How to Spot a Cheap Suit
Whether I plan on it or not, everywhere I go I seem to get tangled into 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.
I love it though.
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, craftsmanship, 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. Ok. Field test.
Well, the one guy was definitely wearing a Suit Supply suit. I could tell immediately by the huge oversized collar (immediate Suit Supply giveaway), on-trend royal blue fabric, and the faux-Italian-made-in-China lapel shape (oversized belly with a high gorge and tiny "finger peaks" as I like to call them). I could also tell that this guy was in his mid-twenties and 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 bold 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? How can you tell?
We will get into how to notice a quality suit in our next article.
First, here is 10 ways to spot a cheap suit.
1. CHEAP PLASTIC BUTTONS
Do the buttons look cheap, flimsy and painted to match the color of the fabric? These are plastic and as cheap as they come. Good news it, it’s easy to have your tailor replace them with something nicer (and natural) like horn or pearl.
2. PLASTIC BUTTON ANCHORS
Classic cheap tailor move. This screams made in China (or Thailand, or Taiwan, or Indonesia)...basically anywhere you can pay somebody $0.50/hour.
3. PAPER-Y LINING
Cheap linings are usually made of polyester, which is a chemical fiber that traps heat and doesn’t breathe at all. It’s especially bad if it makes a “scrunchy” or “swishy” sound when you move around in it - because then it's not just hot and sweaty, it's also noisy and annoying.
4. SYNTHETIC FIBERS (& SIZING S-XL)
Just try your absolute best to avoid synthetic fibers. They're sweaty, shiny, stiff, and most importantly, they never biodegrade. Go all natural (like wool) - it's better for you and the planet.
Also, a quality suit is always cut more precisely than “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”. It’s not a t-shirt, don’t buy it like one.
5. NO SEAM ALLOWANCE
The roughly 3-4 yards of cloth it takes to make a suit is often the majority of its cost. A cheap manufacturer will cut all the excess fabric – including the fabric under the hem needed to lengthen the trousers and the fabric inside the seat needed to let-out the waist. Look under the hem and see what they are leaving for you.
6. LAPELS "UN-ROLLING"
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" (above the button).
7. FUSING BUBBLES
This is the sign of a “fused front” (ie. glued together) chest piece. Heavy rain, or the chemicals used in dry-cleaning, can affect the adhesion of this fusing to the inside of the fabric, causing it to "bubble-up" like a do-it-yourself window tint on a used Honda Civic.
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 unshapely (with a bigger overall sleeve), 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 roll is a focal point of the suit (and why "suit nerds" geek-out over roll lines). It should have a soft, gradual, three-dimension roll that gives body and life to the jacket. A cheap one has a stiff crease caused by ironing a fused-back (glued) fabric.
10. BUBBLY SHOULDER LINES
The shoulders are the most critical point of a suit. They should have a clean smooth line. Not a bumpy mess like Towni’s suit above from H&M (which, if you can believe it, is brand new).
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,