I remember being on the high school basketball team (go Colts!) and being told that we would dress like men on game days. What does that mean? Well, for most of us, it meant wrinkled slacks, an oversized button-up dress shirt, and a necktie that was haphazardly chosen and fashioned into some kind of knot. This sort of amateur ensemble is forgivable when you’re 16 years old. But, as an adult, you can do better. As I matured, I was fortunate enough to work with a fashion mentor who taught me a handful of basics to ensure that I look respectable when I get dressed up in a suit. Perhaps you wear a suit every day for work, or you occasionally dust off the formal wear for weddings or a night on the town. Either way, these guidelines will help you stay sharp when you get suited up.
It doesn’t take a whole lot to look great in a suit, but it also doesn’t take much to look like a slob in a suit. Here’s what you should pay attention to:
1. The Fit
Every man should know his suit size, and every man should have at least ONE tailored suit. Off-the-rack suits aren’t meant to fit your body type, they’re meant to fit all body types. As such, it won’t look as good on you as it could. A tailor will adjust the jacket and pants so they actually fit your body, and you can typically get it all done for under $75. If extensive work needs to be done to take in the shoulders, it may bump it up another $75. But, this investment will have the greatest impact on how you look in your suit.
2. The Shirt
- Your shirt must be pressed (ironed). If you hate ironing, take your shirts to the dry cleaner.
- Don’t forget the collar stays. They’re the little plastic or metal strips that keep your collar straight and laying flat. You don’t want a collar that is curling up or down.
- Bonus tip: If you find yourself without collar stays, use large paper clips. They’ll get you by and people will be none the wiser.
3. The Necktie
Bowties are more and more acceptable with a suit, and you should certainly feel comfortable calling an audible and switching to a bow tie occasionally. But let’s focus on the traditional necktie for now.
- Solid-colored neckties are the most versatile as they can be paired with a number of suits and shirts. All men should own a solid black, grey and navy tie.
- Don’t be afraid of patterns. Your necktie is an opportunity to express a little fashion flair. If you choose to wear a tie with a similar pattern to your shirt (stripes on stripes), make sure they’re a different scale (eg: thin stripes on the shirt and wide stripes on the tie).
- The best ties share a color with the shirt or the suit. If you have a golden pin stripe on your suit, choose a tie that has gold on it. Have blue stripes on your shirt? Try to find a tie that has the same blue in it.
- The tip of your tie should reside on your belt buckle. Shorter, and you look like a child. Longer, and you look like a slob. The sweet spot is your belt buckle.
- You need a tie dimple. This is the crease just under the knot of your necktie. I look for it in every tie I see now. It’s a signal to me that you know what you’re doing. Check out the video below for more information about perfecting your dimple.
4. The Jacket
- When you stand up, your suit jacket should be buttoned. When you sit down, your jacket should be unbuttoned. Get in the habit of going straight to your buttons when you stand up. And straight to your buttons as you’re about to sit down.
- Always leave the bottom button unbuttoned. This is a weird one, but it’s proper, so just do it.
- Break your pockets and tail. When jackets come off the rack, the breast pocket and side pockets will be sewn shut. If you can fit a finger inside and give it a good pull, you should be able to break the stitching (it may feel like you’re about to rip your suit, but you’ll be alright). The tail will also be sewn together – break that stitch as well. You will look like an incredible amateur if you leave all of these sewn up.
- Your sleeves should allow about an inch of your shirt to show (at the wrist).
5. The Shoes and Belt
- Easy one – your belt and shoes must match. Do not wear a black belt and brown shoes. This is one of the foundational fashion laws that you should obey.
- Wear leather dress shoes; no tennis shoes – these aren’t appropriate with a suit.
- Your shoes should be clean and at least gently polished, and free of noticeable marks or damage.
6. The Socks
- First of all, wear socks with your suit.
- When wearing a suit, select socks that are the same color as your suit, or darker. So, if you have a grey suit, grey or black socks would be appropriate. No white crew socks.
- I love colorful and patterned socks, and I fully encourage you to wear socks with a little flair with your suit. Keep it appropriate, classy and on par with the formality of the occasion. Follow the same basic rules as neckties for selecting colors.
- Wear socks that reach your calf. The rule of thumb is that if you cross your leg, you shouldn’t be able to see your bare leg. In other words, there should be no gap between the top of your sock and the bottom of your pant leg.