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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 One of the Regulars

    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 Practically Family

    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 One of the Regulars

    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 One of the Regulars

    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 One of the Regulars

    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 One of the Regulars

    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 One of the Regulars

  13. Patrick Hall

    Patrick Hall Practically Family

    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 One of the Regulars

    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.
  15. MondoFW

    MondoFW One of the Regulars

    I recently got a 38R sports coat for very cheap. I'm wondering if I'd be able to grow into it with added alterations.
  16. Canadian

    Canadian One of the Regulars

    It is logical to assume that you will grow. At one point in the past, I was a 42L, then a 44L and now a 46L which I have been for an extremely long time. Like from my undergrad to today.

    Some questions for you. Do your fellow students wear suits to school? I think you mentioned you had a few hand me downs, but you were deliberately avoiding "grandpa suits". If you go somewhere where it is extremely common to wear suits, you may just want to bite the bullet and buy some regular suits from JAB, Men's Warehouse, some place where you can get some beater suits. Now, I know most rational people do not suggest buying from JAB or MW, but my first suit came from a place called Tip Top which is a similar chain. I actually wore the heck out of that suit, wearing it once or twice a week all the way into university.

    I would strongly suggest that if you are getting into vintage suits, that you own at least one beater suit which can fill in when you don't want to get the good stuff out. For example, let's say you have a vintage 3-pc in windowpane which fits perfectly. You have a peak lapel DB navy blazer and a seersucker suit, all three vintage styling or true vintage.

    In that situation, I'd buy a regular, charcoal grey, SB, 2 button with flat front pants and a medium break on the pants, suit. For occasions where it is essential to wear a suit, wear that suit. You might feel like a million bucks in a seersucker suit, but if you are at a job interview, you want people to remember you, not the crazy suit you are wearing. I find that if I'm at Lodge, there are fifteen people in the room with a plain grey or black suit, there might be two with any kind of pattern, and as Worshipful Master, I am often the only one in seersucker or linen. It's my right, I've always dressed that way and I'm the club president this year. However, when I had just joined, several years ago, I chose to wear a boring grey suit, simply because I owned some very nice fashion-backward (or vintage styled) jackets and pants, but that was not the time to waltz around in fancy duds.

    If you are new to buying suits, you will know that sizing is different. If you are say, a 34S or 36R, you can assume that you can reasonably fit a 38R at one point. Try it on. For me, the issue isn't that I can't find suits my size (I have a very common size), it's that I can't find room in my closet for "someday I'll fit in that" suits. Just in my bedroom I have about 14 sports coats and suits hanging up. I probably have more suits than shirts actually, except for my Dickies workshirts (I frequently wear Dickies khaki pants with tan work shirts, sometimes a CF issue tie. I sometimes dress it up with a Czech drill tunic or one of my sports coats) of which I own six, and my specialized athletic clothing (tennis and hiking) and whatever I own that's supporting cast for my suits (waistcoats, shoes). What I'm trying to say is that you might eventually run out of space, so speculative purchases are not always worth it.

    Do you have a room in the basement like a "mancave"? I have one and keep all my technical gear there (hiking, hunting clothing, hiking clothing) and my out of season clothing. I rotate spring to summer to fall to winter A and winter B (winter A is lightweight sweaters suitable for windy with no snow and winter B is hardcore winter, snow and ice kind of clothing). Obviously, if I've got a heavy wooly-pully, I'm not going to hang it in my closet all summer, but I do want to know where it is in case I'm off to climb a mountain and spend the night.

    I had a girlfriend who owned two of those big long racks you find in a clothing store and now has a house with significant amount of storage space. She sorted all her clothing by season, then purpose. She was a performing musician (she now does that and teaches for a very large pool of students) so she had cocktail dresses, then gowns, then summer dresses, then blouses, suit sets, skirt suits, skirts, casual performance wear, and as we grew older, she started buying jeans and tank tops to perform with a pop band. What I'm saying is, even if you have your own house and racks from a department store, you may run out of space. The girl went from a 14 to a 4 or 6. Obviously, as this is my high school sweetheart (we're still good friends although she's married), I bought her some very nice pieces, which she sold because she simply didn't have the space to stock "maybe" or "maybe if I dropped ten pound" dresses. This is a girl who travels internationally on a very regular basis and comes back with Versace shoes and D&G gowns. Not poor at all, and she'd probably hesitate to buy anything that didn't fit perfectly. Her husband isn't really into clothing, he went to MW to buy a suit for the wedding, and now if he gets dressed up at all, it's just a clean shirt and slacks, very rarely a coat.

    If you are planning to grow into anything, my suggestion is to get it, vacuum seal it and try it on at the start of every bit of body size you gain. Unlike my girlfriend, people typically, especially a young man, drop 80 pounds in a few months. My g/f dropped about 80 pounds in a year, with an extremely strict diet and lots of exercise. If you grow to the point that it's tight, pass it on. My aunt always said it was a sin to throw away a book (we had a publishing house as a business) and I'll add to that as it's a sin to throw away a perfectly good suit, just doesn't fit.

