Gay Talese, the American godfather of contemporary literary journalism, once said “Putting on a beautifully designed suit elevates my spirit, extols my sense of self, and helps define me as a man to whom details matter.” Talese would wake each morning on the third floor of his New York apartment and make his way to the fourth floor where he kept his clothes. There he would diligently choose a custom-made suit for the morning – one of many he had tailored over the years – and dress as if he were going to his Wall Street office, only he was going to his writing ‘bunker’ five floors down.
It would be nice to enjoy that daily indulgence of slipping into a bespoke suit for no other reason than ‘why the hell not?’ Talese came from tailoring stock so it was arguably in the blood, but for most of us, wearing a custom-made suit day in, day out just isn’t warranted or practical. The alternative of course is to rotate suits, an option that becomes far more financially realistic when you’re talking about off-the-peg.
Off-The-Peg Suits: Buying Considerations
So how do you find the perfect off-the-peg suit? Well, there’s no escaping the fact that you’re going to have to try on a lot of suits. A 42 regular at one brand will likely fit differently to a 42 regular at another (even the sizes of different suits at the same brand can have discrepancies in fit) so you’re going to need to put in the hard yards before you find a good cut.
The most critical part of the fit is across the shoulders, since this is the dimension that can’t really be altered by a tailor, so take your time to ensure you get it right. They should fit snug but not tight and the sleeves should finish roughly 4 inches from the tip of your thumbs when your arms are by your sides. The collar should sit flush to your neck, as with the lapels to your chest.
If the shoulders are good but the sleeves run too long, don’t worry – a good tailor can take up the sleeves by a centimetre or two, even with functional buttons. If the sleeves are too short, that may be more problematic since ready-to-wear suits don’t tend to be made with a lot of excess fabric, unlike bespoke.
Besides the fit, the other important factor to consider is fabric. 100% wool suits are graded by the ‘S number’, or ‘Super’, which essentially is a measurement of the thickness of the yarn, measured in microns. The thinner the yarn, the finer and more high quality, resulting in a higher Super number.
In general, a Super 100s cloth is a superior choice for daily wear but something in the Super 70-90s range will still look great while being that much more durable. A few good retailers (which we’ll get into shortly) do provide Super 120s cloth off-the-peg so if you’re only intending to wear the suit infrequently, this could be an excellent option.
At the lower end of your budget, you might find suits made from a wool or cotton blend – these will often be of a more casual aesthetic since they won’t have the luster of pure wool but they can make for good summer tailoring options. You’ll also find many modern wool yarns mixed with elastane to create a stretch in the fabric and prevent creasing. While practical, this does take away something from the natural drape of a pure wool suit.
The final consideration consists of the details such as the buttons, lining and sleeve lining. Many off-the-peg suits will come unstructured these days and so will only feature sleeve linings, if anything. Naturally, that makes for a lighter suit jacket and one that will crinkle more than a half-lined or fully-lined suit (which is perhaps a bonus when shopping for cotton or linen summer suits).
Lining will also keep you that much warmer if you live in cooler climates. Most off-the-peg linings will be made from either rayon, viscose or polyester, with the latter being the more durable of the three but the least breathable.
As for the buttons, it’s a nice touch if the jacket comes with real horn buttons but it’s not a dealbreaker. You can always switch out better quality buttons at a later stage.
The Best Affordable Suits Brands
So now you’ve been primed with how to buy off-the-peg, here’s our rundown on where to buy off-the-peg. Not to be confused with ‘cheap’, we’ve selected these suit brands for their affordability/value ratio, ensuring you get the most bang for your sartorial buck.
For much of its 361-year history, London’s Jermyn Street has been regarded as a sartorial destination for discerning gentlemen. More recently, it has been the postcode for some of the world’s finest shirtmakers, including Charles Tyrwhitt. Well regarded for their button ups, Tyrwhitt’s suits fly under the radar but represent excellent value for money.
