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The chase for a suit; should I even bother?

Discussion in 'Suits' started by MondoFW, Dec 6, 2017.

  1. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    Hello all. I found this forum upon my quest for vintage 1930-50's clothing, as this era of menswear really appeals to me. Fedoras, expressive shoes, swing ties, you name it. Of course, a big part about these decades is the suit. I love the look of 'em. As a 15-year-old boy (Yes, it says 18 on my profile, ain't I the rebel?), my love for suits is rather unconventional. However, seeking, say, a 1940's suit for someone of my figure (my chest size is something along the lines of 33.5") has been rather difficult. Should I even bother looking for a suit, or should I put this off and stick with casual/semi-casual attire until I've grown a bit? If not, can anyone lead me in the direction of where I could get a suit of this era that would fit me? Thanks.
  2. Patrick Hall

    Patrick Hall A-List Customer

    Very slim vintage suits are rare, admittedly, but they also tend to go for lower prices, because there is less demand for them, and they tend to be in better shape, because often the original purchasers, er, outgrew them. So, be patient, keep an eye out, and spring for anything listed as a "36R". They'll be a bit big on you, but don't sweat it. You'll grow into a 36.
    MondoFW and Edward like this.
  3. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    It's good to hear that slimmer suits are often in better condition for that reason. The uncommon occurrence of finding them, however, is disappointing. I was never proud of my naturally slim figure. Thanks for the advance, Patrick! I'll keep my eye out for that size!
    Patrick Hall likes this.
  4. Yes, keep an out for them now, as they're getting rarer, and you don't want to grow into them only to find you can't affordc them any longer! Buy 'em now while affordable, grow into them, and then when you can wear them get looking for a good source of repro for when you grow past them and can'tg find originals your size that are wearable for love nor money.
    MondoFW likes this.
  5. I'd also suggest combing the thrift stores, pickings may be slim (no pun intended), but it's not impossible to come across an early 50s suit or jacket that's cut in a style similar to the 40s, and for the relative cheapness, it may do for the nonce. As Fats Waller sang, "If that ain't love it'll have to do until the real thing comes along." I'm a firm devotee of making do and upgrading in the future.

    If you do plan to get bigger, then you may be able to go a bit higher in size and get it altered (it's almost always easier to take in than let out, although there are limits). I'm about a 37-38 and, at age 45, I'm not expecting growth spurt anytime soon, so I often have to content myself with a 40 and do what I can to narrow it.
    MondoFW likes this.
  6. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    The thought of them becoming increasingly rare is bothersome, but, hey, it's the reality with these garments. If only I could get all the ones I see!
    To what extent can the chest size be reduced, though? Not only is it expensive compared to other operations, but I've heard it's also pretty difficult. I do doubt that I could alter a 40 or 42 to fit me, however.
    As for thrift stores, I've had no luck! Maybe it's because my area has objectively mediocre thrifts, but all I'm finding are tasteless grandpa suits from the 90s. I'll be out of town for Christmas and I'll look at their stores to see if I can strike gold there.
  7. Chest size is an issue. Seams and darts can be altered (within reason) to give a pretty close fit around the back and waist, but the front chest, like an old carny, is not going to be taken in so easily. If you're going for a 40s look, that may or may not be an issue, since a puffed out chest and narrow waist was kind of the silhouette anyway. (I should add here, that I don't really go for perfect historical versimilitude in my own wardrobe, and my look is more college professor or rumpled newpaperman than elegant gent.) It really depends on the jacket and the amount of altering needed. A 40 may be too big for you, but you might be able to work with a 38. It all depends. Always start with the shoulders, as is often advised. They say the shoulders are the one thing that can't be changed, and I have no reason to doubt it.

    As for thrifting, it is more of a lifestyle choice than a quick solution. I've been doing it since my teens, when I couldn't believe they were selling all this cool old stuff for so cheap. But, it's not for everyone.
    Michael A and MondoFW like this.
  8. Mathematicus

    Mathematicus One of the Regulars

    Altering the chest is possible but with many limitations. Definitely not from 42 to a 34, as in that case all the other proportions would be off.
    First of all, if the shoulders are too big, essentially there is no hope to make the coat fit right without really major surgery (and even performing that the results can be likely bad).
    If the front is fine and the coat is large only at sides and around blades, it can be done by taking in back side seams and centre back seam jointly. If the amount to take is big, however, there is the risk that the pockets will look strange.
    If the front of the coat is only slightly large, there may be the chance that a good tailor can narrow it down by taking in the front side seams. The more you need to take in, the more elaborate the work will have to be, even messing up with pockets that interesct that seam. Additional material can be taken in from the front darts but I've seen this done only in rare cases. The limit here is that narrowing too much the front will cause the breast pocket to come too close to the armhole seam, which will look unbalanced. Also, further complication could be presented by the armhole, which may need to be reshaped to fit the new front.

    In a nutshell, if you can avoid major chest alteration, do it.
    MondoFW likes this.
  9. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    Nobert, Mathematicus, much appreciated information.
    In no way do I dislike the idea of thrifting, as I've obtained some cool stuff from thrift shops. But, in the way of clothing that piques my interest, it's been rather bleak. To add, I don't have good means of transportation yet, to reach the desirable locations.
  10. Canadian

    Canadian One of the Regulars

    Can I make a suggestion? Sweater vests, shawl collared cardigans and what I'd call a "church suit' are always being made brand new in styles found in the early 20th century. Just because you can't find that perfect DB peak lapel suit in herringbone tweed with a 1940s tag, doesn't mean everything made recently is rubbish. If you are having trouble jumping from the sweater camp to the shirt-jac camp to the suit camp, consider that the suit was an everyday item in the closet of an American or British worker. It simply wasn't for special occasions it was everyday wear. However, for a fifteen year old of modest means, it would have been specifically for dances, church, school and tea with one's grandmother.

