In sophisticated corporate or social environments, a well ironed suit creates a defining distinction between the ordinary and the exceptional.
Unfortunately, a professional tailor or laundry service is not always readily available and you may need to iron a suit to perfection without any assistance.
In this article we’ll look at mastering the art of ironing a men’s two piece suit, along with some clever ways to circumvent any of the common problems you may face along the way.
Before You Begin
Firstly, you have to know if the suit is made from wool, linen, cotton, polyester or a blend of different materials.
In the case of a 100% wool suit, you would simply need to steam it to remove the wrinkles, whereas cotton or linen suits will need to be carefully ironed. A Polyester suit or blend containing synthetic materials that will be extremely sensitive to heat and must be ironed at a very low temperature with a damp pressing cloth in between to avoid damaging the fabric.
We’ll discuss this and other very important warnings throughout the article, so make sure to read it entirely before starting.
Choosing the Best Iron
Because the fabric as well as the construction of the suit can be delicate in nature, you’re not looking to apply a too much pressure with the iron.
You’ll want to avoid ironing too hard over seams and other raised areas like button holes, this can cause “shine” marks to occur as the fibers in the fabric flatten and bind together.
Instead, iron over these areas as lightly as possible, making very little actual contact. Use a damp pressing cloth in between the two surfaces to help avoid overheating. A good steam iron will make the task a lot easier and offer the most versatility as explained here. Adjust the temperature of the iron to suit the fabric of your suit.
The steam from the iron will actually be doing most of the work while the iron lightly floats over the fabric to remove any wrinkles.
For this reason we need a high quality iron with a powerful steam output. The Rowenta Steamforce DW9280 is a fantastic option because it has a steam generator built-in. This means it produces much more steam than the average iron and will make ironing a suit significantly easier.
With that out of the way, let’s begin…
Ironing The Lapel Roll
This is probably the most important aspect of ironing a suit!
You absolutely must not iron the lapel folded. Let me explain why…
A quality suit has something called a Lapel Roll. This is the natural “rolling” over of the lapel as it folds open over the chest. It is not meant to be a flat fold but rather, a gradual rolling of the fabric from the collar down to the first button.
This must never be flattened with an iron. Flattening the fold can destroy the integrity of the material and the suit will lose its high-quality appearance.
Instead, fold back the lapel completely so that you’re seeing the underside of it.
There will now be one single piece of material (the underside of the lapel and the chest panel of the suit) which you can iron as one plain.
When you’re done removing the wrinkles from this area, gently fold back the lapel and apply some steam to the edge to assist the roll in staying “folded” over. (Steam can be applied by hovering the iron an inch or two above the lapel and pressing the steam button.) Do not iron directly onto the edge of the lapel and flatten the roll!
The Front Quarters: How to Iron Them
These are the two panels in the front of the suit. Ironing them smooth is relatively simple but avoid going to high into the sleeves and shoulder areas. (You’ll be using some special tools for these later.)
If the pockets have pocket flaps, lift them up first and iron the pocket smooth under it. Then fold them back and iron over both the flap and the pocket simultaneously. Remember, the pocket is already two layers of fabric (the inside and the outside) and a flap adds a third layer of fabric. Ironing this many layers can be difficult as they shift around while you iron and cause accidental creasing.
The key is not to apply too much pressure which may “drag” the pocket fabric out of position and cause ridges. Simply glide over the pocket with the steam iron and make sure it hasn’t deformed as you’ve ironed over it.
Be especially careful on the raised seams of the pockets and use a damp pressing cloth to avoid any scorching on the ridges.
The collar is ironed while folded. This means you do not have to unfold it to iron it. Simply run the tip of the iron along the collar where it meets the top of the back and shoulders to create a clean edge.
There’s usually a clearly visible notch or gorge which separates the collar from the lapel. Make sure not to iron past this point and accidentally flatten the lapel.
The Best Way to Iron Sleeves
Ironing sleeves without a sleeve board is not recommended. Not only will you be ironing two layers of outer fabric simultaneously, but you’ll run the risk of accidentally ironing a pleat into the edge of the sleeve. Both these problems are undesirable.
A sleeve board is an affordable way to remedy both. It’s a narrow, raised ironing surface which fits inside the sleeves of a suit.
The sleeves can be pulled over the sleeve board and ironed with full control over the position and angle of the sleeve. You can also carefully sharpen the edges of the sleeve cuffs by gently ironing over them with the narrowed tip of the irons soleplate.
Now, with most of the complicated work on the jacket complete, all that remains is to iron the back panels as smoothly as can be achieved. Just remember to iron as lightly as possible over the seams and hems in places like back vents to avoid ironing shine. In fact, you should ideally avoid contact with these sensitive areas altogether or use a pressing cloth between the iron and the suit for added prudence.
The more steam you can apply here, with less actual ironing pressure, the better.
We’ve left the best for last…
Shoulders are by far the most complicated areas on a suit jacket to iron correctly. Here, you need to take care not to press any unnatural curves or contours into the existing shape of the shoulder. If you are in any doubt, you should leave the shoulders and simply steam them to the best of your ability.
If you’re up for the task, it will be a lot easier if you have the right tools…
Advanced Ironing Tools
Suit jackets are harder to iron because they follow the natural shape of the human body.
A Tailor’s Ham or a Forming Stand are both advanced pieces of ironing equipment that recreate a similar round surface below the material to help you iron along the natural contours and shape of the suit. This is especially helpful when ironing lapels, collars and especially shoulders.
A high quality Tailor’s Ham can be ordered on Amazon for under $12 and can literally save a $1000 suit.
On the other hand, there are specific places where you’ll want sharp, crisp hems and seams. For this, you can use a Tailor’s Clapper. It’s a flat piece of wood which is pressed down on the fabric after steam has been applied to flatten the folded material without damaging it with heat from the iron.
If you’ll be ironing a suit regularly, you should strongly consider investing in both these advanced ironing tools.
Ironing Suit Pants
Finally, the suit pants are much easier to iron and can be done flat on an ironing board with careful attention to folding the legs along the exact line of the existing pleats. Ensure the pocket inners are as straight as possible and the cuffs (if any) are correctly aligned.
You can happily iron the two layers of fabric on one leg simultaneously since there is no lining, but never attempt to iron both legs at the same time. This will lead to “ironing-in” misaligned pleats and is an extraordinarily arduous process to correct.
Check the suit for any areas you may have missed. Especially around buttons, button holes, under pocket flaps and overlapping back vents. Another common area which needs a little more attention is below the shoulder where the arms and body meet.
Once you’re done, hang the suit jacket on a large hanger with wide shoulder pads to help keep the desired shape.
A professional laundry service undoubtedly provides convenience and expertise, but should the need arise, these pointers will leave you well equipped to masterfully ironing your own suit.
For other great tips like this, be sure to check out our other Men’ Style Tips articles.