It can be hard, in our moment of Zoom and sweatpants and work-from-home, and also our era of business casual and eroding dress codes, to feel the need to buy a new suit. Paradoxically, that also makes this moment a better one than ever to snag one. You’ve probably got two or four or ten weddings coming up. And you’re almost definitely sick of wearing soft clothes. And you probably have the sneaking suspicion that suits are somehow cool again.
You’d be right to suspect that. Far from destroying the suit, our no-rules fashion moment has in fact liberated it. You don’t need a sad navy sack—you need a shit-hot pinstriped double-breasted number. You don’t need a mellow shadow plaid—you need a true throwback houndstooth. And you can wear it all however you want: with a shirt and tie, for old time’s sake, or with your gnarliest vintage tees. Either way, you definitely need one great suit, and probably could use four or five more excellent ones, too. Here’s how we think about suiting up in 2021.
The Suit Glossary
The suit universe can be…dense. Here’s a guide to keep your gorges straight from your lapels. —Avidan Grossman
Bespoke: A bespoke suit is one that’s been made from scratch——typically by a master tailor—based on a pattern created specifically for its wearer. Considered the ne plus ultra of fine tailoring, it’s the gold standard against which hardcore sartorialists measure all other models.
Break: The part of the pant leg that sits on top of the shoe. Old-fashioned types will argue in favor of a full break—meaning there’s literally a break in the fabric because of how it drapes onto your shoe—while fashion heads generally opt for no break at all. (The tide, of course, is changing: the big break seems to be swinging back into style.)
Button Stance: The height at which a suit jacket’s waist buttons are positioned.
Canvas: The layer of fabric—often made from wool and/or horsehair—that separates a suit jacket’s lining from its outer material. Some suits come with a full-canvas, others come with a half-canvas.
Gorge: The point on a suit jacket where the collar meets the lapel.
Lapel: The folded portion of the suit jacket, which runs from the collar down to the top button. You’ve typically got three options here: notch (what it sounds like, and the most popular), peak (a little flashier, thanks to the way the peak edges out onto the shoulder), and a shawl collar (mostly reserved for Bond-grade formalwear).
Lining: The layer of fabric—often made from silk, rayon, polyester, or some blend of the three—that separates a suit jacket’s interior from its wearer’s body. Some suits are half-lined, some are fully-lined, and some are barely lined at all. The less lining, the more casual the suit.
Made-To-Measure: The middle ground between bespoke and off-the-rack (see below), a made-to-measure suit is cut using a standard template and then modified to accommodate the wearer’s measurements.
Off-The-Rack: Any suit that isn’t made-to-measure or bespoke, e.g. most suits you’ll come across shopping in-person or online.
Pick Stitching: Stitching that lines the edges of a suit jacket’s lapel, collar, and hem—a real-heads-know technique that proves your suiting bona fides.
Pockets: Precisely what they sound like. Flap pockets are the most common, patch pockets are the most casual, and ticket pockets—a second, smaller pocket that sits above the regular one—are the most British.
Side Tabs: The adjustable thingamajigs sometimes found on either hip of a suit’s pants in lieu of belt loops; used to tighten or loosen the waist.
Shoulders: The most important component of a suit, and for a few reasons. They help give the suit its shape: a padded shoulder adds a bit of heft, a natural shoulder makes things feel super relaxed, and a roped structure adds some extra-formal structure.
Surgeon’s Cuffs: Most suits have non-functional sleeve buttons. Surgeon’s cuffs, meanwhile, can open and close. Since it’s not likely you’ll be performing a kidney transplant in your blazer, these mostly just connote an extra level of care and attention from the suitmaker.
Vents: The flaps on the back bottom of a suit jacket. Center (or single) vents skew slightly more casual, while side (or double) vents skew a little more dressy.
Where to Buy Your Next Suit
Got a grand or two in the bank and ready to plunk down for a sharp new suit? Here are the reasonably-priced labels at the very top of the tailoring game in 2021. This is by no means an exhaustive list—but it is where we find ourselves looking come payday. —Yang-Yi Goh
Polo Ralph Lauren: You need something simple, classic, and all-American, you go to Ralph Lauren. That’s the rule. Five decades into his run, nobody makes a better navy two-button suit or double-breasted charcoal number for the price.
