Savile Row can espouse cost-per-wear ad nauseam, but sometimes bespoke and your bank balance don’t see eye-to-eye. Fortunately, affordable tailoring has mushroomed in both quality and range, meaning a budget that once bought polyester now stretches to runway cuts in fabrics you actually want to wear.
But you can’t just grab the first thing you see in Burton. Unpicking your new suit’s construction is key to getting more bang for your buck. And even when you skimp on the headliner, judicious support acts can turn your entire look up to 11.
In the budget bracket, the bulk of your suit’s price tag buys parts, not labour. The more the raw materials cost, the less goes on putting it together. So be wary of what promises a cashmere-blend for the price of polyester.
Wool is most cost-effective, hard-wearing and not prone to the shine that plagues materials with a ‘y’ in. But don’t trust feel. Double-check the label to see if it’s been cut with man-made fabrics to slash costs.
A budget suit is no place for experimentation. Loud colours and patterns draw the eye and the less you’ve invested, the more you want to avoid scrutiny.
Classic hues are least conspicuous, so steer towards charcoal or navy; darker shades make it harder to spot a budget fabric’s flaws. The same goes for shape. A double-breasted suit means a bigger outlay on fabric, so more corners get cut in its construction.
Your statement-making jacket shouldn’t be saying, “I can’t afford something better”.
If you can’t buy bespoke then at least have your tailor fix the high street’s sins. With suiting, fit is all; you’ll always look better in like-a-glove River Island than drowning in Brioni.
But even your callous-handed Neapolitan has his limits, so the shoulders have to sit right. Try the jacket on with the shirt you’ll normally pair with it – you’re looking for a sleeve seam that sits against your arm, for the collar to lightly touch your neck and shoulder fabric that lies flat. Everything else can be tweaked.
The canvas inside your jacket fabric is what gives it shape. In a bespoke suit it’s hand-stitched to move when you do. But that’s pricey, so budget suits are glued instead. These ‘fused’ jackets don’t mould to your body and can come unstuck if they get wet, or you store them on the floor, creating air bubbles that pucker your lapels.
Your money goes furthest with a half-canvassed jacket, which has a stitched chest but glue lower down, so you get better shape where it’s most visible. How to tell? Pinch your potential purchase between the buttons; if you can’t feel another layer between the fabric, put it back on the rail.
Gravity is all your cashmere-blend Boglioli jacket requires to bid adieu to a day’s creases. Your high street suit needs more care. But don’t break out the iron – heat quickly turns your matte suit fabric into something so shiny you’ll attract magpies.
Invest in a steamer instead to smooth out stubborn lines, especially at the elbows and knees. Creases evicted, it needs storing properly. If your wardrobe tinkles with wire hangers then swap them for wide-shouldered wood, or your jacket will mould to the shape of Christian Bale in The Machinist.
Dress It Up
When your budget’s tight, divert funds to investments that offer better returns. An extra £50 buys a tie that elevates your entire outfit, or a fitted, double-ply shirt that distracts from where you’ve been thrifty.
This tactic is less effective if you ignored our advice to steer subtle; a cashmere pocket square tucked into in a polyester Prince of Wales check jacket only accentuates its shimmer.
Hit The Gym
Shallow as it may be, what your suit sits on is more important than how it’s made. Ryan Gosling rocking the discount rack still looks better than John Goodman draped in the Loro Piana bale.
Start with some gym lessons from The Rock, then get your tailor to accentuate your physique with something slim-fitting and nipped in at your well-earned 30″ waist. When you’ve sacrificed lie-ins to the squat rack, don’t hide it in a sail.
FashionBeans associate editor Tom Banham is an outerwear addict with bylines in GQ, Men’s Health and Mr Porter.
He’s fascinated by the collision of high fashion and streetwear, but also knows his way around a soft-shouldered blazer. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @banham_tom