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How is a men’s suit made: everything you need to know from A to Z

05/04/2021
How is a men’s suit made: everything you need to know from A to Z

What is a men’s suit?

 

Historically men’s suits have their origins in Britain of the 19th century. However, this menswear garment indeed changed a lot from its conception up to nowadays.

 

Originally it was an attire intended for a few, especially the nobles of the time. It consisted of a long jacket, a vest of another fabric, and a pair of trousers of another fabric, close to what we call a formal tailcoat. In the process, suits became more widely used as two or three pieces (jacket, pants, vest) that were all made of the same material. Their use at that time was intended for informal or sporting occasions (horseback riding, hunting in the English countryside) but over time due to societal changes became the symbol of formal menswear. Last century, following the restructuring of the social and economic classes, it became accessible to more and more men and became an obvious choice in business meetings, entertainment as well as semi-formal and formal attire.

 

The suit today is not as worn as in the past. Still though remains a trademark for most of the well-dressed men and a must choice for extraordinary events. The suit today is not a garment that you have to wear but one that you love to wear. This means that there are fewer of those men wearing suits daily, but still, somehow most men will try this classic at some stage of their lives.

 

When we talk today about the suit, we refer to the combo mix of a jacket, a pair of trousers, and perhaps a waistcoat that is made of a single fabric and color.

 

Types of tailoring

 

There are three different construction methods for a suit. In this article, we explain these different approaches below. It is a common fact though that a men's suit requires skilled labor and thorough know-how for its manufacture. Moreover, it has to fit well into male anatomy providing a sense of balance between its parts and measurements need to be taken by millimeter. So that results in that great suit really should be.

 

Taking into account the aforementioned, it is not an over-emphasis to consider tailoring fine suits as an art, possessed by a few specialized tailors and brands that hold its secrets well.

 

Let's look at them separately:

 

Bespoke

 

A bespoke suit is a garment made from scratch, following the customer’s measurements and according to the customer's preferences (style, fabric, color, design, linings, buttons) from the beginning to the last details. It is also called custom-made. What defines a bespoke suit is that a tailor creates a new pattern based on the man’s body measurements. Its tailoring requires many hours and fit appointments before it becomes ready for delivery. The cost of a bespoke suit through the hands of a good tailor is high and perhaps quite risky if concerned with a first approach. Men that opt for this type of suit appreciate the procedure and the sense of exclusivity associated with it.

 

Made-to-measure

 

Made-to-measure suits based on predefined models only to be customized. The tailor takes the customer’s body measurements and his style preferences (lapels, linings, fabric, etc.). Based on the measurements then selects his base/model/drop that adapts better, customizing accordingly even doing complex modifications to achieve the desired fit. The cost of this procedure in this case is still high but relatively lower than its bespoke counterpart. The risk of doing a made-to-measure suit is still high, mainly because the reference base/drop should be faultless and provide a sense of well-being while wearing. 

 

Made to order

 

The made-to-order suit is the industry standard practice of a custom suit. In this case, the tailoring house dedicates a space of its base models/drops in an assortment of sizes. The customer selects the drop he feels most proper and the fabric and a selection of accessories. The salesman, therefore, takes account of possible alterations - but rather limited - to be made to obtain a suit that seems more of a personal choice. This is an option that usually costs 30% more of a ready-to-wear suit and fit risk should be limited, although it largely depends on the manufacturer.    

 

Ready to wear, or off-the-rack or pret-a-porter

 

Ready-to-wear suits dominate our era as the most popular choice. A ready-to-wear suit is available off the rack to be seen and worn, certainly avoiding surprises. Furthermore, when of tailored quality, it can be altered and modified in several of its parts to fit right for you. The imagination part is absent in this type of men’s suits as what you see is what you get. There are infinite choices from many brands and retailers and you may get lost when pursuing a suit. Certainly, the market is dominated by cheap quality products and a variation in price tags and the risk for an inexperienced consumer is high. Pay attention to fabric and sewing quality and make sure a ready-made suit fits you well before you finally find the suit brand that perfectly matches your needs.

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The major influencers in suit tailoring

 

There are two major tailoring schools. On the one hand the most classic, strict, and structured British (English) and on the other the lightest and temperamental Italian. Italian is divided into two subcategories, that of the North (based in Milan) with characteristics that are a little closer to the British suit tailoring and that of the South (based in Naples) that loves jackets with a more natural fit.

