Here’s Every Part of a Suit You Need to Know
Even for sartorially experienced gentlemen, suiting is expert territory, best navigated with a trusty guide. Your tailor (or if you don't have one, an in-store expert like those at BOSS stores who will tailor your suit for you) should understand your needs and personal style and know when to step in and take the reins. But whether you're buying custom or off-the-rack, some knowledge of the various parts that make up a suit can help you make the best choice for your needs.
For a primer on the anatomy of a suit and what to look for in a timeless cut, we tapped Thaddaeus Beals, an NYC-based tailor and the youngest ever to hold the title at Saks Fifth Avenue. Beals started sewing at age 15 when his grandmother taught him to repair the holes in his jeans he got from skateboarding.
1| First, a note on fit:
Before going into the finer details of suiting, the most important consideration is fit, according to Beals. An ill-fitting suit simply won’t work no matter how fine the cashmere or timeless the styling. “It does not matter how much you spend on a suit: The shoulders and sleeves are the two elements that make or break the look,” Beals says. “If the shoulders are too broad, it throws off the balance of the entire jacket. The same goes for sleeves that are too long; it gives off an unprofessional vibe. A good rule of thumb is that your dress shirt should be 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch longer than the cuff of your jacket.”
2| The Lapels: front and center
Aside from fit and color, the first aspect of the suit that most people notice is the lapels. Shaping the front of the jacket, the lapels set the tone for the rest of the suit. According to Beals, the lapel style you choose is really about the statement you’re trying to make with the suit. Opting to buy your suit from a brand like BOSS, which carries multiple fits and styles, makes it easier to pick the suit that's right for you. Here’s a rundown of the three most common ones:
The notched lapel is a tight angle style that’s the most utilitarian (if there is such a thing for lapels). “This is the classic choice because of its versatility,” says Beals. “It is typically best on single-breasted suits, sport jackets, and blazers. If you are going to invest in only one suit, it should be classic.”
Next, the peak lapel is the original power move with a cut out toward the shoulder. “This has been the uniform of Wall Street for over a century,” Beals explains. “They are engineered to draw the eyes up to the shoulders, causing the wearer to appear slim, tall, and powerful. Originally this was common with double-breasted jackets, but recently more modern single-breasted designs have been introduced.”
The shawl collar is a smooth lapel without notches. This is the best choice for black tie occasions and spies who enjoy their drinks shaken, not stirred. “The shawl is usually seen on tuxedos and smoking jackets. It’s usually made of more decorative materials such as silk or satin that corresponds to the stripe that runs along the trousers,” says Beals. “If your face is rounder, the curved edges of the lapel will help soften the look. I recommend balancing the look with a bowtie, which brings the eye up and makes you appear slimmer.”
3| Two better than one?
A word on vents If there’s a line in the sand when it comes to suiting, it’s usually drawn around the question of vents. No, these aren’t designed to keep you from sweating in a job interview; in suiting, vents are found on the back of the jacket and function as an opening to free up movement. There are two major types: single and double-vented.
“The single vent is one single vent in the center of the jacket, and it's common in American styles. Its simplicity makes it a good choice for all body types,” says Beals. “Meanwhile, the double-vent features — you guessed it — two vents, one on each side seam. These are common in Italian suits. The double vent creates less bunching while sitting, which some find more comfortable.”
4| Don’t sleep on the break
One of the key components in the suit’s silhouette is the break. The break refers to the amount of fabric that gathers at the shoe and comes down to a matter of preference and styling. The relatively trendy flood break sees the hem hit near or above the ankle. “A flood is a more modern look; it is slimmer, shorter, and will usually show at least a little bit of your socks,” Beals says. “A full break is a more traditional style; it is typically baggier and worn by gentleman who do not want their socks to be seen.”
5| Mind the drop
The drop of a suit is a way for mass manufacturers to generalize men's suit sizes. “It is the difference between your chest measurement and your pant size,” Beals explains. “For example, if your chest is 38 inches and you wear a 32 inch pant, your drop is 6 inches. If you are going to purchase a suit and need to specify your drop, I always suggest going a little larger and bringing it to a tailor to make it fit perfectly.”
6| Check your pockets
Generally, when wearing a suit you should only carry the absolute essentials. The more you’re carrying in your pockets, the more the shape of the suit will be altered, so consider this the perfect time to comb through your wallet and finally use those gift cards. Suits have different styles of pockets for different occasions.
Welt pockets are the most common because they are the most functional for everyday use. “It's a pocket that's built into the jacket, and because of that you can carry things in your pocket with more discretion,” Beals says. Consider this your daily driver of suit pockets.
Meanwhile, jet pockets are more decorative. “You will find them on vests and tuxedos, and they are typically smaller — they’re more appropriate for black tie events where you would not need to carry as much,” explains Beals.
Patch pockets are sewn onto the outside of suit jackets. They can be found at a lower price point and are a more casual choice. Often they will come with a button to keep the contents secure.
7| Cuffs: Function versus form
Often overlooked, the design of a cuff can increase the functionality and comfort of a jacket. The main difference is a functional cuff (also called a surgeon’s cuff) or a non-functional cuff that features buttons as non-operable style hits. The non-functional cuff is less expensive but also less comfortable. “The functional style has buttons that work and look like a dress shirt cuff," Beals says. "They can be rolled up and are generally more comfortable because they are more flexible."
8| And finally: Find a suit that suits you
A suit should inspire confidence, so it’s best to find one that not only fits your personality but also your needs; that's where a tailor like Beals will often start, before any measurements are taken. “My client's vision for themselves is my number-one priority. My role is to take their broad vision and refine it into something that fits their unique body type,” he says. “As the expert in their own style, my client makes all the large decisions based on their personal needs and preferences, and then I make my recommendations and explain what each choice means for the suit.” That’s one tailoring experience we can get behind.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.