Every man needs one great suit, and then he can expand from there. But how? We asked Grant Harris, founder of DC style consultancy Image Granted, to break things down. He answered all the big questions about cultivating a smart professional wardrobe. Take notes.
“If you have something made from modest materials and it’s tailored well, it’s going to look like a million bucks.”
1. Why Suit Up?
Harris is a military school grad. As such, he got used to wearing the same thing all week. Still, having a “uniform” doesn’t mean wearing the same thing every day. You want the elements of a uniform while also playing around a bit with what you have. “It takes less thought in the morning,” Harris explains. “You can build a brand off wearing the same suit every day. Einstein’s been dead for years, but everyone knows he bought the same five suits.” Other notable examples: Tom Wolfe, Johnny Cash, James Bond.
2. What’s the Right Look?
When it comes to hammering out your look, Harris says experimentation is key. “Try everything under the sun. See if you like it. See what doesn’t work for you. You’ll know best.” How do you know? “You’ll try something on and it will either feel right or it won’t.” He also recommends second opinions: friends, family, coworkers, superiors, the general public and, of course, the opposite sex. “I do this on a daily basis and I’m still evolving my style.”
3. How Much Do You Need?
“I know guys who have five navy ties and I know guys who have 50,” says Harris. “I haven’t bought a tie in months. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need anymore.” Once you have the essentials, anything additional is up to you.
4. What Do You Need?
There’s a hierarchy, Harris says. You start with a navy suit, then get a charcoal suit and then a black suit. A solid pattern suit comes first, then stripes, then checks, then more exotic patterns like bird’s eye or nail head.
Once you have a suit, you’re going to need a shirt and tie. Navy comes first, then brown, black and some type of red. When it comes to patterns, get solid, striped and geometric in that order before proceeding to other patterns. As far as shirts, you’ll need both a French cuff and a barrel cuff. White and blue are necessary, with pink as a third. Once again, start with a solid, then get a stripe and finally checks. “The more pattern you add, the more casual the shirt is,” he says.
Suspenders are not necessary, though they are nice. “They make you look taller and cleaner and are something else you can play with,” he says. Harris isn’t a huge fan of belts, which he says are a modern invention. Instead, he gets side tabs. If you’re into belts, they should be 100 percent leather. Brown comes first, then black, with silver and gold being the order of preference for buckle color. Shiny is more formal, matte is more dress down.
This is just the basis. You can also start playing around with things like socks, vests and jewelry. Harris mentions cuff links, signet rings and bracelets as examples of ways you can play with an outfit. You can also dress up your lapel with boutonnieres, and it goes without saying—or should—that any suit is naked without a pocket square. Tie pins and tie clips are another way to add some pizazz to your outfits.
5. How Can You Afford It?
Harris emphasizes that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to look like you do. “Seventy to seventy-five percent of my wardrobe is thrifted or gifted,” he notes. “I rarely buy something new.” The cut and shape are key. “If you have something made from modest materials and it’s tailored well, it’s going to look like a million bucks.”
6. How Do You Find the Right Tailor?
“Look around you and see people whose clothes you admire. Go to a high-end luxury store where guys are wearing stuff you’d wear if you had the money. Ask who their tailor is.” He also recommends checking places like Style Forum and Ask Andy About Clothes. “These are the best dressers in the world. They talk about tailoring all day long.
7. How Long Does It Take?
Harris tells us that it can take some time to get the right wardrobe together, so you have to be willing to wait. “When it comes to fast fashion versus slow style, slow style will win every time. Don’t wear something because GQ told you. Wear it because it fits your personality.” Assuming you don’t have the world’s worst personality, you’ll come out look pretty damn sharp.