How to shop for a timeless suit: check the seams, look at the lining, and pretend you’re driving

From sweat guards to a comfortable jumpsuit, the tailors share their tips for finding a suit that will last a lifetime.

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“A suit should be a fairly pure, time-resistant piece of wardrobe,” says Tom Riley, co-founder of P. Johnson tailoring. Since the suit has remained in style for over a century, enduring both in fashion and popular culture as a symbol of elegance, this is especially sage advice.

A tailored suit has the added benefit of being universally flattering. When it comes to clothing, suits have a distinctive ability to accentuate the good parts of a figure, hide what needs to be hidden, and create a balance in between. As Melbourne tailor Emily Nolan says, “A suit that fits you will never go out of style.”

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Both Nolan and Riley specialize in custom suits, which can be a great investment (especially in today’s economy). Here, they share their suggestions for timeless outfits, whether they’re ready-to-wear or made just for you.

choose the fabric
“The choice of fabric should take into account the purpose of the suit and the work it has to do for you,” says Riley. “Merino, silk, linen, cotton, and blends of these will create a very different look and purpose.”

Nolan believes that your first suit choice should always be wool, even in summer. “Wool suits are timeless, resistant and breathable. It will keep you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold without having to walk around with mountains of layers on,” he says. “It will take you through all the modes of your day, from meetings in the morning, to picking you up from school at 3:00 p.m. m., even beers with your oldest friend”.

But not all wool is the same. If you need a suit for winter and want something warmer, she suggests a wool flannel or wool-cashmere blend. For the height of summer, he says to opt for a lighter wool, like a cool.

If you’re going to be wearing your suit in the tropics (aka a summer wedding in Australia), it’s also worth exploring lighter weight fabrics like linen and cotton. These plant-based fibers “make beautiful textiles for a more relaxed, lived-in feel,” says Nolan, but be wary of their tendency to wrinkle.

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Note the lining
While it can be tempting to focus only on the outer jacket material, the lining is just as important. Nolan says the liner “is the barrier between the skin and the outer layer of the suit, so it needs to protect the outer layer from sweat and natural oils, as well as feel smooth against the body for comfort.”

Since polyester is made from oil, it has a tough relationship with body odor and sweat. “If a suit or garment is lined with polyester, the breathable outer fabric becomes meaningless,” he says. “Polyester doesn’t allow moisture to escape and evaporate… Regardless of how nice or high-quality your suit shell is, with a polyester liner, you won’t benefit.” Any cellulose-based fiber will provide a breathable alternative, with viscose rayon or cupro being the most durable options.

One way to protect the outer fabric of the suit is to have a tailor insert sweat guards, a piece of lining that is placed under the armpits of the jacket, into the suit. “This is to protect your garment from fading from perspiration or your choice of deodorant,” says Nolan.

jacket cut
Riley says that the jacket should fit well on the chest. Look for “the softness of the fabric instead of being dragged from side to side by the body.”

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