Suits make the man

Think of a well-dressed man and the image of one wearing a suit is likely to come to mind.

Perhaps you would think of actor Daniel Craig wearing Tom Ford in the James Bond movie Skyfall, or the German men's football team decked out in Hugo Boss in an advertisement for the brand.

While these ensembles cost thousands of dollars, men on a budget need not fork out that much for suits which still look good.

There are now more stores here offering suits which cost $1,000. Some of the suits on offer even have features which are typically found in luxury labels, such as the use of Italian fabrics and slimmer cuts.

One of the newest entrants here is Dutch label Suitsupply, which opened its first store in Singapore at Ion Orchard last month. Its suits, which come in 13 different fits, range from $565 to $1,409.

Since its founding in 2000, the brand has earned a reputation for producing affordable and stylish suits. Suitsupply's chief executive and founder Fokke de Jong says that he started the brand to bring a "touch of luxury at a more attainable price point".

"Before I started the brand, I felt that if you wanted something nice, that usually meant expensive and the cheap ones were often boring."

The brand's Sienna Suit ($905) was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal in 2011. Both the reviewers saw very little difference in quality between that suit and the Giorgio Armani Trader Model suit, which cost more than $4,000.

Also from Suitsupply, one can get a half-canvassed suit made out of wool from the Vitale Barberis Canonico mill in Italy (photo 1) for $565. It has a slim silhouette, lightly padded shoulders, notched lapels and flat front pants.

A MATTER OF CONSTRUCTION

What makes these suits a lot more affordable than designer brands is the way they are constructed. While the higher-end options offer suits which are fully canvassed and have more detailing, those costing $1,000 or less are very likely to be half-canvassed or fused.

A fully canvassed suit is one where a canvas layer is stitched between the fabric and lining to provide a softer silhouette.

In a half-canvassed suit, the canvas layer is placed in the more visible top portion of the jacket. It is a more affordable option that still gives the wearer a natural shape. This construction method is used for most mid-range suit brands.

Fused suits are the cheapest as the lining is glued to the fabric, and the result is a stiffer jacket.

There is definitely a market here for cheaper suit options.

Brisk online sales from Singapore prompted Mr de Jong to open an outlet here. When the brand started shipping to Singapore 11/2 years ago, orders doubled every six months. The brand ships to more than 50 countries and Singapore is one of its top 10 performing markets.

Its unconstructed linen jackets, which are lightweight and breathable, are among the top-selling products on the Singapore e-commerce store.

Even with the new 5,500 sq ft store in Singapore, customers can still buy Suitsupply suits online if what they want is not available in store.

Other stores carrying affordable suits are also reporting increased demand.

Mr Nelson Yap, managing director of menswear label Benjamin Barker, says sales for suits have increased by about 5 per cent year-on-year since it opened in 2009.

Its ready-to-wear suits come in two cuts - classic and slim - and range from $235 to $299.

A shopper can buy a fused suit that is 80 per cent polyester and 20 per cent wool for $235. The $299 suit is made out of 50 per cent wool. The brand offers only fused suits.

As for Japanese brand Suit Select, sales have been "increasing gradually" since it opened two years ago.

It offers three cuts - skinny, black line and silver line - which range from $299 to $629. The skinny and black line are slim-fit suits, while the silver line has a regular fit. The $299 suit is fused and made out of an equal mix of wool and polyester in Myanmar. The brand also offers half-canvassed suits, which start from $459.

British brand T.M. Lewin, which offers half-canvassed suits in the range of $599 to $799, says 30 per cent of its business comes from suits. Without providing specific figures, a T.M. Lewin spokesman says this figure has been increasing over the years.

Its $599 suit is created out of Australian Merino worsted wool and comes in either a skinny or slim fit.

American brands Club Monaco and Banana Republic also offer a small selection of slim-fitting suits that will not break the bank.

The Grant (photo 2) at Club Monaco ranges from $950 to $1,250, depending on the fabric.

Over at Banana Republic, suits start from $720 and are made out of 100 per cent wool from an Italian mill. The brand offers two fits - tailored and modern slim - which are suitable for men who want a more streamlined look.

High-street brands, such as Zara, Topman and H&M, also offer suits that are mostly under $500.

DAPPER MEN

In spite of the humidity here, more men are wearing suits, either to work or for social occasions.

Mr Darren Lee, who runs street-style website Shentonista, is among those who have noticed this shift towards suits as a style statement.

"A suit is synonymous with power and authority. A well-made suit emphasises the masculine form - the shoulders and chest," says Mr Lee.

Mr Dylan Chong, director of tailoring house Dylan & Son, points out that the proliferation of men's style blogs and Instagram has helped to showcase suits in a different light and these are sources for style tips.

"Previously, men would have associated suits with the baggy and boxy cuts worn by their fathers or grandfathers, but there are now so many fabrics and cuts to choose from," says Mr Chong.

On this note, shoppers with a keen eye for style say that mid-priced suits are more practical.

Architect Jonathan Quek, 34, has suits from luxury brands Ermenegildo Zegna and Hugo Boss, but that did not stop him from stocking up on cheaper options.

"Having a luxury brand suit today doesn't quite mean anything much any more. It could have been bought at a factory outlet overseas," says Mr Quek.

He bought a Suitsupply Sienna suit recently and also has a houndstooth patterned slim-fit suit from Suit Select which he got for less than $300.

The Sienna Suit's unpadded jacket is another piece which caught his eye.

"It doesn't look as boxy as my Hugo Boss suit," says Mr Quek, who wears suits to meetings and functions.

He adds: "Not spending so much on one suit means that I can have a greater variety of styles in my closet."

But he points out that there are some compromises one has to accept when buying a cheaper suit. For example, the Suit Select fabric "is a little rough to the touch".

"Even to my untrained eye, I can tell that the material is not as fine," says Mr Quek.

As for aircraft sales representative Eric Ng, 30, who started wearing suits to work last year, he has made Benjamin Barker his go-to place for suits.

He also has a suit from Zara and plans on buying another one from Benjamin Barker.

"I've heard that cheaper suits fray easily, but I haven't experienced that with my Benjamin Barker suit. I also find that it fits the Asian built best," he says.

staceyc@sph.com.sg

How to get the right fit

Here are some things to take note of when shopping for a suit of any price:

To assess if a jacket fits properly, you should be able to slip an open hand under the lapels with ease when the top button is fastened, and the suit should tug at the button when you make a fist while your hand is under the lapels.

The shoulders of a jacket are difficult to alter, so make sure the seam of the suit shoulder ends where your shoulder meets the arm.

Trousers should mirror the fit of the jacket. They should not look looser or tighter than the jacket.

Make sure that the jacket collar rests flush against your neck.

Suits constructed out of 100 per cent natural materials, such as wool, cotton or linen, as compared with a suit made with a mix of natural and synthetic fibres, tend to be more durable and breathable.

The shirt that you wear underneath is equally important. Polyester shirts can get very warm, so stick to a good cotton one.

If you are on the shorter side, avoid wearing a three-button suit jacket. Instead, try a one-button suit jacket. Also, a double-breasted jacket will add width to your body and may not be flattering.


This article was first published on Oct 10, 2014.
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