To wear a suit properly, you have to understand its purpose and pull off the fit correctly.
And when it comes to suits, rules should be bent but not broken by most people. And chances are you’ll run into some pretty funny images of broken rules that never quite took off.
In many ways, a suit is like a highly customizable uniform, with a base set that needs to be respected. So take a look at these few simple rules and try to learn the bulk of them.
Well, unless you’re a trendsetter, that is.
- 1 Fit Your Suit
- 2 How to Wear a Suit & Rules You Need to Follow
- 2.1 Suit Bottom Button Rule
- 2.2 The Suit Jacket Should be Gently Hugging You
- 2.3 Unfasten Your Jacket When Sitting
- 2.4 Match Suit Jacket and Dress Shirt Sleeve Length
- 2.5 The Jacket and Shirt Collars Should Adhere
- 2.6 Shirt Top-Button Rule
- 2.7 Match Your Lapel and Tie Width
- 2.8 Tie Length Should Match Your Torso
- 2.9 Match Your Shoes
- 3 How to Wear a Suit with a Dress Shirt
- 4 Suit Color Combinations
- 5 Dress For the Event
- 6 Suits and Accessories
- 7 Bending the Rules?
- 8 Final Words
Fit Your Suit
Many men will walk into a store and try out a suit on the rack without a problem. This isn’t a movie, and things might be a lot different! In real life, it might fit well off-the-rack, but it won’t fit great.
Anyone can find a suit that fits well, but men that want to dress like champions never settle for anything less than great. The common misconception is that a suit needs to be tight to fit well.
A suit made for your exact measurements is entirely useless on another person’s body, which is why more consideration goes into balanced universal measures when getting suits off-the-rack. These are no good for anyone until they are made to fit.
Here’s a video that explains how to fit and wear a suit properly:
If you’re not a video fan, don’t worry. I’ve briefly covered the steps below.
How to Wear a Suit Jacket
The suit jacket will reflect an exact button closure, and the two sides will meet flawlessly. It will also ensure your jacket lies flat on your shoulders and it doesn’t create any wrinkles.
When it comes to the suit jacket length, it will meet your arm fingers when the arm is straightened up and should entirely cover your rear end. Additionally, the perfect jacket sleeve length will ensure ¼ to ½ an inch of the dress shirt cuff is exposed beyond the jacket.
Finally, a well-fitting jacket collar will sit evenly against the collar of your shirt, gently resting there.
How to Wear Suit Pants
The perfect pants fit will ensure the fabric on the backside pants smoothly covers your rear end.
The pants’ legs should hug your upper thigh without squeezing. Also, you should be able to “pinch an inch” on either side of your thigh.
When it comes to the trouser break, it should be long enough for the shoe to interfere with the cuff, causing a subtle wrinkle.
Make Suit Alterations if Needed
Buying affordable suits is a common thing these days. But it’s crucially important to have your suit altered to achieve a perfect fit.
So take the time to learn your actual measurements from head to toe. Finding the right suit size can’t be achieved without proper measurement.
Altering a suit to fit your body is also an option. However, it’s more about touching the rough areas, meaning it won’t be nearly as involved as professional tailoring.
Tailors are used a lot for a reason, as their alterations are so precise that it’s as close to perfection as you can get. So choosing a professional tailor for a bespoke suit is one of the best investments you can make in your attire.
One note is that there’s a big difference between a made-to-measure and a bespoke suit. A bespoke suit is a completely tailored suit, fit for your measurements.
Made-to-measure suits are a great alternative for anyone who doesn’t have the money for bespoke yet wants one that is custom-made and according to their body measurements.
Altering a suit becomes a lot less likely to use when the suit is of considerable value. But when using off-the-rack suits, an alteration is perfect, as there is little gain for sending a sub $100 suit to a tailor.
Note that sometimes the price to modify your suit could be more than the suit’s worth. The tailor won’t even consider altering your suit in some areas, as it would go against their moral code.
How to Wear a Suit & Rules You Need to Follow
Now here are the phantom rules on how to wear a suit that may tick some people off. Also, most of these rules are for nothing more than vanity and hold no real substance.
Trying to question them will give you a headache, yet there are centuries of tradition behind the madness.
But what about those that want to be adventurous? And just how important are the vanity rules when it comes to suits? The answers and suggestions are a bit surprising for more reasons than one.
