While I waited to meet my wife outside of her building on campus early this afternoon, for our semi-regular lunchtime cafe visit together, I noticed quite a few male undergrads dressed in suits. Excellent! Now, they might have been a new crop of fraternity pledges, or perhaps business students, attending some kind of future business leaders something or other. I'm sure most were not dressing that way because they truly wanted to.
Whatever the reason was, however, a few of the guys who crossed my field of vision looked quite good from a distance. The rest, while I certainly appreciate their effort, didn't quite nail the intended look for one reason or another. So, here are a few tips for younger men to keep in mind when wearing a suit in the form of a short Q&A. Are you ready, Freddy? Here we go!
1) What's a good choice if a college guy can only afford one suit?
If finances are a genuine concern, and I vividly remember my own starving undergrad days, or you require just a single suit in your wardrobe, make it a navy, mid-gray, or charcoal single-breasted model with either two, or three buttons. . . and either a single, or double vents. Say it with me, guys. . . No black suits ever! Don't risk resembling an undertaker or pastor. Opt instead for less stark, more versatile colors.
2) What about dress shoes?
Whatever you do, stay far away from those terrible square-toed shoes. Why are shoe stores still selling these? And even worse, why in the hell are guys still buying them? The 90s ended almost 15 years ago. Choose instead a more classic design that actually flatters the shape of your foot and doesn't scream CHEAP VINYL or reverse grain leather!
3) What kinds of shoes can be worn with suits then?
Various kinds of classic leather dress shoes will work with a suit. Consider, for instance, captoe oxfords, Bluchers, long-wing brogues, short-wing brogues, etc. As a general rule, however, avoid wearing ultra-casual (rubber comfort sole) loafers with a suit, which is considered a more formal garment by most of us in 2014. That means, in most cases, you should wear shoes with laces, and they should have leather soles! See my remarks and suggestions in items two and four.
4) What might you suggest where suitable footwear is concerned?
I'd go for leather-soled captoe oxfords in either black or a darker oxblood brown. Short-wing wingtips are another good choice to wear with suits. Long-wing brogues, while they look great with heavier weight flannel and corduroy pants during the late fall and winter, for example, might risk looking a bit heavy and clunky with typical all-season, light weight suits like most men wear nowadays. Alden, Allen Edmonds, Church, Cheany, Ralph Lauren, and Brooks Brothers are some of the better quality brands to be had at reasonable prices via Ebay or thrift/charity shops. Say it with me, boys, steer clear of crappy shoes!
5) How do I keep my dress shoes looking good?
Give your shoes a once over with a shoe brush before you put them on at the very least. Always. Shoes with dusty welts or visible scuff marks spoil an otherwise good look. Oh, keep 'em polished at least once a month, once a week if you wear your dress shoes more often, and keep cedar shoe trees in them when they are not on your feet to help keep your shoes in shape and dry out between wearings. You can go all out with shoe waxes, polishes, boning (spit shining) the toes and heels to a mirror-like finish, and so forth, but leather moisturizer or shoe lotion will keep your shoes supple, and the stuff buffs to a pleasant shine with a horsehair brush without too much time or trouble. Don't forget either to keep your sole edges dressed with the appropriate black or brown sole dressing. You can find all of this stuff at any cobbler's shop, and it will be money well spent.
6) Anything else I need to know about keeping my shoes in tip-top condition?
It's also a very good idea not to wear the same pair of shoes every single day. Give them a day off to recover, otherwise, even quality shoes will look beaten to death pretty quickly. That means it's a good idea, eventually, to have at east two pairs of leather dress shoes in your wardrobe, so you can alternate between the two. Assuming you need to dress up two consecutive days in a row during your four or five years on campus. Highly unlikely from what I observe, but it could happen.
7) How about a belt?
As near as possible, match your belt to your shoes, and belts, like your shoes, should be leather. Black with black, brown with brown, oxblood with oxblood, and tan with tan. You've got a bit more leeway with the browns but avoid too stark a difference in color or shade.
8) What about suit pants? How long should those be?
First, make certain your suit pants are a correct length for you. Let's not argue the cuffs (turn-ups) versus plain hems right now. But fewer things look worse than overly long suit pants puddling around your ankles. That said, no break at all looks odd, so have your tailor, seamstress, or the store where you purchase said suit give you the safest option which is a nice medium break. They'll know what you mean, or should, when you mention it to them if you find this a bit confusing and enigmatic now.
9) But how should the pants actually fit me?
Suit pants should not fit like low slung, skinny jeans. They should be considerably less snug and sit at or just below your natural waist. Ok, maybe you're worried about looking like your grandpa, with really baggy pants hitched up to your chest, but you're not a teddy boy either! There is a happy medium, but it errs on the side of looser-fitting pants where suits are concerned. That said, your suit pants should not fit like M.C. Hammer's pants fit him back in the early 90s.
10) What about suit coats? How should they really fit?
Speaking of teddy boys. . . . By the same token, you should avoid purchasing one of those currently trendy suits with an ultra short, too tight coat. Unless you're part of an early Beatles tribute band, circa 1962-64, as I've suggested before here at The Average Guy's Guide to Classic Style.
11) But aren't suit coats supposed to be roomy?
