How to spot a quality suit

Can you tell a well-made suit from a knock-off?

Getting a tailor-made suit in Beijing is always a smart move, but not all suits quite measure up.

The problem is telling the difference.

before frank cut out-2
after daniel-cut out 2

How do you tell a well-made suit, like the one Daniel Gu from Beijing tailors Principle M is wearing on the right, from a cheap ‘fused’ knock-off, like the suit on the left?

Never fear, we've got answers.

Lapel roll

A well-made suit should have a panel inside the lapel that is covered in rows of stitching that pull the lapel into a gentle roll.

before lapel of fused suit
after lapel of wool suit

Bad suit (left) On a low-quality suit, the lapel falls flat, as though folded. There’s no separation between the lapel and shoulder.

Good suit (right) The lapel is a clear roll, creating structure. To test, hold the suit up. There should be a distinct gap between the lapel and suit.

Watch it burn

All good suits are made of wool, according to Gu. To the naked eye, it’s difficult to tell the difference between what’s what, especially with the sophistication of polyester-wool blends. Not sure? Ask for a sample and watch it burn.

before polyester burn test
after wool burn test

Synthetic fibres such as polyester catch fire immediately and flames can reach up to eyebrow scorching heights. When the raging flames quell, you’ll smell something reminiscent of celery and the ash is often sticky.

Wool takes time to ignite and smells like rotten eggs because of the animal fibre.

Fabulous fabrics

Know your ‘supers’. These are a numerical range of the fineness of fabrics, spanning from a rougher 80 to a high-end 180.

Super fabrics

For an everyday suit, anything from 100 to 130 should suffice, advises Gu, as beyond that the fabric will soon wear out. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester or poly-wool blends can look similar to wool, but don’t be tricked. When worn, these synthetic fabrics will feel heavy and cause you to sweat more because polyester can’t ‘breathe’.

All you need to know is ‘VBC’, which stands for Vitale Barberis Canonico, the world’s oldest fabric mill, based in Italy – an industry standard in bespoke suits and high-end ready-to-wear lines.

Pinch the layers

In a quality suit, there is a middle layer (called the canvas) between the woolly shell and jacket lining. This layer keeps the structure and shape of a suit.

inner layers of suit

Pinch gently by the buttonhole area and gently try to separate the fabric layers. A fused suit’s inner lining is glued (hence ‘fused’) to the jacket’s exterior fabric, which often causes stiffness and ‘bubbling’ when the glue degrades.

pinch test

When you do the pinch test, there won’t be that third layer in the middle. Good suits have three layers, so you should be able to feel these inside the suit. A fully canvassed suit will drape more naturally and, over time, conform to your body.

Ballin’ buttons

Attention to detail is incredibly important in a top suit. And nothing says detail more than quality buttons to fasten up that wool blazer.

before fused buttons
after hand stiched button holes

On a fused suit, you’ll get machine-stitched buttonholes and shiny, plastic buttons, which will quickly crack.

Hand-stitched buttonholes and buttons made from cattle horn or corozo nut provide a stealth aesthetic value to your suit. For summer suits, Gu says his clients enjoy the mother-of-pearl variety.