Below is a list of areas you should consider, and my recommendations on each:
Colour: The two most useful and fundamental suit colours are navy blue and mid-grey. They go with the greatest number of shirts and ties, can be anything from casual to wedding attire, and suit most colourings. If you want variation, one of these could be in a pinstripe. Make sure the stripe is not too bold or too close together. Avoid checks, at least to start with.
Cloth: Both should be wool. Cotton and linen are summer extras, and there is no need for cashmere or silk blends. The average weight of wool used in suits is nine to eleven ounces. For you (Pete clarified that he would like one suit that would be comfortable even in a Hong Kong summer, and another that would survive an English winter) I would recommend one lighter weight – perhaps seven or eight ounces if you can find it – and one heavier – more like twelve to fifteen. Flannel is a nice alternative, but would be too heavy for most of the year in Hong Kong. (The vast majority of wool suitings are worsted, which is wool that has been combed and flattened to appear thinner and crisper. Flannel or woollen suitings are not combed and are thus rougher.)
Ignore the “super” wool numbers. This refers to the width of the wool’s individual strands – the higher the number, the thinner the strand. Thinner wool is more delicate and more expensive, but also less long lasting. Anything around super 100s or super 120s will be fine for you.
Buttoning: Two or three-buttoned jackets are most usual. Two is a little more fashionable and also suits more men, as it has a deeper neck line. Three, particularly with little ‘roll’ (how much the jacket opens when only the waist-button is fastened) can look boxy. If in doubt, try on both in a shop and see which you prefer.
Lapels: Go for notched lapels, which looks like a triangle has been cut out of each. Peaked lapels can look rakish, but are more an option for later on. Use your own eye on the width of the lapels. If they look too wide, ask for narrower ones (the tendency is towards wider lapels in Asia).
Trousers: Let them sit on your hips wherever they feel most comfortable to you. This will probably be a little higher than where you where jeans, but not as high as they were traditionally worn – on the natural waist, nearer your belly button.
Trousers tend to be wider in Asia than the west, so watch our for that and ask for them to be narrower. If you want a precise instruction on how wide they should be, measure your existing suit trousers (the width at the bottom, doubled for the circumference). The length is traditionally such that there is one break in the front of the trouser when wearing shoes, but none in the back. Or, when you stand in them without shoes, the back just touches the floor. I like mine a little shorter than this, but it only works with narrower trousers (which I also generally prefer).
It’s worth avoiding belt loops if you can, as this looks far smarter. If you lose or gain weight the trousers can always be taken in or out. If you want a compromise, ask for side tabs – small, adjustable straps on either side of the trousers that can cinch them in a little. The trousers should fasten on at least two points, whether buttons or hooks, preferably three. One should be at the end of a length of overlapping material.
The trousers should be plain fronted. Pleats only suit two types of people: those with expanded girths, and those who wear their trousers on their waist. Oh, and get two pairs of trousers to each suit. They will last twice as long.
Pockets: There should be three outer pockets on the jacket, two on the hips and one on the breast. The first two should have flaps, the third should not. Unless you want to be flashy, don’t go for a ticket pocket (small extra pocket above the right-hand waist pocket) or for sloping, ‘hacking’ pockets.
Trouser pockets should be cut as overlapping material rather than slits in the trousers, though they can be cut at an angle to avoid them gaping.
Sleeves: The sleeves should have four buttons each, that just touch each other and all undo – though only the show-off actually leaves them undone. When your hands are at your side, the sleeve should reach your wrist bone, where the hand joins the arm, and it should leave exposed a small sliver of shirt (under half an inch). Again, sleeves tend to be longer in Asia so you may have to insist on this.
Jacket others: Go for two vents at the back: this allows you to put your hands in your pockets without buckling the shape (no vents) or unveiling your arse (one vent).
The jacket’s length should be such that it covers your arse well, and your fingers extend a little beyond it when they are at your side.
The strength or padding of the shoulder depends on how broad and square you think your shoulders are – only ask for less padding or a natural shoulder if you think they need no help at all.
- Pete, if you have any other questions please ask them in the comments below and I will attempt to answer them. I will also do a separate blog in the near future that will give advice on what to look for when your suit is on, to tell if it fits.