How To Find A Decent Vegan Suit
Suits are hot, animal products are not!
The classic suit is basically a skin-and-fur sausage. Suitmakers usually use wool, either shorn from sheep, goats, or rabbits, which is then blended with worm silk. Sew on some buffalo horn buttons, line the suit with a sheet of goathair, and garnish the look with leather boots and belts, and the suit adds up to a wearable Frankenstein’s monster.
And yet there’s just something about a well-cut suit. Maybe it’s the inner jacket pockets — are secrets sexy? Or maybe it’s the residual grasp of 20th century patriarchy we haven’t yet purged from our collective psyche.
Whatever it is, suits look hot. Here’s how to find one that won’t compromise your ethics.
The accidentally vegan suit
Like Oreos, coffee, and Liam Hemsworth, some beautiful things implausibly, blessedly, just happen to be vegan. It’s never a sure bet — and always check with the maker — but naturally vegan suits do exist. It just takes conscious decisions and some searching savvy.
Used or new?
Luckily, some used suits come vegan. The smart shopper just needs to know how to look. Mercari, Poshmark, Etsy, and eBay offer used, high-quality suits for a significant discount, but run some risks. Used sites offer no standard sizing, quality, condition, and actual vegan-ness of the suit, so you have to know your measurements and refine your search via the sites’ filtering options. When searching eBay, try a more reliable engine like Haberdashboard, which is built specifically to find highly specific, premium used brands through the site.
If buying new, be aware that most off-the-rack, accidentally vegan suits tend to be of poorer quality. Expect to shop in the Zara, H&M rung of retail. These suits, while cheaper, come with a hefty ecological price tag, as well as a short shelf life. H&M, for instance, confirmed that it offers a vegan suit for under $200 — but it will probably need tailoring, and it will certainly need early replacing.
Is the fabric vegan?
When searching, first filter out the non-vegan fabrics. Ruling out wool, cashmere, silk, and tweed eliminates most suits on the market, but it leaves a few traditional plant-based suiting fabrics, as well as some recently-developed, innovative materials, like newer forms of polyester and rayon.
Any accidentally vegan suit will be made from linen, cotton, chambray, polyester, bamboo, rayon, or other synthetic materials. Of the traditional fabrics, linen and cotton tend to be far more popular — at least in the better suits. Polyester, too, is making a surprising comeback. The others, while viable options, are less popular and can tend to be cheap-looking or quick to wear out.
Of all the vegan suit fabrics, linen is my favorite. Linen is a thin, elven fabric spun from flax and light as mist. If you could spin sunlight, you’d get a linen suit. But linen’s propensity to wrinkle poses problems. McGregor J. Madden, of suitmakers Hall Madden, prefers cotton to linen for the vegan suit: “The thing with linen is, it’s very wrinkly. It might not look so good, because it’s creasing so much. With linen, you can’t really wear it day in, day out. So cotton, with a little bit of stretch, that’s going to last.”
By sourcing good cotton — Hall Madden’s supplier processes their fabric in Italian mills — cotton suits can be spun to mimic the traditional wool suit. For anyone searching for a day-to-day suit, think of cotton as linen’s responsible older sister, and probably the best way to replace wool. If linen is its own suit, cotton is a wool suit replacement, the Beyond Burger to linen’s lentil burger.
Polyester, too, may be a good starting point for vegans. The fabric has outgrown its early reputation as hot, cheap, and tacky. AJ Machete, bespoke tailor behind the vegan-friendly shop Machete and Sons’ Bespoke Denver Clothiers, admits that polyester got a bad rap “partly because of early non-breathable and badly textured versions of the fabric from the 1960s.” Machete says that’s changed: “Advancements in technology have enabled mills to produce ‘wicking’ polyesters that are as breathable as traditional wools and have the same amount of smoothness and drape.”
But fabrics don’t tell the whole story of a suit.
Is the construction vegan?
Finding a vegan suit fabric is easy. Finding a vegan suit is not. Why? Because there’s a layer of potentially vile stuff underneath the jacket. Most formal suit jackets come “canvassed” or “constructed,” meaning that a layer of stiff material, traditionally goat or horse hair, gives the suit its shape.
Unfortunately, most canvassed suits are not vegan. A 100% cotton suit, if lined or canvassed, usually contains animal fibers. For instance, J.Crew and SuitSupply both sell reasonably-priced 100% linen or 100% cotton suits. A hopeful vegan, perhaps one writing an article about how to find vegan suits, might be encouraged by those suits. He might have one of them in his shopping cart, ready to pull the trigger on a light blue suit for an upcoming summer wedding. And subsequent emails from both manufacturers might reveal that neither sells any vegan suits whatsoever. Men’s Wearhouse and Indochino, too, offer absolutely no vegan suits, despite selling suits made of vegan fabrics.