Suit Bottom Button Rule
Do you see that last bottom button on your suit? Unless you’re wearing a one-button suit, leave it unbuttoned. It has no other purpose than aesthetics. First-time wearers of suits often run into this problem.
To get that smooth one-handed opening and closing motion down, adhering to this task is vital. And if this is the hardest rule you have to follow all day, it becomes a child’s play.
The Suit Jacket Should be Gently Hugging You
If you decide to wear a suit for the first time, it’s one of the basic things to consider when it comes to fitting.
When standing straight, a buttoned suit jacket shouldn’t look buggy. But it shouldn’t have these x-wrinkles, too. Instead, the two sides of the suit jacket should meet flawlessly.
Unfasten Your Jacket When Sitting
Leaving the last button on the suit alone follows the next rule: unfasten your buttons when sitting.
That one-handed motion comes in handy in this instance and has a little bit more to it than just visual pleasure. Still, many suit wearers leave their suit buttoned up while sitting and thus end up looking uncomfortable.
Match Suit Jacket and Dress Shirt Sleeve Length
Your dress shirt should slightly peek beneath your suit jacket.
For the best overall look, a quarter to half-inch of your shirt cuff should be visible.
The Jacket and Shirt Collars Should Adhere
The jacket collar and the shirt collar should fit smoothly against each other. In other words, the jacket collar should look attached to the shirt collar, gently resting there.
Additionally, shoulder pads on your suit jacket should lie flat and should not extend beyond your actual shoulders.
Shirt Top-Button Rule
The unbuttoned shirt from the top is not a look that works when a tie is on, so tread carefully.
But when the shirt is uncomfortable to the point where it’s choking you, a good tailor is in order. And if you have to have the top buttons undone when you wear a suit, then take off your tie!
Being visually stunning does not mean it should be done at the sacrifice of being comfortable.
Match Your Lapel and Tie Width
The rule of thumb is that the widest part of the suit lapel should match the widest part of your tie.
If you wear a tie bar, it should not be wider than your tie. In fact, it should not extend 3/4 of the tie width.
Tie Length Should Match Your Torso
The right tie length is all that matters for a great visual appearance.
When standing in your natural posture, the tip of your tie should touch the top of your waistband. Also, the tie should not extend the middle of the belt.
Match Your Shoes
Dress shoes are probably the easiest part to complete with a suit if done right. Try not to get too involved in all the extra work some people say is necessary to find the right fitting dress shoe.
The basics of choosing a shoe always come down to size, type, and color. However, make sure you add comfort to the equation; and there you have the perfect shoes you can wear with a suit.
Exact foot measurements are the recommendation that many professionals throw out. I agree with that, as well.
Keep in mind this is focusing on the actual fit and not the color or type. A shoe that looks good but doesn’t fit right on your feet will cause serious movement problems and friction.
How to Wear a Suit with a Dress Shirt
There are a few key points that you need to make sure your dress shirt follows to ensure it’s the best dress shirt for your suit.
It should go without saying but always tuck in your dress shirt. Your shirttails should never be seen.
Once you tuck in your shirt, ensure you aren’t getting the “muffin top” effect. This is where your shirt billows out over your beltline. If this happens, you’ll need a smaller dress shirt to prevent excess material around your waist.
Both the dress shirt and the suit need to fit perfectly. You wear a suit to demonstrate that you are making an effort to look your absolute best. A poor fit only conveys that you didn’t care enough to get your suit absolutely right. Don’t do it halfway; go all in!
There are a few items to look for to know if your dress shirt is a perfect fit. For example, the shoulder seam of a well-fitting dress shirt will perfectly sit at the top of the shoulder. And if the seam droops forward, the shirt is too large for you.
Your sleeves need to be a certain length, too. Your suit sleeve should come to just the base of your thumb when your arms hang by your side. Again, the cuff of your dress shirt should poke out by ¼ to ½ inch beneath the suit jacket.
For a polish, don’t forget to button your top button, especially if you’re wearing a tie.
And, possibly above all, be sure there are no wrinkles in your suit or dress shirt.
Suit Color Combinations
But what about the other colors that get swept under the rug in favor of the foundation? And can these colors be mixed and matched?
Starting with the first question, the foundation should also consist of white. An incredible universal color, white goes hand and hand with black in many instances.