Short answer? No. They shouldn't be too roomy. When you coat is buttoned, you should be able to insert a fist between your belly and the buttoning point of the coat. The coat should feel snug when you do this. If you can still move your fist around, however, the coat is too big. Lots of guys in the United States wear suit coats a size or two too large in fact. As far as correct length goes, your suit coat should hang about to where your rear-end meets the top of your legs, or perhaps slightly longer. This will differ a bit from person to person naturally. A good rule of thumb (ha, ha) to keep in mind is that the bottom edge of your suit coat/ sports jacket/ blazer should be at or near the ends of your thumbs when your arms are hanging relaxed at your sides.
12) What about sports jackets?
Odd sports jackets are a bit different and can be a little bit looser, but ideally, a suit coat or sports jacket (or a blazer for that matter) should fit your torso and lay cleanly across your upper chest and upper back without either pulling too much at the buttoning point, or with excess material flapping in the breeze across the back or at the sides beneath your arms. If the coat or jacket is too big on you, either try on a smaller size than you typically wear, say a 39R or 40R instead of a 42R, or a few minor alterations might also be necessary before you wear the suit or sports jacket in public. In any case, have the sleeves shortened to allow 1/2" to 3/4" of cuff to show when your arms are relaxed and hanging at your sides.
13) How many buttons should I actually button on my coat?
Don't button all of the buttons on your suit coat. For the standard two button suit coat that most men seem to wear in the United States these days, button the top button at or near your belly-button. For a three-button suit coat, fasten the middle button. Never the bottom button, although sometimes you might be able to get away with fastening the top button.
14) What about dress shirts?
Keep these simple and opt for either white, light blue, or blue pinstripes on a white background. Avoid the dark shirt and necktie sets like the plague. These just scream cheap and clueless. Likewise, leave those busier plaid sport shirts for more casual blazer/sports jacket and odd pants combos. Shirts like these rarely work well with a suit. In any case, your shirts should be cotton, pressed, and tucked in, so learn to use an iron even if your shirts are these newfangled "non-iron" types. Oh, and here's little secret that lots of young men seem to forget. Periodically during the day or evening, you need to retuck your shirt to keep things smooth, neat, and comfortable. Make it a habit whenever you visit the men's room. Don't be one of these schlubbs, who walks around with his shirt tails hanging partially out. That's almost as bad as forgetting to zip your fly.
15) I feel strangled whenever I wear a necktie. What do you suggest?
If you have shirts in your correct neck size, fastening the top button of your shirt and wearing a tie is not as uncomfortable as it sounds. Whatever you do, though, make sure that the top button of your dress shirt is buttoned, and your necktie is cinched gently all the way up to cover that button. Guys who ignore this particular point, and leave the top button undone, look incomplete. You know. Kind of like men who finish too soon in the boudoir. Know what I mean? Make sure to check and adjust your necktie periodically during the day or evening to keep things straight and neat. Once again, make a habit of doing so whenever you visit the men's room.
16) What about matching a pocket square to my necktie?
Your pocket square and necktie should not match. . . contrary to what outlets like The Men's Warehouse might tell their customers. Do not under any circumstances purchase these items as a set. As others have suggested elsewhere in Menswear Website-and-Bloglandia, at best, you look like a cheap Eastern European thug. . . Or as my wife put it, you look like you're part of a high school musical production. Neither one is the effect you want. On the contrary, your square should compliment your tie without the two items matching. You can even -- Shock! Horror! Gasp! -- have them totally different from one another, which is my preferred approach most days. Or go the really elegant route, and have a pressed, white linen handkerchief with hand-rolled edges peeking out from your suit coat pocket.
17) Can I wear a bookpack with a suit?
Um, no. Do not wear a backpack with your suit, guys. This ain't a hike in the Norwegian countryside for heaven's sake. For starters, a backpack over a suit looks stupid and spoils the overall visual effect -- sleek, polished, and sophisticated -- of wearing a suit in the first place. Moreover, a backpack loaded down with books will ruin the shoulders and shape of your suit coat pretty quickly, and probably rub thin spots in the lining and outer shell of the coat at your tailbone. It's just not a good idea.
18) So, how do I schlepp my stuff on campus while wearing a suit?
I'd suggest purchasing a leather brief- or attache case or some kind instead of relying on your backpack. Look around on Ebay, or in a thrift or charity shop, where you can occasionally find leather briefcases at pretty reasonable prices for carrying your papers and pens, laptop, tablet, or I-thingy on those days when you do wear a suit. You'll be magically "transmogrified" from one more clumsy undergraduate guy, without much of a clue about anything beyond his own navel, into a young, polished, white collar professional on his way up.
There you go! There are, of course, other considerations to keep in mind to ensure that you look your best for those times when you wear a suit on campus, but these dozen or so pointers will go a long way toward helping you look like you've been wearing suits all of your life instead of just once or twice a year. Besides, suits should be worn more often than just for the occasional funeral, wedding, or job interview. Right?
And I recently read somewhere online, that a sharp, classic suit on a man has the same effect for many women that lingerie does for many men. A well-fitting, tailored suit, in other words, functions as an aphrodisiac of sorts. If you need a concrete reason to wear a suit more than a time or two per year in our now woefully informal society, there you go.