In the latest issue of GQ (U.S. edition,) there is a fashion feature on buying suits for atypical body types. Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell of the Ultimate Fighting Championship featured as the “muscular” body type. Raja Bell of the Phoenix Suns (my favorite pro-basketball team – robbed by the NBA of a possible victory over the Spurs) represented the “tall and slim” type, and Horatio Sanz of Saturday Night Live was the “short and stout” guy.
I have the good fortune of being very regularly proportioned and average sized, but this type of article is pretty useful anyway. On Styleforum there was a discussion of this article, and one poster remarked that all the subjects looked pretty much the same in the “after” pictures, and then went on to comment that maybe that was the idea of the article, after all. Of course, there are suits that are meant to create a certain effect – Yohji Yamamoto’s suits are often cut to look boxy – and others meant to emphasize a certain characteristic – Hedi Slimane’s suits for Dior Slimane are slim and vertical. The majority of suits, however, are cut to provide a very classic masculine silhouette, albeit with much variation.
Choosing the right variation is what stymies a lot of men. There are men who simply do not know where to start. There are others who are in denial of what their bodies are really like. Others fall victim to herd mentality, buying whatever brand or cut is espoused by this expert or that. Brand X has an amazing amount of handiwork and Brand Y uses the finest fabrics. Never mind that neither fits you well at all.
Of course, getting good advice is not particularly easy either. Books like Alan Flusser’s “Dressing the Man” and “Style and the Man” are good references, but espouse the designer’s style a little too narrowly and too forcefully. The Giorgio Armani book published by the Guggenheim Museum are interesting, but not useful as a practical guide. The quality of advice in the style sections of men’s magazines varies widely. Online fora like www.styleforum.net and www.askandyaboutclothes.com offer an opportunity for posters to ask questions, but while there is often very good advice to be had, the members of fora are subject to groupthink, and you might end up looking like Colonel Sanders if you take some of the advice about traditional American clothing (called “trad” on these fora) a little too seriously.
Ultimately, I think that the best advice is still given in the flesh, by someone knowledgeable – a very good salesperson, or a personal shopper. This will be the case until someone can virtually step into the room with you, and tell you that you are only deluding yourself if you think that wearing a size 34 pair of trousers gives you a 34” waist. Nevertheless the guidelines that I give people who consult me are the same online and off.
1. Fit is the most important thing. Materials and construction take rather distant second and third places. Provided that the suit is at least reasonable quality in both other categories, if you have a well fitting suit, it will look good.
2. Work with your body type, not against it. If you are thin, you are thin. If you are fat, you are fat. You may be in perfect shape (in which case you should shut up.)
3. Don’t go bespoke until you have a very well defined personal style. You don’t want to play designer until you are ready. And work with a tailor with whom you can be completely honest.
4. (When buying a suit off the rack,) don’t look at the label. You may surprise yourself if you stay open-minded.
5. Don’t worry about the numbers game. Super 100000 means nothing. Some of the best English cloths in the world aren’t super anything. Let your eyes and hands be the judge
6. Don’t be afraid to touch the suit.