My search for the perfect suit

This year, for the first time in my life, I felt the urge to buy a suit. It all started with Associate Attorney Woo, a Korean Netflix drama about Woo Young-woo, a young lawyer with Asperger’s Syndrome who works for one of South Korea’s law firms. Dressed in simple skirt and pantsuits in muted neutrals and pastels, Woo and her colleague Choi Su-yeon exude an aura of cool professionalism that I wanted to emulate.

I own a handful of blazers and formal pants, but what I craved was a proper, professional suit. My personal style is informal and driven by comfort, practicality and laziness, which means I’m not a power dresser. In late August, I met with a publicist who wore one of my most professional ensembles. He ended our conversation by jovially noting that I looked like this Dora the Explorer, the adventurous seven-year-old cartoon character. Flattering maybe, but also annoying. Time to buy a suit.

So I went to Selfridges, where I knew there would be a wide range of brands to choose from and a personal stylist could help me navigate. I’m a focused buyer and my ideal suit came with a set of non-negotiable requirements. It should look professional enough for the office and cost no more than £1,000. For this price I also wanted maximum versatility, so the jacket and pants had to be good enough to be worn on their own and for different occasions, from an office drink to a weekend night out.

Acne Studios suit jacket, £650,

Acne Studios tailored trousers, £330,

In store, my eyes immediately fell on an oversized suit by Acne Studios in an intriguing ‘Hunter Green’ colorway, as well as a more fitted model in a lighter shade of khaki by Reformation. They looked like the kind of suits someone with confidence would wear, and while I don’t own many of them, I was curious to see if I could wear them. Then I stacked safer black and navy options and added two pinstripe suits that exuded a strong business flair.

Joseph Jaden pinstripe twill jacket, £595,

Joseph Morissey trousers in pinstripe twill, £395,

In the dressing room, personal stylist Maxine gently but firmly urged me to try on samples in my actual size. I often buy a size up because it’s more comfortable and, in most cases, more flattering. However, when tightening, this trick doesn’t work, and as Maxine suggested, a tight fit is the right fit. Regardless of the size, however, I was swallowed up by Acne’s giant jacket. The oversized proportions and dropped shoulders might look stylish on someone with longer limbs, but at 5’7, I just looked like a kid who’d raided her father’s wardrobe.

The Reformation set was more flattering, made from soft and comfortable Lyocell, a lightweight fabric made from cellulosic fibers. I enjoyed the fit of the high-waisted pants—slim in the waist, loose in the leg—but the jacket was too anonymous to stand on its own. The overall feel was too similar to wearing pajamas, lacking the structured look I was hoping for in a suit.

I had a similar issue a few weeks later when I donned a black wool hopsack suit from Arket, the H&M-owned purveyor of minimalist staples known for being one of the best suiting options on the high street. The straight-leg pants had a nice stretchy effect, but came with an elasticated drawstring waist that made me feel underdressed. Many brands now offer formal pants models with casual wear details to improve comfort, but the effect can be sloppy. Besides, shouldn’t well-designed, well-designed trousers also be comfortable without borrowing from sportswear?

A navy blue stretch wool blazer

Single breasted stretch wool Theory blazer, £345,

A navy blue, regular fit, mid rise pant

Theory ‘Treeca’ woven trousers with elasticated waist, £240,

Back at Selfridges, I tried on a Theory Navy style, made from a stretchy and lightweight triacetate/polyester blend that was breezy and easy to wear, if a little plain. The tapered pants were comfortable, but the side pockets fluttered on my hips like two little flags. Maxine explained that it’s a common problem that can arise when pockets are sewn to the side seam, as well as when pants are too tight. It can be easily detached by closing the pockets, something Selfridges offers as part of its alteration service. But I didn’t want to give up the convenience of having pockets, so I moved on.

Remain Birger Christensen Katalin, double-breasted wool-blend blazer, £345,

Remain Birger Christensen Marian, wool-blend high-rise straight-leg trousers, £210,

My next suit was a black set from Joseph – a double-breasted jacket with smart peak lapels and flowy, high-rise pants. Vertical pleats at the front and back of the pants helped lengthen the legs, and a side zip smoothed the front, avoiding the inevitable tummy bulge often created by front zips and buttons. I liked the strong character of the jacket and the fit of the pants, but unfortunately the thin fabric of the pants showed signs of everything I was wearing underneath.

I was afraid that a full pinstripe suit would be too extravagant to wear, but both options I tried on at Selfridges proved me wrong. The gray model from Copenhagen brand Remain Birger Christensen exudes confidence and professionalism with a double-breasted jacket, padded shoulders and classic trousers with straight legs and cropped ankles. I loved the comforting heaviness of the wool blend, but I knew it would prove too warm for my commute and I couldn’t imagine wearing the pants outside of the office.

the real one coup de foudre happened with a black pinstripe suit by Joseph. It had a similar fit to the model I’d tried on previously, but came in a mid-weight wool-elastane blend that solved the revealing problem its twin posed. This time, the mid-rise pants had a gentle flare at the bottom, adding an air of early risers that I, a teen on the rise, immediately liked. I imagined myself wearing the full suit with a tucked-in camisole or lightweight turtleneck to the office and the pants with a crop top to go out. The jacket would upgrade basic jeans and t-shirts and give me an alternative to my old mango blazer.

As I often do when trying to decide on an expensive purchase (my perfect suit costs £990), I tried it on again a few days later, this time on my own. I liked it even more than the first time, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. Over the past few years I’ve consciously tried to buy less and I couldn’t justify that purchase. But if I still think about it in a few months, I might buy it.

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