For some people, suits are back. For some people–particularly in the boardrooms and corner offices of the biggest companies–they never went away.

The old saw “clothes maketh the man” is as much of a truism as ever. Today, as always, a well-made suit is not just a crucial business accessory; it also sends a subtle message that distinguishes the wearer as a person of discretion, taste and, in many cases, as someone with many zeroes in his annual bonus package.

What suits don’t do to the same extent they once did is reveal the wearer’s background. In our sartorially egalitarian age, one doesn’t need to be a blue blood or an Ivy grad to occupy the corner office or know the name of the best tailors. The result is that suits have become less a uniform than an expression of individual style. If you’re conservative in outlook, the odds are you will dress that way too. Like to be a bit more flashy? Most likely, so are your clothes.

What has also changed is the way men buy suits and the occasions to which they wear them. Around the turn of the last century, men of all backgrounds and careers wore ties and a suit pretty much everywhere. These days men are more selective about when and where to dress up or dress down. A board meeting? Wear a suit. A business lunch? Ditto. A corporate retreat in Tahoe? Not if you don’t want to look like the hotel manager.

Suits are also becoming hip. Design houses like Gucci , Prada, Yves Saint-Laurent and others are coming out with suits that are definitely more appropriate for nightclubs than the boardroom. The idea is to appeal to younger customers who rebel at the thought of wearing a necktie, let alone a day job, but still have the money to spend on a $1,500 suit. Gieves & Hawkes, a venerable London tailor, has even recently introduced a more “style-conscious” line called Gieves, No. 1 Savile Row in the hopes that the customer will keep coming back over the years as his tastes change and waistline expands.

Still, even though Wall Street firms such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers have reinstituted formal dress codes, there are many jobs these days that no longer require men to wear a suit every day. The result is that sales of tailored men’s clothing dropped 3% from 43.2 million units in the year ended August 2002 to 41.9 million units as of August 2003, according to Port Washington, N.Y.-based market information firm The NPD Group.

It is apparent that many top tailors have had to struggle in the past few years: Just look at the vicissitudes of a respected American brand like Brooks Brothers. Following its purchase by British retailing giant Marks & Spencer for $750 million in 1988, Brooks saw a dramatic decline in profits and popularity. In 2001, Marks & Spencer unloaded the company at a big loss for $225 million to privately held Retail Brand Alliance, which, one hopes, will be able to repair Brooks’ tarnished image. It very well could; Retail Brand Alliance is run by Claudio Del Vecchi Claudio Del Vecchio , son of Luxottica founder and billionaire Leonardo Del Vecchio.

At the same time, though, the world’s top suit makers haven’t seen too much of a drop-off in their business. The tech billionaires of the late 1990s weren’t exactly regular customers on Savile Row. Bespoke tailors like Anderson & Sheppard in London or Caraceni in Milan can produce only a limited number of suits per year and have no difficulty attracting new and repeat clients willing to pay upwards of $3,000 for a handmade suit.

When creating this list of the World’s Best Men’s Suits, we took into consideration the three key elements that go into choosing a suit: price, style and quality. We looked at the best buys in bespoke, ready-made and more cutting-edge suits from top tailors in the U.S. and Europe. It was important to cover a wide range so that the recent business school grad owing more than $40,000 in student loans could still look good without going even deeper into debt. Moreover, there are lots of newly minted executive vice presidents and managing directors out there who may feel it’s time to step up sartorially.

While there are many excellent tailors we left off our list, we know that the ones that made it are recognized as the paragons of the industry not only by their customers but also by their peers. So if you are someone who has recently started wearing suits again, or you are maybe interested in learning about a new tailor, we present this handy field guide to finding the right suit to suit your job and your lifestyle.

Facebooktwitterpinterestby feather