The best suit is, of course, a bespoke one – after all, it’s made to fit just its wearer, rather than some mythical Mr. Average. But this isn’t to say ready-to-wear tailoring is necessarily a lesser thing. In fact, some off-the-peg suits from big brands can cost more than a bespoke suit from a city tailor. If you’re close to those average proportions, there’s a good chance of finding a suit that will fit well – and for everyone else there’s an alterations service.
Indeed, while fabric is important – this is essentially a balancing act between handle and durability – and construction details the likes of a floating canvas or working cuff button holes are worth paying the extra for, fit is everything. So while you might buy online, you do need to try on multiple options. This is especially true for the jacket. Aim for one that fits perfectly across the shoulders, since everything else – the even chest – can be altered. And, unless you’re lucky, alterations, even basic ones, will be required. Few things look as bad as suit with sleeves or trousers that are the wrong length.
Likewise, few things look as good – or will give as good service – as a suit that’s really well cut. For this it can pay to turn to the masters of the trade, those historic makers who have been focused on tailoring since their inception decades (and in some cases centuries) ago. There are a wealth to choose from – consider too the likes of Huntsman, Anderson & Shepperd, Rubinacci and others – so it’s a matter of many hours of changing room time to find what works best for you. But it’s no surprise that when a man finds a suit that really works for him, he often returns to that maker over and over.
Here are the tailoring establishments that will never let you down when it comes to buying a new two-piece.
Established in Rome in 1945, Brioni has long been the go-to brand for the kind of classicism beloved of chief execs, and the occasional James Bond, which is why the Kering Group bought it in 2010 for a rumoured $413m. A modern Brioni suit typically has a slim silhouette and a high button stance, but reveals itself just as much in the fabric – which is always exclusive to the brand.
One of the few fully vertically menswear businesses – it controls every step of the process, from its own sheep to weaving and manufacture – Zegna was established in 1910 but has been making ready-to-wear tailoring for the last 50 years. In fact, in Italy it revolutionised the industry by basing its cuts on exhaustive studies of body types. More recently it’s pioneered suits that hold shape despite being lightweight, unlined and canvas-free.
Established in 1934 by Giovanni and Giacomo Canali and now run by the third generation of the family, Canali is one of the most distinctively Italian brands around: expect slim jackets with narrow lapels and fitted waists, and trousers with a sharp taper. Exquisite finishing such as hand-felled stitching under the collar and arm hole epitomises its meticulous attention to detail.
Established in 1974, Boglioli has built a reputation for driving alternative, more relaxed takes on tailoring that oozes sprezzatura. Case in point is its K jacket: a deconstructed piece made from cashmere and then garment dyed for a washed-out look. Its style may not work for the traditional corporate office but it chimes with changing conceptions of the suit as a more progressive, casual wardrobe item.
Kiton’s tailors work in groups of six, each team a specialist in a specific aspect of making a fully hand-cut and stitched suit, be that cutting pockets, sewing buttonholes or attaching arms. The latter is a crucial job given just how important the silhouette of a Kiton suit is to its customers. It’s Neapolitan style – with its soft shoulder, high arm-hole, strongly suppressed waist and, especially notably for Kiton, a convex curve to the front of the jacket – but with all the fancy detailing stripped away.
Gieves & Hawkes
Gieves & Hawkes (featured image, top) could hardly be more British, in its history and sensibility. It’s address is No.1 Savile Row and it outfitted Lord Nelson, after all. In keeping with this, one might expect its suits to be, as it were, the proverbial bulletproof – solid and substantial with defined, roped shoulders and a high armhole in the English tailoring tradition.
Richard James redefined Savile Row when he launched his business some 25 years ago. And much as he updates the street’s idea of retail – shop windows, modern marketing and the like – so he did the ready-to-wear suit, introducing more pattern and colour in his signature long, lean cut, with narrow waist and high arm holes.
Beloved by oligarchs and presidents, Stefano Ricci suits can go for £8,000, so are not for the slim of wallet. But then Ricci (who established his company 47 years ago) has a reputation for using the most luxe of fabrics – ideal for a special occasion suit, less so for an everyday one – and being exacting in make. Every element of his suits is made in Italy, each by one of a network of specialist artisans he works with.
Savile Row’s most modernist of long-established tailors, Kilgour’s reputation is for a longer line suit with a narrow lapel, one-button fastening, worn with narrow, flat-fronted trousers without belt-loops. But it’s also a master at stripping away where it can to create a lighter-weight, unstructured garment ideal for comfort and summer alike.
Abraham Lincoln wore Brooks Brothers – he was even assassinated in a Brooks Brothers jacket. Kennedy wore Brooks Brothers, as did the great and good of American business and Hollywood life, from the Vanderbilts and Astors to Clark Gable and Cary Grant. The preppy-defining US company is best known for its “sack suit”, which features a natural shoulder, soft-front construction and straight-legged trousers.