Suits are available in a number of configurations. Most common is the standard two-piece suit, which consists of pants and jacket. Add a waistcoat and, voilá, you have a three-piece suit, suitable for more formal occasions (together with a tie.) or activities in a less than adequately heated establishment (outdoors, perhaps?). In addition to the number of pieces, a suit may be either single-breasted or double-breasted, ie with either one or two rows of buttons on the jacket and waistcoat (but not the pants!).
The suit usually consists of three different materials:
  • The outer fabric - wool, in most cases. Sometimes, the wool is mixed with polyester or similar synthetic fibers. Less wool equals less water resistance and ventilation, but also results in a lower price and a suit less susceptible to stretching. Other materials are uncommon - cotton or linen in lighter summer suits, silk in Don Johnson's silvery suit in Miami Vice, and Teflon-covered synthetic fibers in my green, lapel-less suit jacket.
  • The lining - silk in very expensive suits, but more often some kind of synthetic fiber like acetate.
  • The stiffener - originally buckram or similar stiff linen or cotton fabric. This type of stiffener is still used in more exclusive suits, especially tailor-made ones. Usually, however, the buckram is replaced by a more convenient stiffener - a thin paper-like sheet of fibers with glue on one side, which is ironed onto the outer fabric.
In much the same way as wine, different regions produce different suits. Italian suits tend to have a more accentuated waist, wider shoulders and lapels and three buttons, whereas northern european suits are slimmer, longer and less strict regarding the number of buttons (Any number from two to five is common.)
Brioni (Made famous in some recent James Bond movies), Ermenegildo Zegna and Corneliani make very nice Italian suits.
Armani - originating from Italy, but not overly Italian in design - are back in style, in part due to Armani making all the suits (and there were a lot of them) in the movie Gattaca.
Nice European suits include Mexx and Tiger, both notable for their slanted shoulders and length - get one of these if you plan on working in a highly bureaucratic setting (think Brazil!) like a bank or the NSA.