Tailoring a $3 Thrifted Suit: A Brown Chalkstripe Three Piece

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I’m always on the lookout for cheap, vintage suits. You’re guaranteed to find great suits at vintage stores like Joyride or from sellers like Benny, but there’s nothing like the feeling like scoring a great piece at a thrift store.   If you look hard enough and have great patience, you can definitely find some cool stuff!  And sometimes, you’ll find it on a sale day where your suit will cost $3.

The Story

There’s a Goodwill near my house that I visit once a week.  More often than not, I find something cool, whether its an oxford shirt or a full suit!  This time was no exception.  During MLK weekend, I was at this particular Goodwill when I found a wool brown chalkstripe vest. “That’s cool”, I thought to myself and kept perusing the racks.  A few minutes later I found the matching jacket; I knew I had to buy it if I could find the pants.  After going back and grabbing the vest, I frantically looked through the pants section.  I had a similar situation when I found a grey chalkstripe DB jacket (I ended up not finding the pants). By some stroke of luck, I found the pants!

Each of the pieces had a blue tag, and thanks to the MLK sale (shame that we’ve reduced one of the greatest proponents of civil rights to a freakin’ sale) each blue tag was $3.  $9 for a 100% wool, brown chalkstripe three piece suit isn’t bad at all so I was pretty happy.  Imagine my surprise when the cashier told me my total:  $3.  Apparently the suit counted as one item!  I’m probably never going to get a great vintage suit for that price ever again.

I love tailoring transformations.  You’ve already seen us transform a Jos A. Bank suit from eBay and a flannel DB from Goodwill.  I’m no stranger to buying something cheap (or something odd) and turning it into another amazing piece for my wardrobe.  As long as the jacket fits the bare minimum, you can definitely tailor it!

The Suit

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The suit is 100% wool and feels slightly “flannel-y”, making it perfect for mild or cold weather.  It’s from the 60s’s due to the fact that the label (Phelps) is made in almost a “modern” way and the fabric composition font is very typical of the 1960s-1970s.    Like my 1960’s ivy suit, the suit is half lined with a high rise!  Modern “mall brands” never have these details and its one of the reasons that I prefer to thrift or buy vintage.

The suit was very deadstock as there were no mothholes or signs of major wear!  The jacket pockets were even sewn shut!

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Half lining is a sign of detailed craftsman ship and a great way to keep things breathable!

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Make sure your thrifted garments are 100% wool as there are plenty of polyester suits in thrift stores.

Before Tailoring

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Let’s talk about fit.  As you can see, the jacket isn’t too bad.  There’s some subtle waist suppression, but it could definitely be improved.  The length of the jacket is also pretty bad, going past my thumb.  Typically I like my jackets to end right at the joint of my thumb, so shorting about 2″ must be done!

Also I want to say that this suit is a chalkstripe and not a pinstripe suit.  The main difference is how “solid” the lines are.  You can read the Gentleman’s Gazette for detailed info on it.

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Here’s where you can see that the jacket is way too big. While it shouldn’t be skin tight, you should have a discernible figure! Also, the sleeves could be tapered.  It’s not something super important but if you’re getting all this work done, why not?

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Like the jacket, the waistcoat appears to fit well. I want to note here that this suit was created amazingly.  Note how the lines on the waistcoat line up with the lines on the pant.  Even the four jetted pockets are lined and matched correctly!  You seldom see this on your typical mall suits.

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See, don’t like looks deceive you. I tightened the waistcoat belt a much as I could so it would look good, but it leaves a bunch of excess.  Look like we’re going to have to take in the waistcoat!

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The pants fit the waist well and the length is spot on. Maybe the guy who wore this previously had my same inseam!  I would add cuffs though, as most of my trousers have them.  Suspender buttons are also a must, since that’s the only way to wear a three piece suit!  Never wear a belt with a waistcoat; waistcoats were used to cover suspenders, since they are underwear.

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I typically only keep my Golden Era Pieces (1930s-1940’s) as full leg, to accurately preserve the look of the era.  However, since this suit is from the 1960’s (and only cost $3) I’m going to get the legs slimmed down to be more “modern”.  The straight leg isn’t too bad, but a slight taper would do wonders for this suit!  I’m also not a fan of wide legs and loafers.

