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.

 

Cotton, Linen And Wool Suits

Casual suits are a summer staple for the well turned out man and with summer just around the corner for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, I thought I’d talk about why suits made out of cotton and linen are considered to be more casual. Specifically, I want to run through some of the difference between suits made from cotton, linen and wool.

However, before we jump into that, have a look at the comparison pic below of me wearing linen blend, wool and cotton suits.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that my face is blurred in the left picture and the second thing is probably that I have no head in the picture on the right. And while I might be trying to be funny I am trying to make a point: aside from that you’re probably not noticing all that much difference.

All three pictures were taken from between two to five metres away and I really do believe from that distance the average person walking past you on the street won’t notice anything other than the fact you’re wearing a suit.

I mean sure, the cotton suit is a bit stiffer and the linen suit a little less structured, but the first point I’d like to make is that a suit is a suit. Suits present a particular image in the minds of most people and, walking down the street, chances are those who aren’t fashion nerds like you and I will probably not notice the difference between your navy, cotton blazer and your navy, wool suit jacket.

What I’d like you to keep in the back of your mind is that all three of my suits are tailored in a ‘soft’ way: lightly structured with unpadded shoulders; they’re also all in shades of blue. Something I’ll come to at the end of this post.

Finish

Despite what I’ve talked about above there are differences between the three cloths and the first and most noticeable is the finish. When I say finish I mean the way the fabric looks.

Wool is sleeker and shinier than the other two fabrics and adds that classic sharpness you expect from your suit. It also means it looks more ‘formal’ or business-like.

Linen is ‘slubby’. It’s got all these little lines and imperfections running through it so that it looks the messiest of the bunch. Having said that, some would say linen has more character, which basically means it looks more worn-in straight out of the box.

Cotton is generally quite matte and heavy looking compared to the other cloths; I generally find cotton to be woven the most tightly. It’s also the only one that ages gracefully in my opinion; that slight fading along the edges lends cotton suits character the more you wear them.

Drape

All three suits drape differently; drape being how the suit hangs off your body.

Wool drapes nicely and shapes to the body due to its elasticity. It will also pull back into shape far more than the other two cloths. Basically it’s just right for making a garment like a suit, and hence why it is the main fabric used in suit making.

Linen has poor elasticity and therefore does not stretch in the way wool does. It also tends to wrinkle – due to the lack of elasticity. Most people know linen as a wrinkly fabric and this is something to take into account when purchasing a linen suit. It is, however, often woven quite loosely and therefore is quite light and comfortable to wear.

Cotton also has poor elasticity and is generally the most tightly woven fabric. The combination of those two means cotton probably drapes the poorest out of all three fabric types – it just tends to be a bit stiff. Some tailors recommend cutting a cotton suit slightly larger to give you a more comfortable range of motion. Cotton suits also tend to wrinkle over the course of the day.

Why drape and finish suggest casualness

Imagine a business suit. You’re probably thinking of a sharp navy number or maybe a sleek grey one. Maybe you’re even thinking of a boxy, silky-looking, charcoal, power suit worn by a politician. You’ve basically answered the original question in this post: why are linen and cotton suits considered to be more casual?

Neither of those cloths have the same slick finish a wool suit has. Moreover, both types drape a little differently to wool with some wrinkling and some stiffness involved. Together these aspects differentiate cotton and linen suits just enough.

Some might even say that suits made from linen or cotton are sloppier than suits made from wool. I don’t necessarily mean that as a negative; perhaps you’d prefer to think of it as wool suits being sharper than suits made from the former two cloths. Either way, you’d agree that we’re moving towards what we might define as casual – clothing that’s a bit more relaxed.

Cut and colour

I haven’t forgotten the two things I asked you to keep in the back of your mind: cut and colour.

Regardless of the cloth used, a suit can be cut more casually by having natural or unpadded shoulders and being built more ‘softly’ using a lighter canvas or no canvas at all. These aspects again take away from some of the sharp lines that define a business suit; softening up that silhouette lends to casualness.

It should also be noted that bold colours and lines are also more casual. In the first picture in this post both my cotton and linen suit are in a brighter tone of blue and that will lend them an air of casualness.

My point here is that cut and colour can be as important as fabric choice when going for a casual suit or jacket.