If you’ve worn a black suit and everyone thought you were heading to a funeral, some white details may help. Add in a white pocket square, and all of a sudden, you have a stylish match.
Since grey can be a little bit of a “grey” area, consider medium grey as an alternative. Of all the grey shades, this one will offer the most support when matched with the rest of your closet.
If you are feeling adventurous, then light grey is an alternative-but tread carefully. Light grey tends to mean different things depending on the fabric that is being used.
That leads to uneven tones across all fabrics and leading brands.
Alternative Suit Colors
The lone wolf, when going outside of the foundation, is the dark brown suit. It is a warm, comfortable, and just impressive all-out color when done right.
But just like any color, when too much of it is on, it can be jarring. Personal skin tone also has to be taken into account when dealing with dark brown suits.
Thinking outside of the box? Then burgundy or a marron suit can be an interesting color for you. Both are royal colors, dark and rich. Many consider them alternative, but I think they can be pretty formal. They look outstanding on tuxedos as well.
And lastly, tan/khaki suits can be pulled off, and you don’t have to be over 70 years old to make it happen.
Shirt and Tie Color Combinations
I’ve taken the time to cover each shirt and tie color combination in separate posts, one post per suit color.
There is a reason good suits come in specific colors only. So when you wear a suit, mixing and matching the shirt and tie is less about opinion and more about style and knowledge.
Many play it safe and stick to a white dress shirt, which is a standard match for any suit color. That’s a good choice, and you can’t go wrong with that.
But there are many ways to decide what is best when breaking from the common suit, shirt, and tie combinations. Try to experiment with the color wheel and find a way to mix and match the perfect color scheme.
Color is an important element, and, in many cases, it can be the deciding factor to match your shirt and suit. But when it comes to priority, the style will determine how the rest of the outfit goes.
Shoes & Suit Color Combination
Matching your shoes’ color with a suit is a lot more complicated and requires a lot more care when deciding. Even if the default go-to is black, it’s not true when people say black goes with everything.
However, black is the least offensive color to pair with a suit. I’ve dedicated a full article about matching shoe colors to suits. Also, it goes beyond colors to eventually mention types and styles.
Found the right color shoe to go with your suit, which compliments both your belt and tie! Take a close look, as the style may end up being a big problem if it clashes with the rest of the outfit.
Dressing the best way possible has many layers, and shoes’ complexity is a big part of that.
Taking the guessing work out of dress shoes will help to make the correct pairings. All of your suits will have a natural look, an alternate combination, and an experimental one.
All of these looks represent you to the fullest, but you can’t get to that point without putting in the legwork to figure out the little stuff.
Dress For the Event
Men are made through their actions – nothing more, nothing less. So if your first act for the day is putting on a suit that represents your inner self, anything less than the perfect match is unacceptable.
Do you have a suit etiquette? An awareness of when to (and not!) wear a suit?
The place you’re visiting will determine the dress code and whether you should put on a suit or not. Not all places are reserved for a suit and tie atmosphere.
But some events like black-tie have a strong requirement for dressing up and would be inaccessible without it.
Where to Wear a Suit
With an interview, a job will rarely consider a candidate dressed down compared to one dressed up. This is due to the confidence that is exuded from wearing a suit.
A networking event is also a great place to wear a suit due to the quick self-presentation you’ll have to make. In this case, wearing a suit that isn’t restricting and pairing it with good shoes is essential.
I encourage you to also wear a suit where you normally wouldn’t. For example, wearing a suit on a plane is very practical as it will save you a lot of space in your bag. You’ll also be treated better up in the skies.
Checking into a hotel or visiting a bar with a date (or alone) is yet another example where wearing a suit will enhance your image and provide better treatment.
Where Not to Wear a Suit
There are places where wearing a suit will only draw negative attention and make you stand out like a sore thumb.
These places include dive bars, kids’ birthday parties, and of course, any non-professional event where you’re expected to move a lot.
No one is showing up to the gym with a tight-fitting suit and not getting a sideways look. That statement isn’t meant to sound smart, but you’d be surprised how many men show up to a party in a suit.
So when it comes to avoiding a suit, the important thing is to always keep in mind the people and the atmosphere you’ll be around.
Again, it is about what the event represents and the status you want to be aligned with all the people involved.
Suits and Accessories
Like all things concerning the suit, there is a balance, so take that into consideration. The same applies to suit accessories.
