Suits are generally the most expensive components of a man’s wardrobe. A better quality suit can cost $600 or more when new. The best way to avoid that cost is by buying gently used suits on eBay. Why buy used suits? Our rabid consumer culture drives people to buy new stuff constantly. Suits with years of usable life are usually discarded due to boredom and an insatiable appetite for the newest and most fashionable. Others come from estate sales or may be last season’s retail store leftovers. Whatever the source, you can find amazing deals on gently used suits with a little knowledge and very little cash!
For the most part, it’s a waste of time looking for good used suits in local thrift shops (they are great for other types of clothing). Its too much of a ‘hit and miss’ search and the selection of styles and sizes is usually minimal. The most efficient way to find the widest selection and best quality is by shopping on eBay. Here are some tips that will help you to find the best used suits for your cheapskate dollar!
It is essential that you know your suit size. Many men do not know their proper suit size and may actually have a wardrobe of poorly fitted suits. If you shop at a mens clothing store or reputable department store, the salesperson can quickly determine your correct suit size. Ideally, you may already own one suit that fits you well. You will need to take some key measurements from that suit to compare to used suits being sold on eBay. This is the best way to ensure that your online used suit purchase will fit properly with minimal alterations.
Here is a helpful video that shows how to determine your proper suit size. If you know a good tailor or seamstress, ask for their help. This knowledge will greatly increase your chances of finding a suit that fits when buying online.
eBay vendors usually will provide jacket chest width, jacket length, sleeve length, pants waist size and inseam length measurements in their descriptions for used suits. Here is the eBay guide that many used suit vendors follow to measure suits and jackets: http://www.ebay.com/gds/Measure-a-BLAZER-JACKET-OR-SUIT-/10000000178874021/g.html
Compare the measurements of the used suit you plan to purchase to a suit that fits you well. Sometimes, used suits may be the proper size but may have been altered by the original owner. Comparing measurements will ensure that the suit will still be a good fit with minimal alterations.
If you’re going to buy a used suit, the worst thing you can do is to buy poor quality. With a bit of foreknowledge, you can choose a well-made suit with quality construction and durability. Here are some basic guidelines for determining the overall quality of a suit:
This is the single most important test of suit quality. Better quality suits use a horsehair (or other natural materials) canvas, which is sewn between the lining and the cloth of the jacket. The canvas allows the suit fabric to drape properly and will mold to your body over time. It aids in the longevity of the suit by distributing tension at stress points (shoulders, elbows), it allows the suit to “breathe” and holds up to repeated dry cleaning. Typically, most suits in the $500-$1000 range have half-canvas construction. This is a canvas lining that covers the chest area of the suit instead of extending the length of the jacket (full canvas). Half-canvas is a very good option for getting the best value in a used suit at a modest price.
Full canvas construction is the ‘Cadillac’ of suits and is usually found in suits that retail for $1000 and beyond. Realistically, you will rarely find this suit quality in low-priced used suits on eBay unless you do some careful and consistent searching. I once purchased a used Zegna mainline suit (full canvas interlining) that typically retails for over $2000 for $50.00. You need to search often and with a sharp eye to turn up deals like that.
A fused construction suit glues a lower quality interlining into the jacket. Nearly all inexpensive suits (below $400 retail) use fused interlinings. It is the lowest quality of suit construction. It will tend to lose its shape and separate with repeated dry cleaning (you will start to see puckering on the lapel and jacket front as the glued interlining separates from the outer cloth) and does not last nearly as long as half-canvas or full canvas suit construction. Plus, because the fused interlining is often made of polyester and nylon, the suit holds in heat, making you sweat more.
The truth is, most of us will purchase fused-construction suits, blazers and sport coats. Most mass-market suits priced under $400 when new use lower-cost fused construction. Is it the end of the world? No. Here are some tips on getting the best out of a fused suit. First, if you buy a fused construction suit, purchase one of recent vintage (made within the last decade). The quality of fused construction materials and glue has improved greatly in the past decade. Fused suits of recent manufacture are generally of better quality. Secondly, never hot-steam a fused jacket. A fused garment uses heat and pressure to glue the outer fabric to the fused interlining. Steaming the garment (especially lightweight fabrics) may produce enough heat to soften and separate the glued inner lining. It is much better to professionally press the suit jacket as pressure ensures that the fused interlining stays in contact with the outer fabric when heat is applied. Most minor wrinkles in a wool suit disappear with a bit of time. A good wool suit (don’t buy polyester, just don’t) will release minor wrinkles if it is allowed to rest on a hangar and air out for a day or two after wearing. Finally, find a good dry cleaner for your suits and dry clean as little as possible. With these simple precautions you may be able to get years of good looks from a good-quality fused construction suit.
