Choosing Your First Suit: The Basics
If you (or your son) are graduating this summer, it signifies the need to move out of casual student clothes and upgrade your wardrobe to something altogether smarter. You'll need a suit for your graduation ceremony, and then job interviews and this may be the first time you've had to choose a suit for yourself.
It could feel like a daunting task as you potentially have a tight budget to stick to and may have no idea about the do's and don'ts of formalwear, so I've put together a guide for you to help you navigate the choice and give you some tips and ideas.
A traditional two-piece is standard for most formal occasions and I would advise a two button jacket as the most classic choice. Only fasten the top button, never the bottom one, and if you do end up going for a three button then just fasten the middle one. Also, it may seem obvious but ensure that you cut open any rear vents or pockets that have been stitched up and remove any designer labels that have been loosely stitched on (usually on the sleeve). I find it unbelievable that I see men around that have ommitted to do this!
If there’s one thing that can kill the effect of a perfectly good suit, it’s the fit. Men often buy suits that are too large for their frames and incorrect sleeve length is a real giveaway. Jacket sleeves should come to your wristbone, and shirt sleeves should come to the base of your hand therefore showing about 1/4"-1/"2 of shirt cuff.
I would recommend buying an off the peg suit and saving some of your budget to spend on having alterations made with a tailor. Often these can be done in the shop you buy the suit from or you could visit a local tailor. I often find when shopping with people that they don't really want to bother with this part of the process, but this is really key in looking good. You can get away with a cheaper suit that fits perfectly rather than a more expensive one that doesn't. See the tips that I got from Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson on how to get a good fit.
In order for those graduation pictures on the mantelpiece to stand the test of time, I'd give the very skinny suits a swerve for now and opt for a slim or classic fit which won’t date so easily.
Wool or cotton-based fabric is best, with wool blend, worsted wool, cotton and cotton blend offering good quality yet lower-cost alternatives to more pricey cashmere or silk. Often the less expensive suits will be made of polyester and viscose, which can be okay but beware of it looking too shiny. Also be aware that these fabrics will be warmer to wear, so if you're graduating in the height of summer, it could get a bit sticky under a graduation gown! A cool wool would be a more fitting choice if your budget allows.
Solid, dark colours or those with a slight texture ie: herringbone or birdseye are a great choice and navy or grey are preferable to black, which I find looks stark against many skin tones, and can easily look cheap.
If your father has a great vintage watch, tie-pin or cufflinks he can lend you for the occasion then this is a lovely way of personalising your outfit, and the fact that it's vintage gives edge and class. If you'd like to wear a pocket square then this adds a nice touch but keep it subtle on this occasion to avoid a clash with the coloured hood you'll be wearing for the graduation ceremony. NEVER wear a tie and pocket square in matching fabric!
Your tie knot is another thing that sets the men apart from the boys. Make sure that the size of your knot corresponds to your overall proportions as well as your collar type ie: if you have a slim build and a small neck size then a spread collar shirt and wide Windsor knot will overwhelm you, or in contrast if you are a large guy and have a skinny tie with a small knot it will look incongruous. Safest to choose are a Four-in-Hand or a Half Windsor, and practice getting a great dimple in your tie which will definitely elevate you in the style stakes!
Ensure you have a formal belt to wear with your suit - that means not too thick, no topstitching and no loud buckles.
Suit: Topman £100Tie:Nick Bronson at Liberty £40 (alternatively try Primark where they're approx £2 but no nice photos for me to put on here!) Tie clip: Peter Werth at Topman £30 Pocket square: Reiss £13
Invest in a timeless pair of Oxfords or brogues in black, tan or oxblood, and avoid anything too fashionable which will easily date. If the shoes have leather soles, don't forget to score them before wearing, as they can be very slippery and I'm sure you'd rather not slide across the stage to accept your certificate! Finally, make sure that your shoes and belt correspond in colour.
And if you really don't want to wear a suit? Then I suggest opting for a smart blazer and tailored trousers with a formal shirt, and ensure you follow through with smart, sleek and formal accessories.
This article was written following my involvement with an article produced by men’s clothing retailer Mainline Menswear. You can click here to read the original article ‘Choosing the Ultimate Graduation Get-up ’