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.