Quality Hallmarks in Men’s Suits and Sports Coats
When looking to purchase a suit or sports coat it is good to know if you are getting what you pay for. Since often – your suit is an investment. One which is likely on the more expensive end of the clothing choices a gentleman may make in their life. Especially the case when purchasing one of quality. In this article we discuss the various suit quality hallmarks to be on the lookout for so that you can make the most educated and informed decision as possible when selecting your sport coats or suits.
Whether this is going to be your first suit, or if you are looking to add that rare or special piece to your collection, this article will guide you to an understanding of what the hallmark qualities are and what makes them add value to the cost of the suit.
Suit Quality Tiers
The highest tier of suit purchases one is able to make is ‘bespoke’. This is the term for a ‘custom-made-for-only-you’ suit. This is a suit made by a full-time tailor, cut, measured, and designed specifically and solely for you and your body. These suits take multiple fittings but are designed exactly for no one else except for the intricacies of your own body. They are made with your choice of cloths and patterns, in the style of your choosing. Because they are made by a skilled tailor, generally with finer cloths and materials (of your choice), and take weeks or months to produce, this is why they are the most expensive with cost.
Past that, the next tier is ‘made-to-measure’ – which is a suit “made to your measurements”. Often you don’t have any fittings and the garment is made without you ever being present after measurement. These can even be ordered online by just providing the numbers for your measurements. After that the next tiers that you come across are luxury brands. Then below that you have off-the-rack (which often itself can be quite expensive – but often quite poorly fitted and constructed).
The General Basics
We break down many suit quality hallmarks in the following section. But to give the general gestalt – the easier to understand basics of the suit quality hallmarks to look for are:
– Higher quality “materials” used in the construction (generally things which are natural materials like wool, brass, horn, etc and the fabrics used for the garment, and technically the quality of the thread itself)
– Any steps in the construction that the would require more work from an actual person (i.e. like sewing/stitching time, attaching, detailing work)
– Whether a garment is a mass produced item (faster and less quality due to production) vs a more specialty/custom item (made by a trained, skilled Tailor)
Diving Into the Specifics
– Working Cuff/Surgeon Cuff
One of the first suit quality hallmarks to look to would be the wrist cuff. Here you can see if it is a “working cuff”. The working cuff got it’s name from the idea that old surgeons would unbutton their cuffs to perform surgery.
This specifically refer to where the buttons near the wrist are actually functional and allow the buttons to go through the button hole. Generally this is an indicator of a high quality garment. It takes more work with not just the construction of the jacket, but also the additional work and cost to stitch each button hole vs just directly stitching the buttons on the sleeve which is much faster and cheaper to do. If you are able to see some with the leather toggles and working button holes then you have a rare thing!
With the construction of the cuff itself, there are a few components which can be altered to add that little ‘special’ touch to show off that the suit is custom. These are more likely to be of higher quality as well. They include – contrast button hole stitching, button hole stitch length. Not just the button-holes that can draw the attention. The cuff itself could be cut at an angle (which is very non-standard and a much more modern styling). This is very rare to find.
Here is an example of a “working cuff”:
Working cuff ‘contrast stitching’ is where one of the buttonholes (often the one closest to the hand) is stitched with different color thread (usually something much bolder or at least a little bit of a subtle touch) than the other buttonholes. This is done to draw attention that the buttonhole – which is bespoke and hand-stitched in most cases.
Another truly rare finding would be alternate length buttonhole stitching. This is where you’ll see either one button hole stitching being extra long, or often you could see staggered decreasing in length button holes.
Though not as high tier as true working button-holes, you’ll often see fancier button hole stitching on “made-to-measure” garments like this loop button-hole stitching done here. But again, this is not the same effort or cost as a true working cuff but does show off some care and artistry.
You will commonly see that cheaper suits are generic colors like gray, blue, and black – the most common of sport coat colors. Some of the more expensive suits are made from bolder different patterns and colors. Though, just because you find a gray suit it does not mean it isn’t some Savile Row bespoke high quality garment.
It is important to note – while the fabric patterns may be an indicator of quality, it doesn’t necessarily mean that non-patterned fabrics are not of value. For example, you can buy a suit in – vicuna – which is the most expensive fabric choice you can find – and if can make a suit cost upwards of $30,000.00!
