I’m often asked how much to spend on ones first suit. My reply: “as much as you can afford, while still having cash for alterations.”
This is always an opportune time to rattle off cliches such as “buy once, cry once” and “invest now to save later” — and for good reason!
If you get yourself a tailored suit of quality make, you’ll be able to rely on it for many years and occasions to come. More importantly, you won’t be forced to scramble at the last second for a sub-par suit that doesn’t fit and cheapens your demeanor. You’ll always have this secret weapon in your back pocket, and as a grown man, you may end up relying on it more than you’d expect.
Cool, but actually though, how much?
$400 for the suit, up to $150 for tailoring — though you hopefully won’t need that much in alterations.
Depending on your experience with suits, that may seem like way too little or way too much. What justifies spending $500 on a suit? What should you expect to get for that investment?
You are looking for a garment that will flatter your form and bolster your presence for many outings to come. While your contours mostly boil down to tailoring, the fabric and craftsmanship can either add or subtract gravitas from your appearance. Quality of material and construction will determine comfort and longevity. It’s worth shelling out for a suit that fits those criteria.
The two top brands that I’d recommend for a starter suit are Bonobos and SuitSupply. Visiting these stores in person, you’ll be met with a well-trained staff offering quality products. Their suits start at $400 and are shapely enough that you may not even need alterations on anything beside length, saving you a pretty penny on tailoring. The craftsmanship and quality is such that you can expect this suit to be a solid staple for years to come.
Okay, but what if I don’t have $500 laying around?
Then you’re going to have to take extra time and do extra work. But fear not, you can still pull this off!
Spier and Mackay is a bit less expensive, a bit less convenient, but a parallel step in quality. Their presence is primarily online retail, so you can’t try stuff on without having it shipped; but they have free returns/exchanges so there’s that…
Their basic suits start at $320, which qualify for free shipping. You will have to do some alterations, but they will probably be simple length-related procedures.
Again, more work and lead-time required, but you’ll get a handsome and high-quality suit for your troubles at $80 less than SuitSupply or Bonobos.
Okay, but what if I don’t have $400 to spare?
We’re getting into dangerous territory. Now you’re going to have to make compromises on fit, quality, or both.
But don’t compromise on fit. Just don’t.
You’re better off having a properly-fitted suit that serves you well for a relatively short time than an ill-fitted suit detracting from your presence for a long time. The fact of the matter is that a tailored low-end suit will look better than a luxury garment that doesn’t fit; it just won’t be as comfortable or last nearly as long.
What you must absolutely budget for is the cost of alterations. Expect to pay at least $35 for jacket sleeves, $75 for jacket torso alterations, and $40 for a hem and taper on the trousers.
In regards to the actual suit, my strongest recommendation would be Banana Republic Factory. Their suits are usually $220, but you can occasionally find a discount or a coupon to take a little off the top. For that price point, and for someone who intends to only wear his suit every few months, this will be a solid investment. My favorite thing about this brand is that they offer suits with a soft shoulder construction, which is VERY forgiving on athletic shoulders or big guys in general.
A topic of its own, cheap suits often have very erect arm holes and significant padding, which make them a difficult fit for a lot of men. And if a suit doesn’t fit your shoulders, don’t bother with it.
So even then, you’re looking at over $300. Is it possible to spend less and still come out on top? Sure, but there’s a great irony to that…
The amount of technical skill, savy, and insider knowledge you’d need to pull off such a feat only comes from a wealth of experience defined by thousands of dollars lost on bad purchases. Trial and error.
So yeah, back to the cliches:
Buy once, cry once. Invest now to save later. Scrounge up $550.