Underrated Assets: Suit Texture

I’ll probably get ridiculed for saying this by die-hard classicists, but navy suits are vastly overrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t dislike them. I will always feel obliged to own one; in certain situations, both professional and personal, nothing else will do.

But their proudest owners are so doggedly attached to them, so reluctant to wear anything else that they have begun to irritate me.

“They’re the smartest suits, and the most flattering” one acquaintance argued.

“Precisely” chimes another “you can wear any colour shirt or tie with them. They’re faultless.”

It’s true that navy is an excellent border for colourful shirts and ties. The darkness of the tone brings the brightness of other items to the fore.

But the real problem of navy suits is that the fabric always looks cheaper than it actually is. Particularly on a bright, sunny day.

I met some professional acquaintances recently on a warm, clement day in Mayfair. The women were strutting the streets in oversized white sunglasses; the Gulf-plated Rolls Royces had their roofs down, and were wafting through the streets like Rivas down the Grand Canal.

It was an idyllic day. However, it was also a working day and unfortunately, we were obliged to talk shop, so decided it might make it more bearable to lunch al fresco.

Both men were wearing navy suits in fine super wool and neither of them lost any time in telling me that they had them made at the same bespoke tailor. They were obviously well cut; the shoulders smooth and well-shaped, the waist sculpted and flattering.

However, aside from the cut, you couldn’t tell these suits cost in excess of £1000. In the bright sunshine, the smooth texture of the super wool reflected the light, making them look shiny. The navy, which in darker interiors and on a cloudy day was richly saturated, looked washed out and the fabrics – which were, they informed me, decent quality VBC – looked far cheaper than they actually were.

On the way back from the lunch, I walked past an elderly gentleman in a hopsack navy suit. The shoulders on his jacket were a little off, and he was about two chest sizes smaller than the garment, but somehow, the rougher texture married well with the bright sunshine. There was no shine, just a deep, matte blue.

In short, the super wools that proliferate and dominate the inventories of entry level online tailors aren’t as sophisticated as they sound. In fact, they can make a beautifully made suit look rather cheap. The fineness of the weave creates a smooth surface that is more reflective and under the harsh scrutiny of a midday sun is distractingly glossy.

There are two solutions I would advocate; wear a light grey sharkskin or Glen check – which look far superior when the sky is blue and the sun is high – or only purchase navy suits with a texture. A textured fabric also has the added benefit of utility; looking less like a suit orphan, it can be deployed as a blazer.

 

Sartorial Stereotypes: Beards

The Darwin

The Darwin man is a serious soul. A ‘transport entrepreneur’ (he sells vintage tricycles to commuters) and a ‘professional mixologist’ (he runs a pop-up bar on the river), he would never admit that he follows anything as frivolous as a ‘trend.’

His beard is a work of art to some, a trimmed hedge to many others. However, it would be foolish to deny that such a growth takes dedication, concentration and a good deal of patience. And don’t you dare call him a hipster; beards run in the blood.

“My dad had a beard” he says “when he was lecturing in East London.”

Despite being of intellectual stock, and not without resources of his own (his grandmother came from an old manufacturing dynasty), he doesn’t appear to believe in bourgeois Britain. He shuns benches and pub tables in favour of concrete steps and kerbs and he gave up an inherited Marylebone flat to live “amongst his people” in an ex-Local Authority building in Hackney.

He is famous for silently hating the broadness of the beard trend, and loathes the thought that someone will confuse him with one of the ‘bow tied, tattooed masses’ from the Kingsland Road.

This serious-minded stance doesn’t prevent him from strutting around in Thom Browne shirts, selvedge denim from Chimala and Brogue boots from Grenson.

The Tsar

The Tsar is a man of antique grace.

Though somewhat sartorially defiant and resistant to trends, he was ‘jolly excited’ when the whole ‘beard thing’ caught on, because he’d always craved a regal chinstrap of hair.

A bulky former rugby-playing man-mountain with a subscription to ‘The Chap’ and a wardrobe of three-piece tweed and flannel suits – most with double-breasted waistcoats – he embodies the sartorial zeitgeist that marries tailored elegance and beery masculinity.

A barrister in chambers at Lincoln’s Inn, he tells hearty stories of ‘dodgy foreign clients, blackmail and backstabbing’ to eager young pupils and delights in swigging claret with his politically incorrect head of chambers over a roast at Simpsons-in-the-Strand.

