Menswear guru shares secrets to looking your best, from cheap suits to job interviews

Split-screen of Harry Styles (L) and ASAP Rocky (R) dressed up for Brit Awards and Met Gala 2023 respectively
Harry Styles (L), A$AP Rocky (R). Photo credit: Getty Images

Are trackpants acceptable? Can you get away with wearing a cheap suit? Is it wrong to wear brown shoes with a blue suit? What should you wear to a job interview? Whether you have a wedding, funeral, black tie event, job interview or meeting at the bank, it's helpful to dress for the occasion

Menswear guru Robert Niwa, from Auckland tailors Crane Brothers, joined Jesse Mulligan on Afternoons to answer all those burning style questions.

What's the difference between a cheap suit and an expensive one?

"I guess the main difference is the construction and how it's made. A cheaper suit would probably have a lot of corners that are cut to actually create the garment, to keep the cost down.

"When you kind of look at even middle of the road or high-end suiting, it really comes down to how it's constructed. And that would kind of determine a lot of the price and then also the materials that are used."

How much should you spend on a suit?

"Spend as much as you can," Niwa says.

"If you do have to substitute for something lesser, then I think accessories really help. If you have a really expensive pair of shoes with a cheaper suit, the suit will be elevated because the shoe will help make it look more expensive."

If you're only going to own one suit, what colour should it be?

"It's between navy and black of course. I think it depends on which colour actually suits the wearer most."

Navy is more complimentary for blondes, while people with dark hair suit black better, he says.

What are the rules around wearing a suit jacket with jeans?

"I guess it's just the shoulder. If the shoulder's too structured then sometimes it does look like you've just substituted a jacket with your suit jacket. If it was slightly softer and a plainer collar, you can definitely get away with it a little bit more, but a blazer and a jean-cut trouser or even a denim, it's actually a very easy look."

If you're wearing a suit jacket and jeans, what should you wear on your feet?

"Boots probably work well with it. You could wear a loafer, it just comes down to the appropriateness of what you're wearing, where you're going and [who you're] wearing it for. If you wear a loafer with it, it'll definitely give it a more of a 'fashion' element. If you wear a boot, it gives it a little bit more of 'you're on the move'."

Can you wear sneakers with suits?

While this has been "a reliable look" since 2013, Niwa says the shape of the sneaker has changed.

"More athletic, a little bit chunkier sneakers are definitely what are being worn with suits.

"Suits are a little bit softer in appearance as well, and so the larger sneaker complements that slightly oversized suit look in fashion at the moment."

A$AP Rocky attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2023 in New York City.
A$AP Rocky attends The 2023 Met Gala Celebrating "Karl Lagerfeld: A Line Of Beauty" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2023 in New York City. Photo credit: Getty Images

What is the secret to getting a really neat-looking shirt collar when you're not wearing a tie?

A button-down shirt (where the collar has a button at the point of the collar that attaches to the shirt body and keeps the collar sitting upright) is the answer here, Niwa says.

"I think having a stiffer kind of fusing in the collar also really helps keep it structured."

Size also matters, Niwa adds.

"Sometimes some men choose a shirt which is a little bit larger than the neck and then that's how it can look messy as well because the proportions are incorrect."

Is it a fashion faux pas to wear brown shoes with a blue suit?

"It's been kind of commonplace for quite a while now," Niwa says.  

"I think the Italians do it really well. They do like a dark navy suit with a dark chocolate brown shoe, and so it just adds a little bit of depth and consideration in the outfit.

"The mistake that some people make is that the shoe is too light for the suit and so the viewer keeps looking at your feet instead of your face. So you have to be quite careful in terms of the tones that you choose."

What should you wear to a job interview?

Keep it simple, Niwa says.

"I think the point of your attire at a job interview is to show that you're presentable and also professional. I think you don't want anything too busy to distract the interviewer.

"I think if you turn up with a Daffy Duck tie and a crazy jacket, it kind of distracts from what you're trying to present."

What suits suit shorter men?

It's all about proportions, Niwa says. That means making sure the jacket is the right length and ensuring that the rise (from the crotch seam to the waistband) isn't too long.

"You don't want the jacket to flood you too much… you don't want the fly of the trouser to be too long, so the crotch of the trouser is hanging too long. From the body it just it automatically makes you look smaller and shorter.

"So basically the end leg and the outer leg measurements are really important with trousers. I think also having the armhole quite high just kind of give the illusion of being longer and taller."

How long should a suit last? How can I keep it clean?

Depending on the fabric and the construction, you should be able to get a good 10 years out of a suit, Niwa says.

"I've been working with this year a lot of clients coming in, reworking their wedding suits that I probably did for them 15 years ago and just changing a few of the proportions because the fabrics are still good.

"Look after them, brush them, keep them hung up, don't dry clean them too often."

While dry cleaning removes stains, the chemicals used can erode the fabrics, Niwa says.

"Hot pressing can also damage a lot of the internals and the garments as well."

Niwa says there's no need to dry clean a suit every time - steaming it in your bathroom can help freshen it up. Alternatively, you can invest in an air dresser ("it's like a big wine fridge that you house your clothes in") which steams the clothes.

Harry Styles at the BRIT Awards 2023.
Harry Styles at the BRIT Awards 2023. Photo credit: Getty Images

What footwear should you wear with a black suit, apart from a pair of black shoes?

"You can do it with a sneaker, like a crazy colour, if you wanted to. You can maybe do it with a black sneaker… or you can do it with a yellow sneaker if you want to be a little bit punchier. You could also play around with texture. You could do like a black suede loafer where that would just make it a little bit preppier, a little bit more fun.

"You can do a Chelsea boot with a little bit more of a high gloss, that would also make it a little bit more professional. I think you could also play around with proportions. At Fashion Weeks around the world, men's footwear is definitely becoming larger and chunkier."

When should you wear a pocket square? How do you choose what colour it should be?

"I think you can wear a pocket square anytime, it just depends on the pocket square. I think it's a really great way to dress up an outfit from day to night, if you're in the same jacket."

Niwa says the colour can pick up on a shade in the tie or the shirt, depending on the focus of the outfit.

What colour shirts should I own?

It's hard to go past a crisp white shirt, Niwa says.

"And I think a really good black shirt really saves a few fashion faux pas. I would wear it in the evening primarily under a charcoal black suit… it adds a little bit more of a cocktail kind of feel to your outfit as well.

"Sometimes the face kind of stands out a little bit more when you've got black against the skin."

How wide should the lapels on my suit be?

While lapel trends come and go (in the early 2000s, lapels were narrow, today they're definitely wider), the most important determinant is your body size, Niwa says.

"The way that I choose it for the client is their body shape. If they're incredibly slim, then a large lapel can be quite ridiculous. You have to get down to the proportions of things. Larger gentlemen look great with a wider lapel, I think, they just really carry it really well.

"It also comes down to the materials and the purpose of the suit. I think if you're wanting an evening suit or a suit that you want to take someone special out with, then a wider lapel has a little bit more of a jovial kind of look to it."

Are trackpants ever okay?

"I guess it's just making sure they're clean and tidy, that they don't have biddy-biddies all over them, that you don't have a stain mark on your knees because you've spilled your coffee on them.

"If you've got a pair of trackpants that you've had for the last 10 years, I think you can kind of upgrade them now."