Summer Linen: The Stuff of Legend

Linen, a cloth which truly does have its own unique allure. My own personal love affair with the stuff started long before I became interested in sartorial menswear; I remember distinctly that I used to don some bizarre linen chinos in my early teens during the summer in an attempt to look edgy, matched with ghastly lumberjack checked shirts of the sort that appeals to confused and rebellious adolescents.

Today, with several years of engagement in sartorial style under my belt, I wear linen rather differently, but the underling appeal of linen cloths for summer has not changed. It is perhaps the quintessential summer cloth, at once debonair and dishevelled. There’s just something about a well-worn linen suit that conjures a highly romanticised view of tailored dress; a blend of Brideshead Revisited, the French Riviera, Expressionist painter and early twentieth century Bohemian, good quality linen tailoring creates an image of a man who offers the epitome of nonchalant, characterful and expressive summer style.

Although I have written previously on the benefits of cotton and linen blends (this being something that I entirely stand by), in the heat of July and August when the heat is at its most intense, there are only two adequate options for tailored clothing; the lightest wool frescos of seven woven to eight ounces in weight, or similarly lightweight, open-weave linens.

Linens have perhaps the greatest variation in quality of all commonly used tailoring fabrics, but in my experience, although more expensive and tightly woven linens press and launder better than cheaper variants, the tendency to crease incessantly during use remains the same regardless. That’s just how linen behaves. For this reason, linen tends not to make for durable business dress – it doesn’t remain crisp enough to provide a professional appearance suited to most business environments and quite obviously linen suits are not ideal for long-term commuting.

This tendency to crease, combined with its floatiness, is however what gives linen its irresistible rakish charm for casual summer dress. Cut in a two piece suit it makes for a highly chic and relaxed lounge suit for summer soirees, and should be your quintessential port of call for luxurious holidays and impromptu weekend getaways. Likewise, there should be no end to your collection of linen blazers tucked away in the wardrobe for balmy summer days.

Linen gives the opportunity to wear something which offers a great variety of colour and texture. Smooth linen and silk blended twill makes for luxurious suits, chunky linen herringbones or coarse basketweaves offer great mid-summer jacketing cloths and for the hottest climate, a pair of unlined plainweave linen trousers (such as those I’m wearing below) are the ultimate in convenient summer tailoring: light, airy and breathable. I wear such trousers all the time and they’re so comfortable in the heat they may as well be shorts.

Similarly, there’s a real argument for suggesting that casual linen shirting provides the ultimate in chic holiday or even slick weekend style, matched with chinos or even (as I prefer) the aforementioned unlined linen trousers. Although the crumpled structure of linen is not something that will appeal to everyone, there is something effortless in its delightful floatiness that lends movement and a sense of breeziness to linen garments. Loosely cut shirts work particularly well, this being something I only just discovered as of a few weeks ago – having only ever really worn lightweight cotton poplins and oxfords in spring and summer – a decision I now regret, given how effortlessly dapper my linen shirting is proving to be.

Indeed, wearing linen garments slightly more loosely than you might otherwise is the best way to channel this sense of suavity, given linen’s floaty structure. If you don’t give the cloth the room to drape and float a little, the effect is lost. Avoid narrow or close-cut linen trousers like the plague for this reason, ensure that the legs drape spaciously and wear with turn-ups to add a little weight to the trouser bottoms to aid their elegant ebb and flow around your ankles as your swagger down the seafront.

I’d likewise suggest that with the exception of formal morning dress waistcoats (which are often cut in linen to save on weight and density in the summer sun), don’t bother with investing in waistcoats cut from linen; the cloth simply rides up and creases terribly following the natural shape of the torso, because it has no room to flow or drape around the chest and waist. Opt for generously proportioned half-lined and lightly structured summer blazers and trousers for the most comfortable ensembles.

That’s all there is to it really. Linen is a real luxury to wear in the summer and its a luxury which is distinctly affordable. Throw a linen suit on in the morning with an open collar and swan around town all afternoon long. Its cool (in more ways than one), comfortable and supremely chic.

 

Summer Dinner Suiting

Summer dinner suiting poses an interesting wealth of possibilities and given that I will be partaking in my final formal dinner as an Oxford undergraduate next week, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying exploring some potential ways to spice up my dinner suit for the occasion. With this in mind, this late 30s fashion plate is rather intriguing. Depicted, as you can see, are a pair of extremely dapper and technically correct yet nonetheless distinctive dinner suits, which present unusual possibilities for distinctive summer dinner suiting.