He now has a sharp, Edwardian beard with a sensational moustache, waxed by Trumper at the tips, that recalls the fashion of European monarchs before the First World War.

The Zangief

The Zangief man is a big kid – a lamb in the form of a grizzly bear.

Being something of a programming genius, he ‘hasn’t had to grow up’ and face the realities that others must subject themselves to, which makes him a bit of a softy.

A late-night loner and gamer, he found easy work in a Silicon-roundabout startup and took the 10% equity offer as a bit of a gimmick, and couldn’t care less; as long as he earned enough to pay for his ‘insane’ 70” flatscreen, Sonos soundsystem and Star Wars collectibles.

His introverted, geeky and naive nature is belied by his impressive frame, his severe haircut and his substantial facial hair, which he modeled on the Street Fighter character Zangief – ‘he makes beards look awesome!’

With his striped t-shirts from J Crew and his rolled up chinos from TopMan he appears trendier than he actually is, and is often surprised to be approached by women he considers to be above him.

The Beckham

The Beckham man is a man of trends. A dishy insurance broker with a penchant for cheap girls and expensive watches, if it’s ‘in’, you can guarantee he is already doing it. And despite his previous rants about beards being ‘hilariously fugly’ and for ‘unsuccessful hippies’, he now has a facial growth of which he is proud.

Initially worried that his youthful looks would be obscured beneath the uneven tufts of a scraggly beard, it was when David Beckham wore it to Wimbledon last year, with his neat blazer and high-and-tight haircut that really sold it. He discovered the girls in the office gushing over the pictures saying how they had ‘always wanted to date a man with a beard.’

Bollocks, thought the Beckham man.

Still, since then, he has carefully cultivated a facial growth something between that of a 17th century French cavalier and an Acqua di Gio model. An awkward mix of contrived overgrowth and meticulous trimming.

He loves mixing this look with his trademark three-piece Reiss suits and monkstraps from JM Weston.

 

Indochino Suit Review

If there is one constant between all of the online tailoring houses I have reviewed, it is that none of them have failed to impress me with the internationality of their businesses and the speed within which they can fulfill customer orders.

If you were to ask a small, charming country tailor in, say, Tunbridge Wells to make you a suit, they’d tell you – rightly – that “it won’t be done in a hurry.”

There’s the fabric to order, and that takes a bit of time. Then, there’s the tailor’s trip to the fairways of the Algarve that forces a small delay. Then, of course, there’s the fittings and second fittings. They also need the right people on the job and, this being a cottage industry, we have to “be mindful of their schedules.”

“Quality takes time” they chuckle, holding their hip, straightening their faded portrait of the Duke of Windsor and staring off into the sunshine of this vast, incomprehensible, rocket-speed world.

Indeed it does, but it would seem the actual time required to achieve this quality is lessening. As is the significance of borders on the map and distances over oceans.

In my suit reviews, I have dealt with ambitious companies as close as London and far away as Australia – with everything in between, including Thailand, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland.

And so to Indochino. Founded in Canada in 2008, Indochino are one of the most ubiquitous online tailors around, thanks to their highly successful advertising and marketing campaigns. They are not, as their name suggests, utilizing Vietnamese or Cambodian tailors. Instead, like many companies, they have found a unique team of tailors based in China.

The process

Indochino has one of the sleekest websites of all the online tailors. The interface is post-Apple white n’grey – clean as a whistle.

You navigate to ‘Suits’ and choose one of the 30-odd options available. This is essentially your fabric choice, not the style of suit.

The choice of fabrics isn’t huge – and it’s also undeniably conservative, although there isn’t a man-made fibre in sight. You won’t find red wool herringbones or sky blue window checks either. This is boardroom-friendly territory and the palette doesn’t move beyond grey and dark blue – there’s also a few black options.

The suits range from a lower end ‘Essential’ collection, starting at $449 for a two-piece to ‘Premium’, which is a distance of roughly $400.

I chose a ‘Goldfinger’ suit; a light grey pick-and-pick three piece, similar in character to the one worn by Sean Connery in the Bond film of the same name (although his was actually a subtle Glen check). I opted for a one-button with a notched-lapel and a six-button single-breasted waistcoat.

