Cataline Recommends Buying a Suit

“It’s not who you are that counts, it’s who people think you are.”

Joesph Kennedy was an evil old bastard who raised his children in an environment of brutal pride and hollow moral values but that doesn’t mean he was wrong.

This post is for my younger readers.  The ones who are still in college or are going to be transitioning out of the military in a couple of years (yes, you need to start preparing to get out now, not when you begin your terminal leave. That level of preparation is a fast track to unwanted re-enlistment.

A few years ago, I was having lunch at my (former) favorite lunch spot, which was located in the Amway Grand Hotel in Grand Rapids.  It’s been replaced by some GDF Wolfgang chain thing (bleech).  Anyway, while I was waiting for it to open I overheard a conversation between two young people that were attending a job fair that the hotel was hosting.

A young man was saying to a young lady, “…and I said, ‘but I don’t want just an average starter job!’”

I glanced over at the source of the voice and managed to look away in time before I started laughing.

This career fair was for pharmaceutical sales reps.  The big names were all there.  Pfizer, Merck, Beyer. Everyone was dressed for their A-Game except this kid who felt he was so much better than a starter job.

He was wearing brown half-boots, brown corduroy pants, and a khaki zipper waist jacket. The tie completed the picture of sartorial incompetence.  He was also wearing college type sideburns. 

Someone had drastically failed this kid.  There was no way in hell he was going to get a job looking like that.  Not for a fortune 500 company and particularly not in sales.  Although to be brutally honest anybody who gets a pharma sales job from one of those job fairs is in for a life of hell.

But getting back to my original point.  

Guys, you need a suit.

Even if you are not in a job that requires one, you still need a suit.  If nothing else a young man in his twenties is going to have weddings and funerals to attend.

THE BASICS:

If you have a job where you don’t need to wear one, you should get a Navy Blue suit.  NOT BLACK.  Navy Blue.

If you are going into a field where you do need “appropriate business attire.”  And you don’t have a lot of money.  I would recommend corporate grey suits.  Three of them.  Make sure you can wear the suit’s jackets with any of the trousers.  And a really good idea would be three off-vests (vests that didn’t come with the suits but can be worn with them).  If you can successfully mix and match all of these pieces you will have 27 outfits you can wear.

And yes, I understand you don’t have fifteen thousand dollars in your pocket for bespoke suits.  The problem is that if you go to Men’s Warehouse, it’s going to look like you got your suit from Men’s Warehouse.

There is a time and a place to hit the thrift stores and estate sales and that time is when you are in your twenties.  This is nothing to be ashamed of, we all did it at your age.  And we feel very sentimental about it when we think back on it. But damned if we’d do that now.

What to look for if you want a quality suit?

Forget labels.  Luxury brands like Brooks Brother’s Golden Fleece have been AGGRESSIVELY counterfeited for decades. Unless you are buying new, I wouldn’t trust a label.

First, flip up the collar and look at the seam.  A machine-made suit will be metronomically precise in it’s stitching.  A handmade suit’s stitching will be slightly irregular. And handmade is almost always a much higher quality garment.

Second, so long as the collar is up, check out the lapel buttonhole.  While you already know from the collar seam if the suit is handmade or not.  The buttonhole will tell you if a handmade suit was sewn by a tailor who knew what he was doing. You will have to develop your eye a little bit for this one, but a good handmade buttonhole takes skill.  A cheap one takes no skill at all they will just embroider a buttonhole on the fabric first and then cut out the fabric leaving a frayed edge of fabric behind. The cheapest way is to just leave the buttonhole closed. Skip those every time, those suits won’t last a year.

Third, is there a fabric reserve?  If pants have a couple of inches of fabric past the seams (in order to let the suit out) that’s an indicator of a high-quality suit. Fabric is the most expensive part of a cheap suit so the manufacturers try to minimize that.