J.Crew: Yes, it’s been a trying few years for J.Crew. And no, the Ludlow isn’t quite the top-of-the-line, everyone-you-know-has-one suit it used to be. But if you’re in a pinch? Airline lost your luggage? Spill on yourself at the rehearsal dinner? Hit the mall and let all your problems be answered.
Todd Snyder: Todd Snyder has built a modern menswear empire by taking the age-old cornerstones of your wardrobe—polo shirts and sweatpants, cardigans and overcoats—and updating them juuuust enough to feel unmistakably new and now. His suits follow that formula to a tee: they’re cut in universally flattering proportions and served up in a pleasing seasonal array of tones and patterns. (It’s not a huge surprise that he helped design the Ludlow at J.Crew—and worked at Ralph before that.)
Needles: If your vibe trends more downtown art opening than midtown power lunch, the Japanese eccentrics at Needles specialize in exactly the type of un-stuffy suits you’re likely after: big-lapelled polka dot joints and patchwork Coogi-sweater-ish ensembles that are guaranteed to cause a stir in any room you enter.
Sid Mashburn: Honest-to-goodness Southern charm is the name of the game at Sid Mashburn, the Atlanta haberdasher whose elegant, handmade suiting feels timeless and downright presidential.
Ring Jacket: Japanese suits made in the Neapolitan style: there’s a reason that Ring Jacket has become one of the go-to brands for globe-trotting creative types who pull a little inspiration from everywhere.
Drake’s: Can’t make it across the pond, but still want a taste of Savile Row prestige? Head to Drake’s. The British clothier’s flagship shop is located on tailoring’s most vaunted street, and their handsome off-the-rack offerings are crafted with a care and attention to detail worthy of that real estate. And if that’s not enough, know that they’ve got a regular collab going with Aimé Leon Dore.
Stoffa: You might know Stoffa for their made-to-measure pants. Lately, though, the brand’s been turning out a matching blazer. Paired together, they’re drapey perfection.
Boglioli: When you need a suit that looks just right on a Vespa after sipping your morning espresso, Boglioli has you covered. Their vibrant soft-shouldered suiting is Italian tailoring at its best: crisp, rakish, bellissimo.
Engineered Garments: Denimheads and workwear stans, this one’s for you. Engineered Garments designer Daiki Suzuki brings his off-kilter vision of Americana to the classic suit every season, turning out rugged, utilitarian two-pieces that’ll look as at home in your woodshed as they will at a wedding reception.
Mr. P: Mr Porter’s house label is good for a couple killer suits per season—typically a little more relaxed than formal, should you have any garden parties coming up.
Noah: Curious what J.Crew’s next era-defining suit might look like? Take a gander at the latest offerings from Noah—the NYC-streetwear-meets-Northeast-prep line founded by the Crew’s recently-minted men’s designer Brendon Babenzien—which blend fine Italian tailoring, traditional British fabrics, and looser, skate-friendly silhouettes.
Kashiyama 1927: A lot of online outfits claim to offer affordable custom suits built to your exact measurements—but the cheap, ill-fitting final results say otherwise. Kashiyama 1927 isn’t like that at all. The rising Japanese tailoring outfit provides a true made-to-measure experience at shockingly low prices, with a near-endless array of fabrics and options to choose from.
Supreme: Sounds crazy, we know, but the planet’s coolest brand has a really wonderful habit of making one or two excellent suits a year. Next time you see one, pull the trigger.
Do I Need a Designer Suit?
There are plenty of places to grab a totally excellent regular suit. Stuff for bar mitzvahs and holidays and funerals. But say you want a rail-thin rock ’n’ roll suit with razor sharp shoulders and kickass flared trousers. Or a space-age recycled nylon blazer with matching track pants. Or a museum-worthy cocktail jacket woven with gold thread and rhinestones. A suit for a red carpet, even if the red carpet is your Ikea rug. That’s when you’ll want to go to the great fashion department stores (Bergdorf Goodman in NYC and SSENSE online are good places to start), or to your favorite designer’s boutique.