The measuring process is very easy and has video guides to follow. Like all other online tailors, the measurement accuracy is your own deal, so it makes sense to find a helpful person familiar with a tape measure.

The product

The suit itself arrived, neatly packaged in a large box. The folding had been carefully done, which meant minimal creasing.

I didn’t have a sample of the fabric before selecting it, although swatches are available, the cost of which is redeemable against purchases.

Given this is one of their entry level fabrics, I was quite impressed with the quality. It’s not at the Vitale Barberis or Holland & Sherry level, but it has a pleasant hand to it.

I was also impressed with suit’s quality of construction. For the price, it was quite unexpected and, given that other suits I have reviewed have cost more, I would say that this suit is close to representing the best value in this regard. The buttonhole stitching is carefully done and there is a delicacy to the work that is normally missing at this price point.

Details of particular note are the elegant pocket flaps, the substantial horn buttons, the fine curve on the lapel and the quality lining. The initials are a little vanity, but it’s worth noting they weren’t an extra cost.

The jacket is ever so slightly slim on the hips, causing it to pull when buttoned, but I prefer it this way. The shoulders are fairly impressive for an online MTM and despite a little pulling on the back – one of my bodily quirks – there is little shoulder divoting as a result.

I am very pleased with the height of the jacket’s gorge and I am relieved it doesn’t look quite so short as the very fashion forward jackets on the website.

The lapels are, ironically, far thinner than the new fashion for enormous Dumbo-flaps but I think they work well with the rhythm of the suit.

The trousers are good. I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to the lower half, but despite the odd location of the side adjusters, they are very comfortable and very elegant. The turn-ups are slightly out of proportion to the pockets and the lapel – they should be a little taller – but I don’t mind so much.

The waistcoat (yet again) was the least delightful thing about the suit, but in of itself isn’t too bad; the chest is a little too big and is also a little too long for my personal tastes. I have tightened the buckle to the maximum setting as I prefer waistcoats to look too tight than too loose. I might get the chest sorted and an inch taken off the length at a later date.

It’s a bit disappointing that yet again, an online tailor hasn’t got the waistcoat quite as right as the jacket. Many high street stores have managed to produce far better fitting waistcoats, so it must be something to do with the block being used.

That said, the grumbles with the ‘vest’ are minor.

Fit: 8.5 out of 10 – this was very pleasing. As a whole, the suit comes together very well. The shoulders, so easy to get wrong and so hard to change, are a lovely shape. They’re also adjusted slightly for my sloping upper body, so the arms don’t sit awkwardly on them. There are some minor shoulder divots, slight pulling on the fabric and some issues with the waistcoat, but it’s way better than an off the rack suit.

Fabric: 8 out of 10 – better than expected, and works with the jacket to produce some lovely shapes on the waist, lapels and shoulders.

Service: 7 out of 10 – fairly quick, although not as lightning fast as some. This was ordered at the end of February and arrived a few days ago, so about the same length of time as Massimo Dutti Personal Tailoring but several weeks slower than Tailor4Less. There was some ‘double checking’ of measurements required (to be completed in 48 hours) which was a little annoying, but apart from that the service was professional and friendly.

Quality of finish: 8.5 out of 10 – up there with Massimo Dutti. Quality control on the stitching and buttonholes is of note and the jacket feels robustly made; some jackets can feel a bit flimsy, particularly when the material isn’t a heavy tweed, but this felt like the proverbial VW passenger door.

Overall satisfaction: 8.5 out of 10 – very strong from Indochino. I must say I am pleasantly surprised, as the website images – which are more Topman than tailoring – do not do it justice. I had expected a very trendy looking suit, albeit with the right fit around the chest and shoulders. But I am delighted to report that this is precisely the ‘Goldfinger’ suit I was looking for. There might be some very minor changes but considering how well quality of finish, value for money and fit marry up here, it’s fair to say that Indochino are a contender to be reckoned with.

Silly Suits

“That’s a silly suit!” a client exclaimed to me recently, observing a long-haired rake, reclining languorously in a chair in a light grey suit with a thick white window check.

We had been looking around to capture the attention of the overworked waiting staff, and the rake was difficult to ignore. The rest of the room was a forest of dark grey and blue, so uniform that it looked like a gigantic canteen for household staff.

