So you just accepted a new job offer, congratulations! There is just one thing: You’ve known that the dress code is business formal, but the only business clothes in your closet are leftover shirts and the one suit you wore to all of your interviews. That’s when it hits you.
The one suit you own will not be enough to create a sustainable wardrobe.
Before you jump on the next “Buy 1, Get 20 Free” deal at your local Jos. A. Bank, it would be best to take a step back and think about your available options. What kind of style and message do you want to portray? Do you prefer a purely classic look, or something more modern and high fashion? No matter which style you choose, they all stem from the most prominent and complex part of the suit: the jacket.
It is important to learn about your options and visualize what you want your jacket to look like before stepping into your suit shop of choice. You will likely be bombarded by a salesperson almost immediately, so this brief education will help you avoid freezing up like a fainting goat confronted by an opening umbrella.
Have an idea of what you like and don’t like, and describe what you want to the sales person. Picking out a jack is like getting a haircut. You don’t just sit in the chair and say, “Um, here’s 35 dollars. Do whatever you want.” Instead, you articulate exactly what you want to the hairstylist, painting a mental picture that ensures you will get the right cut. The same attention to detail needs to be expressed when shopping for jackets.
There are a few pocket constructions and options to choose from here. You have the basic two pocket construction on most jackets, but even here there are several variations. There is a more blazer-common construction with the patch pocket, where the pockets are stitched on top of the front of the jacket, like a patch (shocker). With the more standard jetted pocket construction (sewn into the lining), some designers will offer a flap that can either be tucked in for a more subdued and sleek look, or left out to portray a more relaxed style. Others will not include the flap at all. Which construction is best for you? Many can try to answer that question, but it is up to you to determine the true answer. Personally, I like the flaps because they give me the option to have them visible or tucked in.
Beyond the standard pockets, some jacket constructions will include a third external pocket (excluding the breast pocket) located above the front right pocket. This extra storage is called the ticket pocket. This pocket is typically more narrow in width and much deeper than the other pockets you will notice on your jacket. Why? The reason behind this can be reasonably deduced from its name. It was originally introduced to the jacket in order to properly store, you guessed it, theater tickets. Back in the day, theater tickets were larger, similar to a boarding pass by today’s standards. Since the common pockets found on the jacket’s exterior and interior do not have the proper dimensions to completely conceal these tickets, the ticket pocket became a popular feature. Nowadays, this pocket gets a little less use, but it does add a more “customized” style to your suit.
This pocket has changed very little over the years. It was originally designed to hold a man’s handkerchief, but it now serves as a home for the pocket square, which is a key statement piece in modern suiting. It is, as with all pockets on the exterior, lightly sewn shut to preserve the jacket’s intended form and structure. If you don’t plan on using the pockets, it is best not to open them so that they do not become misaligned with the intended seams over time. However, they are there for a reason, so don’t be ashamed to use them, lightly.
The only feature worth contemplating in terms of sleeve options other than your preferred length is the buttons. Different button layouts, in both number and function, can separate a custom-tailored suit from an off-the-rack suit. Most custom suits will have functional buttons on the sleeves, originally cut in so a surgeon could roll up his sleeves during surgery. The classic American setup includes 4 buttons, but it is not uncommon to find modern suits with 7, 3, 2, or even one button. It is all a matter of personal preference, though some will say 4 buttons is the only way to go.
Tip: If you already own a suit with buttons that are simply sewn onto the sleeve, you can ask your tailor to cut the holes and create functional buttons. Just be sure your sleeve length is perfect before doing so because adjusting the sleeve length afterwards is very labor-intensive and expensive.
The main source of variety for lapels is their width, but one additional feature to pay attention to is the button hole on the left lapel. This button hole is meant to house a lapel pin. A lot of cheaper suits will have stitching that creates a faux button hole, omitting the actual gap for a pin. Higher quality jackets will have a more structured hole in the lapel for pins as well as a small loop under the lapel about 2 inches below the button hole to support a long lapel pin.
The options here are limited: 3, 2, 1, or double-breasted. I would urge against the 3 button as it is antiquated and deemed mostly a 90s fad that has since been removed from modern suiting. The most popular option is the 2 button; however, those who are more fashion forward may prefer a single button, though it is often reserved for tuxes and smoking jackets. The double-breasted suit is classic, but keep in mind it doesn’t work with all body types, especially if it is not Made To Measure (MTM), or bespoke. If buying off the rack, make sure you try one on that is very close to your size so you can get a good sense of what it will look like.
There is a lot to consider when picking out a suit, and most of the options hinge on the preferences of the wearer. You must decide which options appeal to you and how much you are willing to spend for those options.
Are there any elements of the jacket exterior that we missed? Are there any for which you have a strong preference? Let us know in the comments below.