Designer suits tend to be pricier than workaday ones, because you’re paying for more than just a rigorously high quality of construction. Where normal suits tend to speak of conformity, fashion suits are a statement of creativity and individuality. When you slap down your Amex at the Louis Vuitton store for an origami-pleated skirt suit, you’re buying an idea from the mind of Virgil Abloh, whose curatorial instincts have a way of setting the agenda for the rest of the fashion industry. Or maybe you see yourself in Thom Browne’s remixed Mad Men uniform. Or Kenneth Ize’s sublime asoke-fabric sets. Of course, designer suiting isn’t all wacky. You can also do plenty well buying one of Ralph Lauren’s trusty double-breasted numbers—in the same silhouette beloved by Ralph himself—or by hitting Dries Van Noten for a mellow olive-green number that’ll pair perfectly with one of the brand’s printed silk shirts. The whole idea is that when you’re shopping for a designer suit, the jacket doesn’t just have to fit in the shoulders—it has to fit your personality, your life. Who do you want to be? You just might find out in the suits section at Bergdorf’s. —Samuel Hine
Breaking Down Bespoke
Savile Row is technically a street in London, but it’s also a universe and a culture unto itself—shorthand, basically, for ultra-refined, painstakingly produced handmade suiting. It counts among its customers some of the wildest dressers putting on clothes today, like Bryan Ferry, the musician Nick Cave, and the late Charlie Watts, as well as politicians, royals, and leaders of the free world. In contrast to the shapeshifting, flighty high fashion industry, Savile Row wears its history like a badge of honor: it began to coalesce in the mid-18th century, and the Row itself—which isn’t even a hundred yards in length—was established firmly by the mid-19th century. Its offerings are protected and glorified like church liturgy: the Bespoke Association requires members to put at least 50 hours of hand labor into each of their suits, and provide customers with at least 2,000 fabrics from which to choose. The offerings encompass made-to-measure, which involve some level of standardization, and bespoke, in which a custom suit is made entirely from scratch, by hand.
Within the bounds of this little street is a diverse feast of options and a bit of a primer on men’s suiting “trends” at the highest order of clothesmaking. The cool kid tailor, at least for the past 70-odd years, has been Anderson & Sheppard, where Princes Charles, Brian Ferry, Fran Lebowitz, and GQ contributor George Cortina get their DBs cut. Huntsman, one of the oldest names on the street, is known for its obsession with tradition combined with an eagerness to innovate (they have a stateside operation, in midtown Manhattan, where Marc Jacobs is known to get pagoda-shouldered jackets with wide-leg trousers in riche, smoking lounge tones). Older still are Henry Poole and Gieves and Hawkes, which pride themselves on indulging the lively aesthetic fixations of their clientele. In the 1990s, a swath of newcomers, like Ozwald Boateng, reinvented the street with contemporary cuts and fabrics. Suits can cost from the thousands of pounds, for a made-to-measure look, to a cool million for diamond-studded pieces in exotic materials. Happily, you don’t need to hit the Row for a custom-made suit—but if you do, you won’t be sorry. —Rachel Tashjian
The Case for Buying a Vintage Suit
There’s never been a better time to buy vintage—and wherever there’s good vintage, there are good vintage suits. But vintage suit shopping requires its own set of very particular skills.
One great reason—maybe the best reason—to go vintage is that you can find ultra-high-end suiting for less-high-end prices. So start with the brands you know and love: Tom Ford, Corneliani, Drake’s, Armani, Ermenegildo Zegna, Polo Ralph Lauren, etc. (Basically: anything a deceased Hollywood agent’s widow might put onto TheRealReal.) Unmarked, unbranded suits at vintage shops can look great, but if you stick with a label known for using quality fabrics and construction, the odds of wearing yours more than once skyrocket.
And whenever possible, shop for your secondhand suit in person—or at least try to find a version of what you’re looking for before you buy. Got your eye on an Armani on Etsy? See if you can find a similar model nearby, so you know what you’re getting.
You can also shop for a vintage suit online through sites like eBay, Etsy, Grailed, and The Real Real… if you know what to do. Get as many measurements as you can and compare them with your best-fitting suit. Don’t be shy about reaching out to sellers for measurements and photos to get the fullest sense of what you’re potentially buying. The more information you can get, the better chance you’ll have for success.
