`A good suit is an investment.' That means `an expensive suit is an investment'. Perhaps so. A good cheap suit is not `an investment', just a good buy, which is even better. By Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs by Sheridan Morley
Fashionable types with more money than sense talk a lot of nonsense about tailoring. "A suit's not worth buying if it costs less than pounds 500," they say. "Chain stores? They don't know the meaning of the word tailoring." "A good suit is an investment." It makes shopping for a suit sound like the clothing equivalent of finding a mortgage.

There is only one Savile Row and there are only a privileged few who can afford to have every part of their anatomy measured to the nth degree so that their bespoke suit fits like a second skin. For the rest of us, there is the designer off-the-peg version that is remotely more affordable. And then there is the high street; buying a mass-produced suit is not a criminal offence. For some it is a means to an end, a way to look like a responsible human being in the workplace. For others a suit is just another fashion item, to be changed every season as often as a pair of shoes.

One of the best buys of the season is a chocolate satin trouser suit from Warehouse for under pounds 100. Both chocolate brown and shiny satin will have a limited shelf-life. But put them together and they are very "now" with a touch of understated glamour. Wear the trousers and jacket separately by day, and together, with a pair of strappy heels and fancy stockings, by night, and you will certainly get your money's worth between now and Christmas.

For something a little more formal, Joseph has a fine check suit in slate grey. For pounds 99 you can buy a pair of classic flat-fronted trousers cut generously enough to allow you to breathe. The curvy single-breasted jacket is a more substantial buy, but put the two together and you feel instantly taller and slimmer. Unlike the chocolate satin, this is a suit that will carry on until next spring and beyond.

Skirt suits are off the agenda right now. Trousers give a suit a much more streamlined, contemporary look. Don't worry if your legs are chunkier than you care to admit. The trouser shape to look for is straight, and long enough to skim a pair of high heels, essential if you want to make your suit look slinky and feminine.

If you happen to have a suit that was an investment buy a couple of years ago and that you are now bored to tears with, do not despair. For a quick and easy update, add a piece of stark silver jewellery and slip the jacket over one of the new-look one-shoulder jersey tops that are hanging precariously on shop rails up and down the country. The bold diagonal neckline will make your old suit look like a fashion statement rather than a long-term commitment

Above: Grey check suit, jacket, pounds 320, trousers, pounds 99; white boob tube with blue sunburst, pounds 55, all by Joseph, 26 Sloane Street, London SW1; silver tusk earrings, pounds 90, silver greyhound necklace, pounds 100, both from Detail, 4A Symons Street, London SW3, inquiries 0171-730 8488; grey mules, by Manolo Blanhik for Antonio Berardi, to order from Antonio Berardi, inquiries 0973 429983

Opposite page: Chocolate satin suit, jacket, pounds 55, trousers, pounds 40, by Warehouse, 19-21 Argyll Street, London W1 and branches nationwide; nude top, pounds 70, by Seraph at Ghost, 13 Hinde Street, London W1; black satin strappy shoes, pounds 125, by Russell & Bromley, 24-25 New Bond Street, London W1, inquiries 0171- 6296903; green seamed contrast tights, pounds 5.99, by Jonathan Aston, available from department stores nationwide Top left: Grey check suit, jacket, pounds 130, trouser, pounds 70 (not seen) by French Connection, 99 Long Acre, London WC2 and branches nationwide; black one shoulder top, pounds 34.99, by Morgan, 6B Bakers Arcade, 63 Kensington High Street, London W8; silver torque, pounds 50 and silver tusk earrings, pounds 90, both from Detail, as before