Did you know that you can save between 20% and 50% on a suit when you buy it online? Michael Lubarsky, contributing fashion writer for AskMen.com, knows that such a discount may be tempting enough to most shoppers, but before you opt into a BOGO suit sale, there are some things you need to know about buying suits online.
Know Your Measurements
Before you buy a suit off the digital racks, you'll need to know your size. To find the perfect jacket fit, measure your chest across the pecks. (This is easier said than done; it's best to have someone else do it, like your local tailor.) It's also important to remember that your jacket sleeve should reveal a half-inch of your shirt cuff. Anything shorter or longer will look disproportionate. Likewise, you can't assume your jeans size will translate perfectly to suit pants. "If you're bursting at the seams of your jeans, you need to go up one size," Lubarsky says. Skin-tight, skinny suit pants are not in, and neither are loose or otherwise ill-fitting garments.
Rely on Your Local Tailor
When buying a suit online, you may have to spend an additional $10 to $15 to hem unfinished pants or correct their length, Lubarsky says. While reasonable, he instead recommends spending a little bit more to get a precise fit from a local tailor.
Tyler Thoreson, head of men's creative and editorial at Gilt MANual, says to take advantage of alterations if they're included with your purchase, but he also recommends a trustworthy tailor. A great-fitting suit is an essential piece in any man's wardrobe, so it's important that you not cut corners on quality nor style.
Opt for Suits with Modern Cuts
If you're looking for a modern-style suit, like Italian or European cuts, you should definitely look online according to Lubarsky. These fitted styles feature a blocky and tailored-at-the-waist jacket. However, such cuts styles typically lack a vent in the back, making them a bit more restrictive than a traditional suit jacket. If you're not in shape or don't like fitted jackets, look for a sport coat or suit jacket with side vents or a central vent, which allow for more movement. The Jos. A. Bank Men's Executive 2-Button Wool Suit with Center Vent and Pleated Front Trousers ($127 with free shipping, a low by $523) is one such example.
"How a suit fits all comes down to your body type and the cut," Lubarsky says. "Jos. A. Bank is more generous around the hips, while Banana Republic is pushing design a bit around the hips." Figuring out which styles and cuts work for you may take some trial and error shopping, but once you find a brand that works, stick with it. Lubarsky also advises sticking to solid-color suits rather than complex patterns since the latter can be hard to accurately evaluate on a computer screen. "It's almost guesswork," he explains.
For popular suits from Valentino and Armani, check out Bluefly. Lubarsky also recommends Jos. A. Bank, Banana Republic, and Amazon. Thoreson favors suits from YOOX and MANual's mother site, Gilt. Additionally, Overstock regularly carries discounted styles from Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and more.
When it comes to suits, you shouldn't fear unknown brands. "Many unknown [brand] names are actually made in the exact same factories of Valentino and Ralph Lauren," Lubarsky says. Their design may be slightly different, but you're getting similar workmanship if not the same fabric quality." A suit from a lesser-known designer can cost around $200, a savings of more than $1,000 from a well-known designer brand.
Read the Return Policy
According to Thoreson, online merchandise is returned at a rate of nearly 40%. To make sure you're not attending your next meeting or wedding in rags, he advises ordering more than one suit at a time. And as such, knowing a store's return policy is imperative. Jos. A. Bank, for instance, is good with returns, says Lubarsky. "You can pay to put a cuff on a trouser or have pants hemmed and the store will still accept the return." Unfortunately, not all online retailers have as a forgiving return policy. "Some vendors have a 14-day return policy, which is not much," he explains.
Examine the Suit Carefully
Once your suit arrives, it's important to take a close look at the material, Lubarsky says. Look at the stitching on the lapel, armholes, and trousers to see whether the material is stitched or glued together. "If some pieces are glued, the suit may not last as long as you would like," Lubarsky explains. "Glue will break down from the heat of dry cleaning." If you buy a suit that uses glue, or one that's completely stitched, keep that in mind; the brand will likely use this practice for other styles, and these details can inform your future purchases.
This feature has been updated since it was originally published in 2009.
Brian T. Horowitz is a contributor to dealnews.com, where this article first appeared.