– Brands & Labels
Another indicator of base-line quality is ‘the brand‘ or maker of the suit. Some brands are known for better quality. Brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren purple label, Brioni, Canali. These brands are very costly sometimes even as much as Savile Row Bespoke. You can see price tags between $1000-$5000 and even higher!
Other mid-tier brands such as Harris Tweed (generally cloth material maker only but included in quality garments), Pendleton, Brooks Brothers, Orvis are often close to $1000.00. Then you have many “fashion” brands where you are just paying for a label but not the same level of quality.
This is also likely the easiest of all suit quality hallmarks to spot – just simply check the label. It is also important to know that most modern brands have different tiers – like Brooks Brothers highest lines are the golden fleece, Madison, Milano, Fitzgerald. Many brands have lower tier garments which are made specifically for their “outlets”. So be sure to do your research to know that you are purchasing a quality garment brand and label.
If you have the budget for it, the best brands to purchase would be the custom bespoke makers from Savile Row in England. Such as brands like – Dege & Skinner, Huntsman, Henry Poole, Gieves and Hawkes, Anderson And Shepard or any other quality custom bespoke maker.
– Brands Label Stitching
Knowing the suit ‘brand’ is one of the major indicators of a suits quality. You can find other evidence of suit quality hallmarks via the brand label itself which is stitched on the inside breast pocket. One consideration is the stitching done to affix it to the garment. Generally if you see a straight line of machine stitching – it is the cheapest and fastest way to attach the label requiring little skill. If you see the ‘triangled’ stitching done by hand of a tailor, you know that the coat went through someone’s individual hands vs a mass produced garment. The other way you can tell the hand-stitched on label is of an even better quality garment is how uniform, aligned, and straight the line of yellow stitching is. Messy stitching means less skill.
Another note – you’ll also often see “fake” yellow stitching actually embroidered on the label itself in an effort to “show” that quality. You can then even notice straight single line machine stitching around it… A good eye can easily tell that this is of lower quality. Refer to the left label (fake stitching embroidered on the label) vs the right on (tailored stitching – though you can still see black machine stitching under it)
Natural materials like wool, cashmere, mohair, camel hair, brass, pure gold, sterling silver, horn, shell, are all mined, gathered, smelted, or ‘harvested’. Thus they are more rare and usually better quality than synthetic “we can make it when we need more” materials. Due to the goal of cost cutting of producing man-made goods and materials you’ll often find that they are cheap.
Most man-made materials are not of superior quality. This is largely due to businesses mass producing items for better margins. Think polyester from the 1970’s. Natural materials are limited – they can’t be produced any time you want it. They also require harvesting or work to gather and then craft into the materials needed. This increases their costs.
It is generally easily recognizable to the materials used in suits due to labeling. For example take this camel hair label:
– Collar Dimpling Stitching
Also known as ‘pick stitching’. If the stitching seen on the collars of the suit show some “puckering” or small dimples it signifies hand tailor stitching was done. Normal machine stitching is close together, uniform, and tightly compacts the suit. As shown in the pictures above and below, we see someone ‘skilled’ spent time manually hand-stitching the collar instead of an automated mass production facility or an unskilled worker via a sewing machine. This does take a bit of a discerning eye, but with a little experience it is one of the easier things to notice.
Buttons on higher quality garments are often made of exotic materials: horn (ox, buffalo, etc), antler (like on duffel coats), shells like abalone, mother of pearl, or sometimes even coconut! The material used for the buttons on a sports coat are an indication of the quality of the overall garment. This is because cheap plastic buttons are easy to produce and reduce the cost and increase the profits.
This is an example of a horn button:
You will see plastic buttons on most mass produced cheaper suits. Natural materials are harder to harvest and are generally more durable than their plastic counterparts. The intrinsic characteristics of quality materials often make these even more desirable. This are the features of the material such as how each button may be unique in pattern swirl, cutting, and coloring, etc which makes for a much more personal item.
And interesting point with quality suits, you will see bespoke buttons from Savile Row generally have “2 button holes” instead of the normal “4 holes” normally seen on most buttons. Another suit quality hallmark you will often see are “button reserves.” Essentially, excess buttons stitched on the interior of suits. You will often find this in custom tailored “made to measure” garments, or on higher end suits. Another suit quality hallmark are “contrast” buttons. This is where you have a row of buttons where all are of the same color and material except for one (or more) button that is of differing color. For an example, refer to the below button pattern: Additional suit quality hallmarks with buttons are where you see the ‘stitch’ of the buttons in close proximity so that they overlap. This is what is called a “waterfall” pattern of buttons.