    Get some ceder blocks for your closet. If you are handy at all, and you have a room in the basement, you can start building shelves and racks for your clothing. For me, I fold sweaters/cardigans and stack them depending on season. Dickies short sleeved, long sleeved, khaki and grey are year round. They form the basis for my wardrobe. But a white golf shirt is summer, a heavy shawl collared cardigan is winter group A and a union suit is Winter B (seriously cold, not just cool). I would conservatively estimate, not counting things like socks or shoes, probably 80-95 pieces of clothing in my possession.

    I no longer have the ability to purchase something because it's cheap. When I first started reading your stuff online, I found that perhaps some people prefer price to ability. If a jacket which is 1 inch off is 20 dollars, and a jacket which fits perfectly is 200 dollars, for some people, that cheaper suit is the better deal. As my weight is stable, I choose to spend the 200 dollars.

    Think of every item in your closet as an employee. You have employees you spend a lot of money on, because they're high end performers. They're the ones you bring with you to a sales pitch or trade show. But you probably have lots of people you don't pay so much for, and they're the ones who cost less but perform okay. They're the ones you use to greet customers and sweep the floors. But if you've got some you paid next to nothing to get onboard and they don't really produce. Do you save money by eliminating high performers which cost more to get, or do you send the ones which are cheap but aren't making a profit away? In business, as in clothing, you can't get ahead by tossing away extremely valuable high performers. Likewise, you can't build a great wardrobe by passing up on high dollar items that will be stars in a good collection.

    Some other thoughts (I got an A in retail marketing BTW) are, what is cheap? If I bought every suit that fit me under a price range of say 160, I'd probably be spending 500+ dollars a month, mostly on garbage. Suits with critical flaws, moth holes, cigarette burns, bullet holes, blood stains, coffee/soup stains, wear and tear, abrasions, tears and scratches, etc. But if I choose to buy one suit every two months, NWT for 250 or less, I end up with a substantial amount of really nice clothing. I should take some pictures of stuff in my wardrobe that I'd be willing to resell, but I spend a little more, buy less pieces, but get quality togs.

    Also, if you ever get into seersucker, you need to buy a new one every year. They are designed to be cool and crisp during the summer heat but you will wear it so much (I probably wear mine 2 times a week at the hottest part of the year) that you will sweat and stain it. If you have the opportunity to buy a peak lapel seersucker suit from 1956 and one from 2018 with peak lapels, get the new one. That's why you don't buy khakis at the Sally Ann, because they probably belonged to old grandpa's with bladder issues.

    Lots of info for a brief question. Hope it makes you think.

  17. MondoFW

    MondoFW One of the Regulars

    The feedback received in this thread has been most helpful. Though I have obtained this suit recently (also posted about it in the "The Thread to Display Your 1940s Suits" thread), the search still continues for the intent of having at least a few suits that I can utilize in rotation.

    I obtained this from a reputable seller on eBay that claimed it was from the 1940's. I believed it, but sometimes questions are raised about the lack of trouser cuffs and the bizarre flair of the trousers. I just assume they were taken out by a previous owner.

    I also have a versatile 40's sports coat that I wear often, so that has served me well (see the "Show Us Your Sports Coats" thread). The search shall continue! A couple questions...

    - What questions, if any, should I ask a seller about the suit before pulling the trigger on it?
    - What aspects of suits am I looking to avoid?

    Thanks, all.
  18. Canadian

    Canadian One of the Regulars

    You should avoid obvious damage, such as moth holes, serious stains, tears and discolourations. Same as any other suit, but as it's going to have 75 years to go wrong, there is a greater likelihood that there will be flaws. If you have access to an invisible mender or a reweaver, the tears are less of an issue. Do look for things like wear in the seat, the armpits and the parts which button or zip up.

    I'd ask the seller where he got it? Some suits sold on Ebay come off of estate sales, but other times somebody's Dad or grandpa dies and the son or grandson is asked to make a few bucks, or feels the clothing has the history that it should be resold. I was offered a tuxedo from my Grandfather, but I declined, I'm a 46L and he was about a 40R.

    One thing to remember is that sometimes the sale of vintage clothing can be sensitive. You are dealing with memories and dead people and I would very much hesitate to start haggling over minor details. Pay whatever they're asking, unless you know it to be a highly regarded vintage house where the clothing has no sentimental value.

    Do not purchase cotton or cotton-silk coats. I simply find the threads are more tired than a robust wool. Also, be prepared to contact a major fabric supplier and have new pants made, I always wear the pants out before the jacket.

    Be absolutely certain as to what the suit is made of. If it's foreign, it might be a rayon/poly monster. You will always be seeing great deals where it's listed as "100% natural fiber" which is sometimes very different from wool.

    Look for frayed seams and don't be afraid to ask if you can return it if it doesn't fit quite right. Or have a friend who would buy it off you.

    If you were to go to a vintage store in person, what would you look for? Simple stuff, don't buy just because it's extremely affordable.


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