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downtide's avatar

Advice on purchasing a first mens' suit?

Asked by downtide (22388 points ) June 20th, 2010

Those of you who have been following my answers here and there will know that I’m transsexual, female-to-male, and pre-op.

Right now I’m planning to buy my first men’s suit. But understandably I have a body shape that’s not particularly average as far as mens clothes go. Now I can’t afford to shop in the kind of place where I’d get properly measured and fitted – my budget limits me to Asda or Primark (the UK equivalents of Walmart). So I need to do the measuring and fitting myself.

Vital statistics are as follows: Chest size a shade under 36”. Jacket length would be short as I’m only 5“6”.
Waist 32”, inside leg 30”. Pants are easy enough, I’m lucky to not have much around the hips and a 32” regular fits me well.

Fitting the jacket is the problem. A 36” looks right around the chest and shoulders, but too tight around the waist. A 34” is out of the question, I can’t even fasten one up. A 38” fits better around my middle but looks too big in the chest. So I’ve tried on all combinations and I can’t decide which is the best option.

There are “slim fit” jackets which are even worse but there doesn’t seem to be the opposite – a “comfort fit” for guys with a bigger waist in proportion to the chest (god knows why not, the beer-gut seems to be the standard male shape round here).

Now obviously I can’t afford a tailor-made bespoke suit so my question is, which would look the least ridiculous/most normal – to go with the smaller jacket that’s a little tight around the middle? Or to go with the bigger one that fits the waist but looks bigger up top?

Another question – which style would look the most flattering on my shape/height – two buttons and longer lapels, or three buttons with shorter, higher lapels?

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20 Answers

augustlan's avatar

You should always pick clothing that fits the largest part of you well. After that, take it to a tailor and have them alter it for you so it fits everywhere else. Having a jacket altered is far cheaper than having one custom-made for you, so it is probably within your budget. I can’t remember what it costs, so you might want to call a few tailors and get an idea. Good luck!

Kraigmo's avatar

Suits almost always look goofy on people unless they are expensively tailored.

downtide's avatar

@augustlan Wouldn’t it be incredibly hard/expensive to take in the chest part of a jacket but leave the waist part the same?

augustlan's avatar

@downtide I actually have no idea. I’m not skilled in the sewing arts. Sounds like another question for a tailor. Probably calling one first is your best bet. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Do you a have a version of JC Penney? They are a little more expensive than a WallyWorld type store but have the sales staff to help fit you. It is worth it.
Good luck with your new adventure.

downtide's avatar

@worriedguy I’ve never heard of JC Penney but I imagine the next step up in price here would be something like Burtons. The Asda/Primark suits are around £40–50 and at Burtons they start at around £70–80 which is beyond my budget. (To be honest, even £50 is making me worry that it’s too extravagant if I’m going to need to pay another £20–30 for alterations as well)

MissAnthrope's avatar

@downtide – Alterations are not necessarily terribly expensive. Call a few of them and ask what they would charge to tailor a suit jacket.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

Men rarely button suit jackets, unless it’s a double breasted suit, which must be worn buttoned. You may do better with your first purchase by purchasing a navy blazer and a pair of dark gray trousers.

Men rarely wear suits “off the rack” and alterations are a must.

molave's avatar

Hi. May I suggest that you go to a well-established store within your price range and try some suits with the help of a clerk that seems experienced, well-meaning and sincere. His or her assistance would probably be enough to ensure that you will not look ridiculous with whatever you purchase.

Any major life transition is understandably stressful, so this is not the time to gun for perfection in your first purchase. Aim for acceptable, and consider that, as with any other major component of your new appearance (such as hair and shoes), it will take time to get it right.

The important thing is to experiment, have fun, and just chill. The clothes won’t carry your confidence. Your confidence will carry the clothes.

Good luck with this exciting new chapter in your life.

elocin's avatar

Altering the chest part of a jacket is not worth it. There is too much in the way of tailoring. Sometimes you can let out a jacket at the waist, but usually not very much.

There is a specialty cut called portly or stout which is wider in the waist than the shoulders. I would suggest looking for one as you could then take in whatever you needed to at the waist. Unfortunately, “discount” type stores don’t usually carry such a thing. However, I have had good luck ordering online in the past, and usually can find something affordable. Sometimes you even get a place where you can buy the jacket and pants of a matched suit separately (if say your chest/waist combo doesn’t line up with that of a standard suit). I wish I knew of UK options to recommend to you, but unfortunately I am in the US. If the UK has a Men’s Wearhouse equivalent, that might be a good place to go for something between budget and high end.

