For many men, an upcoming wedding is the first time they’ve had to plan what they should wear. It also may be the first time they’ve had to buy a good suit. As dress codes have become more relaxed over the years, formal occasions such as weddings are the few times when men are expected to dress according to protocol. The problem is: few people have experience with tailored clothing, so they underestimate what it takes to get a proper rig. In the nine years I’ve been writing about men’s clothing, I can’t tell you how many men I’ve seen wait until the last minute to get a wedding suit. In the end, they’re stuck with a lousy suit two days before the ceremony and don’t have anywhere to turn.
We’ve written a ton of guides on how to dress for a wedding. In this one, I’ll give some tips on how to avoid that nightmare scenario where you’re stuck with a bad wedding suit and don’t have time to fix it. To be sure, many of these tips will sound familiar to longtime readers, as they’re not that different from how to shop for a good suit in general. But hopefully, this guide will be useful for men who are just starting to dip their toes into tailoring.
Start Early; Start Now
Back in 2010, Jesse wrote a great post about the old engineering saying, “Good, Fast, Cheap: Pick Two.” The concept also applies to shopping. If you’re reading this site, I’ll assume you want to get a good suit. The choice is then between getting one fast or cheap.
To be honest, fast may not even be an option anymore. The best suits are generally made bespoke by one of the few remaining tailors who are skilled in this craft (notably, not all bespoke suits are good, which is something I’ll touch on later). But those tailors tend to be based in Western Europe, and more often than not, around certain cities such as Naples and London. If you’re not local to them, then you’ll have to rely on traveling operations, who will visit you once every three to four months. If this is your first order with that tailor, it can take more than a year for a suit to be delivered (factor in the first meeting along with three fittings).
For ready-to-wear, you’ll want to leave yourself about the same amount of time to shop for a suit. It takes a while to try on different models and get a sense of what looks good on you. Buying jeans is hard enough. Tailoring is distinct in that small differences in the cut and proportion can make a significant impact on how you look. If you want to buy something good, but affordable, then you need to put yourself in a position to win. Be able to walk away from a deal until the right opportunity presents itself. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to compromise. That means shopping early and shopping now.
Start With Ready To Wear
As this is a special event, you probably want a suit that’s special enough to match the occasion. Many men will assume this means getting something custom-made, as they equate custom tailoring with quality and exclusivity. This is a mistake. If you break the suit market up into three categories — ready-to-wear, made-to-measure, and bespoke — there’s enough heterogeneity within each category to make it hard, if not impossible, to generalize between them. There’s good ready-to-wear and bad ready-to-wear. The same is true for the other categories. Custom tailoring just means that a pattern has been adjusted for you. That comes with as many potential pitfalls as it does benefits.
In the end, you may be one of those people who needs a custom suit. But your best bet is to always start with ready-to-wear. Off-the-rack suits have one tremendous benefit: you can put things back on the rack if you don’t like how they look. By trying on different suits, you can get a sense of how you feel about the cut and proportions of certain silhouettes, different fabrics, and various stylistic details such as shoulder treatment and pocket shapes. You’ll also learn your specific fit challenges and whether they can be solved with some basic alterations.
If you decide to go custom, make sure you research the company thoroughly. Know the difference between made-to-measure and bespoke. Find out if your cutter, or at least an experienced tailor, will be present at your fittings. See if you can get candid opinions from previous clients. If it’s a made-to-measure operation, ask if they’ll just measure you or fit you first in a sample garment. On average, companies that fit their clients in sample garments have a better batting average than those who just measure.
Keep it Classic
I’d like to think that we’re pretty open-minded here at Put This On. We’re aware of some basic rules when it comes to tailoring, but we’re not sticklers about them. We also understand that a wedding ceremony ought to be personalized in ways that make them meaningful for the people involved.
That said, consider keeping things classic. Wedding photos are forever; trends are not. If you got married ten years ago, a slim, short jacket with skinny lapels might have been en vogue because of the uptick in Mad Men inspired clothing. In hindsight, many of those cuts didn’t look very flattering. Slim, short suits tend to make men look heavier than they are.
