Suit Etiquette 101: How to Wear a Suit

You’ve ordered your suit, marked the date of your big event or work conference, and made sure the fit is perfect. There’s just one problem…you’re really not used to wearing suits, and don’t want to make any rookie mistakes.

If you’re a bit unsure of suits, there are a few key rules to follow to ensure you can make full use of the confidence boost of a tailored suit. Most of these have a basis in either the way suits are constructed and designed, or a holdover from earlier forms of the suit and fashion from bygone days.

Of course, you can feel free to abide by or ignore these rules as suits your personal style. But as with most things, it’s important to know the rules before you break them! This article can help you wear your suit like you do every day.

Jacket Buttons

One of the most important rules is the buttons on your jacket. The most common jacket style worn today has 2 buttons, with only the top one intended to be fastened.

There’s a popular theory of its origin—King Edward VII of England, who was said to have become so broad in his middle age that he could no longer button his jackets (or waistcoats!) all the way and had to leave the bottom button undone. Whether in solidarity with the King, or because he’d set a trend, people began to copy him, and the style has endured to this day.

As only the top button of 2, or the middle button of 3 is usually fastened, many jackets are specifically cut to account for this and will look strange when all buttons are done up.

Sitting in a Suit Jacket

You should unbutton your single-breasted jacket completely when sitting down. One of the main reasons is that it avoids unnecessary creasing in the front of the jacket, which could warp the underlying structure over time and look messy! By unbuttoning the jacket, the front can hang straight at your sides.

Another reason is that a buttoned jacket can feel tighter around your torso when seated. Your body doesn’t stay the exact same size and shape while in motion and in different positions. While tailored garments do account for this to an extent, the closer they are fit to one’s position, i.e. standing or walking, the less they will be able to accommodate another. There should always be a balance between having a mannequin-perfect fit and a full and complete range of motion in a tailored garment. The tighter you like your fit, the more you’ll notice where your clothes tend to pull when you sit.

The advantage of this is that if you do happen to forget this rule, you’ll be reminded as soon as you take a seat!

Shirt and Layering

First and foremost – if you’re wearing a suit, your shirt should be tucked in. Think of it as an opportunity to show off your belt!

The collar of your shirt goes underneath your jacket collar. If you’re wearing a tie, button your topmost button to make sure it stays in place. If you aren’t wearing a tie, unbutton it to avoid looking stuffy! If you wear any layers under your dress shirt, they shouldn’t be clearly visible.

You may also have noticed that on business shirts (or barrel cuff shirts – the ones with buttons) that there are two buttons to fasten your cuff at different widths. This is actually intended to accommodate a wristwatch! If you fasten the cuff to the outermost button on your watch hand, you should be able to slide your shirt cuff over your watch comfortably and avoid any sleeve bunching, without having to leave your watch in your pocket!

Accessories

Lapel pins and boutonnieres go on the left side, which is the side of the jacket with buttonholes. This is in part because, in early precursors to the modern suit jacket, the lapel buttonhole was actually the topmost buttonhole in the jacket. The turned-back front later evolved into lapels as we know them today. Another way to remember is that the lapel pin goes on the same side as your heart.

Another important rule concerns pocket squares and jacket lapels: jacket lapels lay over the pocket square. No matter how fancy your pocket square fold is, it will look very strange and draw immediate attention if it breaks the lines of your jacket!

Vests

Vests, a.k.a. waistcoats, are relatively uncommon in this era but are still popular enough for occasional wear. As a result, our stylists do get some consistent questions about wearing vests, which warranted their own section here.

Perhaps thanks to King Edward VII mentioned above, when wearing a vest, you may choose either to fasten all the buttons or leave the bottom button undone. Most people opt for the latter to signal that they are more in the know when it comes to styling, though it can also make sitting more comfortable!

If your vest has a back buckle, it should be fastened. It doesn’t need to be cinched in tight, but it shouldn’t have the strap ends dangling!

As for wearing a belt with a vest, we advise not to for a few reasons. One is that vests of the right length cover the waistband of your trousers, which means that a belt won’t be visible anyway. Also, a belt buckle will usually cause a bulge under the vest, which will break the smooth line and cause it to sit strangely. We recommend suspenders or side adjuster trousers instead.

There is a style influenced by country and western dressing to have a shorter vest that partially reveals the belt, with the belt buckle sitting between the two front points of the vest. While it is certainly an option, it does create a focal point at the crotch, which is a little on the gauche side, so consider the tone of the event you’ll be attending.

Finally, your shirt collar sits over the vest. We recommend putting a vest on after a tie but before folding the collar back down to ensure it’s all layered correctly.

Conclusion

There is a lot more we could get into in the world of sartorial style, but this crash course will get you out of trouble and blend in at a corporate event without a fashion faux pas. Of course, while following these rules will elevate any of your tailored outfits in terms of style, the best way to set yourself up for success is with the unparalleled fit and comfort of a custom-made suit.

At Briggins, we don’t just tailor suits and shirts – we also offer advice and suggestions when the situation warrants it. No matter the event you’re going for, just speak to us and we can help tailor the perfect outfit for you. To book your suit consultation, email us at info@briggins.com.au or give us a call during our showroom hours on 1300 452 251.

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