– Button Stitching
Normally the fastest, most common way to sew a button on is used. Likely, in most of your garments, this is primarily seen as the ‘X’ stitch. But the general “four” button holes can be done in many different manners – each which shows a certain level of artistry. This suit quality hallmark is used as a small show that the item is custom or made with quality. Some examples of button stitching patterns are:
- crows feet (looks like an arrow)
- dual button (parallel bars of threading)
- zig-zag (z-stitch)
Also any combinations of the above (like an x-stitch + a square combo) can be done as well. Below is such an example of a hybrid stitch like that(which also shows a little “flourish” of the additional bar at the bottom of the “x-stitch”). Here is an example of the parallel bar button stitching (also pay attention to how the lines are “in-line” with the faux button-hole): The other thing you will notice in relation to buttons is “contrast stitching”. This is where you will see either bolder color stitching or often – like the below – a different color on the thread on one button vs another. This is a quality signature you generally may see on custom pieces. It is used to show off a little something as proof that this wasn’t ‘off the rack’ normal. Furthermore, you can see below the buttons are stitched with “parallel” stitching inline with the button holes (such attention to detail!!!)
– Embroidered & Monogrammed Names
Taking a look at the interior “inside” of your suit, another quality hallmark would be located near the sports coat breast-line interior pocket. There may be a name tag present, or you may have a tag which says the garment is handmade. Why does it add value? It costs money to get your name personally stitched and added to your garment. Usually you would only do that for something which denotes the garment itself is of some value. Otherwise it is unlikely to have monogrammed personalized it.
Many suit sellers and tailors may not even offer the service. You can see indicators such as stitched on labels, hand written and transferred on the inside tag pocket, client number written, embroidered above the suit pocket. Other examples are just hand stitched on embroidered tailor laundry label letters for just the owners name “initials”. On certain “made to measure” garments, you’ll often see the ’embroidered’ name of the customer on the coat itself rather than an affixed label – such as the below: On older garments you will often see the tailor monogrammed laundry labels stitched with the suit owners initials. This is a clear indication that it was well loved.
– Embroidered Interior Quote
Another rarely seen quality hallmark – some custom suit makers will embroider a small quote in the interior pocket. This is often a personal message to yourself to view everyday when you wear it. ‘Seize the day’ is common. Or a 1-word item as a reminder. Maybe something like: “Success”. “Family”. Think of your own message to add into your future purchase!
– Silk or Other “Patterned” Linings
Many suites are un-lined. Some do have “gun-lining”. As this is a more expensive feature due to the extra fabric and work involved – this is an indicator of additional cost. Some suits are styled and designed for warmer temperatures and therefore do not have any gun lining. Adding these silk or other material linings are done as a “show of personality” to give your own personal ‘touch’ to a custom suit. Often – other than the more common “patterned” linings, like paisley, you can rarely find very unique patterned linings. Like how about this vintage horse drawn carriage lining! Or this interesting “camel” logo patterned lining (such a unique lining!): One thing to note, if it has no lining, it is likely not to be canvased (one true indicator of quality). But also note – just because it is lined doesn’t mean it is canvased (as most produced now are ‘fused’).
As of late, more and more of the modern “cheaper” brands are starting to add the additional pockets. The specific pockets that you are looking for on the exterior is the “ticket pocket”. This is the small flap pocket above the main right hip pocket. On the interior, the comb pocket, the pen pocket, and the change pocket are the things to look for which denote quality. Basically – more pockets mean more work. An indication of more costly production to add the additional pocketing. Most sports coats have the common exterior left breast pocket, two front pockets, and the two interior pockets.
– Boutonniere Slot
This is on (if you were the wearer) the front left upper collar of your sports coat. If it is a “functional” buttonhole, then it is likely that your suit is higher quality. More often you’ll see that it is ‘pre-stitched’ but no hole. This is indicative of a lower quality machine stitch. The best quality (and more expensive) is when it is hand stitched by a tailor and open/functional.