As for style, I think you should try on different ones and see what you like on yourself. But I personally tend to think that 3–4 buttons is harder for a shorter person to pull off and that 1–2 elongates visually. 3–4 also tends to create a bit of a barrel shape in the torso and if you’re already wider there it’s something you may want to avoid.

downtide's avatar

@elocin This is all really helpful. I saw some “portly” cut suits online although I wasn’t able to find any in town. I may just bite the bullet and order one that way. I imagine it’s easier to take in a jacket that’s slightly too big rather than let out one that’s too small. Finding places doing jackets and pants separately is easy here, even the cheapest stores do that. Which is a good thing because I need pants in a bigger size. I have tried on a few today and I definitely preferred the 2-button. The 3-button made me look even shorter than I am.

I’m inclined to go for the bigger one anyway, on the assumption that I’m more likely to gain weight in the future than lose it.

elocin's avatar

I’m glad you’re finding this helpful. I do think that you’ll be happier spending the shipping to get a jacket in a portly short. The proportions will just be better. And I think you are on the right track to err on the side of larger rather than smaller. Coincidentally, I happen to be working on a project where I have to dress a cisgendered woman in a man’s suit and discovered many of the same things you are. The pants do need to be a size bigger to accommodate hips. And while a jacket that’s too large in the chest is not ideal, it does help camouflage the bosom and square off the body in a more “masculine” way. But do try to fit your shoulders as well as possible because that’s the biggest mistake many men make in picking out a suit and it tends to look sloppy. I think you’ll feel better with properly fitted shoulders and it will help present you as a man as opposed to someone dressing as one. The other mistake is wearing one’s pants lower than they were when they were hemmed. They puddle at the ankles and look sloppy.

If you have the luxury of choosing from more than one portly short, I find that jackets with a more fitted sleeve tend to work better as well. The normal padding on a man’s suit transforms a woman’s body quite successfully, but it’s where the sleeves collapse (because of more slender arms) that things start to look funny.

downtide's avatar

@elocin I’m actually blessed with a not-very-feminine body anyway. I have next to nothing “up top” so to speak, and when binding, nothing shows at all, my chest is completely flat. Even my hips & bum aren’t that big, and the only reason I need a 32” size in pants is to fit round my “beer-gut”. All my weight is on the waist, just as it would be with a natural man. If it wasn’t for the belly, I could fit a 30” in the hips. I just wish I had broader shoulders.

Since my last update I’ve found the website of a local menswear store that not only has affordable suits, they also have a FREE alteration service. I think this might be the way to go.

JLeslie's avatar

You will be a 36 short. The drop, or difference between the chest size and waist size is likely to be 6 inches, so that means a 36 jacket will have size 30 trousers, which can be altered up to 2 inches in the waist in or out. I am not clear if you measure 36 inches across the bust? Or, if that maybe is the bra size you are accustomed to buying?

downtide's avatar

@JLeslie 36” is the measured size of my chest when I’m binding my breasts. 30” trousers will be too small, I need 32”, but that’s not a worry at all, as the retailers here all sell the jackets and trousers seperately, in whatever size combination you want. My main problem is the 36” jacket fits nicely around the chest and shoulders, but when buttoned up it’s too tight round the waist. The 38” jacket fits nice round the waist but is too loose in the chest.

JLeslie's avatar

@downtide I see. Having the jacket big across the shoulder and chest won’t do. You might need portly if it is available? What is very tricky is finding a 36 in portly, at least here it would be tricky.

Have you tried the boys department? 36 is actually the last size in boys typically, it would be size 20 in a “husky” to accomodate your waste. At least that is in America, I don’t remember where you are.

Also, going back to adult sizes certain vendors cut wider around the waist, and some are a more athletic or slim cut. Not sure the vendors you have available?

downtide's avatar

Can’t find portly in any size in stores though I’ve seen them online, haven’t found a place doing portly 36”. I did try the boys section in a couple of stores but everything was too small, couldn’t even get close to buttoning any of them up. They all seemed to be slim cut.

What is the likelihood of getting a 38” and getting it adjusted to fit better round the chest? Would that be possible?

JLeslie's avatar

@downtide Yes, they can take it in at the seems on the back. What is very expensive is cutting the shoulder, or altering the arm hole, that is completely reconstructing the jacket, but if it can be taken in far enough below the arm, then it can be done. Does that make sense? Not sure I described it well. The stores you are trying, do they have a taylor on staff?

downtide's avatar

I’ve found one that not only has a tailor on staff, they will do the alterations at no extra cost (assuming the alteration is physically possible). I’m going to see them on Friday.

JLeslie's avatar

@downtide Excellent. The taylor will tell you what can be done. I would be reluctant to do more then just take in seems even if they are willing to do it. You will know by how they pin or chalk the suit. If they just pin the back or sides or chalk it I think you should have plenty of confidence the alteration will be satisfactory. If they chalk the shoulder to indicate they are actually going to cut the shoulder that is riskier, but if they will stand behind their work and allow you to return the garment after alterations you might still want to try. Most places will not allow a garment to be returned after alteration.

Good luck. I feel confident you will be able to find something that will work.

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