You don't have to be James Bond to spot a cheap suit. All it takes is a quick look at the fabric, the fit and a few key details to find out what caliber of suit you have on your hands. Once you know what to look for, use the knowledge to score a high quality men or women's suit that won't break the bank.
Before you even take a suit off the hanger, quickly get a feel for its quality. Rub the jacket's material between your fingers -- on a high quality men's or women's suit with a structured blazer, you should feel a middle layer of fabric that helps it hold its shape. On the flip side, bubbles near the jacket's chest indicate the use of cheap glues. Bunch up a bit of the sleeve fabric, then let it return to its natural state. If it immediately develops wrinkles, this indicates low quality material. As a general rule of thumb, a slight sheen on the fabric signals synthetic materials, which aren't as stylish or durable as all-natural fibers.
On suits for either gender, key details signal quality -- or a lack thereof. Buttons play a major role here. Closed, non-functioning buttonholes at the wrist indicate an off-the-rack suit, while tailored pieces have functional buttonholes. Likewise, flimsy, easily breakable plastic buttons and button anchors separate mass-manufactured suits from handcrafted jobs. Take a look at the lining of a suit, as well. If it feels papery and makes a swishing sound when rubbed between your fingers, it's not a good sign. Seek a lining made of a silk-and-rayon mixture, as indicated on the tag, rather than less desirable -- and less breathable -- polyester.
Trying a suit on gives you a very clear idea of the caliber of its craftsmanship. For men, shoulder pads should end right where your shoulders end, and your knuckles should be even with the bottom hem of the jacket when you rest your arms at your side. Pants should have about an inch of break between the bottom hem and the top of your shoe. Women should avoid suit jackets that bunch up at the bust. While feminine jackets and pants have more leeway in terms of hem length, shoulder seams should also fall right at the end of your shoulders. For men and women, constrictive arm holes or bunched-up shoulders indicate a poorly fitting suit. Suits labeled with a simple “small,” “medium” or “large” tag will probably not fit as well as suits with more precise size labels.
Working With a Budget
A few tricks can make an affordable suit look and feel like a million bucks. If you can't afford a bespoke, made-to-order suit, take an off-the-rack number to a tailor for modifications. A proper fit goes a long way in improving virtually any suit's appearance. Your tailor may even be able to turn faux buttonholes into functional ones, or replace cheap buttons with more appealing ones. No matter how much you spend on a suit, keep it on a cushioned jacket hanger, air it out after each use, steam it occasionally and dry clean only when necessary. This helps keep your purchase in tip-top shape, contributing immensely to its presentational value.