If you frequent popular Youtube channels and blogs that discuss men’s suits and other tailored clothing, it can all make you feel like an underachiever. Often, they heap praise on uncommon tailoring details, rarified fabrics and esoteric brands that are beyond the budget of the average person. Do you really need to spend thousands of dollars (as some would claim) to obtain a tailored suit of superior quality? What are you really getting for all that money? How can you find the right balance between cost and quality?
The more you pay for a suit, the less you gain in quality…
In economics, the law of diminishing returns refers to a point at which the benefits gained from a product are less than the amount of money invested. In other words, the more you spend, the less you get in added value. For example, a new Rolls Royce can easily cost over $600,000.00. Does it offer a multiple of nine times more value than an $80,000.00 flagship luxury sedan by Lexus when comparing measurable utility, comfort, and quality? No. The added value is incremental.
This economic principle can also be applied to men’s clothing. The more you pay for a men’s suit the less you gain in added quality. In other words, a $5,000.00 bespoke suit will not be ten times better than a $500.00 “off-the-rack” suit. Check out this post on the difference between quality and luxury to understand how marketers use your emotions to get you to pay more for a ‘luxury’ branded garment.
Truthfully, most of the meaningful gains in suit quality and tailoring can be had for around $500.00 at retail (and for less if you watch for end-of-season sales). If you are a frugal-minded consumer willing to access the second-hand clothing market you can access the highest levels of tailored-suit quality for pennies on the dollar. Knowing how much quality is enough will allow you to set a reasonable budget and expectations when purchasing tailored men’s clothing.
What Matters Most In a Quality Suit
Here are three details that most experts would consider essential for a quality suit. For more information check out my guide to buying suits here.
1. High-Quality Natural Fabrics
You want a suit that is made with high-quality natural fibers such as wool, linen and silk. Generally, you can find suits made of better-quality fabrics in the top lines of major suit manufacturers such as Jos. A. Bank Signature Gold Label, Hart Schaffner & Marx Gold Label, Hickey Freeman, Brooks Brothers and others. Polyester is never used in better quality suits as it does not breathe well and holds in heat.
2. Half-Canvassed Suit Construction
Half-canvas or canvas chest piece refers to a horsehair and other natural fibers shell that is sewn inside the fabric and lining of the front of the suit jacket. It lines the chest area and helps the suit to smoothly drape over the chest, adding shape to the jacket and durability. Nearly all major suit manufacturers use half-canvas lining in their top-of-the-line suits that retail for $500 or more. If you are not sure if the suit has half-canvas construction, check the suit manufacturers website. If they do use half-canvas construction, it will be featured in their advertising or specifications. Suits priced below $500 generally have less durable fused (glued) interlining construction. Generally, the quality of all other elements of a suit will be high if it features half-canvas construction.
An Observation on Fused-Construction Suits:
In terms of real-world quality, fused construction is catching up with half-canvas construction. It is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a suit with a fused interlining and half canvas just by looking at them. Newer fused suits used improved fusing and construction methods that can drape just as nicely as a half-canvas suit. However, since it is less-costly to manufacture a fused suit, it should always cost less than a comparable half-canvas construction suit.
3. Rayon or Bemberg Lining
Generally, you want to avoid a suit with a polyester lining. It does not breathe and holds in heat, causing you to sweat. Better quality suits will use linings derived from natural fibers such as rayon or Bemberg (a specially processed type of rayon). These higher quality linings breathe and make for a more comfortable suit.
Generally, if a suit you are considering has these three features, it is safe to say that the overall suit construction will be of very good quality. Suits with these features generally retail for $500 and up. If you are patient, you can find these suits going on sale in the $300 range.
4. Final Tailoring & Alterations
This is really where all of the good qualities of your suit are showcased at their best. The subtle refinements made to an “off-the-rack” suit by a good tailor personalizes the suit to fit your body and is an essential part of the suit buying process.
What You Can Live Without
There are more esoteric details that drive up the price of a suit without adding to the quality. These include expensive horn buttons, surgeon cuffs, and hand-sewn pick stitching. Also, full-canvas suit construction is rarely offered in suits under $3,000 retail and add very little meaningful value when compared to half-canvas suits.
So, there you have it. Generally, for $500.00 to $800.00 retail you can find men’s suits that provide all of the hallmarks of quality you really need. By careful shopping, you can find these suits for as low as $300.00 on sale. You may find this post listing some of the better suit manufacturers helpful.
Finally, if you buy second-hand, you can find plenty of gently used high-quality suits on the tightest budget. I routinely purchase second-hand suits that retail for $600 – $900 when new for under $50.00 on eBay and Poshmark.com. With the money saved by buying second-hand, you can visit more places in your newly acquired wardrobe!