In the early spring sunshine, they looked like moody grizzly bears; unprepared for the end of their hibernation. The rake, by contrast, looked like a flower, poking out from dull rocks.

“I don’t dislike patterned suits” the client qualified “but that’s just too silly.”

Extravagantly patterned suits seem to evoke such responses. Men are naturally sartorially conservative. And when it comes to suits, this conservatism is amplified.

Men may happily smirk roguishly in a pink shirt or a Madras tie with the confidence of a Parisian dandy, but bring on a bold chalkstripe or an aggressive Glen check and he turns into a Victorian accountant.

Such a dour retreat has no place next to the daisies and tulips of springtime, the season of optimism. This is the time to bring out the spectacular in suiting. It’s time to get silly.

Giant Houndstooth

The giant houndstooth suit is one of the most aggressive suit patterns.

Unlike smaller houndstooth patterns, which look like a solid colour even from a short distance, the giant version is visually arresting, even dazzling. It brings to mind E Berry Wall and ‘dudism’; it’s the sort of pattern you imagine seeing on an Edwardian racing trainer or a latter day Sherlock Holmes. It has a snappy, cheeky quality that – in the impressive quantity of a three-piece suit – gives one the appearance of a dandy academic.

The best combination is brown with navy blue, as worn by Instagram overlord DanielRe. Wear with plain shirts and plain or club stripe ties. Add a pair of chestnut Oxfords and a cream silk pocket square to finish.

Bold Window Check

There’s no point in beating about the bush with a “subtle window check” – you need to boldly go where no check has gone before.

Bold window checks aren’t just the preserve of Tom Ford models, either. Sure, you are going to be as unusual and unexpected as an article listing celebrities who look better after plastic surgery, but there’s a particular art to wearing such a creation.

Firstly, pick a conservative background colour such as mid-grey or navy. Also, try and choose a fabric that has a double check, or an overcheck.

Next, get the trousers tapered and shortened so they have no break, provide a glimpse of ‘mankle’ and then wear with plain or tassel loafers – but not driving shoes. This is a fun, sunshine-and-laughter suit that should be served with Negronis and worn with Persol sunglasses. As such, traditional treatment (trouser break and covering laces, worn with Oxford shoes and a stiff upper lip) will create a slightly embarrassed, overly eccentric impression.

Indulge in plain white, pale pink and light blue shirts. Keep the tie and pocket square patterns small and colour blend with the suit.

Big Chalkstripe

“Pinstripes are for boys, chalkstripes are for bankers” a chap once told me.

Of course, he was a banker. I actually think the opposite is true.

The pins and chalks are a very English affair, and many people strongly connect them to the City, Wall Street and banking. But it is pins that have taken over as the uniform of the Square Mile – despite what the banker chap told me – as they are, even from a close distance, barely distinguishable from a plain weave. Few upstarts working for the elite of financial services have the cajones to wear chalks in the boardroom.

Chalks are often mistakenly referred to as pins, due to their being visible from a safe, Pitti-pap distance. And they can be very thick indeed.

Navy and charcoal are the most common backgrounds for chalkstripes, but the key to chalks is to wear them wide; the narrower the stripe, the more conservative the suit. I am personally not a fan of narrow stripe suits, and prefer at least half an inch between the stripes, but the really outrageous stripes that are likely to produce scoffs of “Silly!” from my client are at least an inch thick.

Wear carefully, with small check shirts and small patterned ties but, on occasion, go mad on the pocket square. Paisley always looks sensational next to stripes.

Bringing Sexy Back

I recently read some clickbait nonsense on Buzzfeed. It was so provocatively titled that it reminded me of those appalling articles that are consistently recycled in women’s magazines, promising the reader the priceless secrets to “younger looking skin”, “endless love”, “indestructible self-confidence” and “mind-blowing sex.”

This particular title offered “25 suit hacks that will make any man look instantly sexy.”

Yes, I added the emphasis. I did so because the promise is not only wildly optimistic, it’s also inaccurate and utterly misleading. Further investigation of these hacks also reveals that they are not, for the most part, ‘hacks’ – which are meant to be lesser-known, efficiency-gaining strategies and peculiar techniques – but simply playschool guidance on how to put on clothes properly.

“Oh for crying out loud” I hear you yawn, “It’s Buzzfeed, man!”

