Yesterday we went over how a suit should fit. Today we're figuring out how to tell the difference between quality and crap with our good friends at Brooklyn Tailors.
I talk about suits the same way that other dudes talk about cars. What's under the hood? A sturdy, hand-stitched full canvas lining or a half-assed machine glued one? Does the fabric drape nicely and allow you to move around freely or does it just hang off of your limbs like a dead polyester cat? Is it a lemon or a keeper?
Knowing which technical particulars to look for in a suit is very much a manly art. If you know what these details mean in terms of the overall quality and character of your suit, you are way more likely to walk out of a shop looking like a boss and not a fashion victim — or worse, a dumpy schoolkid whose mom made him get something for his Bar Mitzvah.
So rather than shout out specific looks (three-over-two natural shoulder tweed suits are IT this season!) I hit up my good friend Danny Lewis, the principle designer, master fitter and cofounder of Brooklyn Tailors about how to kick the tires on a new suit purchase.
Aronow: How can you tell if a suit is well made?
Lewis: There's a lot of factors and nuance, but there are a few key things to think about:
Besides the fit, fabric is the most important factor that will determine the overall vibe that your suit will give off; the exact same cut in five different fabrics will yield five different results. Wool tends to drape down the body in a softer, more elegant way. It moves gracefully with you as you move, whereas cotton will tend to be stiffer, more rigid.
Master your starting lineup of wool suits (medium gray, dark gray, navy blue) before moving on to a (more casual) cotton suit, which can and should only be worn a few months out of the year. Wool suits can be dressed up or down, and (weird as it sounds) there are wools for all seasons and temperatures — even late spring and summer.
Check the materials listed on the tag; avoid anything synthetic (polyester or poly/wool blends) in favor of natural fibers. Wool is the most common and versatile and is the easiest to find. Ignore the selling points and sales pitches and just try to look and touch the goods. Most importantly, find something that feels like you. If you are new to suiting and want something with some understated swagger, look for subtly unique wave textures like bird's-eye, sharkskin or herringbone in rich colors rather than overly intense patterns and unnecessary details like extra pockets or buttons.
You may have to ask your sales clerk this question (and if he doesn't know the answer, that's probably your cue to find a different store): How is the jacket constructed? While there are many variables involved, one major question is whether the jacket is fused (fusing is a heat-activated glue that quickly sandwiches everything together. It gives the jacket body but not such a nice drape or longevity) or canvased (sewn into the garment by hand, a much more laborious and, these days, rare process). While the answer to this question doesn't provide the whole picture, it certainly is an important indicator about the level of care and craftsmanship that has gone into the garment.
While details like buttons may be regarded as somewhat extraneous, they tell a lot about the garment and the level of care that went into making it. Buttons are a relatively small cost when making a suit, and if the designer skimped on the buttons, chances are they've skimped everywhere else, too. All of the buttons we use are natural materials (shell, horn or nut), but the majority of buttons you'll find are plastic faux renditions of the real deal. It's like the difference between solid oak and veneer: it's hard to explain in words, but you know it when you see it.
Aronow: The good news is that more dudes are interested in suits than ever before. The bad news is that this has given birth to a lot of questionable trends and awkward looks that should probably not be explored outside of magazine editorials. What are some trends that should be avoided?
Lewis: First, the "so I won't be naked" wedding/funeral/job interview throwaway suit.
Most people have done their research and invested in a killer pair of jeans, but every time a buddy gets married, they run out and buy something that just gets the job done. But he knows, and everyone else knows, that it kind of sucks.
A well-made suit may be the most expensive garment a man will buy, but if they add up all of the money they've spent on ill-fitting, shapeless and unflattering suits, a properly made, smartly fitting suit seems like less of an investment and more of a no-brainer. Before guys started dropping all their cash on designer t-shirts and $300 recreations of 20th century coal miner dungarees, the suit was the centerpiece of a man's wardrobe. Once you invest the time and money towards a suit that you love and feel confident in, you'll actually be excited to ditch the jeans and suit up — not only when you're required to, but just for the hell of it.
Second, the skinny suit.
There's a very big difference between "fitted" and "skinny." The trend towards slimmer silhouettes for men's suits over the past few years is overwhelmingly good news, especially compared to the pinstriped potato sacks that have been on the racks in years and decades past.
But as with any good idea, it can be taken too far. The key to a slimming silhouette is not to simply take it to the limit and squeeze yourself into a smaller and smaller suit, it is about creating balance and a flattering shape that complements your particular frame. You've heard enough times that the best dressed are those who make it look effortless.
To look sharp you need to look comfortable, and there's nothing comfortable about the guy squeezed into his jacket like a sausage. Make sure you have enough room across your chest and thighs to gesture and point and stuff. No need to do sit-ups in the store, but make sure the suit moves with your body and flows along its contours.
Aronow: Any last (or should I say first) words for the dudes looking to take the plunge and cop a nice suit?
Lewis: A suit should not be the problematic outlier in your wardrobe, the thing you cringe to put on for weddings, job interviews and funerals. Do a bit of hunting and find the suit that feels good for you, a garment you're excited to wear. Nobody is ever going to look down on you for being a bit more dressed up than the next guy in the office.
If there's any doubt in your mind about the need to put on a suit more often and sharpen your look, I'll give you one simple, all-important reason: the lady in your life. I've seen a lot of couples come through our shop over the years, and trust me, when the guy steps out in that finished custom suit for the first time…her eyes invariably light up.
About the brand: Brooklyn Tailors was founded in 2008 by Danny Lewis and Brenna Boyce. They offer custom, off-the-rack and bespoke suits and shirts, all of which are available at their shop at 358 Grand Street in Williamsburg. Most recently they launched a ready-to-wear collection that is now available at retailers like Barney's Co-Op, Penelope's in Chicago and Cassidy in Tokyo. Check out their online store here.