With all the nuanced variations to consider when selecting a suit, a shopper might understandably feel skittish about buying one online. But according to Michael Lubarsky, contributing fashion writer for AskMen.com, there are countless opportunities to save money by doing just that. "You can save 20% to 50% by buying online," Lubarsky says.
So it's time you conquered your fear. Follow our guide below on how to buy suits online, and you're more likely to find success.
Know Your Measurements
Before you begin your quest for the perfect suit, you'll need to know your measurements. "Go to a reputable department store and try on a number of jackets so you know your size," Lubarsky says. Alternatively, you can go to your local tailor or have a friend or partner measure your chest right across the pecks, he advises. Then bring the unaltered suit you bought online to your tailor to be adjusted if need be.
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.
And don't assume the waist size on the pants you wear every day is automatically what you should order. "If you're bursting at the seams of your jeans, you need to go up one size," Lubarsky says.
Consider the Modern Cut
Lubarsky says online is the place to go for modern styles like Italian and European cuts, where the jacket is blocky and tailored at the waist. However, these styles typically lack a vent in the back, which means they can be restrictive. If you're not in shape or don't like fitted styles, look for a suit with side vents (pictured) or a central vent, which allows for more movement. The Jos. A Bank Men's Traveler 2-Button Suit and Jos. A Bank Men's Executive Year-Round 2-Button Suit respectively feature these cuts. (Traveler: $375 with free shipping; Executive: $148.50 via "BM88" with $15 s&h.)
"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 big names such as Valentino and Armani, Lubarsky says to check out Bluefly. He also recommends Jos. A. Bank, Banana Republic, and Amazon. Tyler Thoreson, head of men's creative and editorial at Gilt MANual also recommends YOOX and MANual's mother site, Gilt.
Additionally, Overstock regularly carries discounted styles from Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and more.
Rely on Your Local Tailor
Online merchants may charge for alterations, such as $10 to $15 to hem unfinished pants to the correct length, Lubarsky says. While reasonable, he instead recommends using that money to get a precise fit with a tailor at home.
Thoreson says to take advantage of alterations if they're included with your purchase, but he otherwise also recommends taking your suit to a tailor that you trust. The fit of the suit is one of the most important elements to its value in your wardrobe, so it's important that you not cut corners.
Read the Return Policy
According to Thoreson, the return rate on online merchandise is a high 40%, but to improve your chances at success, he advises ordering more than one suit.
"Order the two closest sizes," says Thoreson. "You may return both, you may return one."
It's also important to know the return policy for each store before you buy. Jos. A. Bank, for instance, is good with returns, says Lubarsky. "You can pay them to put a cuff on a trouser or have them hemmed and they will still accept them as a return." Unfortunately, not all online retailers have 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 you've got some pieces that 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.
Don't Fear the Unknown Brand
"Many of those unknown 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, he explains. A suit from a lesser-known designer can cost around $200, a savings of more than $1,000 from a well-known designer brand. So, if the suit is constructed well, you may have a good value on your hands.
By following our guide on how to buy suits online, you should be able to successfully find styles that work for you — while saving money in the process.
This feature was originally published in 2009.