The average man buys a new suit every two and a half to three years, according to national retail research firm NPD. We get it, it’s not a cheap investment, and not one you’d like to have to make more often than necessary. The thing is, three years is a long time — and odds are you’ve got suits in your closet a lot older than that. Unfortunately, like haircuts and microbrews, tastes change. Fashion, even suit fashion, is not a static thing, and sooner or later you may get around to worrying that the brown tweed number you wore for Uncle Jimmy’s wedding in ’89 is a bit past its prime.
Not to worry. Our panel of suit experts is here to tell you how to spot an over-the-hill suit, and what to look for in one that’s au courant. “The language of a suit is like a typeface,” suggests David Reeves, owner of the New York-based bespoke tailoring house REEVES. “You want your message to be legible, but still unique.” Here’s how to make sure you’re not still typing in Arial when everyone else has moved on to Calibri Light.
“Black is out!” says third generation tailor Nick Torres, owner of Beyond Bespoke in New York. “Navy and gray are in. Navy is the new black, even when it comes to tuxedos. Light gray, charcoal, and navy are the best colors for business wear.”
Of course, as with most things in life, nuance matters. “What makes a color feel old or new isn’t the color itself, it’s the shade it comes in,” says designer Sid Mashburn, who owns five men’s boutiques across the nation, including Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. “Take green. That’s a color most guys will stay away from, because it has a very ’70s connotation. But it’s one particular shade they are reacting to. Green, in the right shade, can feel very current.” Of course, green in the wrong shade will make you look like an extra on Columbo, so get some expert advice when you’re going off the deep end with colors.
It Has Two Rows of Buttons
Unless you’re Mr. Confident in your fashion decisions, double-breasted is dangerously 20th century. Making the hit list from the 1940s to ’60s, and again in the ’80s and ’90s, the two-button approach is past its prime. Stick with single-breasted unless you’re wearing a morning coat, tuxedo, or being considered for a sequel to Mad Men. Sure, you’ll hear people say double-breasted suits are making a comeback (especially in Great Britain). And if you’re a Washington politician or Vegas bookie, you might say they never went out of style. But if you are none of the above, stay with the safer option.
Men. Don’t pleat the pants. Pleats add volume (not in right now) and make you look fatter (never in). Choose flat-front trousers, and consider side tabs over belts for a neater look. And while we’re on the topic of trousers, you want a small break, meaning the crease that happens when your hem meets your shoe. Too large a break, and thus a little too much fabric, makes your legs look stubby. As far as pant legs, stick with about a 15.5” opening. Anything tighter gets tricky, and can make your feet look like flippers — which is a bad look if you’re already in a penguin suit.
The Lapels are Wide
“If you want your suit to look like it’s from today’s era and not your grandfather’s, we would recommend a slimmer lapel and slimmer taper on the sides,” Torres says. “The look that’s in right now is very European, and that means narrower lapels.” To get it right, look for lapels that fall just shy of the midway point between your collar and shoulder.
It Has a Center Vent
OK, this one is controversial. In truth, whether a jacket has one or two vents is more a matter of personal taste than style. That said, a center-vent suit may be perceived as cheaper (most off-the-rack jackets are this style since they’re easier to manufacture), and they tend to be associated with the American collegiate sack suits of the ’50s. “We always recommend two side vents instead of a center vent,” Torres says. “If you have any backside at all, you are going to see some spreading with a center vent.” Double-vent jackets, on the other hand, fit most body types, help heavier guys look leaner, and lend European elegance to a suit.
Your Tie Is the Center Attraction
Another subjective call. But fewer workplaces today require suits, and even fewer insist said suit be worn with a tie, so it’s fitting that this accessory is taking the back seat to another colorful piece of fabric: The pocket square. “We’re seeing pocket squares make a huge comeback,” Mashburn says. “The goal here is to add a little color that complements your jacket. Do not overpower it, and do not clash with it.” If you go square, ditch the bright tie. You don’t need two distractions competing with each other. And if you ditch the tie, be sure your jacket has notch lapels. Peak ones still demand the formality of a buttoned collar and yoke around the neck.
Big jackets and full pants were a thing in the late ’80s. Since then, the trend has gone slimmer and shorter. How slim? You should be able to slip your hand between the first button and your dress shirt beneath, but not much more. “Jackets right now are generally cut a bit closer and neater than in the past,” Reeves says. “You’ll see the buttons starting just a bit higher up to reflect that trimmer silhouette.”
Your Jacket Falls Above Your Hips
The pendulum swings from long to short, and right now, we’re somewhere in between. “For the past few years, the trend has been toward shorter jackets,” Reeves says. There’s a limit to the cropped look however, and unless you’re rocking one of Thom Browne’s famously high-cut suits, you want your blazer to hit just below the hips for a clean, modern look.
Your Pants Look Like Tights
That super-tight, wear-’em-like-a-European look is best left to those skinny French guys. On you, wedgie-tight pants conjure images of John Travolta in the ’70s. “The most important thing is to have room in the crotch and thighs,” Mashburn says. Do the squat test, the sit test, the stair climb. Make certain that at no point are you at risk of busting a seam or injuring intimate aspects of the anatomy. The semi-scientific benchmark: You want to be able to pinch roughly 2 inches of fabric from your quads while standing up. Consider this solid fashion advice and good health practice, regardless of decade.
Your Buttonholes Blend In
You’re not going to look out of date if they match the suit fabric, but it’s very of-the-moment to make them pop. “Contrasting button hole colors are all the rage right now,” Torres says. “Get this look by asking your tailor to use a different color thread for any or all of the button holes on your cuff or the lapel.”
It Has One Strong — and We Mean Strong — Shoulder
Those aggressive pads are counter to the theme of the moment. “We stress a natural shoulder with our suits because it feels truer to the guy who’s wearing it,” Mashburn says. That’s not to say a little structure doesn’t have its time and place: Some men have a steep slope to their shoulders, and light padding can provide proper symmetry to a jacket. “The biggest thing in suit buying, regardless of current style, is to make sure your shoulders fit,” Torres says. “If your shoulders fit, the rest is [just] tweaking.” That said, if the choice is to go for more or go for less, go less.
Read original article by Men’s Journal.