The 25 TV Characters Who Look Best in a Suit

A closer look at nearly 70 years of TV formalwear, from Ricky Ricardo to Don Draper

August 14, 2019 9:56 am
best suits in tv history
From left: Dale Cooper, Taylor Mason, Don Draper and Detectives Rico Tubbs and James Crockett

A suit is a fashion exercise par excellence. Certain parameters must be met: a jacket and pants. Add a shirt (maybe French cuffs — maybe a ruffled front, if you’re Donny Osmond), a waistcoat, perhaps suspenders and shoes. And a tie. Within those constraints, though, myriad identities can be crafted. The power of suiting in terms of shaping character is that a single tie — black, skinny — declares itself as Don Draper’s, not Theo Kojack’s. Anyone who’s watched a single episode of Boardwalk Empire could spot Nucky’s carnation boutonnière at 100 yards, or Sonny Crockett’s white-suit detective special. (Surely only permitted in Miami.) Sketch out their costumes, and it’s easy to distinguish even a Remington Steele tux from one worn by his fellow ’80s heartthrob, Thomas Magnum. 

Here, nearly 70 years of the best suits on television, from Johnny Rose to Ricky Ricardo (and, of course, our main guy on Suits). Consider it a multi-decade lookbook, and let’s pay special attention to all the ingenuity at the margins, from Lincoln Hayes and his lapels and aviators to Prince Oberyn and his suit-as-silken pajamas — a look that tells us everything we need to know about the princely class in Dorne. Whatever the specifics of their style — whether double-breasted or single, suit vents or no — each look is perfectly tailored both to body and soul. We should all enter into our days with such thoughtfulness. 

Perfectly tailored Lanvin and Hugo Boss suit
Eugene Levy’s Johnny Rose ditches the tie on “Schitt’s Creek”

Johnny Rose

Show: Schitt’s Creek, 2015-present
Portrayed by: Eugene Levy
Vibe: Billionaire lost in a trailer park
Standard look: Perfectly tailored Lanvin and Hugo Boss suits — no tie, as befitting his current role running the Rosebud Motel. 

Adrian Boseman

Adrian Boseman

Show: The Good Fight, 2017-present
Portrayed by: Delroy Lindo
Vibe: Master of the boardroom
Standard look: Three-piece suits with grace notes in rich autumnal colors like mustard, pumpkin and claret.

Taylor from “Billions” rocks the preppy suiting well.

Taylor Mason

Show: Billions, 2016-present
Portrayed by: Asia Kate Dillon
Vibe: “My quietly powerful blazer/button-down combos are merely a backdrop for my analytical brilliance” 
Standard look: An armature of preppy suiting — striped shirts, an overwhelm of navy — that plays as stoic and refined compared to Axe’s show-off-y vintage rock tees, the hoodie contingent and Spyros’s ridiculous Euro suits. 

Eric Effiong's wax-print jacket and matching button-down shirt
Eric Effiong in “Sex Education”

Eric Effiong 

Show: Sex Education, 2019-present
Portrayed by: Ncuti Gatwa
Vibe: Best-dressed student of the 21st century
Standard look: Eric’s typical wardrobe choices skew more toward brightly colored eccentricities — but the Netflix’s series’ seventh episode debuted a tremendous wax-print jacket (and matching button-down shirt), with coordinating green headwrap and a wash of gold glitter, all a nod to Eric’s Nigerian heritage. 

Hannibal Lecter always dressed nice for a meal.

Hannibal Lecter 

Show: Hannibal, 2013-2015
Portrayed by: Mads Mikkelsen
Vibe: Euroluxe sociopath with a taste for custom suiting (and sometimes people) 
Standard look: Tone-on-tone three-piece windowpane suit in navy, with royal-blue button-down and dark blue tie — but equally at home in super-slim black leather motorcycle jacket for zipping around Paris. 

Nucky Thompson’s Roaring ’20s style.

Nucky Thompson

Show: Boardwalk Empire, 2010-2014
Portrayed by: Steve Buscemi
Vibe: 1920s uber-gangster, but make it fashion
Standard look: More de luxe than Nucky’s real-life inspiration, Atlantic City macher Nucky Johnnson, the HBO version favored double-breasted suits; peaked, detachable collars; and Homburg hats. On element stolen straight from Johnson’s style: the omnipresent carnation boutonniere. 

The Earl of Grantham rocking a tux.

Robert Crawley 

Show: Downton Abbey, 2010-2015
Portrayed by: Hugh Bonneville
Vibe: Edwardian fashion plate 
Standard look: While the seventh Earl of Grantham had similarly bespoke outfits for walking the estate and inspecting the staff, his natural environment is the formal ball, and his look of choice the white-tail tuxedo. 

You knew Don Draper was showing up on this list.

Don Draper

Show: Mad Men, 2007-2015
Portrayed by: Jon Hamm
Vibe: The man who next-leveled the man in the gray flannel suit
Standard look: White dress shirts, the narrowest of ties, flat pocket squares, and subdued, narrow-fit suits with single-breasted blazers. Unless he’s in Hawaii, when anything’s possible. 

Neal McCaffrey

Neal McCaffrey 

Show: White Collar, 2009-2014
Portrayed by: Matt Bomer
Vibe: Monied frat guy who somehow majored in art history
Standard look: A 21st-century reboot of Don Draper’s ’60s style, with similarly skinny ties and slim-fitting suits — with more variation in shirt colors and patterns, double-venting in the jacket, and an even more insistent use of fedoras. 