Once you have your fancy old suit, don’t expect it to fit (not perfectly, anyway). Assuming you’ve got the shoulders and chest right, you’ll probably need to have the waist and sleeves adjusted. As for the pants, you can expect to have the length adjusted, possibly the waist, and maybe the seat and leg. Don’t be afraid to really get into it with your tailor: the money you save by going secondhand will find happy use. —Gerald Ortiz
How to Talk to Your Tailor
Knowing what you want out of your suit—and how to communicate that to a tailor—is critical to making the most of this important purchase. —Cam Wolf
Get your shoulders right before you visit the tailor. A good tailor can be your suit’s best friend, but they aren’t miracle workers. Shoulders are notoriously difficult areas for a tailor to fix if they’re too far gone. When trying on a suit at the store, make sure the seams of the jacket align with the end of your shoulders—there’s only so much tinkering you can do here.
Wear it with your chest. The literal rule of thumb here is pretty straightforward: tailor the jacket so that, when buttoned, the jacket fits snug enough that you can get your thumb in between the jacket and your stomach. If the jacket is so tight it krinkles into an “X” shape around the fastened button, you need to let it out a little.
2021 fashion, though, has rendered this less a rule than a suggestion. Maybe, like Justin Bieber, Elliott Page, or ASAP Rocky, you want the jacket to fit a little too snugly, or to remind you of your prom look. That can be done! But that’s why it’s so important to know how you want your suit to fit before visiting the tailor. The same rules apply to the next two sections, too.
Arm yourself with knowledge. Traditional rules prescribe that the suit should fit nicely around the arms and stop just above the wrist bone. If you want a classic-looking suit, ask for that. However, Thom Browne ushered in an era of shrunken suits that stop a little further up the arm to show off the whole cuff of the shirt. (Typically, you’d only want a quarter-inch of the shirt sleeve to peek out of the suit!) Or maybe, like NBC, you consider the ‘90s the golden age. In that case you’ll want a baggier suit that’ll happily gobble up all your sleeves, your wrists, and maybe even some of the hands. Check out Fear of God—or your local vintage-wearing influencer—for styling tips here.
Get a leg up. As we reach the end of our journey, there are still plenty of decisions to be made. Whether you want a straight, tapered, or baggy leg is up to you. Tapered may have been the look through the 2010s but we’re settling in with a more classic fit now. If you really want to go turbo with your suit, try the Armani look: billowing pants and a pleat or two for good measure.
Then we get to the break, meaning where and how the pants hit your shoes. No break means the pants end just above the shoes—this has been the dominant style over the past decade or so. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a quarter, half, or full break. A bigger break usually signifies a more conservative suit (though these days, it can signal that you’re letting your freak flag fly, too). Most off-the-rack suits come with long, unfinished hems so even if you aren’t interested in perfecting the fit of a jacket or the length of sleeves, this is one part of your suit that will require a trip to the tailor.
Throw Away Your Pocket Square: Suit Styling for a New Era
For about a hundred years, suiting accessories didn’t change much. Tie, pocket square, cufflinks. Those were the rules. Simple, easy—and boring. Luckily, the tie has been sacrificed at the altar of personal style, and these days there is practically no limit on the styling moves you can introduce into your tailoring wardrobe.
Which isn’t to say you can freak any suit. Your boxy business casual jacket probably won’t look very fresh with a tie-dye T-shirt underneath. It helps to start with a suit that has a natural shoulder—like those made by Ring Jacket, Drake’s, and Sid Mashburn—and a relatively simple fabric. (We prefer an interesting texture over an, er, interesting pattern.)
From there, you can chill your suit out by wearing it over your most beloved graphic tee, or pairing the jacket with beat-up dad jeans. You can also freshen it up by swapping out your hard-bottom shoes for a pair of sneakers—the simpler and more classic the better—or vintage loafers. If you wear jewelry, layer it on thick. (Pearl necklaces, dangly earrings, and pinky rings look especially killer with fine tailoring.) When the temperature drops, try layering an overshirt or slim sweater vest under the jacket, or a quilted vest over it. When in doubt, look to the king of advanced suit styling, Mr. Ralph Lauren, and break out a western shirt and cowboy boots. And if you really want to style your suit crazy, wear it with a tie and pocket square. —S.H.
