The suit is back. And then it goes away. And then it‘s back again, only this time it’s for leisure and not for work. Then it’s out once more. And then not. The end of the suit has long been predicted. Yet, despite the change towards the ever more casual dress codes in the workplace, despite it no longer always being expected for even a wedding or a funeral, the suit somehow survives. But if, in the past, that’s been more through the whims of fashion, now it’s through adaptation – a response to the recognition of the simple fact that the suit is a practical garment and that, deep down, men like wearing it. At least occasionally. And especially in its new guise. The new suit isn’t something your grandfather would readily understand. But it is something he might well have wanted to wear.
Here are the major movements in men’s tailoring you need to know this year.
If the suit used to be the sartorial embodiment of formality, which meant wearing it in navy or charcoal, its being rescued from the restraints of “dressing up” has opened up the whole spectrum. These days the suit is as likely to be in baby blue or leaf green, a washed-out orange or red. Of course, this may make such a suit inappropriate in some settings but it also makes it much more fun to wear out on an evening. Men still fight shy of colour and wearing a bold suit will be a leap – but colour looks best when indulged confidently rather than piecemeal. So dive in. Or wade in with…
Brown in Town
Make of this what you will but look to the catwalks and it’s apparent that brown is now being proffered as an option in suiting. Don’t think ill of brown, it’s a great shade: serious but warm, dark without being the more predictable navy or grey, kind to all skin tones. But pulling off a brown suit takes forethought – be careful to break up your ensemble with some light but complementary shades, the likes of a chambray shirt or baby blue tee, or a charcoal polo, for instance.
If a suit is fundamentally defined as a garment of two parts in the same fabric, it’s clear why the tracksuit is so named. But then it’s also clear why maintaining that definition allows for a multitude of other expressions. Breaking away from traditional suiting fabrics in favour of those more performance-oriented, introducing comfort details like elastication and waist ties, and doing away with a whole less structure, the suit becomes something still together but decidedly more athleisure. Don’t wear this one with your brogues – team with minimal white leather trainers.
The quality suit used to be signalled by its fit and silhouette, which required the tailor’s art to build in certain structure. Today – at least at the more high fashion end of the market – a suit might quite deliberately play with proportions to create a garment that’s oversized; which doesn’t hug the shoulder or nip in at the waist, but rather drops away from both. Pulling this off actually requires more of that tailor’s cutting arts than simply sizing up. So, you know, don’t just buy XXL and expect to get away with it.
Pity the poor double-breasted suit. Castigated by its spivvy associations with estate agents, dodgy second-hand car salesman or yuppie excesses, a double-breasted suit, well cut and worn well, still, for sheer class, leaves all other styles languishing. Think more 1940s noir than 1980s bagginess. New takes on the DB, however, respect our preference for more relaxed dressing, and come in lighter-weight fabrics and softer fits, cut close to the shoulder while allowing movement through the body. Don’t be scared of wearing just the jacket with a pair of jeans either.
There’s a generation now whose entire clothes-conscious life has been dominated by skinny fits – from jeans to tees to suits, everything has been worn as close to being a second skin as possible, with some disastrous results for those whose body shape simply doesn’t work with it (note: this is a large percentage of the population and nothing to do with the gym time put in). Be thankful then that the tide is turning, especially in the trouser department. A wider leg – from relaxed to straight, flat-fronted or with full pleats – is the inevitable counter trend. It’s full rather than flappy but, crucially, cuts an actual silhouette, which is what tailoring is all about.
Aside from Hollywood’s historic love of clothing gangsters in them, pinstripes have typically been the preserve of business suiting, and very traditional business suiting at that – the dress of lawyers and bankers. But fashion looks to be rescuing them from stuffiness, with pinstripes given a more relaxed, slouchy feel. Indeed, after a long spell in which the emphasis in tailoring has been more on texture, pinstripe is not the only conservative pattern to see an update. Menswear has always had its checks, whether traditional tartan, dainty gingham or the bright plaids of a lumberjack shirt. But on suiting checks now come just as bold, from tattersall to madras, windowpane to Prince of Wales. Think of these as the way to make a statement if you’re not so keen on colour.
OK, so separates are not, technically, a suit. But just as women long ago appreciated the smartness of wearing tailored but unmatched garments, so men are coming round to the idea as well. A tailored jacket and smart trousers can look every bit as presentable as a suit, without all of the dressy connotations of the latter. In fact, separates also look that much more modern and relaxed. This isn’t to say you can wear the jacket of one suit with the trousers of another. Buy your separates separately. Invest in a contemporary blazer – no gold buttons please – and some top-notch khakis or flannels.