10 Ways to Spot a Cheap Suit
March 18th, 2014
Whether I plan to or not, everywhere I go I seem to get tangled in some kind of menswear debate. Sometimes it’s philosophical discussions about forms of representation and cultural shifts in gender identities. Other times it’s more technical conversations about design, manufacturing, and investment potential.
For example, the other day I was meeting with some studio executives out here in LA, and we were discussing suits. More specifically, the often shocking price difference from one garment to the next, and the corresponding justifications for raw materials, labor, distribution, etc. Long story short, I’m sitting at a conference table with two men and two women. Both guys were wearing suits. One of the ladies, out of curiosity and as a segue from our previous topic of conversation, asks; “Can you tell what kind of suits these guys are wearing? How much do you think they costs?”.
Hmm. Field test.
Well, the one guy was wearing a low-end Suit Supply suit. I could tell immediately by the trendy light navy fabric and the faux Italian shape of the lapels – oversized but in a high-fashion way, not an old-fashioned way. He was in his mid-twenties and was hip to the blog game, but wasn’t spending big money on Italian suits. The other guy was slightly older and wearing a slightly more conservative suit. The dark pinstripe fabric was a little too rich and sheen-y for Brooks Brothers, and it looked more Italian than British. My guess was Canali. It was Brioni – which kind of surprised me. Pretty close though, all things considered.
So that conversation got me thinking. What are the quality hallmarks of a fine suit? Are they noticeable to the average person? Do they matter? To who?
Before proceeding – this piece is not meant to talk down on cheap suits. In fact, I own a couple very cheap suits (one from Uniqlo and one from Macy’s INC). I think a cheap suit is perfect for a trendier piece that you won’t get much use out of. For example, I scored this white linen suit for less than $100 on clearance. With the proper alterations, it looks like a much finer suit. As we’ve said a million times, it’s not so much about what you’re wearing, but about how you’re wearing it.
With all that said, this is a quick piece on about easy ways to spot a cheap suit.
1. Cheap Plastic Buttons
Do the buttons look cheap, flimsy, and painted? They probably are. They’re also very breakable. Good news it, it’s easy to upgrade them to genuine horn.
2. Plastic Button Anchors
Classic cheap Hong Kong tailor move.
3. Paper-y Lining
Cheap linings are usually made of polyester, which traps heat and doesn’t breathe at all. It’s especially bad if it makes a “scrunchy” or “swishy” sound when you move it around.
4. Synthetic Fibers (or sizing S-XL)
Just avoid shiny, stiff, sweaty synthetic fibers. Go all natural.
And a suit should be cut slightly more precisely than “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”. It’s not a t-shirt, don’t buy it like one.
5. Skimping On Extra Fabric
The roughly 3.5 yards of cloth it takes to make a suit is the majority of its cost. A cheap manufacturer will cut all the excess – including the fabric under the hem needed to lengthen the trousers and the fabric inside the seat needed to let-out the waist.
6. Lapel Lines Not Anchored
On top of providing durability and shapeliness to the garment, a chest canvas can also physically determine the angle and placement of the lapel roll line (all the way to the button stance). Shitty fused-front jackets can lose their proper roll and begin to close up, especially if not pressed properly.
7. Fusing Bubbles
This is the sign of a “fused front” (ie. glued together) chest piece. The chemicals used in dry-cleaning can affect the adhesion of this fusing, causing it to bubble-up like a do-it-yourself window tint.
8. Low Armholes
A low armhole is just bad design. It’s a carry-over from old school patterns that weren’t adjusted for the more active lifestyle of today’s modern man. Not only do they look boxy and unshaply, they also restrict a man’s range of motion, causing a wing-like shape that pulls the jacket up when lifting an arm.
9. Hard-Creased Roll Lines
The lapel is a focal point of the suit. It should have a soft, gradual, three-dimension roll that gives dimension and life to the jacket. A cheap one has a stiff crease caused by ironing a glued-back fabric.
10. Bubbly Shoulder Lines
The shoulders are a critical point of a suit. They should have a clean smooth line. Not a bumpy mess like Towni’s suit from H&M that has been to the cleaners one too many times.
For more on the differences between low-end and high-end suits, see our article “$200 suit vs $2,000 suit“.
Now, How to Buy A Quality Suit
Yours in style,
Photography by Alex Crawford.