Some thoughts on buying a man's suit on ebay

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I absolutely agree that used suits are a terrific bargain as pointed out by one of my fellow guide writers.  That said, I feel I should contribute some additional thoughts for the unitiated because there's nothing worse then shelling out your hard-earned cash and receiving an unwearable rag.  

With that in mind, the following are some random thoughts on buying used/preowned suits.

1) Brand is a strong indicator of quality.  However, there is a danger.  Keep in mind that most designer brands are stratified.  It's kind of like Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy, which are owned by the same folks yet sell goods at different price ranges.  In the same way, Armani Collezioni, Armani Exchange, and Emporio Armani are all Armani, but they're not all Armani in the sense of peerless Italian quality.  This is because the bulk of the latter two ranges are produced outside of Italy as a cost cutting measure.  So before you go to buy an Armani suit, make sure it's from the top range and actually made in Italy.  The reason is that the Italian made garment is likely to be vastly superior and the price will only be marginally higher on ebay than the lesser-made items.  For Italy, you can confirm origin of manufacture by looking at the large (about 2”x2”), white, standardized label in the breast pocket which gives you all the information you need.  Ask to see a picture of that tag to verify authenticity, don’t trust a random tag that says “made in italy”.

The same applies to lots of other designer houses.  They're only going to employ top materials and workmanship with their flagship labels so do your homework by checking out their websites before bidding.
2)  Higher thread count is desirable.  But maybe not.  If you are lured by high thread counts like Super 120 or above, be wary of the age of the suit, or the miles on the odometer so to speak.  High thread counts are indeed soft and beautiful, but they also wear much faster than lower thread counts, which are coarser and more durable.  Ask to see pictures of the crotch area of the trousers in order to inspect for wear.  

3) You can always have it tailored to fit properly as long as you buy the right general size.  Well, yes and no.  To really get a suit to fit properly, it will have to be drastically altered pretty much no matter what because absolutely nobody is an off the rack size.  More than likely, you will have to have the trousers , sleeves, and sides altered at the very least, if you're lucky.  More than likely, you will also have to have the chest adjusted so that the back doesn't bunch up around the collar.  All these alterations cost money and nowadays, skilled tailors are few and far between (at least in the USA, less so in Europe) which means said alterations could be expensive and will likely double the cost of the suit.  If you live outside a major city in the United States, it may be all but impossible to find a tailor skilled enough to carry out the required work.  

Furthermore, some alterations are so expensive that nobody bothers.  Those would be along the lines of adjusting the length of the suit, relining, or altering the shoulders.   

4) Here's some stuff to look for (in no particular order) that denote a top quality suit.  You won't see this often but it's usually a good sign you're on to a sweet item.  

Sleeve buttons that actually unbutton.  Indicates the suit was probably custom made and thus of superior quality.  No belt loops is also a strong indicator that the piece was bespoke.  

The brand of the fabric as a separate label placed next to the actual brand of the suit.  Indicates they outsourced the fabric from a reputable textile manufacturer.  

A lapel that is dotted and indented on regular intervals with matching thread.  That means it was assembled by hand, or the manufacturer bothered to give the impression that it was assembled by hand.

A new suit with white thread holding the pockets shut, white thread where the buttons should go, and white thread around the shoulders.  This particular suit will often be missing buttons.   These are measures taken by high end producers to prevent wear and damage on their product.  Normally, the store will remove the thread and add buttons after the customers makes their purchase.

5) Every country makes a different kind of suit employed towards different ends.  Now if you’re going to wear the suit for weddings and funerals, then I don’t suppose it matters where the suit is from given that it will be subjected to light use.  However, if you’re going to wear the suit for work, I personally would not buy an Italian suit.  Italian suits are beautiful, but that beauty comes at a price in terms of delicate fabrics and lack of structure.  They won’t hold up to the daily grind in my opinion (countless others would beg to differ, I’m sure).  English made suits are far tougher and designed to endure the abuse of daily wear.  Keep in mind that the English invented the modern suit and have a pragmatic conception of its place in their wardrobe.  Yes, German, Italian, and French companies abound with great looking suits, but I’ve always felt that their pieces lack a tradition of hardiness.  

Moreover, each country employs a slightly different cut.  In other words, the garment simply fits a certain body type better than others due to its inherent architecture.  Zegna for instance, makes suits that best fit middle-aged men (of Europe).  Brooks Brothers is for middle-aged men too (of the USA).   Hugo Boss is for skinny folks.

Take a field trip to your local department tore and try out different brands to get a feel for their house cut.  It shouldn’t take long to find a brand that fits comfortably on your frame.

Admittedly, buying anything on ebay can be a roll of the dice.  In my mind, great bargains are had alongside utter lemons, it’s just the nature of this world.  Hopefully, the tips I’ve given will steer you in the right direction and reduce the risk to a reasonable level.

All right, best of luck on buying your ebay suit!  May it fit perfectly straight out of the box!

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