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How to Buy an Affordable Suit — If You’re an Average Guy Who Never Wears One

Is it possible to find a well-priced, high-quality suit that can last you several years of holiday parties without going out of style?

It’s holiday party season, and I’m decked out in stress. Not because I’m unsure of what to wear to an upscale seasonal soiree; I always pull a look. Rather, I’m traumatized by my years as gay stylist to my fraternity brothers who’d pull out their J. Crew prom suits just days before our holiday party — and announce, exasperated, “Oh my god, why is it so tight?!”

It happens to the best of us. The suits we bought three years ago, when ultra-slim pants were trendy, have started to feel more like compression shorts. It’s time to upgrade and adopt a look that’s more adult.

But who actually shops for a shiny new suit these days? As we foretold earlier this year, the classic well-tailored uniform of a matching blazer and trousers waned in 2010 and hasn’t stopped — it hasn’t just died off in first class. Unless you’re suiting up for a Wall Street job every day, I’d bet a wool-blend blazer and slacks are collecting dust and wrinkles in your closet. Factor in a couple weddings a year, sure — but that’s still a decent chunk of change spent on an outfit you outgrow after three wears.

So where should you shop for a well-priced, high-quality suit that can last you several years of formal events without going out of style? Certainly not back at J. Crew, whose aggressively Midwestern styles have grown pretty stale. While Jos. A. Bank and Men’s Wearhouse specialize in suiting, their styles are some of the least appealing — unless you’re 15, headed to your first high school dance and likely to hit a growth spurt in a year anyway.

No, avoid these mass-market staples. First, though, figure out how much to spend. The online men’s sartorial consensus, per Business Insider and Men’s Health articles, estimates the average off-the-rack purchase at around $500.

Luckily, many off-the-rack suits can be found for less. To meet more casual consumers, modern retailers are reimagining the average suit at cheaper price points. Today, you can, in fact, look like Don Draper for cheap (and without the cologne-soaked misogyny).

Everlane’s Everyman Suit

Everlane, the basics brand for stable boyfriends and perpetual M’s in Fuck, Marry, Kill, wants you to know that it gets your style struggle. The company recently launched its first suit, an Italian-wool item for $300, which GQ describes as “a suit for guys who don’t really wear suits.” The Everlane men’s suit might be the perfect starting point.

To my eyes, though, the suit looks a bit boxy on the model. While loose clothing is trendy right now, it might not be in four years. But my biggest concern about the Everlane suit is its limited quantity. As this is its first foray into suits, Everlane’s stock is limited. Depending on your size, you might have to wait until mid-February for shipping.

Bonobos’ Reliable Basics

If Everlane is too restrictive with its single style, try Bonobos, a Walmart-owned brand associated with straightforward menswear. I once convinced my oldest brother, who hates shopping, to go to Bonobos, and now he rocks these styles daily. You won’t be called out for a fashion faux pas, but be prepared not to be complimented. Bonobos screams, I’ve been told this looks good!

While Bonobos’ nicest formalwear costs around $1,000, it offers a nice selection at half the price. My favorite is the Jetsetter Stretch Italian Wool Suit. It’s a deep-blue suit made of wool and mohair, making it durable and resilient. Though if you’re vegan, this mohair is not for you.

The trousers come in a variety of fits, ranging from athletic to slim. The Jetsetter retails for $600, but Bonobos often discounts select suits. So buy at the right time — like right now, when this suit is $540.

What Bonobos may lack in originality, it makes up for in service and efficiency. Few other mass retailers offer the same personalized tailoring at their brick-and-mortar stores. Pop into a Bonobos Guideshop to make sure your brand-spanking-new jacket doesn’t look like a hand-me-down.

Nordstrom’s If-You-Must Suits

If you’re set on going to the mall (or if that’s your only option), head to the department store. In a pinch, Macy’s, Dillard’s or Nordstrom will have specialists on hand to help you select the right suit and style.

Their selection, however, might be limited and a little staid. (Please never wear a Tommy Bahama suit unless you’re actually a father drinking Landshark at a Margaritaville resort.) So shop with caution. This Calvin Klein Men’s Infinite Slim-Fit Suit will get the job done.

Avoid H&M and Express. They’ll blind your style senses with trendy suits for $200. Topman and Zara offer a nice selection of surprisingly solid suit options — but a year later, though, you might find that the slim burgundy fit you thought made you look like Harry Styles is now ripping at the seams.

Tailoring Is a Must If You’re Over 21

No matter what suit you buy, the key is to get it tailored. Too many guys pride themselves in fitting a jacket off-the-rack — but they’re making a grave mistake, no matter how much they spend. A $1,000 suit will look like it’s worth $100 if the hem is bunching and the sleeves extend onto your hands.

As I’d tell my fraternity brothers, the photo you’re forced to take at the holiday party will inevitably be Instagrammed by someone. And the last thing you want is for your partner or colleague’s 900 followers to think of you solely as that lanky guy in an oversized suit.