Instead of dressing according to trends, think about how you should dress for your body type. We have guides on how to think about fit and silhouette, how to read formality in tailored clothing, and how to get things altered. Keep things moderate: lapels that are neither too skinny or wide, jackets that terminate halfway between your collar and the floor, and trousers that aren’t too baggy or tight. Will over at A Suitable Wardrobe once joked: “Your first marriage is probably your one opportunity for great wedding photos (if you marry more than once, you’re likely to avoid making a spectacle of the subsequent occasions).” Make sure those photos age well.
Suggestions On What To Wear
Much as I like formalwear, it’s hard to recommend morning dress for weddings when they cost a fortune, and most men are unlikely to wear their rig a second time before losing their figure. The same is true for tuxedos, although you may get some use out of them for New Year’s Eve parties (still, even then, good tuxedos are expensive, and you should only wear them if the ceremony is at night).
Most men will be better off in a dark suit, ideally in navy or charcoal, which they can wear again later. Try to stay away from black, however, as it can look too somber. Pair the outfit with a white, semi-spread collar shirt, a polished pair of black oxfords, and conservative neckwear (remember, you’re here to celebrate the ties that bind, not ties that blind). Throw a folded, white linen pocket square into your breast pocket and live happily ever after.
Reasonably, some men will feel this makes them look like they’re headed into a Monday meeting, rather than exchanging vows with someone they love. Here are some ways to personalize your ensemble around the edges, so that you can still make the day feel special:
- Consider a double-breasted or three-piece: Traditionally speaking, a double-breasted coat is considered one notch down on the formality scale from a single-breasted because of how men’s tailoring is oriented in formalwear. That said, for all practical intents and purposes, a DB is simply considered a bit more unusual these days and thus dressy. For most men, a double-breasted suit will be the kind of thing they save for special occasions, rather than the office. Which makes it perfect for weddings. You may find that you can wear it again later for graduations, christenings, and other important events in life. Simon Crompton and his friend Oliver both wore double-breasted suits to their weddings, and they look fantastic. Alternatively, you can also go for a three-piece suit and use it as a two-piece later.
- Brighten the Suit: If the wedding is being held during the daytime, go one shade lighter for the suit – maybe a dark blue instead of navy, or mid-grey instead of charcoal. Keep the polished oxfords and a white shirt to keep things formal. Beach and barn weddings, similarly, can have more creative solutions: maybe a tan cotton suit instead of a navy worsted, or a tweed sport coat for more rustic environments.
- Wear a Wedding Tie: Wedding ties have historically been black or silver to harmonize with a black morning coat. Today, contemporary colors tend to be the same kind of thing you’d wear with a business suit — burgundy, navy, or dark green. To make a wedding feel special, however, go for a tie that doesn’t look like the one you’d wear to an office. Try to find a silvery tie or one with black-and-white patterns that resolve to grey from a distance. A houndstooth, shepherds check, or glen plaid can be perfect for this sort of thing. I also like silver grenadines. Keep things discreet, but cheerful.
- Other Accouterments: Consider other ways you can personalize the outfit. You can wear a special watch that day, or a double cuff shirt that will allow you to use a pair of cufflinks. Extra points if you can wear a family heirloom passed onto you from your father. A white gardenia or carnation through the buttonhole can be a great finishing touch. Just be sure you insert it correctly. Torsten at Sartorial Notes has a guide on how to wear a boutonniere. To get it right, you will likely need a skilled florist or learn how to adjust the flower yourself.
Find the Right Stores
Don’t try to do everything yourself. In the end, you have to find stores and tailors that you can trust. Rely on them for their service and advice, as they can best guide you towards a better-looking suit. These days, I like No Man Walks Alone and The Armory for higher-end tailoring. Suitsupply and Spier & Mackay can be great for budget options. If you need something custom made, I really like Steed. They have a bespoke and made-to-measure program (I use their bespoke services for most of my suits and sport coats). I’ve also been impressed with the things I’ve seen from MyTailor, a more affordable traveling outfit based in California (like Steed, they visit many cities in the United States). Additionally, we have two guides on where you can turn to first for a suit.
Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember that the suit honors both the occasion and your commitment to your partner. Let your choices be a reflection of that commitment and find something that works for both of you.