A Beginner’s Guide to Suits and Menswear

Because There Are Some Things Guys Just Need To Know…

With this entry, I’m taking a break from my usual commentaries and giving some very simple and practical advice to my half of the population.  Given all the fashion faux paxs and interesting choices of attire at Mass I’ve seen, I’ve come to learn one very important thing: There are some things that guys just need to know.  Style is one of them.

I’ve been working in menswear for almost three years.  All I’ll say about myself before taking the job is that as far as style was concerned, I was a complete disaster.  I only got hired because it was almost Christmas, the manager needed people, I’d recently graduated college and needed a job, and a friend who worked at the store referenced me.  I’ve had customers in their forties and fifties who have never had tailored clothing before.  One time on GAG, a guy asked if wearing sweats on a first date is okay.  As my dad would say, “If you want to be single for the rest of your life, the answer is ‘no’

Your transition should be gradual and I’ve learned a few things in my time working in menswear, so I’m here to guide you through. 

I originally posted this on GirlsAskGuys and have updated it for Oramus.  Let’s get started…

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Sharp-Dressed Man

1. SLACKS.  If you’ve never worn tailored clothes before, this is a good starting point.  You don’t want to give yourself a complete fashion overhaul overnight.  Start with one black or dark grey pair and a navy pair with pinstripes.  There are pleated and plain-fronted pants.  A lot of guys today wear plain, but I like pleated (cuffs are the recommended hem).  Dress slacks are worn differently than jeans, so the waist is usually about two to three inches larger.  My jeans are a 32-inch waist, but my dress pants are 35s.

2. SUITS.  You should have at least two suits; one solid black and one navy.  Suits are measured by chest size and the length of your torso, though most often, your height will be the key factor.  At the store where I work, I wear a 41-Long, but at other places, I might be a 42.  My store’s traditional cut will fit me just fine, but my best fit will be either a tailored or slim; these are most appropriate for a more athletic build such as mine. 

I prefer my suits from specialty stores that require tailoring.  I have more flexibility with the final look and feel that way.  Most specialty stores charge for alterations and usually have a two-week turn-around, but will do their best to accommodate if you need them sooner. 

3. DRESS SHIRTS.  Start with a solid white shirt, a solid blue (French blue is my favorite) and one other color of your choice.  I recommend spread collars because they square off better with jackets.  Buy extra collar stays as well.  There are little slots under the shirt’s collar where plastic tabs are placed to keep the shirt looking crisp.  Also, iron the collar regularly.  Otherwise, the tips will curve in and make the shirt look dumb.

Every half inch in the neck adds inches around the waist, so make sure you get measured correctly and select the right cut for your body type.  I wear a tailored-fit 16 ½ x 35; the shirt is a little more tapered, my neck is 16 ½ inches around, and my sleeves are 35 inches long.

Note: Real men wear pink.

4. TIES.  Your tie should blend with your shirt and jacket (if you’re wearing one).  When in doubt, go conservative and wear a white shirt with a solid-colored tie.  My favorite designs are stripes and paisley.  The tip of the tie should sit either just above your beltline or over the buckle.  However, the most important thing about ties is this: PLEASE know how to tie them.

Note: (see previous note)

The Casual Look

Most guys seem to do pretty well on this side of things, so I’ll just add a few other suggestions.

5. SPORTCOATS AND BLAZERS.  I prefer sportcoats over blazers because, in my opinion, they are more versatile.  Sportcoats have different textures and patterns.  Depending on colors and patterns, they can match a professional, business casual, or casual look.  Blazers are good, but they’re basically just suit jackets with different buttons. 

6. SOCKS, SHOES, AND BELTS.  Your shoes and belt should always match.  Your socks should match your shoes with jeans and khakis.  With suits, they should match the pants.  I’ve never been happy with laced dress shoes, so I prefer loafers or other slip-ons.  Polish them regularly.  Your belt should be one to two inches larger than your waist, but this applies to both jeans and slacks so once again, note the difference. 

7. TOUCHING UP.  If you remove your tie and undo the top button on the shirt for a more relaxed look, a necklace of some sort is a good complement to a suit.  Don’t be afraid to show your faith; wear a Scapular AND a Crucifix.  If you so choose, add suspenders.  Wear a lapel pin and your high school or college class ring.  Wear them for identity, but also networking.  You never know who may have a better job offer for you.  You may even do something as simple as make some new friends that way.   Lastly, wear an analog watch.

Know The Business

Menswear is expensive and if you add alterations, you’re looking at a fairly large investment.  Depending on where you go and how much of a wardrobe update you need, plan on spending no less than $500.  However, consider the value you want and where the better sales are.  Jos. A. Bank’s signature sale is Buy One, Get Two; buy one suit at regular price and get two more of equal or lesser value free.  Sometimes, it’s a mix-and-match deal for the entire stock, so if you have friends who need suits, pool your money and get the deal together.  K&G has picked up the Buy One, Get Two and Men’s Wearhouse runs a Buy One, Get One sale.

However, do take into account that some of us will take jobs at which we never have to wear anything fancier than a nice pair of khakis and a polo shirt.   For some of us, the only times we’ll ever wear suits will be for Mass, weddings, funerals, and other various special occasions.  So again, consider the value you want, but be practical as well.  Don’t spend more than what you really need to.

When you wear a good set of tailored clothing, you see a whole new side of yourself.  You’ve probably heard that what’s inside is what counts.  This is true, but how you present yourself draws even more of that out.  You’ll look awesome and you’ll feel more confident.  Though it may take some time to absorb, it will show.  If you feel strange with your new look, let ol’ George back you up…

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And did I mention that you’ll look awesome?

One Final Note on Mass and Attire…

Most people I knew at Benedictine understood what it meant to be well-dressed for Mass.  While at Mass, we present ourselves before our God, the Lord of All People and Ages.  If someone has the means and the time to prepare themselves for Mass, then they ought to do so.  Mass is not an inconvenience or arbitrary requirement.  It is the Feast of Heaven and Earth.  As such, we should present ourselves accordingly.

I’ve talked about him before, but Fr. John Hollowell once delivered the following homily at his parish in Indiana.  Please take a few moments and consider what he says here…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgGn40zZKyA]

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