Both main categories are occupied by their commitment to elegance, quality, and detail. They have as many characteristics in common as so many other differences and have created their own 'followers' who follow them so faithfully that it is difficult to betray each other.

 

English tailoring

 

Still being a source of inspiration for many tailors and passionates of well-fitted and structured suits. Its main features are its padded and relatively narrow shoulders and the cropped waist, while internally they are reinforced with a thick canvas and their lapel is of standard width and form. The trousers are relatively high-waisted, slightly loose at thighs, while you will find flat-front versions or with single and even double pleats. The English tailors still work with fabrics that are heavier in weight such as cashmere and woolen tweeds. Typical representatives of this school are Anderson & Sheppard, Gieves & Hawkes, and Saville Row brands in general. Their scope is to achieve a clean and formal suit in terms of appearance.

 

Italian school

 

Italian school is divided into two subcategories, North and South.

 

The school of Milan

 

It is the school that made popular Italian style. It flourished during the '80s and 90s. Somehow, shares some common features to the English school such as the padded shoulder of the jacket and the strict style that exudes. Two of the main exponents of the school are the famous houses Canali and Ermenegildo Zegna who, inspired by tailors like Caraceni, exported the Italian style worldwide with an emphasis on what we call power suits that have an appeal to the business world. The colors they choose are usually dark and discreet while in the fabrics we will find light extra-fine wools and flannel fabrics derived from Biella, a famous zone for its mills in the Piedmont region.

 

The Neapolitan tailor

 

Representing southern Italy, this tailoring tradition is quite different from the other two schools. Its main feature is to craft a suit that is both comfortable and light in its use. The Neapolitan tradition achieved this by removing the shoulder pads and everything else that seems unnecessary and burdens the garment such as the hard and heavy interior, replacing these with extensive handwork. The whole suit was designed to embrace the body naturally and to follow its silhouette with the ultimate goal of highlighting it. Its shoulders are deeper and the armhole is higher so that the waist starts higher and sharper.

 

In Naples, there are some of the best tailors and their headquarters are some of the most famous and historic brands of the world such as Kiton and Cesare Attolini. This school enjoys the recognition and preference of more and more men who like good and all temperamental clothing.

You will find suits in various colors, distinct designs, or materials such as wool, cotton, and linen to heavy or lighter flannels.

 

The fit

 

The fit of the suit is of key importance and depends largely on factors such as the right pattern, a piece of quality fabric, and the use of quality internals. The most important factor remains the quality of handwork involved.

 

There is a tendency for commercial reasons to distinguish fit to categories such as slim, custom, and regular fit. Slim fit suits usually refer to jackets with a sharp waist, relatively short jackets, and flat-front trousers. On the other hand, a custom fit or tailored fit suit shares all these traits of traditional tailoring, with fit embracing rather than suppressing the waist and trousers usually being pleated. 

 

In general terms, a man's suit should just fit right to your body type. 

 

The main feature of a suit is the shoulders of the jacket and their construction. This part will determine the rest of the jacket in terms of fit and appearance. As a direct effect of the shoulder, the sleeves come accordingly and transform the entire jacket determining the quality of the fit.

 

 The trousers should guarantee balance and aesthetic harmony to their jacket to form a man's suit in the balance following a specific aesthetic image. We suggest that you always pay attention to the smallest detail regarding the fit of a suit.

 

The result should reflect us in an ideal way, naturally emphasizing some parts of our body and somehow hiding some others to optimize your overall image.

 

The fabric

 

This choice and type of quality plays an important role in the final value (cost and aesthetics) of a garment. The quality of suitings varies and as a rule of thumb, there are, on one hand, the fabrics derived from natural raw materials - top-notch quality fabrics - and on the other hand mass-produced fabrics derived from synthetic raw materials.

 

A suit crafted from a synthetic fabric is certainly a low cost but also unpleasant in terms of feel. Its overall image does not make it deceive the impressions, remaining in a way poor even in the eyes of an inexperienced consumer.

 

Instead, opt for your suit to be crafted from extra virgin wool or blended with other noble raw materials such as silk, cotton, and linen. These are friendly to skin compositions and capable of producing high effect results. These are the fabrics that make one love the specific product and the culture that follows with it.

