Today we’re breaking down the basics of a “suit.” Some of you might be thinking, “I know what a suit is…” which is likely true. But what you may not know is, the inner workings of the ensemble, the genetic makeup of a suit.
Suits have different styles, different colors, and you can customize everything from the size of the shoulder padding all the way down to the number of buttons on the sleeve. With so many options, how could you know what constitutes as a “nice” suit or what type of suit to wear to which occasion? Let’s break it down.
What is a suit?
To keep it simple, a suit is an outfit in which the jacket and pants are a matching color and material. The main variation in the suit world are single-breasted and double-breasted. Bespoke Unit provides a helpful illustration (below.)
Consider yourself a novice of the suit-game? Did you know there are multiple types of lapels; notch – v-shaped and less formal, peak – pointy and fancy, and more? Most men choose their style based on their body type, or should at least. Thin men usually are flattered by a narrow lapel while larger builds usually wear a wider lapel.
Buttons don’t play a huge factor into the formality of the suit, but there are certain things you should know about the style and functionality of buttons. For starters, a lower button point will elongate your appearance and make you look both taller and leaner. On the other hand, a three-button suit tends to appeal to taller men because of the broadening effect. Single-breasted avoid button complexity, but where it gets tricky is with double-breasted suits. There are endless variations, but the most common one is a 6×2, (the first number indicates the total number of buttons on the front and the second number indicates how many of them can actually be fastened.) Utilize the graphic below for help.
The shoulder fit is a key component to any suit. Traditional suits typically have a more structured shoulder with padding to create that sturdy, masculine appearance. I’m weary of using the term “padded” as most of your minds probably wondered back to the eighties. Fear not, this is a different type of shoulderwear! You may have seen padded shoulders on a banker’s suit, but another variation of padding is the extended shoulder in which the shoulder of the suit extends farther than the sleeve, creating the appearance of broad shoulders. On the opposite end of the padding spectrum, is the roped shoulder, where the top of the sleeve is slightly higher than the actual shoulder, creating a ridge in the suit. Now the more comfortable/casual option is no shoulder padding, which is formally known as a soft or natural shoulder.
Pockets may be the one of the easier decisions you have to make when designing your suit, but it also has a major influence on the formality of your suit. Going for casual? Try the patch pocket, it’s the most recognizable and likely the most casual. A patch pocket is exactly what is sounds like, a patch that is sewn onto the outside of the suit. Going for more of an upscale look? Your go-to is jetted pockets. They are beneath the surface of the jacket and at first glance appear like a small slit in the jacket. Finally, we welcome the most common suit pocket- the flap pocket. Again, creatively named for its appearance and purpose. It is similar to the jetted pocket, the difference being the flap that covers the pocket opening. * PSA: because not everyone is aware, when buying a new suit off the rack, the pockets will most likely come basted or sewn shut.*
The Nitty Gritty
Now that we have covered most of a suits appendages, we can discuss what really makes a suit. The drape is the amount of fabric in the chest area. Easy rule of thumb: More drape = more room = less formal. Less drape = more fitted = more formal. Next up, the waist suppression which determines how skinny the waist looks and in turn how broad the shoulders look. At the bottom of the suit lay the quarters, the two flaps of the jacket that meet at your waist button. Finally, there is the lining of the suit which determines the warmth of the suit. Because the lining is visible, some men choose to customize the color and pattern of their lining to add that touch of personalization. The canvas is a layer that sits between your suit fabric and the lining to help the suit hang optimally on your form.
To sum things up, you’ll probably never fully understand each element of the suit, but that’s where I come in. If you’re going for looks, choose what makes you happy. If you’re going for style, get ready to ink a check. And if you’re going for formality, remember that the more uncomfortable the suit, the fancier it is. There are very few thing that compare to slipping on a perfectly tailored suit, looking into your mirror and realizing your potential to be GQ’s next cover model ;).
Should you want more info, Gentleman’s Gazette has a very detailed guide about suits.