I've been writing a lot of personal thoughts and musings here in my first few entries, but I also promised to provide some concrete style rules for you guys. The most stringent rules for propriety in dress come, not surprisingly, in the world of suiting. They require significant study, care, and attention to detail before they can be mastered, which is why I've devoted a lot of time to learning about suits and their related accoutrements. So now it's time for a bit of practical advice. In no particular order:
You need to know your size. This really should go without saying, but I can't count the number of times I've asked a guy what his jacket size is and had him tell me one way or another that he had no idea. Here's what you do: get a tape measure. Even a metal one that you'd use for measuring wood will work. Wrap the tape measure around your chest at its fullest point, usually right around the nipples. The measurement in inches is your jacket size. And chances are, if you subtract 6 inches from that, you'll get your waist size. This is how a standard suit is sized; the difference between the chest measurement and the waist measurement is called the "drop." 6 inches is the standard drop for men's suits.
Once you know your chest measurement, knowing what length of jacket (regular, tall/long, or short) to purchase is fairly straightforward. The two rules of thumb are (1) the jacket, like a good lawyer, should cover your ass, and (2) the hem of the jacket should fall roughly even with the knuckle of your thumb when your arm is at your side, though many jackets today may be an inch or even two inches shorter. Generally, if you're between 5'8" and 6', you'll probably take a Regular; outside that range, you should try both Regular and the other to see what looks best.
Having said all of the above, the first thing you need to look at when trying on a suit is the fit of the shoulders, because in spite of what the salesman may tell you, shoulders cannot be tailored. The entire jacket is constructed around the shoulders; they are the garment's foundation, and if they don't fit, forget it. How do you tell whether they fit? The outermost point of the shoulder should not extend beyond the muscle of your upper arm. You can test it this way: if you stand perpendicular to a wall and edge sideways towards it, the shoulder of the jacket should not touch the wall before the rest of your arm does. If the jacket fails this test, go down a size. Generally speaking, if the jacket makes your shoulders look broader than they actually are, it's not a proper fit.
I will never forgive the salesman at Moores who, when I suggested that the waist of my first suit jacket needed to be taken in so that it curved closer to my body, told the 18-year-old me that "only women's suits do that." WRONG. A man's jacket should not hang straight and shapeless from his underarm to his thigh. Although suits have been cut this way from time to time over the last century, notably the "sack" suit popularized by Brooks Brothers, this shape doesn't flatter the body at all. Speaking in terms of ideals, men are supposed to have shoulders that are broader than their waist; essentially, a triangular-shaped torso is the most desirable. To create this shape (or the illusion of it), the jacket must taper in at the middle, contouring to the wearer's body so that the waist appears smaller than the shoulders and chest. This is known as "waist suppression." And regardless of the man's actual shape, tailoring a jacket this way makes him look better.
It's highly unlikely that a suit will fit you perfectly right off the rack; at bare minimum, you'll have to have the pants hemmed. But it'll probably need a lot more work than that if you want it to fit like the ones you see in movies. The good news is, though, that if the jacket is a bit baggy, its sleeves are a bit too long, or the pants are a bit too big, a tailor can fix them. (Personally, my spine is little too straight at the top, so I always get a roll in the back of my jackets just below the collar that has to be corrected.) Having said that, tailoring can get expensive, and remember: he's a tailor, not a miracle worker. If the suit jacket is totally the wrong size, a tailor can't fix it. (Pants, yes, if you're prepared to pay for them to be taken apart entirely and basically re-cut into a new pair, but even then you can probably only go down one size.) The general rule is that it's usually possible to take something in, but it's not necessarily possible to let something out, because the extra fabric may simply not be there.
I've heard it said many times: a $400 suit that fits properly looks better than a $2400 suit that doesn't. If you have the knowledge to properly instruct your tailor, you can make a cheap suit look pretty damn good. Sure, a $2400 suit is very nice, but if you have to wear one to the office every day, it becomes rather cost-prohibitive. Personally, as far as the lower end goes, I really like Club Monaco and Zara. They both have great designs at a sub-$400 price point which, importantly, usually come in 100% natural fibres (wool, cotton and linen). If there's one minimum standard I would advocate for a suit, it's the 100%-natural-fibre rule. You often find polyester in cheap suits at places like H&M, Le Chateau, etc., but wool is superior in every way, primarily because it looks better and wears better.
And there you have it. Coming soon: specific ideas to get more mileage out of your existing suits, using tailoring and accessories. Questions? Leave a comment!