In this article, we focus on the quality hallmarks of a high-end suit aside from the fit.
A suit label can tell you a lot. Whether it’s a brand that produces off-the-rack suits or higher-end made-to-measure suits, if you know the brand, you know exactly what kind of quality level it’s at. For example, for Ralph Lauren, there is Ralph Lauren purple label which is their highest line and the most expensive one, black label is less expensive and tailored with a trimmer fit, Polo Ralph Lauren is again less expensive and then they have lower end lines like chaps from Ralph Lauren which is really low end. On the other hand, double RL has kind if a vintage aesthetic, it’s also a little more expensive. So understanding the brands that you’re interested in and whose aesthetic you like is paramount in identifying an expensive suit.
If you’re into vintage quality, if you’re lucky, sometimes you can find custom or bespoke suits at tailors. Now sometimes these come from different countries. Now if it says custom tailor or bespoke tailor, chances are it’s a higher-end suit. Also, the address can help if something says Savile Row on it or Via Monte Napoleone in Milan, you know it comes from an expensive street and chances are it’s an expensive garment.
On most bespoke suits, you cannot see the label right away, therefore, you have to look in the inside pockets. Don’t be fooled if you can’t find any composition labels or fabric labels because most bespoke suits won’t tell you what fabric it is, or what material composition the lining is made of, so if you’ve looked inside the pockets and inside the entire jacket and you can’t find any care labels or material labels, chances are it’s a very expensive suit.
On a custom-made suit, the tailor will take great care to round the corners so they don’t wear out prematurely, you will see the same rounding at the tips of the lapels which is where most companies do it, however, they don’t do it at the bottom of the jacket or at the ends of the sleeves. Of course, that alone it’s not a quality hallmark but if the corners are rounded, it just tells you that the rest is of high quality as well.
It’s a slight stitching along the edge of the suit and traditionally, it was only been able to be made by hand. So back in the day, you can just look at a suit and if it was there, it was a quality suit. Because of that, some nifty Germans developed a machine called the AMF machine and it creates a stitch that looks handmade from afar but generally, it is very obvious. You can really spot it when you turn it around and look at the stitching from the back. Traditionally, a suit from England, or let’s say Germany, had a very subtle stitching that was only noticeable upon closer inspection; Italian suits, on the other hand, may have more flashy pick stitching and usually, you find it in the areas of the lapel and the collar all the way down the front quarters. Sometimes, you can also find pick stitching along the back seams, as well as the sleeves, and if you encounter that, you know it’s a quality suit because that’s not something that’s done on inexpensive garments.
A high-end suit will usually have a fair amount of handwork in it, that means, the lining is sewn by hand. You can check it on the sleeves, you can check the armhole which should be set in by hand, and you can look at the little details and see whether it’s a hand stitch or a machine stitch. The character of a hand stitch is that is slightly irregular, the hand stitch is more flexible than a machine stitch and because of that, it moves with you which makes you look better and feel more comfortable. In the same vein, when you have the suit in front of you, you can flip over the lapel and look for little pick stitching in the back. That is done when you have a interlined canvas and it gives you that lapel roll that’s so desirable. On a cheaper suit, you get flat ironed lapels and that’s not what a tailored garment is. Sometimes, you can see the stitching very clearly, other times you can just slightly feel it and slight dimples from the back but it’s hard to see because either the thread is too fine or it’s the same color, or it’s just not so obvious. High-end expensive suits should always have either a full canvas or no canvas at all that is all sewn. There should be no glue involved, not even a half canvas suit.
Pop open your collar and look carefully how it’s sewn on. A cheaper or inexpensive suit will be machine sewn versus a quality high-end expensive suit, will be hand sewn. With little practice, you can determine what is a hand sewn collar because again, you see irregular stitches. Oftentimes, you see finer stitches sometimes you see contrast stitches whereas the machine-made collar is usually with a triangle stitch or just a very regular stitch that’s very stiff and not flexible.
A high-end suit will have a match pattern. It’s easiest to check that if you have let’s say a windowpane suit, maybe a prince of Wales check with an over plaid, or a striped suit. On a solid suit, it’s hard to see that skill because there’s no pattern that you can really match. Some tailors even line up the stripes on the back of the collar with your back or on the gorge which is the part between the collar and the lapel. Now, you can have an expensive suit that doesn’t have matched stripes, however, on the side of the pants, for example, you should always find a nicely matched pattern. On top of that, the back of the suit should also have a nicely matched pattern and if you have a windowpane, it should be aligned and the stripes should be symmetrical. So these are all good points to look at, the pattern matching because on a high-end suit, they’re usually matched. On the cheaper ones, they’re definitely not.
