The M Dash

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How to Build a Suit

October 19, 2018 | Filed in: Your Closet

For those who need to wear a suit, the process of finding the right one can be daunting. Here’s a guide to putting together a flattering, comfortable, and yet frighteningly authoritative suit—a must for any business formal work wardrobe (or days when you just want to kick things up a notch). 

It’s called a power suit for a reason: Pairing a suit jacket with trousers or a skirt can make you feel more confident, on top of your game, or (ideally) some combination of both. If you’ve never worn a suit, likely because they give you major ‘80s vibes—and not in a good way—you might want to rethink your stance. Today’s designs are more elegant and understated, and meant to make you feel as powerful as you look. Here’s what to know when putting together a suit of one’s own.

1. Consider the Color(s)

For those in C-suites, your suit needs to follow two rules: “For business formal, it needs to be polished and put together—so, the same fabric and color on the top and bottom,” explains MM.LaFleur stylist Nyjerah Cunningham. But for more casual workplaces, you can take the opportunity to experiment with color-blocking. Cunningham is a fan of pairing a black blazer with a navy pant. If that’s still too bold for you, try easing in with navy and gray or gray and black. Bonus: Those neutrals work for all skin tones, so you won’t have to worry about them washing you out.

women's suit guide

The Tamar blazer and Foster pant in black, with the Choe top in ivory.

2. Play With Your Layers

In a more casual work environment, the world is your oyster—when it comes to what to layer under your blazer, at least. Take the opportunity to experiment with different colors and necklines, since the jacket will add the gravitas needed to keep your look work-appropriate. For more formal settings, in which you may want to choose a collared shirt, make sure the cuffs peek out from sleeves of the blazer. Extra credit: Roll up both the jacket sleeves and the shirtsleeves underneath for an unexpected pop of color.

The Tamar blazer and Costello pant in black, and the Lorna shirt in amazon green.

3. Focus on the Shoulders

In order to avoid the boxy look of old-school suit jackets, focus on the shoulders. If it fits there and isn’t too loose on your body, everything else will follow. “See if the shoulders are giving you a boxy shape, and look at the waist,” suggests Nyjerah. “The waist of the jacket has an hourglass shape in women’s suiting.” If you’re into the menswear look (which pairs best with more fitted pants), she recommends going a size down in the jacket, as they’re almost always boxy.

women's suiting guide

The Wakefield jacket and Morton skirt in black and white zip jacquard, with the Zora top in ivory and the leather gloves in black.

4. Let the Suit Shine

While your first instinct may be to offset the unisex look of a suit with accessories, they might detract from the look. “You could put a statement necklace underneath the collar,” says Cunningham. “But you don’t want to take away from suiting.” She prefers to go more minimal. For business formal looks, try statement earrings—but anything beyond that might be too much.

women's suiting guide

The Ross blazer in black and white sharkskin, the Rowling top in black, and the Capri earrings in gold.

Inspired? You too can build the suit of your dreams, starting here.


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Deanna is a writer and editor in New York City. She enjoys reading, hiking, and not moving to the West Coast. Read more of Deanna's posts.


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