    For me, when I started wearing dress shirts and neckties in Grade 10, I owned two shirts, two neckties and two pair of dress pants. I washed the shirt I was going to wear tomorrow every night, I pressed it, and to avoid shrinkage, I would hang dry my trousers. I eventually branched out into wearing cardigans, then by the first year of university I was wearing a blue blazer or a full suit every day.

    You might really like vintage menswear, but the first thing to square away is having a SB two-button jacket with matching pants. You might have to pay full retail for this. The design of the lounge suit really hasn't changed since 1939. In WWII, clothing rationing eliminated double breasted suits, so a SB suit is very 1940s. One option you might have is to purchase a poly-rayon or poly-cotton zoot suit for fancy dances where vintage is the norm. Polyester is a very modern fabric, and most people would say it isn't true vintage. But it's cheap and available on Ebay for a song. You can get suits which are fancy, which look vintage, but are made of more modern fabric.

    However, until you have a proper job and a way to finance one's Ebay outings, remember what a 15 year would wear in the 40s. Probably a lot of sweater vests, bow ties, lace up shoes or boots, and probably heavy woolen trousers, unless in the South where it would be lighter in weight.

    I would recommend three things before you start scouring stores looking for a 40s suit.

    1. A regular, two button suit with pleats and in navy or grey. Avoid department store special black suits, they simply aren't practical or attractive.
    2. A blue blazer made of tropical weight wool.
    3. Sufficient shirts and neckties to allow you to change shirts daily.When you start wearing suits, from any era, you can wear the same suit twice a week if you wear a white shirt one day, and a blue shirt the next day. Be aware you can wear one sweater vest for a long time if you wear it once a week with different shirts.

    Once you have this, look at style, not necessarily age. There are some shops which sell retro, vintage or inexpensive knockoffs. If you find an old shawl collared DJ, a decent blazer or suit, you're miles ahead of people who put on a cheap suit for dances. Do focus more on pants than jackets, you will find that older styles tend to wear their pants harder than their jackets.

    I probably own about 15 suits and sportscoats, plus specialized performance (I'm a part time musician) gear like tails or a morning coat. If you can find a couple jackets with vintage styling, don't worry how old exactly they are.

    I will admit, the first time you put on a suit, you feel good. But if you're dealing with grandpa suits from the 90s, seriously the style you don't want, get on Ebay. Polyester is less desirable than wool, but I wear it because you can put on a jacket and if you spill pop or coffee on it, it isn't a problem (just brush it off).

    Also, remember at age 15, you will probably be a totally different size before the parish priest invites you to date his daughter. At 15, I wore a 30/32. In grade 11, 34/34. In grade 12, 36/36. Instead of paying a large sum to get a 100% authentic suit, get on Ebay, Craigslist and Kijiji.

    If you can find a 36 or so jacket, go for it, but be sure to try it on if possible. For years you could write checks for ebay sales. Not anymore.

    I would suggest you get a beater suit, in a modern fabric cut in a vintage style. Peak lapels. Shawl collar dinner jackets. A person under 18 does not wear white tie. Don't spend too much, and get one or two jackets or suits that you want to wear.

    Where would you wear a vintage suit? Dances? School?

    If you ever get the chance, independent shops associated with non SA churches, tend to have good items because people die and the kids give their clothing to a church shop. When my grandfather died he didn't have many items left from the 40s, but I think I got his sense of style.

    MondoFW likes this.
  11. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    Canadian, your reply has a gut-load of information! I didn't really expect anything of the sort with this thread. Now for my dissection, bottom to top, as I'm on mobile and hate scrolling constantly.

    1. The question of where I would wear a vintage suit has been brought up a lot by peers and family, and honestly, I don't see what's wrong with wearing it to everyday functions. As far as I know, I'm not making an ass out of myself, or being pretentious, I just love the garments, and am willing to try them out when faced with ridicule.
    Short answer; school, takes up a majority of my current life

    2. I can't envision someone casually wearing a dinner jacket without looking a little pretentious and overdressed. Tuxedos are sick, but I don't see myself in a tuxedo in regular affairs.

    3. I do keep in mind that I'll be growing soon, and will have to move on to different sizes. If only that would come sooner!

    4. I'll be sure to take into account your advice regarding finding modern suits with vintage cuts and fabrics. I've leaned towards this recently, since, as disheartening as it is, I can't cop all the authentics.

    5. I have to agree with your comment regarding the overabundance of department store dark suits. They're boring and certainly have no place in my wardrobe.

    6. I'm aware of fabric rationing during the war, but why is it that so many 40s suits I find double breasted? Are they usually postwar?

    Overall, I appreciate your advice on what to look for, avoid, and wear at my age as the temporary alternative for suits. Sweater vests are cool, I just haven't been able to see very many 40s-style ones. Specifically the patterned ones.
  12. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

  13. Patrick Hall

    Patrick Hall A-List Customer

    that wool is pretty hardy. I wouldn't worry about the durability of the fabric. That's a quality piece, for sure. Jeff is a good seller, too. I've bought several suits from him in the past. The patch pockets and the fleck in the weave make this a very unique piece. Sport coats without half-belted backs don't excite much attention on ebay these days. If the measurements are right on that one, I'd say pull the trigger. The only caveat is that the shoulder line is pretty built up, which is in keeping with the late 40's/early 50's aesthetic. That is a turn-off for me.
    MondoFW likes this.
  14. MondoFW

    MondoFW New in Town

    Wonderful, I just have to pray for a stagnate auction for an entire week. I've seen this seller auction off some cool suits, all of which I've only observed, not participated in. I think I might wanna go for this one.
    Patrick Hall likes this.

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