This issue can be (partially) avoided by searching specifically for “unconstructed” suits, but even they may incorporate animal products.
Are the details vegan?
Even beyond the construction, there are always “extras” to consider in the suiting. Lined suits, which have a decorative interior fabric, often use silk. Horsehair stitching, horn buttons, and other discrete details should be vetted. Most of the time, suppliers can tell buyers whether a button or stitch uses animal products. Even when considering used suits, an email to a manufacturer may clear up the finer details of a suit.
But some details are harder to track down. It may be impossible to know if every dye and glue in a suit is vegan. It’s a little like the bone char in white sugar: so ubiquitous that it invokes the “as far as is practical” clause of veganism, and cannot be accounted for.
When you’ve locked down as many details as possible, shoot an email to the seller. This is the suit-buying equivalent of checking to see if a menu item is vegan at a restaurant, and most companies you deal with will be responsive and helpful. .
With knowledge and a little luck, it’s not hard to find a vegan suit. Just take your time, know your size, understand what you want, and ask before buying.
The intentionally vegan suit
Of course, some suitmakers simply cut out the guesswork and create gorgeous, mercifully vegan suits.
Most intentionally vegan suits come from made-to-measure (M2M) suit companies. M2M suppliers are a relatively booming industry, partially due to lower shipping and production costs. For buyers, the process is simple: A company will gather your measurements, then send those measurements to a factory, usually overseas, which prints a custom-sized suit.
The results are cheaper than handmade suits, but more personal than off-the-rack. And because there are so many customizable variables, vegans can usually find a decent plant-based suit in an M2M company’s offerings.
One step above M2M sits the decadent option of bespoke suiting. Bespoke, a buzzword often misapplied to made-to-measure suiting, has a strict definition: handmade for you. This is the legendary Saville Row treatment. Walk into a tailor, stand awkwardly in your underwear while a gruff connoisseur takes your measurements, and then let a team of expert tailors snip, sew, and spin a suit designed specifically for your body.
The price, though. Woof.
Still, shelling out for a higher-end suit poses a bunch of long-term advantages, even if it hammers a bank account. Higher-quality suits last longer, giving them an edge on sustainability. They fit better, saving money on tailoring costs. And there’s something powerful about a piece of clothing designed for the contours and shape of your body.
Here’s a quick, non-exhaustive list of five decent vegan suiting options:
A quasi-made-to-measure model, Hangrr may be the most innovative suitmaker on this list. The company uses an AI to gauge buyers’ measurements, then prints off a suit built on their best estimation of your size. A representative told me that vegans can be sure to get a vegan suit, but that they should specify that they want a vegan suit in the comments of the order. Expect a cotton suit as a final piece.
Hall Madden ~$1,000
Hall Madden may be the best option for anyone who can both afford the suit and access their showrooms. The company, which mainly deals in non-vegan suits, has built a reputation as one of the most vegan-friendly suiting companies in the U.S., even dressing entire vegan wedding parties.
The service is more personable than Hangrr’s. Buyers show up at a showroom in one of eight cities, where a company representative takes individual measurements, offers sample suit styles and fits, and then crafts a suit built to your specs. The suits are constructed in a factory overseas, then tailored in-house after a second fitting. Hall Madden’s business model may not be unique, but they cater to vegans in a way few other made-to-measure services do.
Currently, Hall Madden crafts traditional men’s styles. But in the fall, the company will expand its styles to include more feminine looks. It’s worth a cop for anyone with a fall wedding.
Denver Bespoke $1,000-$2,000
Much like Hall Madden, Denver Bespoke runs a traditional, non-vegan suiting business that still caters to vegans. Unlike made-to-measure services, which take buyers’ measurements and then source the production to a factory overseas, Denver Bespoke crafts their pieces in-house.
Working with vegan clients for over 11 years, Denver Bespoke’s AJ Machete developed a keen sense of what vegans care about in their suits: “We can make pretty much anything that a client would want and can adjust every material that goes into the suit to fit with a client’s ethical concerns.”
King & Allen UK-based, $900-$2,000
For the old money vegans, a classic London tailor may be the most luxurious option. Hop a plane to King & Allen, which offers both M2M and bespoke services catering to vegan shoppers.
Brave Gentleman $2,500
A fully-vegan manufacturer, Brave Gentleman offers a whole suite of vegan luxury pieces. This would be a good option for anyone searching for a vegan-only supplier, even if it may not be the most economically sound decision.