10 Suit Rules—and 10 Good Reasons to Break Them
The world of suiting is a world of rules. Which isn’t hugely surprising: suits are formalwear. Clothing worn by rule. And while just about all of the conventional wisdom can be helpful when you’re getting dressed, putting on a suit can (and should!) feel a lot freer than it used to. Here are 10 rules for wearing a suit, and just as many reasons to ignore them. —Sam Schube
The Fit Should Be Slim
The conventional wisdom: You’re not an NBA draftee in 1997. Suits should fit slim but not skinny.
The 2021 take: The glory days of J.Crew’s slim-fit Ludlow suit have come and gone. And while a nice trim suit will always look solid, there’s no reason you can’t try one with baggy pants, or an elasticated waist, or a little bit of roominess through the chest and arms.
You Need to Wear a Dress Shirt
The conventional wisdom: It doesn’t really count as a suit if you’re not wearing a shirt and tie (or at least a shirt unbuttoned to proper business casual depth).
The 2021 take: Wear a denim shirt. Wear a T-shirt! Wear a tank top. Wear your grandpa’s varsity football jersey. As long as you’re not going to a wedding, a funeral, or a meeting with either your boss or your future in-laws, wear whatever you want with your suit.
Black Is for Funerals
The conventional wisdom: A black suit—we’re not talking a formal tux, but a regular black suit—should be reserved for somber occasions. (Or cater-waiter gigs.) (Or being in the Strokes.)
The 2021 take: If it was good enough for Bob Dylan (and, uh, the Strokes), it’s good enough for you. Just make sure it doesn’t fit like a baggy rental tux.
There’s Only One Good Length for Pants
The conventional wisdom: The optimal pants length is no break, with your bottoms skimming the tops of your shoes.
The 2021 take: At Louis Vuitton, Virgil Abloh is turning out suits with flared, blousy bottoms. Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God suits are cut with roomy pants. If two of the world’s most exciting designers are doing it, you can, too.
Double-Breasted Is for Bankers
The conventional wisdom: The DB is for fat cats.
The 2021 take: There’s no quicker way to feel brand-new and different and freakin’ cool than by swapping out your single-breasted suit for a double-breasted one.
Start With Navy and Charcoal Wool
The conventional wisdom: When you’re building your suit closet, you want workhorses: suits you’ll wear every day.
The 2021 take: OK, this is still pretty good advice. But if you just need a suit for weddings, or days when you want to shake things up at work, try olive green, or khaki, or maroon. No need to stifle yourself.
You Need to Pick a Tailoring Style
The conventional wisdom: Maybe you dig the English style (a high, sharp shoulder). Maybe you like the Italian way (no shoulder, ultra relaxed). Maybe you’re an American (beefy, in every sense of the word). But you need to pick one and stick to it.
The 2021 take: Some days you want to have a sharp shoulder that makes you feel like a boss; others, you want a suit that wears a little more like a sweater.
You Should Treat Your Suits Delicately
The conventional wisdom: A suit is sort of like a high-end race car, and requires careful maintenance after use.
The 2021 take: The only way you’ll really feel comfortable in a suit is by wearing it. We’re not saying don’t dry clean it—but don’t dry clean it every single time you wear it. Let the thing live a little!
Black Tie Means Black Tie
The conventional wisdom: If you’ve got a black tie event, you need a black tux.
The 2021 take: They make all sorts of tuxes now, in navy blue and chocolate brown. Just make sure yours is one you’ll be happy to wear to multiple events.
Keep Your Sneakers Away From Your Suits
The conventional wisdom: Two takes here. First: that sneakers are just too casual to wear with a suit. Second: that “sneakers and a suit” has become way overdone.
The 2021 take: Everybody’s wrong! Sneakers can work with a suit—you just need to be smart about how you do it. We’ll suggest opting away from the creative-director-gone-corporate look (suit, T-shirt, minimalist white sneakers) that’s blown up in recent years. Try a pair of Sambas instead, or your gnarliest Chuck Taylors, and make sure to alter your fit accordingly. Ditch the dress shirt and sober tie for a denim shirt and something printed, or do a T-shirt with a sweater vest and pearls.
Photographs by Martin Brown
Styled by Jon Tietz
Prop stylist: Sharon Ryan for Halley Resources
Grooming by Robert Alvarado Jr. using Dior at Art Department
Tailoring by Eugenio Solanillos at Lars Nord Studio