For a long time, Men’s Wearhouse has been the butt of jokes amongst well-dressed guys. Shopping there is a task you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy because the fits were terrible, the fabrics were poor, and it equated the act of buying a suit with all the sophistication of buying an evening gown from a Dress Barn.
Despite hiring lauded menswear designer Joseph Abboud as its creative director in 2012, airing commercials featuring tattooed guys in slim suits and thick-famed glasses, and embarking on a co-branded collaboration with Esquire magazine, the company still lost profits in 2013. It also fired founder George Zimmer, the guy who literally guaranteed that you were gonna like the way you look, and after much back and forth, succeeded in acquiring Jos. A. Bank, forming what’s been called a terrible menswear Voltron. Jos. A. Bank’s constant “buy one get one free” offers and perceived shoddy suits were even parodied in a SNL skit that portrayed its clothes as being more fit to wipe floors with than wear to work. Is Men’s Wearhouse really that bad?
Recently, Men’s Wearhouse opened a new location just outside the Time-Life Building where the Complex offices are headquartered, so I ventured into the belly of the beast to see if I could actually recommend any self-respecting man to shop there.
Stepping into Men’s Wearhouse only served to remind me of how much the suit buying experience has changed. Before, the suit was a guy’s worst enemy—the stuffy symbol of “the man” that he couldn’t wait to throw off once he got home. Now, it’s become more of a secret weapon, confidence in two easy pieces.
Suitsupply’s sub-$1,000 offerings famously trumped a $3,600 Armani suit in the Wall Street Journal. They own factories in the Far East, so high-quality fabrics can be turned into beautiful suits for an extremely fair price. Nish de Gruiter, Suitsupply’s vice president, cut his teeth working for Brunello Cucinelli, a menswear brand synonymous with aspirational luxury as it is with Italian tailoring. Meanwhile, J. Crew’s Ludlow suit hits all the nails on the head when it comes to what a guy needs out of a suit right now: a winning combination of fit, fabrics, and a price most guys can stomach.
For that, you can thank Todd Snyder, who served as J. Crew’s senior vice president of men’s wear until 2008 before starting his CFDA-nominated eponymous label. Snyder’s successor, Frank Muytjens, has been carrying the torch quite well in his stead. Buying a suit at J. Crew or Suitsupply is an enjoyable experience. Should you go to the Ludlow shop in TriBeCa, or one of Suitsupply’s flagships, you feel more like you’re in a haberdashery rather than a store. Well-dressed employees measure your body and point out your flaws—uneven shoulders, an atypical drop—and how tailoring can fix that. Even if you're buying off-the-rack, it certainly doesn't feel that way.
Nothing about Men’s Wearhouse seemed like anything in there would make me look or feel like a million bucks. The interior is merchandised like a run-of-the-mill big box store, with plenty of product priced to move, and red tags throwing promotions at my face. It's a decidedly not luxe experience that instead makes shopping feel like a chore—and dropping hundreds of dollars on a suit shouldn't be something to check off on a to-do list. Still, after getting properly equipped with a $90 spread collar shirt from Egara, a yellow dotted Nautica tie, and a black pair of Joseph Abboud Oxford lace ups that were buy one get one half off, I tried on three suits.
The first suit I tried was a navy peak lapel Calvin Klein Suit that touted an “Extreme Slim Fit.” The retail price was $650, and the fit was definitely super slim. Made from a blend of wool, polyester, and mohair, it needed to be taken out at the waist and the chest was too tight. I passed and asked for something a little less expensive, even though I was informed that the CK suit was buy one, get one free.
The associate came back with a $300 option from English Laundry. It too had a peak lapel and a ticket pocket, but also had tonal embroidered crowns on the cuffs—an instant deal breaker.
Lastly, I asked to try one of the suits from Joseph Abboud’s in-house line, a slim fit gray birdseye that goes for $495 (two for $900). Of the three, this was the one I disliked the least. It had double vents and a notch lapel, was made from 100% wool from Biella, Italy’s Zignone mill, and was “proudly made in the USA.” While all of these suits would've benefited from some tailoring, the best I could manage to feel about them was a resounding meh. I still wouldn’t recommend them to anyone wanting to make a suited investment, because frankly, there are better places to spend your money.
While the associate who helped me was totally gracious, it was obvious we lived in two different worlds. The millennial in me wasn't just looking for a suit, but also an experience. Suits haven’t gone out of style—that’s a ridiculous thing to say. At the core of menswear, the notion of a guy who’s “dressed up” is someone in a perfectly fitting suit and tie. What’s changed though, is the notion of the suit as a uniform. Dudes want to wear a suit, but no one wants to be a suit. Putting one on has evolved from corporate conformity to individual expression. Getting a suit isn’t a chore, it’s like buying personal armor—the kind of natty outfit that gives you the leeway to act like a douchebag with your bros in a tequila commercial.
A 45-year-old mook who spilled something on himself during a business lunch might think it’s fine to come to Men’s Wearhouse and buy “an emergency suit” for a meeting that afternoon, but I couldn’t see any reason why "average" younger guys should bother. I usually recommend Suitsupply or J. Crew to friends who ask me where to get a decent suit at a wallet-friendly price.
The type of luxury shopper looking for a designer suit already goes to shops like Carson Street Clothiers, The Armoury, Barneys, or any number of Madison Avenue flagships, but dressing the "average guy" is where Men’s Wearhouse carved its lane. My recent excursion only proved that the old retailer is fast becoming a relic, losing younger shoppers to brands more in tune with what modern guys want when they’re looking to splurge on a suit.
Young men and teens who don’t have $500 to drop on a suit don’t need Men’s Wearhouse, either. Fast-fashion companies like H&M, Zara, ASOS, and Topman offer full suits well under $300. What you’re missing in construction and quality (most of these cheaper suits are fused rather than canvassed) won’t matter if it’s something you only plan on wearing occasionally, which is the case for a lot of young men. Meanwhile, online made-to-measure services like Indochino and Dragon Inside tout bespoke quality at ready-to-wear prices.
The current menswear market is so stratified that Men’s Wearhouse is superfluous. If it can’t differentiate itself by price or cachet of brands, then it really can’t offer something that someone else isn’t. While J. Crew’s suits are great for the everyman, Suitsupply’s offerings can even satiate most menswear purists. Guys looking for the luxe stuff will head to the specialty stores, and the cheap fast-fashion offerings will satisfy men whose budgets are below their taste level—or men in need of a last-minute suit.
Young men shop differently than our predecessors. We will trust the big box store a lot less than the small, specialized boutiques. When we make a big purchase, we want it to feel special, not soulless. We want to come out of the suit buying experience like Ryan Gosling giving Steve Carrell a man-over in Crazy, Stupid, Love—we step in the fitting room as Elmer Fudd and emerge as Ermenegildo Zegna.
Suits are no longer a clothing item that men want to stock up on out of necessity, but rather make an investment in and find occasions to wear them. That’s why plenty of style advice articles focus on “breaking apart” aspects of a suit, and also why separates are more popular than ever on the racks. Purchasing tailored clothing is more about quality than quantity. It's about getting the one perfect suit that you absolutely love, not two subpar ones you're less than thrilled about.