Oberyn Martell

Oberyn Martell

Show: Game of Thrones, 2011-2019
Portrayed by: Pedro Pascal
Vibe: Royal pajamawear
Standard look: Everything’s different in Dorne, princely appointments included: Oberyn’s suit offers a masterclass in peacocking deconstruction: It’s halfway between a suit (look at those slightly sloped shoulders) and the louchest loungewear this side of a Westerosi brothel. 

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper

Show: Twin Peaks, 1990-1991 (and 2017)
Portrayed by: Kyle MacLachlan
Vibe: The ultimate G-man
Standard look: A Mueller-approved take on conservative menswear, with a black suit, narrow black tie, white shirt — unless we’re talking about Bad Cooper, with old-guy-at-the-club leather jackets and snakeskin everything.  

Bobby Simone

Bobby Simone

Show: NYPD Blue, 1993-2005
Portrayed by: Jimmy Smits 
Vibe: He’s a cop … but a lover, too. 
Standard look: Soft suiting par excellence: blue button-downs, super-slouchy suits, and lots of tone-on-tone color pairs: greige and gray, beige and brown. 

Dylan McKay

Dylan McKay

Show: Beverly Hills, 90210, 1990-2000
Portrayed by: Luke Perry (RIP) 
Vibe: California dreamboat in rolled-sleeve tees and no-sleeve jean jackets — except for special occasions
Non-standard look: Dylan’s prom tux (matching both BFF Brandon (in a tux) and GF Brenda (in an off-the-shoulder monstrosity) is the Platonic ideal of the species. 

NBC/Getty Images

Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs

Show: Miami Vice, 1984-1990
Portrayed by: Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas
Vibe: Two guys with guns and no fear of pastels
Standard look: Sonny Crockett’s white suits admirably showed off his melon-colored T-shirts, scruff and Coppertone tan, while partner Tubbs routinely blendered ’80s Wall Street baron with eccentric neckwear, like pink and/or paisley ties. 

Remington Steele

Remington Steele

Show: Remington Steele, 1982-1987
Portrayed by: Pierce Brosnan
Vibe: A Bond for prime-time viewing
Standard look: The ultimate case of fake-it-till-you-make-it, Brosnan’s dapper suits — in herringbones and tweeds — both referenced Bonds of days past (particularly the Sean Connery edition) and presaged his own appointment to the role a decade later. 

Thomas Magnum

Thomas Magnum

Show: Magnum, PI, 1980-1988
Portrayed by: Tom Selleck
Vibe: All-American in formalwear
Standard look: Thomas Magnum’s natural environment involves endless variations of Hawaiian-print button-downs, shorts that end at his upper thigh, and sockless tennies — but the man dressed up like a champ, solidly filling out his go-to tux.

Linc Hayes

Linc Hayes 

Show: The Mod Squad, 1968-1973
Portrayed by: Clarence Williams III
Vibe: The coolest undercover cop in American television history
Standard look: The widest of wide-lapel jackets — always over a button-down shirt artfully unbuttoned to the upper chest. Plus gold-rimmed aviators. It’s all extremely ’70s. 

Donny Osmond

Donny Osmond

Show: Donny & Marie, 1976-1979
Portrayed by: Donny himself
Vibe: If the ’70s had a baby and it went to Hollywood by way of a Mummers parade
Standard look: Shirts with peaked collars, open wide to reveal a hairy chest, worn with suits in, let’s say, non-traditional color palettes (like red and tangerine, or pink and purple). 

Who loves your suit, baby?

Theo Kojak

Show: Kojak, 1973-1980
Portrayed by: Telly Savalas
Vibe: Omniscient cop with tremendous tailoring budget
Standard look: The widest of ties — occasionally matched with a three-piece suit, partially buttoned shirt, and more gold-rimmed sunglasses. The chief ’70s fashion note: so much bare chest. 

jim phelps

Jim Phelps

Show: Mission: Impossible, 1966-1973
Portrayed by: Peter Graves
Vibe: Silver-fox spymaster with a penchant for tweeds
Standard look: It’s no mistake that Peter Graves’ M:I costumes regularly come up for sale to collectors: His character, Jim Phelps, emblemized a certain subvariety of velvet-lapeled derring do. 

John Steed

Show: The Avengers, 1961-1969
Portrayed by: Patrick Macnee
Vibe: The quintessential English dandy-as-spy
Standard look: Bowler hat, (possibly murderous) umbrella, and three-piece suit — including a brief flirtation with Pierre Cardin that was ultimately scuppered in favor of a more classically Jermyn Street style. 

Peter Gunn

Peter Gunn

Show: Peter Gunn, 1958-1961
Portrayed by: Craig Stevens
Vibe: The ur-P.I.
Standard look: One-button suits in a range of colors, with distinguishing accents: statement cufflinks, high-polish shoes, and some downright flashy hats. 

Ed Norton

Ed Norton

Show: The Honeymooners, 1955-1956
Portrayed by: Art Carney
Vibe: Slouchy
Standard look: Is Norton’s off-duty look the original deconstructed suit? White tee, unbuttoned vest, trousers, $5 porkpie hat (taken from Carney’s own wardrobe). Watch him do the Hucklebuck and tell us it’s not superlative. 

Ricky Ricardo often wore a single-breasted, single-button jacket, always with a pocket square.

Ricky Ricardo

Show: I Love Lucy, 1951-1957
Portrayed by: Desi Arnaz
Vibe: Dapper bandleader with a handful at home
Standard look: Arnaz’s Google doodle captured his style: a suit befitting an entertainer, but one with enough movement to permit doing his job. Often a single-breasted, single-button jacket — always with pocket square, sometimes with a turtleneck, occasionally with a bow-tie and the high-waisted, pleated trousers. Always fresh.

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