, figuring out which one is right for you can be tricky—especially if you’re shopping online and only just beginning to develop a sartorial sensibility. This walkthrough will guide you through your options for suit styles—including cut, color, material, and details—while also taking your own tastes and lifestyle into account. By the end, you’ll be ready to order a suit that fits you to a notch-lapeled T.

Measurements | Style | Materials | Accessories

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Taking Your Measurements

measurements man measuring suit chest size

Online shopping puts an incredible range of fabrics, style choices, cuts, and custom-tailored options at your fingertips. The only thing it can’t provide is a tailor. If you’re shopping for a suit, the first step is to determine your measurements. Follow Groupon’s step-by-step guide for taking your own measurements at home.

Beyond the granular measurements, you’ll also need to understand your overall suit size. Suit and jacket sizes take the form of a number followed by the letters S, R, L, or XL. The number refers to your chest measurement—the circumference at about nipple height, taken under the arms and rounded to the nearest inch. It’s also important to bear in mind a suit’s “drop”—the difference between the chest measurement and the waist measurement, which in the Americas is usually 6 inches. That means the pants of a 40R suit will have a 34-inch waist.

The letters, in turn, refer to the height of the wearer. Those numbers roughly translate as follows:

  • S: 5’ 4” to 5’ 7½” tall
  • R: 5’ 8” to 6’ 2” tall
  • L: 6’ 2½” to 6’ 5” tall
  • XL: 6’ 5½” and taller

But it’s not quite that simple. The last thing to take into consideration is your overarm measurements. Measure the circumference of your chest again, but this time don’t go under your arms. If your overarm measurement is more than 7” larger than your chest measurement, use the next size up.

Choosing your Suit Style

Some suits are perfect for work, but look stodgy when you’re at the club. Others will shine (sometimes literally) on the dance floor at a wedding, yet earn you an uncomfortable meeting with your boss. When deciding on a suit style, take the following three factors into consideration:

The Fit

suit style fit man walking on tiled surface

There are three main cuts available, each suited for different body types and settings.

Slim Fit This fashionable cut contours to the body and exudes style, working best for men with a slender build. “I don’t just know how to dress—I also know who your favorite band will be in three months.”
Classic Fit Boxier than slim-fit suits, this cut has a generous chest that works well for men with larger frames. “I know my business, and my business is looking good. That, and being your boss. Get back to work.”
Modern Fit Somewhere between the two, a modern-fit suit works for almost everyone in almost any situation. “In a shirt and tie, I’m ready for the office. Lose the tie, and I’m headed to the bar. Lose the shirt, and I’m commuting home on my yacht.”

The Color

suit style color man in blue suit near brick wall

Although there are too many suit colors to cover, a few broad guidelines can help clarify what will work best for your situation:

Black A black suit is very formal—worn often to fancy or somber events—and classically pairs with a white shirt and a bold tie. Blue or pastel shirts can work as well, and a black shirt makes a dramatic statement.
Dark Gray Dark gray is a great choice for everyday wear and is versatile enough for almost any color combination. Go with your gut for your tie, and don’t forget about patterns.
Light Gray Another solid choice for an everyday suit, light-gray fabric can make the colors of your shirt and accessories pop. That means even pastel colors can stand out.
Beige Choose beige for a party, especially an outdoor party in spring or summer. Steer clear of warm-colored shirts—blue is probably best.
Blue Navy blue works well for the office while brighter blues are a little more playful. But the best part of a blue suit is that it’s both eye-catching and versatile. For a shirt, try white, light pink, or a colorful pattern.

The Details

suit style details man suit without pleats

The little details are what make your suit your own. When customizing, take these factors into consideration:

Breast Options Double-breasted is an instant eyecatcher that makes a statement on its own. Single-breasted is more understated and leaves room for expression in other ways.
Lapels Notched lapels look the most professional. Shawl loves the nightlife. Peaked lapels split the difference.
Pleats Pleated pants are classic, whether single or double, and work well for larger men. Unpleated pants lend themselves to a younger, more fashion-oriented look.
Buttons A jacket with fewer buttons can be flattering for shorter men. When wearing it, remember the “sometimes, always, never” rule: sometimes button the top button, always button the middle button, and never button the bottom button. If you only have two, always button the top, never the bottom. Unbutton everything when you’re sitting down.
Vents Vents are less about fashion and more about fit. Trim forms work well with side vents, and men with larger frames should opt for a center vent.

Choosing Your Suit Materials

suit materials older man with beard in linen suit

Along with the suit material itself, take the weight of the cloth into consideration. Referring to the weight in ounces of one square yard of the fabric, this number indicates how warm the suit is, and how it will hang. Here are a few basic guidelines for choosing a suit based on fabric:

Spring cotton or polyester 9.5–12 oz.
Summer cotton or linen 7–11 oz.
Fall wool or polyester 11–13 oz.
Winter wool or tweed 12–19 oz.

Completing the Look with Suit Accessories

suit accessories cuff links bow shirt buttons

There are very few scenarios in which you can get away with wearing a suit and nothing else. You’ll need socks, shoes, and a shirt at the bare minimum, and most likely a tie as well (what you wear under your pants is your own business). For an extra gloss of fanciness, there’s a whole suite of suit accessories such as pocket squares and embossed wallets that will help you step your game up.

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Related Guides

How to Take Your Own Suit MeasurementsHow to Take Your Own Suit Measurements

We break down taking your essential suit measurements into simple steps so that you can quickly order shirts, suits, and pants online whenever you like.