We know that when it comes to suits, the right choices can be a struggle. You want to know how to wear a suit properly and the rules you have to abide by. In a nutshell, you want to know how to walk into a fitting room as yourself, put on a suit jacket and walk out as David Gandy. While it’s not as easy as just throwing on a three-piece, who wants to only play by the rules anyway? So this is our everyday guide to suit etiquette, may you learn how to strike the balance between sartorial-abiding citizen and total rebel.
How To Wear A Suit: The Rules
Every man needs at least one suit in his wardrobe, ready to be brought out for those important occasions; a wedding, a job interview or, unfortunately, a funeral. Other guys might have multiple, especially if you have to wear them every day for work. Either way, there are some guidelines when it comes to wearing a suit that you should nail before bringing personal style and accessories into play.
The first and most important rule is to make sure your suit fits perfectly. If the leg or sleeve length is even slightly off then you’re doing yourself a disservice before you’ve even left the house. A big giveaway for an ill-fitting suit is a gap between your shirt collar and the jacket lapels – you want to avoid looking like you’ve somehow ended up in your older brother’s hand-me-down. Likewise, if you close the top button of your jacket and the material forms an ‘X’ shape in the centre, it’s too tight. You can get properly measured for a new suit in our Style Concierge, or head to a tailor to have a pre-existing suit updated. Once you own a good suit you should take care of it: dry clean only, use a suit carrier on-the-go and hang it up properly. No more flinging your jacket over the nearest chair, good sir.
The three core suit colours are black, navy and grey. A dark grey or charcoal suit is the colour you should go for if you don’t wear a suit often and just need one that’s versatile and could work for any occasion. Navy is a popular choice because it’s the perfect alternative to a black suit. But navy buyers beware, make sure your suit is true navy; check how the fabric looks in the daylight, not the dim light of the store. You don’t want to step outside for the first time in your suit and realise it’s three shades lighter than expected. If you wear a suit for work then you’ve got some room to vary your suit shades; begin with a dark grey, move on to navy, then experiment with something different such as a green tweed in winter or a lighter blue for summer.
There’s also room for variation around suit styles. You have your one-button, two-button or (the rarely seen, very British) three-button. On top of this, the choice between a notch or peak lapel, the former being the fail-safe standard and the latter for when you’re feeling extra. There is also the shawl lapel, but unless you’ve got a red-carpet event coming up next week, we wouldn’t worry too much about that one. Then you have your double-breasted suit jackets (six button by two button design), ready to go for those slightly more formal occasions should you want to make a statement. The double-breasted suit jacket says “I know what I’m doing” when it comes to suits, and if you’re already making a statement then make an even bigger statement and try a pinstripe or plaid.
What shirts go with a suit?
When choosing your shirt, wearing a slim fit or regular depends on your body type. A shirt shouldn’t be spilling out when tucked in, but also not skin-tight. There are multiple cuff types available, but the most common is a button cuff which features built-in buttons, sometimes one or multiple. The double cuff (or French cuff) is the classic cuff for a dress shirt, which involves the cuff being folded back, with holes to be fastened by cufflinks. The most common collar type is the point collar, found on most men’s shirts. It’s flattering and the easiest collar type to pair with your suit and tie. Button-down point collars and grandad collars are easy alternatives for a man looking to forego his tie for the day.
Suit Button Etiquette
When it comes to buttons, the two-button suit is the quintessential option. A classic choice and suitable for any occasion. The single button suit is slightly more formal, but it also has a deeper V so there’s more room to show off that pink shirt and tie you’ve been debating over for weeks. No, don’t take it back, it’s you. A three-button suit is the least common, mainly because it had its heyday in the nineties and never quite came back.
Suit buttons are the one area where we do like to stick to the rules. There’s individual style and then there’s people judging you in the street for your bad decisions. It is simply this: if you are wearing a two or three-button suit, never button the bottom button. Now, become master of the smooth single-hand-unbutton as you sit down, and your transformation from normal-guy to suit-wearing aficionado will be almost complete.
What shoes go with suits?
Can you wear a grey suit and brown shoes? What colour shoes can you wear with a black suit? Unless you’re rocking Smart Casual, where you could potentially lose the tie and throw on a pair of white low-top trainers, your shoes should be the finishing piece and not the focus of your outfit.
Here is a general colour-matching guide that should serve you well if you’re unsure:
• Black shoes with a black suit
• Black or dark brown with a navy suit
• Black with a grey suit
• Brown with a beige suit
Style of shoe is where you can inject more of your personal taste; depending on the occasion, there are a variety of shoes that pair excellently with a suit. Wearing a black suit is a good opportunity to whip out those shiny patent leather brogues you have still sitting fresh in the box. If you’re a little more on the conservative side then an Oxford dress shoe will never fail you. A classic brown leather brogue is a must in any man’s shoe collection, but you could step it up with a monk-strap shoe instead. Loafers are another common choice for pairing with a suit, from your traditional penny loafer to the eye-catching tassel loafer. In the drier months, you can switch up your leather for suede. Want to know more? Check out our ultimate men's shoe guide for a complete run-down of all things footwear.
Accessorising With Your Suit
Many people believe your accessories are the most important part of your outfit, with the suit a mere blank canvas on which to show your personality. A bold colour tie, maybe even knitted, the choice is yours. A general rule of thumb for your tie is to ensure it ends before the waistband of your trousers, and keep it simple with a traditional Windsor knot.
Wearing a colourful pair of socks is a good way to inject life into your suit. Just don’t make any cardinal sins like leaving an offensive gap between your trouser hem and the sock – your socks should only be seen when you sit down and hitch your trousers for comfort. Keep the colour or pattern complementary, for instance, if you’re wearing a navy suit then a pastel pink or blue sock would pop. The same goes for your pocket handkerchief. Don’t play it safe, there’s a yellow and blue polka dot pocket square out there with your name on it. Put on your favourite watch, and consider a nice pair of cufflinks to finish it all off if you’ve opted for a dapper double-cuff shirt. If you want to know if you can wear braces with a waistcoat, our question to you is how loose are your trousers?
Wearing a suit shouldn’t fill you with dread. In some ways it should be as easy as putting on a T-shirt and jeans, as all the components to your outfit are already laid out for you. Make sure your shoes are clean, your shirt is ironed and your suit fits well. Beyond all that, just make sure you look after it, because there will always be another time when you need to wear a suit.