Constructed with the same fastidiousness as its shirts, we particularly like Tyrwhitt’s ‘Italian suits’, cut in Vitale Barberis Canonico Super 110s merino wool, with a half canvas construction, corozo buttons and signature lapwing lining. If you’re on the road a lot, the brand’s crease-resistant pindot travel suit in Super 120s is an absolute steal.
High-street favourite Reiss is a go-to option if you prefer a more modern slim-fit silhouette or if you simply have a lean body type. Its flagship product is the travel suit, constructed from a blend of wool, polyester and elastane (a little stretch is never a bad thing when you’re opting for slim-fitting tailoring) and comes fully lined to help avoid creasing when on the move.
The suit is also available in a ‘modern fit’, which will still be pretty slim as far as traditional suit silhouettes go.
The Dutch behemoth that is Suitsupply truly disrupted the tailoring market when it first showed up in 2000 and proved that excellent fabrics needn’t be the exclusive preserve of Savile Row et al. Sourcing cloths from some of the most renowned Italian mills in the Biela region, Suitsupply suits feature a soft shoulder with a very natural drape, well-sized lapels and come with a half or full horsehair canvas lining in most cases.
Besides the vast fabrics options, Suitsupply also boasts a wealth of suits styles, making the online shopping experience extremely easy to navigate.
If you’re in the market for a suit that you can style out casually, or if your workplace’s dress code that leans business casual, then Todd Snyder is well worth considering. Snyder’s cuts are most definitely relaxed with a modern preppy feel that you can mix up with workwear and casualwear elements. Hence, Snyder suits make excellent trouser and blazer separates that you can incorporate into your current wardrobe with ease.
The jacket silhouette is typically Italian, with a relaxed drape in the shoulder and a butterfly lining. If you like Drake’s but don’t like the price tag, then Snyder is an excellent affordable alternative.
J.Crew’s signature design is the Ludlow, which it introduced in 2008 and has been going strong ever since. Recreated in many different incarnations, the Ludlow is a slim-fit, two-button notch lapel suit with a modern silhouette.
It comes in a variety of fabrics, from well-sourced Italian wool to cotton and cotton blends. Some of the styles feature a Bemberg lining (essentially a lining made from cupro) which is a nice touch given the relatively low price point.
If you’ve seen No Time to Die, the most recent James Bond film, you’ll recall the opening scenes in Mattua, Italy, where Daniel Craig is forced to bungee from a bridge while being pursued by gun-toting baddies. Well, that cotton needlecord suit he’s wearing is by Italian brand Massimo Alba. The suit in question is called the ‘sloop suit’ and is a beautiful expression of relaxed tailoring that can be worn in a business casual workplace or casually at weekends.
Available in tan, racing green and navy, it would make an excellent addition to any tailoring rotation, especially since it can be easily used as separates too. It’s definitely designed to be worn in a more casual aesthetic, so think simple white T-shirt in the summer and a button-down shirt or knitted polo in the winter, bookending it with a pair of crepe-soled chukka boots.
At the upper end of the affordability scale is Richard James’s Classic Suit range. When James first launched on Savile Row, he shook up the fusty, old-boy status quo with a bolder vision for tailoring, being one of the first to adopt a slimmer silhouette (his ‘Hyde’ fit).
The suits typically come in Super 110s with a satin lining, horn buttons, double vents, a working buttonhole and flower loop, two slanted flap pockets, two inside pockets and a breast pocket, all executed with the typical Savile Row attention to detail.
Hugo Boss’s suit collection is almost too big and broad to comprehend. The German giant’s economies of scale are such that there seems to be an endless supply of suit variants which can make shopping online somewhat daunting, but sift through the dross (of which there is plenty) and you’ll find some excellent deals on well-made, high-quality if not extraordinary suits.
Its slim-fit options in virgin wool are a particular highlight with good fabric options to choose from including a variety of checks and micro patterns.