Suit up!
A working man's guide to buying a suit on a budget


  • Stick with a long-sleeved white or light blue dress shirt
  • About 1/8 inch or a little bit more of the shirt’s sleeves should stick out under the jacket sleeves


  • Sleeve length should be 4 to 4½ inches from the sleeve to the tip of the thumb
  • When standing relaxed, the tail should fall between the first and second joints of your longest finger
  • Single-breasted jackets are standard
  • Two buttons = simple; three buttons = timeless;  four buttons = modern


  • Match to your suit and shirt, if possible
  • Tip should come to the top of the waistband on your pants
  • Standard width is 3¾ inches at its widest, but narrower ties (3½ inches) are becoming more popular


  • Always wear either a belt or suspenders/braces, but never wear both
  • Suspenders clip on; braces fasten onto buttons inside the pants


  • Pants should be cuffed, except on flat-front pants (no pleats)
  • Wear at your “true waistline,” the area directly below the navel on most men


  • Wear brown shoes with navy and olive-colored suits, and black with everything else
  • Buckles and tassels on your shoes are a matter of preference, but both are acceptable
  • Black, over-the-calf or mid-calf dress socks are standard

A new suit doesn’t have to break the bank.
This dark navy Gianfranco Ruffini suit, modeled by “Spirit of the American Trucker” driver Howard Hart, retails for $140. Add $64 Florscheim basic wingtip shoes, a $12.99 Calvin Klein tie and a $14.99 wrinkle-free shirt, and you’re fully equipped for less than $250. (Special thanks to K&G Fashion Superstore in Shawnee, KS, for supplying the outfit.)

They may forget it from time to time, but truckers have a “civilian” life at home to attend to when they’re not out on the road. Unfortunately, an over-the-road wardrobe doesn’t always meet the needs of every off-duty situation.

There comes a time when every man needs to present himself in the best possible light, and a nice suit is the gold standard for those occasions – even if the thought of wearing a tie conjures images of a slow death by strangulation.

You know you won’t wear it every day, but even the most casual of dressers needs to keep the old “marry ’em and bury ’em suit” on hand for those situations.

The problem is, a lot of truckers don’t know how to buy a suit. And that’s not just speculation – last spring at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, the topic came up. Several OOIDA members involved in the conversation decided Land Line should step up with a helpful article. So without further ado, here are the answers to all your tough suit-buying questions.

When Land Line Magazine asked “Spirit of the American Trucker” driver Howard Hart to be our model, we had no idea he’d turn out to be a perfect example of why this presentation is so necessary.

As it turns out, Howard got his last suit in 1972 – and he hasn’t bought a new one since, not counting a rental tux he wore for his daughter’s wedding a few years back.

Fortunately, we got some excellent advice, thanks to the experts at K&G Fashion Superstore in Shawnee, KS. Tyson McQuay, the store’s assistant manager and a man who’s worked in the retail industry for 11 years, told us he’s used to helping customers who don’t wear a suit regularly.

“I find out what the suit is for,” he said. “Generally, if they don’t own a suit, they’re coming in for a specific reason.”

Unfortunately, that specific reason means many of his customers are on a deadline, which can lead to poor decision-making. By planning ahead, he said, customers can avoid being suckered into buying the latest trend – such as the soon-to-be-outdated slim-fitting suits, or already-outdated blue shirts with white collars – and instead walk out with a suit that will last them for many years.

Plus, he said, they’ll save plenty of money. And before you think you have to spend a fortune for quality, take a look at what’s out there. At K&G, for example, McQuay said the average price for a suit is $99 – and that’s for a suit you’ll be proud to wear.