A high-end expensive suit will always have handmade buttonholes that are a piece of art. If they’re machine made, they should be of the highest quality, have a very fine stitch, have maybe a gimp on them, and you can sometimes see it on bespoke suits, but most of the time, it’s a hand stitch buttonhole. How can you identify one? Turn it on the backside and you will see a slightly irregular stitch versus in the front, it looks very irregular. Also sometimes, it is raised such as for example, on a Milanese buttonhole, it’s a finer silk thread with a GIMP thread underneath and it certainly looks very different than a regular bespoke buttonhole. On the other hand, a cheaper suit oftentimes has fraying buttonholes. The stitching is not as fine, it’s very regular, and the front and back and that’s how you can identify if you’re an expensive suit or a cheap suit.
Sometimes, an expensive suit has a half lining or is completely unlined and then you can actually look in the back seam in the center. If there’s a fabric reserve, you know you can only really test that if you hold it against the light source if there’s a lining, but an easier way to check the fabric reserve is the pants. Just flip them over and look at the sides and see if there’s some fabric reserve. You want at least two to three centimeters or one inch sometimes, there are two inches of reserve and it shows you it was made by a quality maker because cheaper suits usually save on the fabric and it doesn’t give you any room to expand or tailor a suit.
If you have an Italian-made garment or anything from southern Europe, chances are you’ll see a kind of wavy pattern of fabric in the back. Sometimes, you can see it in shirts but also in suits, as well as sleeve hats, what I mean by that is a slight puckering which is produced by adding more fabric to let’s say the sleeve hat or the back in the shoulder. Some people like that because I think it adds a nonchalant sprezzatura element to their garments, other people who are maybe of a Viennese school, maybe a German tailoring school, or English tailoring school, think it is not proper. In any case, if you see it, you know it’s a more expensive garment because usually, that’s done by hand and cannot be done in a factory really and therefore, it’s a good hallmark to see it but it’s not very reliable because it’s only seen in southern European or Italian suits.
A high-end suit has high-quality buttons. The standard is horn buttons and sometimes in Savile Row houses, they only have two holes versus the majority of all suits including some other bespoke suits, have four holes. That being said, if you find two hole buttons that have a slight indent, chances are it is a high-end suit. Even if you find four holes, it can be a high-end suit, it can be made from corozo such as you see it in Italy a lot, or horn, sometimes people even go with mother-of-pearl, even precious metals such as gold. The hallmark of a horn button, or a Corozo, or a mother of pearl button, is that they’re not consistent versus cheap plastic buttons often look exactly the same. Those will also break versus horn buttons are very unlikely to break just like corozo. So look for the holes and inconsistencies and if you can find that, it’s likely an expensive suit.
For example, when you combine this side with a sleeve, you have fabric ends on both sides. If you fold them both towards the shoulder you create a shirt style shoulder which is also known as SPALLA CAMICIA in Italian, it’s a very distinctive look and if you see that, you know it is most likely a custom bespoke garment that is expensive and not a cheap off the rack suit. Basically, all off-the-rack suits and also some higher-end suits, have the shoulder and fold this way and the sleeve end folded that way. It gives you a less pronounced look of the shoulder seam and sometimes you find people who fold both of them towards the sleeve side and they may even add a little bit of extra layer in there to get a slightly elevated shoulder seam sleeve head which then drapes nicely down on the sleeve. It’s just a very nice look and you need a little experience for that because it’s not easy to spot for a beginner, but once you’re more into suits, you can immediately see what kind of shoulder it is.
A high-end suit brand such as Ralph Lauren purple label will have material labels with 100% wool. They may have cashmere in it, there may be silk or cotton, but never polyester or nylon, even viscose is a lower-end option so look for these materials that are good. If you can’t find a material just as I said before, chances are it’s a bespoke suit and it’s an expensive one.
If you have a pair of Hollywood rousers that means there’s no separate detached waistband but the pants are just held all the way up, and either you have suspender buttons or belt loops. If you encounter that, you know you have an expensive suit because that’s not something that’s made in a commercial off the rack or even a cheap suit.
Look for monograms on the inside, maybe some secret pockets, but the inside of a suit will often tell you if there were customizations done and if that’s the case, chances are it was a more expensive suit than something that has no customizations whatsoever.
Now that you know the key differences between a high-end suit and a cheap one, you will never have to settle for anything less. Looking dapper does not come cheap but it is definitely worth it. Don’t you agree? Share your thoughts below!