That it may be, but in my view, it’s posts like these that infest social media and propagate so-called ‘knowledge’ in place of genuine advice that is less about ‘hacking’, flattery and overpromising and more about how one might work within the constraints of what is real, what is possible and what is not.

Besides, a lot of the advice is just plain wrong.

Exhibit A is Suit Hack 5; “Pinstripes on a suit should be subtle, unless you are going for the Halloween mobster look.”

Right. I imagine Michael Brown (pictured above) from Chittleborough & Morgan only wears his in late October anyway.

Exhibit B is the recommendation of Windsor knots (vile) and Exhibit C is recommending that braces be considered “if you don’t feel like wearing a belt” – and not the other way around.

However, the big problem with this shopping list of ‘hacks’ is that it has nothing to do with making ‘any’ man ‘instantly’ sexier; just how is precisely measuring the width of the tie to match the width of the lapel sexy?

Sexiness is a state of mind, but it’s also a state of body. To a much smaller extent, it’s a state of dress. It’s unfortunate, but if you don’t feel sexy, a suit isn’t going to magically change you, no matter how expensive and skilled a tailor you visit.

And dispensing advice regarding age-old customs of wearing tailoring – buttoning traditions, sleeve length, lapel width – is going to help even less.

For one thing, suits aren’t designed to be sexy. I remember a delicious comment by a fellow subject of the book I Am Dandy, Sean Crowley that decried how everything now was about ‘sexing’ things up. As a fan of traditional, interwar menswear – particularly heavy tweed suits – Sean is determined to keep his wardrobe ‘unsexy.’

However, it is possible to look sexy in a suit, it just has a lot less to do with the fusty customs of formal menswear.

Your body fills your suit – so keep it close to a size and shape you admire

It’s really very simple. If you want to look sexier in a suit, the first step is getting in shape. A suit isn’t a pair of Spanx, it’s not going to hide very much. If you don’t feel sexy out of a suit, chances are you won’t feel sexy in it. It’s possible, even probable, that you look sexier than you feel, but at the end of the day, suits look far better on a healthy man who is in fine physical fettle. It’s hard work, not a hack. Don’t expect miracles.

Go shopping with a girl (or man) who doesn’t find you attractive

This is more of a hack, but it actually works. If you’re clueless about clothing, and want to try on some suits that make you look better in front of someone you find attractive, take out a friend (not a partner) who has no emotional stake in your comfort and happiness beyond friendly familiarity. They’ll be honest with you. It helps if they are a bit of a dresser themselves or they like sharply dressed men. The main thing is that they will not be advising on the minutiae and technical side of the suit but the impression and image it creates; this is where you will find sexiness.

Go sockless in the summertime

Socks are about as sexy as a typewriter. They’re practically unavoidable in the chillier months, but you really don’t need to wear them when it’s 30 degrees outside, even with a suit. If you ensure your summer suits have tapered trousers and finish above your shoes (preferably loafers) with no break, a glimpse of tanned ankle strongly conveys sexuality; it looks breezy and confident and removes any element of stiffness that the suit may create.

Slim trousers and slimmer, shorter jackets

There’s a reason why Tom Ford wants Daniel Craig to hulk out of his suits. Full length suit jackets and wide-leg trousers might be elegant and traditional but they hide almost every element of sexual appeal. If you are attempting to convey greater sexuality with your outfit, go for a slightly tighter fit around the waist, shoulders and legs.

Make sure this isn’t laughably slim; Craig’s jackets are perilously close to looking absurd, so ensure that you can breathe and button the top button without much trouble. Slim down the sleeves if you can, too and wear softer shoulders; they look much more sensual than heavily padded ones.

When the jacket is slightly shorter, you look a bit taller and, some say, younger. Just make sure that your rump is sufficiently covered.

The trouser seat should be comfortable, but try not to go for the whole two-pleat, big-top balloon; slim trousers show your leg shape, which connects the look to your body.

Avoid too much frill

This is tricky to describe, but essentially it’s about crafting a look that is elegant but not overly frilly. I have often experimented in the past with interestingly tied silk scarves, very puffy pocket squares or fussy colour and pattern combinations but this tends to distract from the most obvious window of sexuality: your face. As soon as it starts to look like a bit of a costume, clownishness starts to creep in and you might as well be wearing a big red wig; you may appear ‘cute’ or even, dare I say it, ‘adorable’ but never sexy.