Quick tips

  • Purchase three shirts and three ties to extend the versatility of your suit.
  • A suit should only be dry cleaned a few times a year, or after every six or seven wears. However, it can be steamed regularly to eliminate odors and help it lay better – the same goes for ties.
  • A well-polished pair of cowboy boots is not against the rules – but be sure to wear pants that are long enough and don’t have cuffs. Western-style suits are also OK, but should not be mixed with pieces from a regular suit.
  • If possible, buy a 100-percent wool suit. If you have a wool allergy, look for a silk/wool or polyester blend (today’s polyester is nothing like the leisure suits of yesteryear).
  • Look for a “super 100” suit (100 threads per square centimeter). Suits with a higher thread count tend to wrinkle when traveling or sitting.
  • Most suit wearers have an opinion on vents, the vertical slits that adorn the backs of some jackets. Just remember – vents can always be sewn shut, but they can never be created. Double side vents are the only vent style that allow some extra “give” when sitting.
  • Pinstripes are always appropriate and never go out of style.
  • A notched lapel looks good on practically everyone.
  • On a two-button jacket, fasten the top button. On a three-button, fasten the middle one or top two. On a four-button, fasten the top three. Regardless of button count, never fasten the bottom button.
  • Remember: Blue jeans and a sport coat are OK, not blue jeans and suit jacket.
  • A shoe horn is your best friend, especially in a cramped truck.
  • Vests, which are part of three-piece suits, are always a classic look.
  • Tie tacks ruin ties. Opt for a tie clip or a tie bar on the collar instead.
  • Most ties have “lifelines,” or long strings that run the entire length of the tie. Find the string, grab the narrow end of the tie and pull to straighten out wrinkles.

A clean suit is a happy suit

  • Never use home dry-cleaning kits, such as Dryel, on a suit. The chemicals in those products will destroy the fabric.
  • When you do head to the dry cleaners, be sure to take both the jacket and pants – if you don’t, they will quickly cease to match.
  • Be sure to hang your pants – along the crease, not the seam – when you’re not wearing them. And take them off as soon as you take off your jacket when you get home so they don’t wear out quicker.
  • Wool is a natural fiber, so don’t confine it in a suit bag in humid conditions. If you do use a garment bag, hang the suit on cedar hangers to keep moths at bay.
  • Cedar shoe trees will help eliminate odor and minimize creases and wrinkles. Only put your shoes in a bag after they’ve dried out.
  • A wrinkle-free shirt is your best friend.
  • Ties rolled gently over your hand and stored in a drawer will last longer than ties hung on hangers. Tie racks are also fine.

What knot to wear

When it comes to tying a tie, you’ve got several options. In fact, some of those options don’t even require you tie a knot, such as a zipper or bow tie – clip-on ties, however, should be avoided. If you do choose to tie your own, however, there are a number of different knot options, including double Windsor, half Windsor, four-in-hand and Pratt. To tie a double Windsor – like the one Howard’s sporting in the picture – follow these instructions:

Hang the tie around your neck, with the wide end on your left, about 12 inches below the narrow end. Then, cross the wide end over the narrow end.

Loop the wide end behind and up through the loop formed between your neck and the tie.

Loop the wide end behind the narrow end, crossing it over to the left side of your body. Bring the wide end over the front of the tie and back down through the loop between your neck and tie.

Pull the wide end to your left, which will make the back of the tie face away from you. Make sure the loop you just formed is straight.
Cross the wide end across the front of the tie to the right side of your body.
Bring the wide end up through the loop between your neck and the tie.
Bring the wide end back down, going under the front-most loop of the knot.
Using a mirror, tighten the tie and adjust the knot until it is straight and even.


Got a gut? Not a problem

Bigger guys still have plenty of options when it comes to buying a suit. If you’ve got a bit of a belly, opt for a two-button jacket – they look the best on men with large stomachs.

Also, if the size between your shirt and pants differs by 6 inches or more, consider a “portly cut.” The style is cut the same in the back, chest and shoulders, but has extra material in the stomach area. And remember – most suit pants have 2 to 2½ inches of “give” in the waistband, but you’ll need to have them tailored to adjust them.