First, a disclaimer. If you’re hoping to be invited to the next New York City fashion week to walk the runway as a clothing model, this isn’t for you. If the latest and greatest fashions and accessories is what you seek, this isn’t for you. I’m not seeking to tell you how to start the next trend. What I am here to do though is give you a plainly spoken guide to the basics of professional menswear. There are many rules to dressing professionally. Knowledge of these rules will give you the confidence that you are dressed correctly the next time you walk through the door for a job interview and shake your prospective employer’s hand, or the next time you take your date to a fancy dinner.
A suit is defined as a coat with matching slacks. They are several different kinds of suits. They are differentiated by the way they are cut (how close fitting they are), the material used to make them (wool, silk, polyester, etc), the way the lapel is cut and the number of buttons. The lapel is the material that creates a fold over the rest of the coat as it lays across the chest. There are two main types of lapel, a notch and a peak. A notch is simply that, a small notch taken out of the outer edge of the lapel on the upper part of the chest. A peak is a lapel style that resembles a mountain peak on the outer edge. The number of buttons is self explanatory.
A two button notch lapel style coat is the best look for nearly all men.
When in doubt, always go for that one. Only buy a coat that is made entirely or mostly of wool. If a coat is made of polyester or rayon, or any type of material that is manmade, don’t buy it. After about a year of consistent dry cleaning, it’ll look like it’s aged three years. The cut of the coat can be defined into three terms, modern, neutral and traditional. A modern fitting coat will fit tighter and closer to your body, a neutral will be a bit looser than a modern and a traditional will be a bit looser than a neutral.
When buying a suit, think about your body type and what you’d be comfortable wearing and then ask for brands of suit coats that fall into one of these categories. But keep in mind, no two brands are cut the same way. If one doesn’t work, try a different one. Never order a suit online. Always try it on first.
If you only own one suit, make it a plain charcoal grey.
Charcoal is the most versatile color out there, and can be used for all occasions, professional or personal. After that, get either a black or a navy suit. Again, these are versatile colors that will work for a variety of occasions. After that, the floor is open. You could opt for a pinstripe or a windowpane suit, again versatile and popular looks. Or you could go for a lighter color, such as olive green, tan or light grey. These are typically more summer looks.
Your slacks are just as important as your coat.
Know the difference between pleated slacks and flat front slacks. Pleats are folds in the fabric meant to give you more room in your hips. Flat front is the absence of these. Your jeans are very likely flat front. Pleated slacks are an older style, most men prefer flat front right now. If your slacks are pleated, they should have a cuff bottom finish at the bottom. If they are flat, they should have a plain bottom, basically the absence of a cuff.
Your suit has to fit; otherwise it won’t look good no matter what you spent on it.
The shoulder pad of the coat should sit on your shoulder and create a 90 degree angle as the sleeve lies vertically. If it droops, it’s too big. The sleeves should reach the base of where your thumb meets your wrist. Button the coat, then use a finger to pull the top button away from your body. If it seems like a small child could fit in there with you, it’s too big.
Your slacks shouldn’t be baggy anywhere, especially in the crotch or seat. The bottom finish of your slacks should reach your shoes, with a small dimple in the front and a perfect flush finish with the sole of your shoe in the back. Plan on having your suit tailored. A tailored suit that was 400 dollars will look better than an 800 dollar suit off the rack. I promise.
You must care for your suits.
Don’t dry clean it every time you wear it. Most men do this because they wash their normal clothes after each wear. Wait to dry clean a suit until it is visibly soiled and dirty. That could be as many as six or seven wears or more. Ultimately, the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process are what kill a suit, so you are shortening the life of your garment by over cleaning it.
Put it on a nice hanger. Seriously, spring for the nice cedar hanger. They make the shoulders of the coat lie naturally when you aren’t wearing it and prevent creases and wrinkles where they aren’t supposed to be. Also, cedar, besides smelling nice, is a natural moth repellant. Moths love to eat wool. If moths are prevalent in your area, protect your investment.
That’s an overview on buying, wearing and caring for a suit. But obviously you don’t wear a suit by itself. You wear it with a dress shirt and usually a tie. You wear dress shoes and a belt. Or you can be more casual while still looking professional, something like a sports coat or blazer with slacks or jeans.