When it gets to the point where they make the wearer look like a five-star general, it has gone overboard.
The most overused accessory is one that people wouldn’t consider part of the suit: the cologne.
Counting cologne as an accessory of a suit is not a big stretch. But when one spritz becomes too many, then it becomes overbearing.
It is a hard message to convey to someone applying the cologne, as the scent’s somewhat masked for them.
So when in doubt, one or two sprays are enough, and the suit should arrive long before the smell.
The craze that people have for suits is nowhere near the craze for watches. There remains a lot of options for someone that may be too ambitious for their good.
That’s because a high-quality and luxurious watch can effortlessly build your overall appearance.
But matching a watch with a suit requires knowledge. Several factors need to be considered, including the occasion, the watch category, size, and color.
The watch style and the band material define the formality of the watch. For a most formal look, stick to minimalistic, affordable, and simple dress watches.
Pocket squares are an underappreciated bunch yet hold great value to complete the look of a suit. Small and effective, they deserve to be as sharp as the suit.
That means being careful with colors, fabrics, and placement. Pocket squares should always be ironed, as wrinkled-up shrivels of cloth hanging out of your pocket are unattractive.
Wrinkled pocket squares look like used napkins to the untrained eye. Pocket squares should also maintain different colors when available, meaning that a dark suit should have a light pocket square.
Switch that around depending on the suit, and you have a winner.
Sports watches are a no-no when you wear a suit, and it’s considered a bad pairing. That used to be the tradition and majority thinking.
But with the invention of smartwatches, things have become a bit blurry in that field.
To help things out, major smartwatch developers have offered styling add-ons for their hardware. That means if you have a sports watch, you can change the look to an appropriate styling when you wear a suit.
Let’s face it; if you dropped almost half a grand on a smartwatch to pair with your phone, you’re wearing it regardless of the suit!
Pins are another accessory that is prone to overabundance.
However, the beauty of a Red Rose lapel pin is breathtaking and almost better than the real thing. This is especially true when it comes to silver, gold, and platinum.
Depending on the event, pins may be required. Walking into a charity event that hands you a pin to wear simplifies things.
Pins are a part of your suit only if you allow them and only if the event requires them. So if your pin looks like it is telling a story, it’s probably acceptable to wear it.
This leads us to the next accessory and one of the serial rule breakers – cufflinks.
Cufflinks are the easiest accessory to match with a suit, but the most significant rule-breaker is diversifying. Owning four suits and one pair of cufflinks doesn’t mean the cufflinks go with all the suits.
That is due to the metal being different from your belt, watch, and other accessories. They should all match up just like any other accessory you wear, rather than being the outlier.
Having a cufflinks collection beyond a single pair is an excellent way to get a feel for them. There is nothing about building a selection of cufflinks and having choices when you match up suits.
Final Note On Accessories
It’s important for those who wear suspenders to note that wearing a belt with them is redundant. Both young and old wearers have dabbled in suspenders, as they offer a unique look.
But once again, it is all about diversifying your look and feeling comfortable in your own skin.
Spend more time making the perfect suit pre-accessory and adding the finishing touches later. When you use accessories to enhance an already perfect suit, it becomes a beautiful combo that completes your vision.
Don’t let the accessories make the suit, or you’ll be working backward from the start. However, don’t be afraid to experiment with combinations and get out of your comfort zone when matching.
Bending the Rules?
All of the rules of etiquette are bent or broken at one point. There’s huge leniency you’ll see in many areas, yet there remains this incredible freedom with dressing up.
Having an idea of how to wear a suit is one thing. Having unlimited brands, time, and plenty of motivation are even better. With rules or not, suits are the best way to exude confidence while still looking good.
As long as you’re confident in the suit you step into, it’s a perfect match. Suits are meant to boost confidence and be comfortable. So, find the layer in your suit that gives you the most trouble and attack it.
If it is something small like a belt, then congratulations! You’re a step ahead of millions of men. But if it is something more external, like matching colors or styles, then take the time to find out what you don’t know.
Practice makes perfect, and this is going to be the beginning of a very fruitful affair. So remember that dressing like a champion is all about image, and you’re the lead artist in charge.
Hi, I’m Alex, and I’ve studied and specialized in styling in Rome. Through my writing, I want to help men dress well and learn the purpose and significance of suits and other formal attire. My final goal is to make men more confident in their wardrobe choice and life in general.