Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 13 News List

Suits you, sir

Finding the right suit is not a complicated endeavor, once you know what to look for

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Seasoned suit-wearers know now is the time of year to shop, as much of last year's stock is put on 40 and 50 percent-off racks. For those starting to build a professional wardrobe, this is the time to pick up two suits for the price of one. Let's take a look then at what you'll need to get started.

Men's suits can be divided into three basic categories: American, English and "European." The differences between the three can be found in the shoulder. The classic US suit has a naturally sloped shoulder with little or no padding. The tailors of Saville Row prefer a more pronounced and slightly padded shoulder for a contoured silhouette. Italians, the boldest of the bunch, raise the armholes and pad the shoulders for added va va voom.

For the person wearing the suit, the quality of cloth matters enormously. For the people who'll see them wearing it, the cut of cloth will reveal your personality. And here is one of the biggest choices you'll make in purchasing a suit: that between style and fashion.

"Fashions come and go, but styles remain. One will get you noticed, the other you'll still be wearing 10 or even 20 years from now," said Elaine Lu, who has retailed men's suits for nearly 30 years. She offered her advice to first-time suit buyers then asked that the name of her current employer not be printed.

"You should build your wardrobe on basic black. You can come in [to her store], see a style you love, then find it for a quarter of the price elsewhere," she said. "You can accessorize with name brands and still save a lot of money. When you know what type of suit you like, then buy the expensive brand that will last. But definitely start with black."

You may associate a plain black suit with a funeral but, as Lu explained, add a bold tie to it and you'll be the life of the party -- or the most confident-looking guy in the office. The black suit is to men's fashion what white walls are to interior design. It offers the freedom to accessorize without having to worry about matching the colors or patterns in your suit.

If you are confident about what you want and have the cash to afford it, finding a tailor can be one of the most important professional relationships you'll cultivate. "Decades ago, the tailoring industry in Taipei was much like it is in Hong Kong. If you were going to be spending a week there, you ought to have a suit made. The quality was very good and the price was even better," said Wu Yung-de (吳永德), who opened his shop near Taipei's Yungle fabric market 26 years ago. At that time, Wu said, there were more than 30 tailors there doing business. Now there are three or four.

"I lifted my head from the sewing machine one day and all my competitors were gone," Wu said.

He's mustering a bit of modesty. Wu tailors to some of the city's highest rollers as well as some of its larger institutions.

"I'm not complaining. There used to be maybe 100,000 people wanting suits made in Taipei each year and 30 tailors, just in this area, to make them. Now there are half as many clients but only a tenth of the competition," he said.

His charge for a bespoke suit: depending on the fabric and style you choose, and whether you add a vest or not, is from NT$25,000 to NT$180,000.

"Store-bought suits that cost, say, less than NT$30,000, are usually put together with glue," Wu said. "They're stiffer and, after a while, the glue comes apart. With a tailor-made suit, people talk about the fact that it's made to your measurements but just as important is the fact that it's sewn to a canvass -- no glue. It can last 20 years or more and is easily altered."

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