10 Ways to Spot a Cheap Suit

March 18th, 2014

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Whether I plan to or not, everywhere I go I seem to get tangled in some kind of menswear debate. Sometimes it’s philosophical discussions about forms of representation and cultural shifts in gender identities. Other times it’s more technical  conversations about design, manufacturing, and investment potential.

For example, the other day I was meeting with some studio executives out here in LA, and we were discussing suits. More specifically, the often shocking price difference from one garment to the next, and the corresponding justifications for raw materials, labor, distribution, etc. Long story short, I’m sitting at a conference table with two men and two women. Both guys were wearing suits. One of the ladies, out of curiosity and as a segue from our previous topic of conversation, asks; “Can you tell what kind of suits these guys are wearing? How much do you think they costs?”.

Hmm. Field test.

Well, the one guy was wearing a Suit Supply suit. I could tell immediately by the on-trend light navy fabric and the shape of the lapels – oversized but in a high-fashion way, not an old-fashioned way. He was in his mid-twenties and was hip to the blog game, but wasn’t spending big money on Italian suits. The other guy was slightly older and wearing a slightly more conservative suit. The dark pinstripe fabric was a little too rich and sheen-y for Brooks Brothers, and it looked more Italian than British. My guess was Canali. It was Brioni –  which kind of surprised me. Pretty close though, all things considered.

So that conversation got me thinking. What are the quality hallmarks of a fine suit? Are they noticeable to the average person? Do they matter? To who?

Before proceeding – this piece is not meant to talk down on cheap suits. In fact, I own a couple very cheap suits (one from Uniqlo and one from Macy’s INC). I think a cheap suit is perfect for a trendier piece that you won’t get much use out of. For example, I scored this white linen suit for less than $100 on clearance. With the proper alterations, it looks like a much finer suit. As we’ve said a million times, it’s not so much about what you’re wearing, but about how you’re wearing it.

With all that said, this is a quick piece on about easy ways to spot a cheap suit.

 

1. Cheap Plastic Buttons

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Do the buttons look cheap, flimsy, and painted? They probably are. They’re also very breakable. Good news it, it’s easy to upgrade them to genuine horn.

2. Plastic Button Anchors

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Classic cheap Hong Kong tailor move.

3. Paper-y Lining

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Cheap linings are usually made of polyester, which traps heat and doesn’t breathe at all. It’s especially bad if it makes a “scrunchy” or “swishy” sound when you move it around.

4. Synthetic Fibers (or sizing S-XL)

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Just avoid shiny, stiff, sweaty synthetic fibers. Go all natural.

And a suit should be cut slightly more precisely than “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”. It’s not a t-shirt, don’t buy it like one.

5. Skimping On Extra Fabric

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The roughly 3.5 yards of cloth it takes to make a suit is the majority of its cost. A cheap manufacturer will cut all the excess – including the fabric under the hem needed to lengthen the trousers and the fabric inside the seat needed to let-out the waist.

6. Lapel Lines Not Anchored

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On top of providing durability and shapeliness to the garment, a chest canvas can also physically determine the angle and placement of the lapel roll line (all the way to the button stance). Shitty fused-front jackets can lose their proper roll and begin to close up, especially if not pressed properly.

7.  Fusing Bubbles

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This is the sign of a “fused front” (ie. glued together) chest piece. The chemicals used in dry-cleaning can affect the adhesion of this fusing, causing it to bubble-up like a do-it-yourself window tint.

8. Low Armholes

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A low armhole is just bad design. It’s a carry-over from old school patterns that weren’t adjusted for the more active lifestyle of today’s modern man. Not only do they look boxy and unshaply, they also restrict a man’s range of motion, causing a wing-like shape that pulls the jacket up when lifting an arm.

9. Hard-Creased Roll Lines

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The lapel is a focal point of the suit. It should have a soft, gradual, three-dimension roll that gives dimension and life to the jacket. A cheap one has a stiff crease caused by ironing a glued-back fabric.

10. Bubbly Shoulder Lines

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The shoulders are a critical point of a suit. They should have a clean smooth line. Not a bumpy mess like Towni’s suit from H&M that has been to the cleaners one too many times.

 

 

For more on the differences between low-end and high-end suits, see our article “$200 suit vs $2,000 suit“.

 

 

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

TSBmen

 

Photography by Alex Crawford

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  • Edgar M

    :( I own some of them, too bad

  • Connor Wrenn

    How much can a tailor correct the low armholes problem?

  • LouCaves

    I really enjoy the tutorials as they help me to talk the talk.

    Also, more info is better than less at the sales racks when I’m making purchase decisions

    Thanks, TSB.

  • TO

    Great resource. Concise and comprehensive. Thanks!

  • Juan

    Great article! I’m really digging the more informative pieces and this one in particular was excellent!

    I’d say the first thing I notice about a suit are the shoulders; most quality suits come with hand-rolled shoulders, be they padded or not. And it may be because I have very square shoulders, but I tend to associate overly-padded suits with bad quality too.

    In my opinion, fabric is important, but construction is key. I have seen way too much premium Angelico and Vitale Barberis wool wasted on fused crap.
    On that regard, this has been bothering me for quite some time: how can you tell the difference between a full-canvassed and a half-canvassed suit?