Did you know that button holes actually have a predetermined number of loops that it is supposed to have? Apparently – it also has to be straight and one inch and 1/8 exactly. There is also specific styling like the ‘Milanese buttonhole’ which has a thicker “gimp” thread which the buttonhole is stitched around.
The boutonniere slot is a suit quality hallmark that is detectable on quality garments. The cheap way to do it is have a “display but nonfunctional” stitch that is closed. The “stitching” is just done display. You could cut the slot open yourself to make it usable in some cases. Better quality garments not only have a hand-stitched boutonniere slot – but even have a small thread in the back to hold the stem of the boutonniere.
– Canvased and Canvasing Stitching
Most cheaper garments are actually glued together and this creates a very “blocky” movement with the suit (i.e. the whole suit will move up if you lift your arms up to the sides). This is called a “fused” suit and is of lower quality. It is generally stiff and often when you raise one arm the entire front of the suit will lift with it with it like an elevator.
Good quality garments are ‘canvased’, where the exterior fabric and the canvassing are separate layers that you can even pinch apart. The canvas is made from various wool’s and horsehair for stiffness. You can even have garments which are only “half canvassed” – usually for the front lapels.
– Rounded Armpit Expansion
You may see on the interior of a garment, matching cloth material for the arm sleeve and this little ’rounded’ piece of cloth under your arm-pit. This shows that the garment was meant to be tailored. Indicative that it is of quality and not some “wear once and discard” fast fashion suit. With this suit quality hallmark – the fancier the arm-pit, generally the more expensive the garment.
Normally seen on the “Norfolk” jacket style – or hunting garments, but it can also be seen in suit jackets. The action pleat (or ‘action back’) refers to the crease or fabric slat pocket you can see on the back of the jacket behind the shoulder in the same line as the vents in a double vented suit. You will sometimes see only one pleat straight down the middle of the back which is “in-line” with the spine.
This ‘action pleat’ was made so that you could more easily move and extend your arms upwards (like if you were duck hunting). Since this is a more complicated design than a normal jacket design, and requires a bit more fabric/material, it costs more to produce and is thus an indicator as a suit quality hallmark.
– The Fabric Reserve
On the interior of un-lined jackets you can see, if constructed properly, the “fabric reserves”. This is the strip of expansion cloth at each seam on the interior of a garment which is used by the tailor to help alter the garment to fit you. On higher end garments you will see that the fabric reserve ends are cloth covered around each fabric ending so that the fabric doesn’t fray or tear. When this is nice and neat and trimmed – lined with alternate fabric – it took time, effort, and material for this to happen. This is a suit quality hallmark which is often not found in in garments nowadays and the ends are generally just stitched without the covered fabric. As a high quality example – take this very old 1930’s suit interior:
– Crease Reinforcements
The fabric crease reinforcement are made to strengthen suit wear points such as pockets, corners, action backs, and vents. Specifically, it refers to either extra thread “stitching” or material around the potential ‘wear point’. You can see this as just “threaded” reinforcement, but you may also see small attachment patches extra fabric (of the same kind/pattern as the suit), or even an alternative material (like the suede leather reinforcement below).
– Thread count & Fabric Weight (oz)
This is likely the most difficult one for most people to detect – especially if you haven’t handled thousands of suits. But the suit fabrics themselves have a weight to them – which is indicative of quality. Often you can detect this from a label such as “super 100s”, “super 120s” which are commonly listed. You can even detect quality if the fabric maker themselves is listed like on the “Loro Piana” labels, or the “Harris Tweed” logo.
Individually, any one of the above suit quality hallmarks doesn’t mean you necessarily have a quality garment. If you find more than a few, or know what group of details add up to be conclusively high quality – then you may have found yourself a quality garment. But, you have to take each in the context of the overall garment. Then use your judgement. Do note – price is not always an indicator of quality.
Remember you want something that will be a timeless style, durable, and of a quality that will last a long time since it will be quite some investment in not just the garment purchase itself but also in the tailoring to make it fit perfect. We hope you use this guide to make an informed decision. Considering that you will wear your suit on some of the most important days of your life like job interviews and weddings. It is a worthwhile investment for a gentleman! Invest in quality and it will pay dividends in the long run.
~The Genuine Gentleman~
Thomas Morgan & Blake Douglas
Read about who we are.
Contact us here!