List of Tailoring

  • Take in jacket
  • Taper sleeves
  • Roll lapels higher
  • Shorten jacket length
  • take in waistcoat
  • add suspender buttons
  • taper leg (to 8″ leg opening)
  • add trouser cuffs (only 1.5″ unfortunately)”

Total:  $150

I got the entire suit after only a week!  For the speed and amount of tailoring, the money I spent was well worth it.  There’s no other place that you’ll find a suit with this quality and detail for $160.  Not even J. Crew or Suit Supply has a suit like this.

After Tailoring

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The jacket was taken in very slightly but its still a massive improvement. I also rolled the lapels higher to give it a classic look, instead of having it create too deep of a V (which was common in the late 60s until the 90s).   Also note at how much the jacket was shortened! Again it’s only 2″, but it was definitely needed to be wearable.  I realize that this makes the bottom button sit pretty close to the end of the jacket, but that’s not that big of a deal to me.  In the future, just try to find jackets where the bottom button is on the same line as the pocket; usually that leads to a higher buttoning point and if you shorten it, it won’t be that big of a deal.

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A figure is more visible now and the sleeves look great, thanks to being tapered!

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The waistcoat was taken in and fits snug, like a corset.  The fit is very similar to my Ivy three piece!  I also didn’t have to tie the belt too much to achieve this fit.

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Even though they are technically vintage pants (and high rise) the taper makes them pretty “modern”!  They aren’t super skinny but they have enough figure to flatter my body.  Just note that they have the right length. 
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All Together

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Pinstripe/chalkstripe suits and three piece suits are some of the coolest garments you can wear and it’s a wonderful thing when you put them together!  Unlike navy blue (or black)  chalkstripe suits, a brown one is slightly more “casual”, especially when its made of a more textured (almost flannel) wool.  You don’t really see brown suits worn today (especially not chalkstriped), so its definitely cool when you see one or wear one.  It’s not an office suit, though you could probably wear it if you toned it down with a solid shirt and solid tie (or even ditched the waistcoat).  For a sartorial enthusiast like me, it’s perfect;  I could wear this if I worked at a haberdashery like Bryceland’s or the Armoury!

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The fact that it’s brown allows you to play more with colors, where as navy blue/black tend to require more formal choices.  I went with a pink striped spearpoint shirt and a 1940’s print tie (with collar bar) to give it my signature style.  I know that it can seem like too much for normal suited guys, but I prefer to mix patterns.  If you didn’t know, mixing patterns like this was typical for Golden Era style of the 1930s-1940s.  To make it work, I made sure that the scales of each piece were different enough: small stripes (shirt), large print (tie), medium (suit).

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Even though the suit is from the 1960’s (and isn’t cut in the 1930’s style), I like to maintain that classic 30’s styling.  It’s not something super corporate/business appropriate and it definitely isn’t something that you see from The Armoury boys.  I’m not about advocating strictly Italian style or keeping things safe; having a vintage inspired look taken straight from Laurence Fellows illustrations or from menswear catalogs is my way of setting myself apart from the others!

1960’s brown chalkstripe suit (thrifted), custom spearpoint shirt from Natty Shirts,

1940’s tie (ebay), Florsheim Imperials (thrifted) 

Conclusion

For $160, you could barely get a suit H&M or Macy’s.  However, if you look hard enough or have the patience, you could potentially find something amazing in your local Goodwill! I didn’t go to a dedicated vintage store or thrift store in a rich city; I just went to one a few miles away from me!  I can’t believe I was lucky enough to find this suit, let alone get it for only $3!

Like my other tailoring transformations (this Jos A. Bank one comes to mind), this should show the importance of taking your suits to the tailor! I know many of my peers and contemporaries aren’t in a position to buy bespoke suits or buy a vintage suit in great condition, so that’s why I really advocate thrifting.  eBay works well, but thrift stores like Goodwill and Savers have the cheapest (and set) prices for suits; they also have sales periodically!

It was a complete surprise that I was able to buy the suit for only $3, which meant that tailoring was no object. $150 later, I have a fantastic three piece suit that’s perfectly tailored, has a high rise , and is cut from a gorgeous brown chalkstripe fabric!  I doubt that I’ll ever find a deal like this again, but it only pushes me to keep thrifting and to stay on the hunt!  Thrift stores have high inventory turn over, so you never know what you’re going to get! You just need to know your stuff, check the fabric composition, and make sure that it’s within the bounds of tailoring.  I hope that you all will check your thrift stores more often; maybe you’ll find something cool!

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

Street x Sprezza

Photography by David W. and Spencer O. 

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