  • Christopher

    Maybe it’s because I read this blog way too much, but I tend to judge guys wearing suits hardcore. I myself have only one bespoke suit, and there’s a great deal I love about it. That said, a bespoke suit is stupidly expensive for the 99% of guys out there. $2k on a suit? You have to be making considerable cash and even then, if you have kids, a mortgage, a car…justifying $2k+ on a suit becomes harder and harder.

    Every guy should own one bespoke suit, but it’s important to be cautious. You can easily continue down that path spending insane money. If a few years from now I look at my suit collection and realize I spent $15k or more, I’d probably cry.

    So here’s my solution:

    Assume every guy has one bespoke suit. Today, he just happens to be wearing his ‘my bespoke suit is at the cleaners’ suit! Problem solved.

  • Sergio Arteaga

    Really great post! I actually wore one of my MAB suits yesterday and today wore one of my MTM suits; Indochino, and although the Indochino fits well it doesn’t compare to the MAB suit. This is regards to quality, fabric and feel of the suit but even how it fits. Bespoke clearly is able to speak to the nuisances we all have. Indo’s suit is by no means a “cheap” suit as it’s a better alternative to most OTR suits out there.

  • Lothar

    Does anybody on here have any experience with Louis Purple? They do half- and fully-canvassed MTM suits using fabrics from some really great mills (Holland and Sherry, Dormeuil, etc.). I’m SO tempted to buy a suit from them, but I’m a little nervous because there aren’t many reviews out there about their work here in the States, and the few I’ve read run the gamut (as Yelp reviews tend to). Readers, Dan, Alex, Wes, Townsend: do you guys have any information on them? If you don’t, could you make plans to try them out? You’d be doing an East Village reader, me, a huge favor.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      I would proceed with caution. I’ve heard only negative things, and their mannequins on Lafayette look extra questionable.

      • Lothar

        Really? Okay, but when you have time, please elaborate. What makes a mannequin “questionable”? Also, what complaints have you heard? Are they complaints about customer service or about the garments themselves?

        • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

          By “questionable” I mean the garments on the mannequins were not made to fit the mannequins (as you would expect at a bespoke shop). It looked like client “kill” garments that they then said “might as well use them on the mannequins”. The button was struggling to hold on and the fabric was pulling in all sorts of directions. Bespoke suiting is a game of fine details, and if that’s what they’re showing the world to represent their brand…

          But I don’t own any of their product personally, perhaps someone can provide some better feedback from their experience?

          If not, they should have a money-back guarantee is the end product is sh-t, no?

          • Lothar

            I wish they would offer a money-back guarantee because then I’d pull the trigger and go for it. But aside from the online MTMs, I haven’t found many money-backs. Does Suit Supply offer one? I honestly don’t know. For some reason I’ve been thinking they don’t. And I don’t recall if MAB does. I think all three places will make another garment for you, though, if the first garment doesn’t fit. But then what good is another garment if it comes from incompetent hands? Anyway, this is my dilemma. Again, I welcome any advice/experience anyone on here can offer. I want to make a good decision.

  • fj

    *segue not “segway”

  • Jason

    Re: Pastic Button Anchors… what’s the proper way? horn anchors? thanks.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      No anchors needed, in my opinion. They’re a bit of an eyesore and not really more functional than sewing the buttons traditionally.

      • Jason

        @tsbmen:disqus I often see plastic button anchors on outerwear / coats is that okay? Thanks!

        • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

          Sure. The anchors are just a design choice, they don’t necessarily represent poor quality. It just so happens that many cheap Hong Kong slapstick suit factories use them as a “Hallmark of Quality”…which sort of backfires by association.

          • MS

            @tsbmen:disqus Not to be a back seat driver here, but there’s an idea for a post in here somewhere! Facets of menswear that are supposed to look “classy,” but instead, because of guilt by association, look chintzy instead.

            Was thinking about this the other day with/in regards/to cheaply made/poorly fitting french cuff shirts and cufflinks.

  • Miguel

    I really enjoy when you guys do this kind of post, it’s supper informative and it gives me a clear picture when trying a suit, my budget doesn’t reach to MAB but at least this shows me what to look for when investing and trying on a suit.

    Great article,
    Thanks.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Thx Miguel! Like we said, it’s all about balancing the inspirational/aspirational with the informational/relatable. Cheers.

  • Renji

    Awww… man, now Indonesia will be known as maker of cheap suit. I know it’s the truth, but as an Indonesian actually seeing it in a menswear blog that I frequent is still kinda hurt.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      #TruthHurts

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      #TruthHurts

  • Jorge B.

    Convenient timing, I’ve been thinking about this very same topic this past weekend. Would you mind elaborating on what the issue I should be looking for is with #6? I think it’s that the lapel kind of lifts up from the chest of the jacket, but I’m not sure.

    Great article though, as always. Best regards.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      The lapels should be set to roll all the way to the button, and not “unroll” upward…

      • Jorge B.

        Ah, I see now. I’ve never noticed that quality on a cheap suit before. Thanks for the help brother!

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      The lapels should be set to roll all the way to the button, and not “unroll” upward…