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How To Buy Your First Real Suit

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by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
Men's discount warehouses employ more rank amateurs than the Canadian Football League
by Rene Williams, for outsideleft.com
originally published: December, 2004
Men's discount warehouses employ more rank amateurs than the Canadian Football League

Wearing the right suit, especially if it's your first suit, is almost like wearing a suit of armor. It makes you feel powerful and confident: Like you can destroy small villages and slay three-headed dragons. People treat you with respect because you look the part. Of course, the best suit is the one that makes you feel the part as well. That's why you need to know how to actually buy a suit—from how to get yourself fitted to how to tell whether or not your salesman is playing you for a chump.

Leave the skirt at home
First and foremost, leave your wife, girlfriend, skirt or whatever you're calling her these days at home—or at least drop her off at the mall or something. Trust us, you don't want to trot her out with you to a high-end suit shop while some stranger has a measuring tape pressed up against your inner thigh. Besides, bringing along your lady is going to instantly alienate your salesman, making him a third wheel, torn between your taste and that of your girlfriend. And didn't you get enough of that humiliation when your mother used to drag you to Sears every fall to buy you your back-to-school clothes anyway? Be a man and go solo.

Like a Boy Scout; be prepared
If you plan to try anything on, you need to do exactly two things. First, know your suit size. It's one of those basic pieces of information you should know like the Mohammed Ali's total KO's and your attorney's hotline number. Go in to a suit shop not knowing your own suit size and a dishonest salesman is going to take you for an easy target he can sell anything to. Secondly, you also want to wear the shoes and one of the shirts you'll probably be wearing with the suit. Not that you have to wear a suit to buy a suit, but not only does it allow you to see what the whole outfit will look like, but it shows respect for the product and the shop's staff.

Stay away from the chains
Like the plague. Those men's discount warehouses employ more rank amateurs than the Canadian Football League—they may as well be selling horse manure. They generally work for low salaries with commissions as high as 50 percent. You go to a nicer, high-end boutique and the average salary is in the mid-30s and commissions can be as low as 2 percent. At discount chain, a sales person will say things like "With your coloring, you'd look great in black," or "Pinstripes will look very slimming on you." Then you say, "No kidding, everyone looks great in black and pinstripes would make even my mother-in-law look thinner." And if the discount hack starts talking about their product's "fine stitching," as him what makes it so fine. The only possible answer is that it's hand finished, and trust us, a place like theirs isn't carrying hand-finished anything.

Know your salesman
Because he's the guy that's going to be taking on the insufferable task of transforming you into something of a winner. The first way to see if your guy is reliable is to point to a random suit on a rack and ask him if he has it in stock in your size. A good salesperson will either know right away or at the very least check for you. A lazy one will say, "I don't think so," or "Everything we have is on the sales floor." Another way to test him is tell him you tried on one of his store's suits, but it was kind of tight in the chest and shoulders. If he asks you to try it on again so he can see if a few minor alterations can be made, that's a good sign. If he says, "Don't worry. Our in-house tailor can take care of it," run like the wind. Even the most skilled tailor in the world isn't going to be able to do anything about the chest and shoulders of a suit jacket—it's a major overhaul that just can't be pulled off.

Avoid trends like the plague
It hurts when a bird at the bar automatically assumes you're a used car salesman, doesn't it? And ever wonder why she, and just about everyone other female in the free world, thinks of you as a latter-day Herb Tarlick? It's probably because you got caught up in that whole cocktail nation/thrift store-chic look so popular 10 years ago. And what have you got to show for all those wasted hours sifting though the Salvation Army discount racks? A bunch of ugly polyester suits that you still can't get the old-man stink out of. Knowing that, you want to stay away from plaids. You're not a Dick Tracy villain and unless you're last name is Tubbs and you and your partner are on a stakeout to bust a big coke cartel in Miami Beach, stay away from the rainbow colors. Stick with blacks, blues, and grays.

Decipher the codes
Because a good salesperson isn't going to just come out and say that you look like an idiot. They're you're friend, they appreciate that you came them to make one of the most important purchases a guy can make and they're don't want to destroy your confidence. So they're going to drop subtle hints to steer you in the right direction. For example, if your salesman says, "That suit seems rather restricting," he's trying to tell you're fat ass to find a suit that's less fitted. If he says that the cream-colored suit you have on "has too light of a hue," he's trying to tell you that he's seen albinos with better complexions.

No white socks
If this one needs an explanation, you're far beyond the realm of help we can offer. Your best bet is to pray that the gas station you work for has a good retirement package.

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