Four, check the cuffs.  If the cuffs on the pants are a separate strip of material, it’s definitely a cheap suit. Flip-up the coat cuff and check the stitching on the lining.  Here it doesn’t matter as much if it’s hand-sewn or not, (although handsewn will likely be higher quality) but what you are looking for here is “give.” Is there any stretch to the lining of the jacket if you tug at it here.  If it stretches slightly you are in business.  If it is fixed, then follow the sartorial advice of Lord Humongous, “just walk away and there will be an end to the horror.”

Fifth, Lining. By law there has to be a manufacturer’s tag telling you what materials are in the suit. If there is no tag, then…

A cheap suit will always have a lining with polyester or a polyester blend.  The best liners will be made of silk, but it doesn’t have to be that. There are other materials that are just fine. Also, make sure it’s a full lining. A really cheap suit will have a half lining

Also, how it’s attached is fairly important. Pinch the outer fabric and see if you can separate it from the inner lining. If you can then it was sewn, which is good.  If you can’t then it was basically glued on.  Put that one back on the rack.

Sixth. Buttons. Cheap buttons will be made out of plastic.  Quality buttons will be made out of horn.  Problem; you usually can’t tell the difference just by looking at them.  Horn will be heavier than plastic but again this something that you are simply going to have to develop your eye to spot.

Now, it doesn’t have to be horn to be a quality material there are others that are quite good. Do your research on this one because your own taste will matter here.

Seventh. The outer material.  For preference you will have one made of 100% wool.  Unfortunately, fabric manufacturers can get away with putting a small amount of other materials in the fabric and still call it 100% wool. Now the reputable manufacturers won’t do that but again you are talking about counterfeit labels.  That is why I put this indicator of quality so low on the list. Once again, no polyester.  Those suits are hot, uncomfortable and don’t last.

How you present yourself to the world is not just about vanity. It is how you are representing your company and the level of professionalism it requires of its people. It also says a lot about the level of professionalism you require of yourself.

And remember, you will have to be in this suit all day long at work.  Eight hours of discomfort five days a week will degrade your performance.  That is the biggest reason that you need good quality suits.

Commenters: if you have any suggestions for what young men should look for please leave them below.

And let me know if you want anymore articles like this one.

Okay, I’m done here.

4 thoughts on “Cataline Recommends Buying a Suit

  1. I agree with the sentiment to get a proper suit rather than the Men’s Wearhouse special. I played that game with a buddy in college when we split the cost on a 2 for $250 suit special for a job fair. The suit lasted for years, but the difference between that one and my first bespoke suit ($600, small Midwest suit place open for over 30 years) was night and day. Take the time and make the investment in a proper suit or two and you will not regret it. Not just for your job, but looking like a man at weddings and funerals is a worthwhile goal.

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  2. White broadcloth shirts, in correct size and sleeve length. 4-5 medium-width ties in matching or complementary colors for business use. Both of these take a good suite to the next level, and give you a sharp, crisp appearance. Figure on 2-3 extra white shirts (7-8 total), allow for accident or incident. Spare in the office doesn’t hurt. Keep them pressed (learn to iron or find a good laundry). Ties are probably worth an entry of their own (do and don’t, and knots), but shirts are important too.

    Oh, yes, get a decent wooden hanger (thrift store or yard sale) to hang your jacket up while working at a desk. Keep the shoulders and drape in good form.

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  3. Gentlemen, please, do not wear a striped shirt with a striped tie–it jars the eye and draws the bad kind of attention. Solid tie w/striped shirt or striped tie w/solid color shirt.

    Also, shirt garters or leg garters not necessary–but you CAN get used to them, and they avoid you accomplishing a sharp appearance for 90% of your body but with your socks pooled around your ankles like a 3 year old.

    You’ve posed good info for younger readers…but younger folks need more advice than sartorial. Here’s a tip to the younger fellas–no matter how much your mom has told you how important you are, if you’re in a very large important meeting and your boss’ boss isn’t speaking to the regional VP…neither should you. You would think that wouldn’t need to be said but…yeah.

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