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Suit Style Tips for the Regular Guy

Updated on August 12, 2014


Some of you may not own a suit yet, and I encourage you to go get one as soon as possible. Don’t wait for an interview, a wedding or a funeral! In today’s menswear market, there are a lot of places where you can get a well-priced suit and be properly measured. Your first suit should be 2 or 3-buttoned, dark charcoal or black. Charcoal is a universal color, and complements any occasion. Make sure that it’s a fine or medium textured virgin wool. Yes, I said wool… Virgin wool. Wool is a natural material and it breathes. You need virgin wool because although recycled wool sounds like you’re being green and responsible and all that great stuff, remember that recycled wool has been worn. Need I say more? After being in the men’s clothing business, I know where some of that used wool comes from, and believe me, you don’t want to know. Not only that, but recycled wool is re-woven, which means that it won’t last as long as woven virgin wool. When you’re investing money in a suit, make sure that it really counts. Don’t get a patterned or a fashion-forward fabric until you’ve invested in the basics; this is style 101 and it’s fiscally sound.

Now, considering your suit; you should NEVER wear suit pieces by themselves. Why, you ask? When you wear only a suit coat or a suit pant, it suffers from wear and tear, apart from its mate. Let’s say that you regularly wear the pants that go with your black suit, because you’re too cheap to buy a separate pair. In today’s mail, you received an invitation to a buddy's wedding. Now you have an event to go to, and when you put your suit on, you realize that your pants look lighter than the coat. You’re thinking, “Hey, what the hell happened to my slacks?!” What happened is that you wore your suit pant as a pair of dress slacks, and now you look like you’re wearing two different pieces. Do whatever you have to in order to get a pair of dress slacks apart from your suit.

There are different cuts in the suit industry. Personally, I don’t like the modern cut, as I think it makes you look like you’re wearing a suit that’s a size too small. Interestingly, it’s called the Sweet Suit, but I don’t find it sweet or sharp at all. Maybe I’m old school? The classic cut is what’s called the comfort cut, which I prefer because it looks natural and easy. Yes, it looks timeless. By the way, the modern cut is what you’re seeing on the red carpet, on television and in magazines. However, no matter what Hollywood hunk is wearing it, I still think that it looks too small.

There’s also another cut that caters to the guy who works out heavily and has a V shaped build. This is called the athletic cut, and comes with a suit pant that is much less than a regular suit pant, which is called the “drop.” For instance, a 44 Athletic Cut will come with a 37 or 36 inch pant. Finally, the cut that caters to the large guy is called the executive cut (sometimes the portly). This cut is designed to fit the guy with a large belly and comes with a much smaller drop than the other cuts. For example, a 48 Executive Cut will come with a 46 pant, usually plain front. Trust me on this; pleated slacks are not flattering on a very large guy. I talk about slacks in the first part of this article series. The suit lengths traditionally offered are short, regular, long and extra long. For example, on a size 46 suit, the tag will read as follows: 46S, 46R, 46L and 46XL.

As far as cleaning your suit goes; don't take it to the cleaners too regularly. Once every 4-6 months is sufficient. Keep it on a cedar hanger and air it out after you've worn it. Having your suits and sport coats cleaned too often will wear them out. For a regular pressing, find out if the men's shop that you've purchased your suit or coat from provides you with complimentary pressing or steaming, and then take advantage of it!

When I was selling men’s wear, my favorite go-to suit labels were Hugo Boss, Jones New York, Kenneth Cole, Geoffrey Beene and Pronto Uomo. Sorry, this may date me, but I’ve always liked the cuts and the classic looks of these labels.

2. Dress Shirts:

First, I must inform you that there is NO SUCH THING as a short sleeved dress shirt. I know, I know, even Hugo Boss offers a short sleeved “dress shirt,” but I’m a purist; short sleeve and dress shirt simply cannot exist in the same sentence! Why not slip a pocket protector into the front of your so-called dress shirt and call it a day? No offense to the future millionaires out there… What I’m saying is that dress shirt and short sleeve are oppositional terms. If it’s short sleeved, it’s not dressy, but casual. Honestly, let me ask you: when you see a guy in a short sleeved shirt wearing a tie, what do you think? … Honestly? I could write a whole article on this subject, but Ray A. Smith has already written a very a good article in The Wall Street Journal on why a short sleeved shirt is not a dress shirt, and therefore, not business appropriate.

Now that we have that out of the way…

Dress shirts now come in a wide range of cuts, styles and fabrics. Your primary dress shirt investments should be white, French Blue and yellow. Make sure that any dress shirt you buy is 100% high quality cotton with plain cuffs. Wait to get those fancy French cuff shirts until you have a place to wear them and you can afford nice cufflinks. Get your dress shirt to the cleaners to have it washed and pressed before you wear it (or do it yourself). New clothing, especially men’s shirts, have sizing in the fabric that may cause a dermatological reaction in some. Besides that, a brand new shirt from the package smells weird and has fold marks.

As for collar style, avoid the button-down, as this will give you a dated look. The point collar is the classic look, and the easiest to pull off. Another collar style is the spread collar, which has a much more contemporary, forward look to it. The spread collar is often found in a contrasting collar to the shirt fabric, which makes it a little harder to pull off if you’re inexperienced.

Dress shirts will come in athletic, trim, full or regular cuts. Big and tall sizes, which are classified as a neck of 18 inches and up, as a default, come in a fuller cut and a longer sleeve. Most dress sleeve lengths come in a 32/33, 34/35 or a 36/37. Neck sizes will come in ½ inch increments from 14.5 up to 17.5. You can find bigger size shirts at a dedicated Big & Tall store, but you will really pay for them. I’ll talk about big and tall clothing options later in this article series. If you need a trimmer or an athletic fit, but don’t see many options, ask to have the shirt you want altered to fit. For a nominal fee, your salesperson can have it tailored for you. If you have cleaners that you’re already using and are happy with, ask what their alteration fees are for shirts. Personally, however, I’d stick with a professional tailor for slacks, suits and coats. A tailor will charge you less, and give you very exceptional work.

Lastly… Don’t ever be afraid to politely yet firmly ask what kinds of price breaks are available to you. Many men’s shops have discount programs with certain companies. Others will price match or give you a break for taking end-stock off of their hands. Additionally, ask what the salesperson has on hand by the way of clearance items.

Once you’ve learned the basics of dressing effectively, you’ll continue to develop a personal style of dress as you grow in your own life and professional experience. Please remember that improving and developing your style of dress is not difficult and will only benefit you. It takes a little time, but it’s completely worth it. Stay tuned for the next part of this style article for the regular guy.

purplmama© December 28, 2012

Thanks for joining me in the second installment of my Style Tips For The Regular Guy!

See the first part of this article series for more style tips!

Credits: I must give credit to Ryan, my good and beautiful friend, who is the model in the photograph for this article. Ryan is a hunky-hunk who freelance models for several agencies. You can find him at Allan Spiers Photography and Photography by RJ. Ryan is multi-talented, whether you need someone to represent edgy, fun, boy-next-door, steamy, innocent or athletic. He’s also a gifted and passionate L.A.-based writer who specializes in screenplays.


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    • petenali profile image

      Pete 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      A good fitting, dark grey suit is a must have for sure. You can dress it up or down depending on your choice of shirts and ties, or not tie.