How to buy… a suit

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

Image: Richard Anderson

Men are notinterested in the clothing of celebrities. At the most, the endorsement of afilm star, a magazine or a fashion brand is a shortcut, a sanction. A man’snumber one priority is not looking stupid, and popular culture is a safetyblanket.

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

Butinformation can be hard to come by, or is covered in an off-putting sheen offashion and femininity. This column, which will dissect a different item ofmenswear each month, is a small step towards correcting that. We begin withsuits.

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

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

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

You can feel thecanvas if you separate the cloth somewhere in the chest of the jacket, pinchingthe inside and the outside material and feeling for an extra, loose layerbetween the two.

Some suits havecanvas all the way down the jacket, which creates greater structure but alsoweight, and is therefore not generally preferred by the Italian producers. Notsurprisingly, the ready-made suits offered by Savile Row tailors such as RichardAnderson (pictured) and Huntsman are fully canvassed. The chests of their jackets alsohave a layer of horsehair and felt, but that’s not easy to identify from theoutside.

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

On the otherhand, look out for extraneous details that mimic hand stitching. Tinystitches up the edge of a lapel, known as pick stitching, used to be a sign ofquality. Now it is often reproduced by machine to try to give the impressionof 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.

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My other tips arefairly intuitive. I recommend avoiding an extremely lightweight cloth: it won’tlast that long. The same goes fora shiny cloth: it lookscheap and will only look cheaper. And if you’re going to wear the suitregularly, invest in two pairs of trousers. It seems expensive untilyou realise the alternative is a second suit.

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