A proper winter suit goes a long way in keeping you warm when the mercury heads south. Here are some things to consider before buying a cold-weather suit.
The 1956 film, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, based on a novel by Sloan Wilson, derives its title from the ever-present garment of the day.
There’s a scene in the movie in which the main character walks into a public space (I believe it was a train station) and the camera pans out to reveal dozens of identically dressed men on their way to work.
During this period, the grey flannel suit was the epitome of uniformity — the hallmark of soul-sucking office drudgery.
While in the mid-20th century they were ubiquitous, flannel suits are relatively rare these days. In fact, in my experience, they tend to draw attention rather than blend in with the crowd.
Not only can flannel suits help you to stand out in a good way, they’re perfect for the cold.
After high school, I spent two years living in St. Petersburg, Russia. While I was there, I wore a suit every single day as my “uniform”. I also spent hours each day outside (it’s a long story).
However, since I bought my suits off-the-rack in the US, they weren’t made to perform well in frigid conditions.
If I’d only had a flannel suit (or a suit in another winter-appropriate fabric) back then! I would’ve been so much more comfortable.
In this article, I’ll share what I wish I had known.
For a complete guide to dressing up when it’s extremely cold outside, consult this article.
My Winter-weight Flannel Suit
Not only is this material supremely comfortable (it feels like almost like wearing pajamas), it is also much warmer than the 3-season suits that you’d typically find off-the-rack.
Besides the heavyweight fabric, I also opted for a vest for the option of added warmth.
Winter Suit Recommendations: How to Buy a Suit for Cold Weather
If a friend told me they were interested in buying a winter suit, there are a few recommendations I’d make.
Note that most of these suggestions are also true for overcoats.
Get a Custom Suit
First off, I’d highly recommend going custom (made-to-measure) rather than trying to find something off-the-rack.
Not only are winter-weight suits very difficult to find in stores (at least in the US), if you do find for less than you could buy a custom suit, the fabric and details probably won’t be great. (Expect to pay a minimum of about $700 for a quality custom suit).
In other words, this is one instance in which you’ll get more value per dollar if you get something made to your specifications.
Not only would I strongly recommend MTM options, I’d also adamantly urge my friend to get measured in person, rather than submit measurements to a suitmaker with an online-only presence. It is extremely easy to make mistakes self-measuring, and each brand seems to ask for slightly different measurements.
Choose a Heavy-weight Fabric
Naturally, an integral component of a winter suit is a heavy-weight fabric. Flannels, tweeds, and other winter-weight wools are going to be your best bets.
Not only does the weight of the fabric affect performance, but so does the weave of the fabric. A tighter weave will generally keep you warmer than a looser weave. By simply taking a close look at a fabric you can get a good idea of the tightness of the weave.
Besides adding warmth, heavy fabrics have the added benefit of having improved drape. What this means is that the garment will lay on your body in a more flattering way, without pronounced wrinkles (provided the clothing fits well).
For reference, I believe that the fabric weight of my flannel suit was somewhere around 400GSM (grams per square meter), and my custom overcoat was in the neighborhood of 800GSM.
The next few recommendations are ways that you can add more fabric between you and the cold.
While I choose a two-button single-breasted style for my winter suit, a double-breasted (DB) suit would keep even more heat in, as I’d have an additional flap of fabric over my midsection.
Wear a Vest
Just as choosing a DB pattern would add more fabric, so would wearing a vest.
Wearing a vest with a double-breasted suit is, in some ways, redundant. However, if staying warm is a top priority, you may still want to consider one.
Whenever I’m having a custom suit made I try to include a vest. Throwing on the extra layer will keep me a bit warmer, and it also provides more styling options.
Even when had a summer suit made last year I opted for a vest (this time a double-breasted one). My thinking was that while the suit’s built for the heat, if I wear the vest I could get a few more months of year out of it each year (I tend to live in cold places).
Even though I have two 3-piece suits, most of the time I skip the vest, but I like having the choice.
A Higher Button-stance Will Keep You Warmer
Continuing with the theme, in cold weather you want to cover up your chest as much as possible.
While I prefer 2-button suits with a low buttoning stance, they aren’t ideal for winter. More practical would be a 3 button pattern with a higher stance.
As a compromise, you could pick a 3-roll-2 pattern. In this case, you have a 3 button suit with lapels that roll down to the second button. You typically only button the second button of a 3-roll-2 but you can technically button the first button as well.
For best results, see if you can find, or make, a suit with functional lapels.
My favorite winter jacket is a sports coat from Relwen (you can a newer version here at Huckberry.com). It has functional lapels. What this means is that I can turn up the collar and there are functional buttons allowing me to button up all the way to my neck.
I find that I use this feature all the time during the chilly months. (I also like that doing so kind of makes me look like a Bond villain, or perhaps more accurately, an officer on a Star Destroyer).
If you don’t want to go that far (functional lapels are a more casual option) consider choosing larger lapels. Big lapels may provide marginally more warmth as they do provide more chest coverage.
I have an overcoat that has large Ulster lapels that I sometimes flop over and tuck inside my jacket to protect my chest from the cold when I don’t have a scarf.
Cover Your Ankles: Don’t Go For No Break
As the last variation on this theme, I’ll suggest choosing a quarter to half break for your winter suit trousers.
While the no-break can look good, it exposes your ankles a bit. You don’t want that in the winter. You want to be covered up.
If you’re a devotee of the cropped look, consider departing from your norm this time.
Check Out Vintage Shops
If money’s tight, you might not be able to afford a custom suit (expect to pay a minimum of about $700 for a quality custom suit). In that case, you should really check out vintage shops, thrift stores, and eBay. You can find some quality pieces at a low price.
I will warn you that you’re likely to find more suit separates (i.e.suit trousers or jackets alone) rather than full suits.
The best places to check are shops in the richer parts of town.
Naturally, you’ll have better luck thrifting for a winter suit in, say, Minneapolis, than you will in LA.
Whether or not a cold-weather suit is right for you depends on your life circumstances.
Not everyone needs a winter suit.
If you live in cold places, like I do, and you dress up on at least a somewhat regular basis, I’d highly recommend getting one.
However, if you live in Flordia or Dubai you probably wouldn’t get much wear out of a heavyweight wool three-piece suit. Nor would it make sense to get one if you live in Maine but only dress up once a year — in that case, it would be smart to get a navy or charcoal grey suit in a three-season fabric for maximum versatility.
Are summer suits or winter suits more practical where you live? Let me know in the comments!