In short, if you want the best quality, look for half-canvas or full canvas interlining construction whenever possible. Most likely you find far more half-canvas suits on the used suit market than full canvas. How can you tell if a used suit offered on eBay has half-canvas or full-canvas construction? Look at the brand on the label and do a search on Google for the manufacturers website. Generally, if that brand uses half or full canvas it will be proudly stated in the advertising. Plus, online men’s wear forums provide lots of information about the construction methods used by many suit-makers. If the suit has full or half canvas interlining, it’s pretty safe to assume that the rest of the construction and materials are of very good quality.
In most cases, the used suit vendor on eBay may not know anything about the suit construction. That can be to your advantage if the suit is selling for a very low price. It only takes a few minutes to research the suit label on Google. By doing this, you can find some amazing deals on high-quality suits that are sold for much less than their real value.
I routinely find suits for less than $30.00 (not including shipping) used on eBay that typically sell for $700 to $900 when new. If you are a shrewd shopper, you can easily do the same. These are suits from quality-oriented brands that are often overlooked by buyers fixated on designer labels. Recently, I purchased a used Daniel Cremieux 2-button wool suit (half-canvas construction) that retails in Dillard’s for $800 when new for only $14.00. I also purchased a Hart Schaffner Marx – Gold Trumpeter label suit (also half-canvas construction) that retails in Nordstrom for $700.00 for only $12.00 used. Both suits look as good as new and should provide many years of service.
Many popular designer label suits focus on brand appeal and fashion, not quality construction! You are paying a premium for the brand name, not necessarily a better quality suit. Many popular designer label suits use cheaper fused construction, not higher quality half-canvas or full canvas while commanding a premium price. A quick Google search will often tell you (men’s clothing forums are good for this sort of information). It is better to pay for quality construction than a popular designer label. Because many consumers gravitate towards popular designer label suits, they are likely to command a higher price on eBay when sold as used. Focus on quality, not the designer label. Look for suit brands that offer half-canvas or full canvas construction. That is the best indicator of the overall quality of the suit and value for your cheapskate dollar!
Generally, in mass-market brands, the more fashionable a suit is, the poorer the quality. A quality suit is made to last for many years so it will not have the latest faddish details. Buy for longevity. My favorite blazer was purchased used at a thrift shop thirty years ago for $25.00. It has full canvas construction, wears beautifully, and still gets compliments each time I wear it. You can always change the look of a conservative well-made suit with your choice of shirt, tie and accessories.
If you pay careful attention to the suit measurements mentioned in tip #1 you may need only minimal alterations. Truthfully, unless you are a fairly standard size, alterations are necessary whether you buy new or used. I purchased an inexpensive sewing machine (Brother 17 Stitch Sewing Machine for $75.00 at Walmart) and taught myself how to do basic alterations. It was a great investment, allowing me to do waist, sleeve length and inseam alterations quite easily on my suits, shirts and pants. If you have purchased a used suit on eBay with measurements that match a suit thats fits you well, you will avoid more difficult and expensive alterations. You may also find that certain brands fit you better than others. If you buy good quality, that used suit will easily give you ten years or more of service. You may decide that it is worth the expense of alterations.
A recent fad in men’s suits is extreme tailoring. The jacket is so closely fitted that taking a deep breath causes the buttons to strain. Also pants are tailored so tightly that they bunch up along the leg. A suit should drape the body, not squeeze it. Modest tailoring will extend the life of the suit and look more tasteful.
You can put together a high-quality wardrobe very inexpensively by buying used both online and in local thrift shops. The more you know about clothing quality the better you will become at sniffing out true bargains. There are many helpful Youtube videos and websites that can help you to learn more about this subject. Educate yourself and you will save tons of money!
I wear suits and sport coats on a weekly basis. For more than thirty years, I have purchased all of my suits and sport coats at thrift shops (and more recently on eBay). My policy is to buy a level of quality used that I cannot afford when buying new. I would never consider paying $600-$1200 for a new suit. Yet, by careful shopping on eBay, I can often locate excellent gently used suits that would retail when new in that price range for under $50 used. After having worked in New York City’s garment district for nearly a decade, I developed an appreciation for quality clothing. I like to dress well, but for the least amount of money. I hope you find these tips useful! –Don Peterson