Let us deal with the suit on the right first, as its the more conventional of the two. Here we find a shawl collared, cream dinner jacket, cut with a relatively natural, but broad shoulder, a heavily expressed chest and slim sleeves; a very elegant combination. The jacket is cut as a four by four double-breasted (the top two buttons can be seen, but the bottom two are evidently obscured by the wearer’s stance with broad peaked lapels, faced in cream satin as is conventional. Conventional lightweight black trousers finish the ensemble. Cream dinner jackets for warmer climes seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years, but this illustration attests to the elegance of the look. Not only is cream a practical choice because it remains cooler than dark cloths in the heat, it is a distinguished choice and cream dinner jackets traditionally offer the opportunity to experiment with cloth choices. Linen or linen and mohair blends, tropical weight wools or even raw silks are all options for a cream dinner jacket; featherweight, breathable, luxurious and distinctly different to conventional black Barathea, they offer the opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.

So too does the possibility of wearing a double-breasted dinner jacket. Although you might initially think that this is an illogical choice for summer, but if cut in lightweight, breathable cloths then the issue of extra wrap and extra weight should be negated. A double-breasted dinner suit can be the perfect way to make a slightly different statement; the look was first popularised in the late 30s/early 40s providing the opportunity to channel some classical elegance if one so desires and it is just that little bit different to the relatively common and potentially hum-drum single breasted two-piece dinner suit.

The suit on the left, takes a more unusual low two by two double-breasted shape, cut in a French navy Barathea or possibly a tonic wool or wool and mohair blend. The lapels are cut with a low gorge, gentle belly and a very broad shape. They make a real statement, helped by the welcome addition of a red carnation. Evidently, the suit is intended to be a statement piece. Although it is common to see dinner suits cut in a very dark navy as opposed to a black, French blue is (in my experience) unheard of. In this respect, this suit could easily be considered incorrect or a dinner dress faux-pas. It is saved however, by a technically correct cut; with satin faced lapels, faced buttons and pocket bindings. I’d suggest that this suit presents a welcome innovation for summer. The colour remains dark, but is more summery in tone and a more practical choice than black, which will absorb more heat than blue.

Both gentlemen wear the full-cut, heavily draped trousers of the era, something which can easily be modernised with a slightly slimmer cut or more tapered leg. Note that it is not correct to wear turn-ups with dinner trousers. It is thought that the addition of a turn-up is too business like and spoils the clean line of the trouser for formal evening dress. A single strip of silk is worn down the side seam of the trousers for black tie, a pair of satin strips being reserved for dress trousers worn with a tailcoat.

Buttons are faced in satin, as are lapels. A dinner suit traditionally also has the pocket binding and outer side-seams of the trousers faced in satin too. Both dinner suits are cut with horizontal bound hip-pockets, rather than jetted pockets (pockets with flaps). This is technically the correct pocket formation for dinner suits and has its roots in the genesis of the dinner jacket as a form smoking jacket – the lack of flaps allows for the wearer to rest his pipe, tobacco or indeed his hands in the pockets with ease, allowing one to be as relaxed as possible in what was originally a relatively informal garment.

Both are wearing a deeply pointed spread collar on their dinner shirts, this being something which I’d recommend. Winged collars are best kept for wearing with evening tailcoats and heavily starched dress shirts. I personally feel that they can look a little antiquated with modern dinner suits and many modern off-the-peg winged collar dinner shirts lack the structure and starch to retain their proper rigid shape. The particularly deep collars on display in this illustration are of course of their era, but nonetheless look rather sharp, and the modern equivalent classic Windsor collar, with no cut-away shape is the best option for dinner dress today. It will close over your tie, and allow it to sit correctly, poking out from the centre of the collar on each side. Cut away collars show too much of the bow-tie as it sits around the neck. It is also worth noting that both these dinner shirts have their plackets covered, for a cleaner appearance.

The gentleman on the left is wearing a slim, rectangular batwing bow-tie, whereas the gentleman on the right is wearing the more conventional hourglass shape. There is no right or wrong here, just a couple of different possibilities. The batwing bow tie is certainly more retro and produces a more angular shape which will compliment some silhouettes better than others, so I’d suggest simply experimenting with one if you’re intrigued.