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Men's Fashion | The Haute Seat

How to buy… a suit

Evaluating the canvas and stitching is key, says an award-winning menswear blogger

How to buy… a suit

Image: Richard Anderson

February 08 2013
Simon Crompton

Men are not interested in the clothing of celebrities. At the most, the endorsement of a film star, a magazine or a fashion brand is a shortcut, a sanction. A man’s number one priority is not looking stupid, and popular culture is a safety blanket.

In my experience, knowledge is what really engages a man. Tell him why his suit is better made than his friend’s. Tell him why dry cleaning is shortening the life of his shirts. Tell him why this particular leather jacket will look much better the worse it is treated – all it needs is some wax once a year.

But information can be hard to come by, or is covered in an off-putting sheen of fashion and femininity. This column, which will dissect a different item of menswear each month, is a small step towards correcting that. We begin with suits.

The easiest way to identify a well-made suit is the canvas. This is the lining that runs down the front of the jacket and gives it structure. It’s why the front feels different to the back. The canvas can be sewn in, so it can move with you and your movements, or glued.

Glue is cheaper and easier, but means the jacket will remain stiff and impersonal. Canvas adopts the shape of your body. It gives a natural roll to the front of the jacket and its lapels. You can always spot a glued or fused jacket because the lapels are flat and lifeless – over time the points will stand away from the jacket, such is their artificial stiffness. Cheap, high-street suits are fused.

Any good suit will have floating canvas in at least the top half of the jacket – from Austin Reed to Gieves & Hawkes to Canali. It is the minimum standard you should expect.

You can feel the canvas if you separate the cloth somewhere in the chest of the jacket, pinching the inside and the outside material and feeling for an extra, loose layer between the two.

Some suits have canvas all the way down the jacket, which creates greater structure but also weight, and is therefore not generally preferred by the Italian producers. Not surprisingly, the ready-made suits offered by Savile Row tailors such as Richard Anderson (pictured) and Huntsman are fully canvassed. The chests of their jackets also have a layer of horsehair and felt, but that’s not easy to identify from the outside.

The other sign of quality is hand stitching, which is most needed on the parts of the jacket that have to be flexible, such as the collar and armhole. Canali and Ralph Lauren use handwork, for example. It’s easy to spot this: just turn up the collar and look at the stitches that attach it to the back of the jacket. If they are at all irregular, it is hand sewn.

On the other hand, look out for extraneous details that mimic hand stitching. Tiny stitches up the edge of a lapel, known as pick stitching, used to be a sign of quality. Now it is often reproduced by machine to try to give the impression of a handmade suit. Not only does that kind of fakery undermine a suit’s style, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the company’s manufacturing priorities.

My other tips are fairly intuitive. I recommend avoiding an extremely lightweight cloth: it won’t last that long. The same goes for a shiny cloth: it looks cheap and will only look cheaper. And if you’re going to wear the suit regularly, invest in two pairs of trousers. It seems expensive until you realise the alternative is a second suit.

See also

Suits