Suit Yourself!

O.K., confess. You don't know why we wear suits, what is a good one, how to clean it or why there are buttons on the sleeve.

What Is A Good Suit?

THERE IS A GRADING SYSTEM for suits which is quite arbitrary; in fact it is written into the contracts between labor unions and clothing manufacturers. A Number Six suit, the highest grade, is made almost completely with hand labor; a Number Four suit has a good deal of hand stitching, particularly in the jacket, and the rest is done by machine. A Number Two suit has almost no hand stitching. In the trade, suits numbered Two or lower are known as “sanitary suits” because they are “untouched by human hands.” Since bad pressing can ruin a suit no matter how well made, the higher grade suits get more careful treatment during the original pressing done at the factory. A presser finishing Number Six suits does about four and a half garments in an eight-hour day. A Number Two suit generally costs less than $100; a Number Four, from $135-$160; a Number Six, over $200, sometimes far over.

But the matter does not end there. Nothing has been said about the material. Since the number of yard goods manufacturers have decreased (see discussion of Double Knits), the buying habits of clothing manufacturers have changed considerably. It used to be that makers of Number Six suits would not find themselves bidding against the makers of Number Two suits for the same material. Today it happens all the time.

Number Six manufacturers, with prices rising all around them, are faced with the problem of cutting costs somewhere to keep their suits, though naturally expensive, from becoming so expensive that not even an affluent customer can afford them. Frequently that cost is cut by using a good material rather than the best. Number Four manufacturers, on the other hand, have found that their suits, though not constructed with the precision of the Number Sixes, sell quite well when made from superior material, even at the higher price that that material will necessitate. Consequently, it is not unusual to find a Number Four suit made from better material than a Number Six, even though a Number Six still costs noticeably more.

A Number Four suit is a good suit, a satisfying garment for all but the most fastidious dressers. In the $150 to $200 price range, they are eminently acceptable for most everyone’s business and social occasions. If you’re not content to judge just by price, and you shouldn’t be, these pointers will help you come to an independent conclusion:

1) Check the material. Is it soft enough to be comfortable or will the suit stand in a corner on its own? Crinkle a small part of the trouser leg in your hand. Does it wrinkle easily? Does the material stretch slightly? That’s desirable; but if it stretches, watch how it recovers. A fabric slow to return to its natural shape will soon sag.

2) Check the lining. Is it good material? Is it well sewn, tight stitches, no sloppy threads? Is it hand sewn (distinguishable by irregularity between the stitches)?

3) Check the back seam of the jacket. Is the sewing clean? Is it by hand? Does the seam hang straight and lie flat?

4) Turn up the collar and look at the seam. The collar is a very important part of the suit. If it is tailored incorrectly, the jacket simply will not fit properly. The collar, therefore, should be hand sewn.

5) Examine the buttons. They should not be sewn flat against the fabric but have a short throat of wound thread. They should not be made of plastic, though this is not an absolute test. Some manufacturers of cheaper suits use very fancy buttons.

6) The slacks can have considerable machine stitching without great loss of quality. Still, the work should be clean, not frayed or cluttered with extra thread, and the seams straight and neatly gathered.

7) If the suit or jacket is plaid or any other prominent pattern, be sure it is “mitered” properly. Neither the chest nor side pockets should interrupt the pattern; and the sleeves, when hanging straight, should themselves continue the pattern as if they were part of the body of the jacket.

Do not be inhibited in making such examinations. A store selling good merchandise will not be afraid of what you find. In fact, they’ll probably be happy to sell to someone who understands the quality he’s getting. By the same token, if you’ve asked to see an $80 suit, don’t then complain to the salesman about the lack of hand stitching. In clothing, if not in love, you get what you pay for.

Is That Tie Really Hand Sewn?

For a while there was a rumor floating around that if a tie’s lining was striped, the tie was hand sewn. Whether or not that was ever true, it’s not true now. Clothing manufacturers keep their ears to the ground for such rumors. Had this one gained widespread credence, every tie in America would have striped lining.

There is one sure way to tell. Turn the tie over and look at the broad end. Is there a thread dangling from somewhere within the tie? That’s left after the seamstress ties off her last stitch. Machine-sewn ties don’t have it. Yet.

Another fashion myth is that a suit whose jacket is fully lined is a good suit. Remember that lining can cover up bad work as well as good. A $50 suit that is fully lined is a $50 suit that is fully lined.

Staying Fashionable While Staying Solvent: A Few Hints

Remember that the noticeably new soon looks noticeably old. Men’s fashions change rather slowly so that a well-made, well-fitted suit should look stylish for at least three years and maybe, depending on the suit and the times, for as long as five. So look at the suit you’re thinking about buying. Are you going to like yourself for buying it three years from now? If you aren’t, you can spend your money in a better way. Remember that while you may buy gimmicks, you must choose style.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you must never buy a

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