 

Merinos sheep from Australia and New Zealand produce one of the most renowned and quality wool in the world. Famous Italian textile mills in the world such as Loro Piana, Vitale Barberis Canonico, and Ermenegildo Zegna are the ones that usually buy at auction - this type of wool makes up for only 5% of the world wool production - and process these precious materials.

 

Furthermore, based on seasonality there is a further distinction between fabrics.

 

Summer

 

Light and cool fabrics 

 

The cool wool

 

The predominant type of fabric for a men's summer suit. Their lightweight per meter (less than 245gr / m) and their relatively sparse weave allow air circulation thus offering the desired coolness in a summer suit. 

 

The linens

 

Well-known and popular! Linen is the epitome of summer fabrics, cool and light ideal for hot and humid summer days makes up for comfortable, elegant, and carefree clothes. If its wrinkles 'bothers' you, look for linens in a blend with cool wool or cotton.

 

Cotton

 

Rather cool, are a good alternative to woolen and linen as they combine features of the two aforementioned. Ideal to express smart casual everyday suits. Their only drawback is that it is relatively more difficult to maintain their consistency in color and fit in the long run.

 

Seersucker

 

Usually expressed in cotton fabrics, they are cool and with an appearance of almost permanent light wrinkle reminiscent of embossing. Durable and lately with natural stretch properties it is a choice for morning summer suits. We commonly find it as blue striped.

 

Winter fabrics

 

This is the category of heavier and warmer fabrics suitable for winter conditions.

 

Woolen

 

The most common type for winter suits. Superfine worsted wools give excellent layering and with their ideal weight (300 gr/meter) they are pleasantly worn both indoors and outdoors. Their use is suitable for formal and business suits.

 

Cashmere

 

 Undoubtedly one of the most coveted and luxurious fabrics, it is known for its unparalleled soft texture, comfort, and most importantly its sweet warmth.

However, some of the biggest disadvantages of this fabric are its high cost and sensitivity to use.

Most often found with other woolen fabrics that can increase durability over time with a reduced purchase cost.

 

Tweed

 

They are wonderful winter fabrics of timeless elegance. The fabric is essentially made of wool and is woven by three yarns of different colors blended to produce a distinctive pattern.

Tweed is a thick and warm fabric. Winter tweed suits are a bit heavier compared to most suits and are most popular in colder winter climates.

 

Flannel

 

Well-known, still niche type of fabrics weaved from thick woolens or superfine wools. They make suits with a casual appeal and may vary in weight and are loved for their vivid and special color tones.

They are more appropriate for daily use, and less suitable for special occasions that require formal wear.

 

The styles

 

Men’s suits come in different styles either based on their lapels, or the number of pieces they consist of, and other special features.

 

2-button, 3-buttons, and double-breasted suits

 

A basic style separation is done according to the number of buttons and the way of buttoning on the suit jacket. As one can imagine the two-button jacket has two buttons, of which, when needed, we only button the first top.

 

The same applies to the three-button jacket with the difference that in this case, we button the top two or only the middle button.

 

Regarding the double-breasted jacket, we have 6 + 1 buttons, of which we only use the middle two. 

 

 

2-pieces (Jacket and trousers) - 3-pieces (Jacket, pants, and vest) 

 

The single and essential difference, in this case, is the presence of an extra piece, the suit waistcoat with the jacket and the trousers being the standard theme.

Overall most popular suits are those of two pieces, being less imperative to a daily routine while for a more formal attire men tend to prefer the three-piece suit.

 

 

Lounge suits vs formal suits

 

Another classification is between business and lounge suits and formal men's suits.

 

As lounge suits, we classify the less formal suit type that is typically worn during the daytime and sometimes referred to as morning suits. Usually proposed in a variety of fabrics, colors, and patterns, the lounge suits vary from navy blue to earthy patterns and from solid-colored classics to Prince of Wales checks and pinstripes.

 

Formal suits are rather limited in choice by pattern - although in some parts of South Europe jacquard jackets are being used for formal occasions such as weddings and ceremonies. Navy blue and black suits dominate in versions without and with a waistcoat. Qualities such as superfine wools, also in blend with silk form excellent wedding suits.

 

Tuxedos or tuxedo suits are also included in this category. A type of suit that is exclusively used in black tie events. Featuring satin lapels, satin waistbands, and satin-covered buttons, are certainly suits for special events. Another interesting feature is that in the case of a tuxedo, its jacket is a single button or double-breasted and can be with or without a waistcoat.