After a considerably length critique on the suit and its history, I thought we should explore ways of dressing down the suit. That way, we can feel smart enough to feel important and look like we care for our dress, whilst retaining an edge that highlights our idiosyncrasies. This flair is normally apparent in the little details, though there are more obvious ways of creating a relaxed appearance and with some consideration; we can still look as good as when we are dressed to the nines.
Yesterday, Ben’s excellent article on dressing down a traditional suit covered altering your complimenting pieces in order to create a more relaxed aesthetic. Today we will be looking to progress this even further; creating true smart casual looks through choice of suit or utilising the pieces separately.
How To Dress Down a Suit
Alter The Suit Material
If you are intent on sticking with the traditional full ‘suit’, there are ways you can create a dressed down appearance without breaking it up. The material of the suit – as much as any additions – is key, and can often indicate whether the gentleman is vying for an office or less serious vibe. For example, wearing a chino suit as opposed to a flannel one shows you are ready to have a drink outside the office, rather than swig from your flask when your CEO has his back turned.
Suit materials which give off a much more relaxed impression include light cotton, chino and seersucker – the backbone of spring/summer tailoring. Throw on one of these suits with a casual denim or chambray shirt and you have a sharp, easy to wear look that shows you are ready to relax.
A brighter palette also exudes a much more laid back attitude, drawing parallels to trends on the catwalk, rather than eternal style where monochromes and staples rule the show. Suit colours such as cherry red, sky blue or even white are perfect for the spring/summer seasons, whilst you can transition to autumn/winter by substituting them for burgundy, olive and camel versions. By pairing an olive suit with a bright orange tee [shown below], or even a chunky jumper, you create enough colour and disparity in fabric to show your jovial side.
Lose The Blazer
Before we get into using the suit as separates, this is another way in which you can utilise your traditional suit and still create a more relaxed outfit. By simply losing the blazer, you cut the suit in half, meaning that it instantly doesn’t look so smart or ‘dressy’. If you going out after work for some drinks with your colleagues (or a potential mate), this is the perfect way to dress down the whole look in an instant.
Simply lose the tie, unbutton a couple of buttons on your shirt and throw on another jacket over the top. Here are a few suggestions:
- Leather jackets work well as they transform your whole look and give it a harder edge. In particular, brown, tan or black biker styles really clash with the natural aesthetic of your suit trousers – creating a real statement.
- Alter the colour. If you are wearing a black or navy suit, then why not try a grey or brown jacket respectively? This is the concept behind using separates; altering your top and bottom half instantly dresses down a look and stops it from looking ‘uniform’.
- Use knitwear. If it is cold or wet this is obviously not an option, but simply losing the blazer and layering knitwear over the top of your shirt can work just as well. You can choose chunky cable knit jumpers for a true relaxed vibe, or a fine gauge merino jumper/cardigan if you want to maintain a slim line and smart approach.
- Try an overcoat. An overcoat is a typically smart piece, but when you lose the blazer and layer it over a shirt or t-shirt it just becomes a statement coat. Try a camel version in order to really stand out against the crowd and create contrast against your neutral suit trousers. Macs and trench coats also work particularly well as substitutes for a blazer – again pick a bold colour if you really want to dress down.
Mix & Match
The traditional suit and the more dressed down alternative, share similar attributes. Strictly, they share the same fabric top and bottom, yet rules aside for a moment, wearing trousers and a jacket in different colours is a clear rejection of conventional formal dressing – perfect when trying to dress down the suit.
This attitude to treating your individual suit pieces as separates you mix and match is very Mediterranean in influence and a trend that seemed to develop from the catwalks and editorial campaigns of the major Italian brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and the like. It is something we don’t often see in Britain, even though it gives you endless possibilities and allows you to dress the look up or down depending on your preference.
Not only that, is will also revitalise your work wear and wardrobe. Suddenly, instead of being faced with the choice of a navy, grey, black or brown suit, you can pair your grey suit trousers with your black suit blazer to create a whole new look. Or how about navy trousers with a brown blazer? Breaking up the uniformity of the traditional two piece relaxes the look instantly, but that doesn’t mean it is not work appropriate – as long as you keep it fitted and create sharp, clean lines, you will always look smart. See the look book below for the perfect example [bottom left].
However, today we are here to show you how to dress down your typical work wear, so the three key components you can alter when adopting this approach are:
- Vary the colour. As mentioned above, feel free to mix and match your suit colours in order to create an entirely new look. Neutrals will anchor bold coloured pieces such as your sky blues, reds or whites, whilst also allowing you the option to coordinate with other neutrals. As long as you stay away from dark combinations such as navy and black, you can generally mix and match to your heart’s content.
- Vary the fit. In the look book below there is an example of varying the fit from top to bottom [middle row centre]. Here they opt for a fitted black blazer and pair it against relaxed fitting black trousers. This time they haven’t varied the colour but simply the fit – and it creates a whole new silhouette and look. Relaxing the trouser width is not only on trend for this year (with pleating and the 1920s trending) but it dresses down the ‘suit’ completely and even allows it to be teamed with sandals!
- Vary the material. In addition to varying the fit and the colour, you can also vary the fabric or material used. For example, why not try a cord blazer with flannel trousers? Or a tweed blazer with wool trousers? By mixing and matching your fabric choices, you not only create a more casual aesthetic, but create a clashing of textures that gives your ‘suit’ that extra dimension.
Example Outfit 1:
Example Outfit 2:
Example Outfit 3:
Example Outfit 4:
Using As Separates
Our final approach to dressing down the suit comes in the form of using each piece as an individual item in their own respect. Bringing the rules back for a moment, this method does not actually involve dressing down a suit. It is generally used in order to smarten up a more relaxed look rather than dressing down a formal one. However, we want to encourage you to get as much use as possible out of your tailoring, and by separating your suit it creates infinite possibilities when pairing with the rest of your wardrobe.
As the combinations you can create using just your trousers or just your blazer are almost endless, you will all have your own personal preference in regard to wearing each piece. With this in mind, I will provide a few general tips to consider when creating your outfits:
- The blazer is more versatile. The blazer can be dressed up and down easier than your suit trousers. You can throw on a blazer with jeans, chinos or even slim combat trousers and it just brings the whole look up a notch, rather than sticking out like a soar thumb.
- Dark plain jeans work best. When pairing jeans with something as formal as a blazer, you should look to keep your wash dark and your jeans fitted. Although denim will instantly relax the look, these styles still retain an essence of smart and will keep you looking sharp. In addition, try to stay away from over the top distressing, fading or other detailing on your jeans that would be better paired with your t-shirts.
- Switch the bottom. You can keep your shirt, tie and blazer combination very similar to what you would wear in the office, and then just switch the bottom half of your outfit to something more casual. In the look book below you can see this approach adopted in multiple looks [top centre, middle left & centre]. Here they have switched out the suit trousers for dark denim and slim chinos, creating a clashing of styles that simply relaxes the outfit and doesn’t look out of place.
- Suit Trousers. As mentioned above, the suit trousers are slightly harder to utilise on their own. You need to be wary of what you are wearing on your top half, as you cannot go too casual. Pairing suit trousers with a t-shirt on its own looks messy and uncoordinated; throw a blazer on over the top and suddenly the t-shirt becomes ironic and a great way of dressing down. Key pieces to utilise with suit trousers would be slim fitting knitwear, smarter casual shirts (such as chambray or gingham) and polo shirts.
- Layer over or under. Depending on what fit you like with your blazer, don’t be afraid to layer multiple pieces underneath or over the top of it. You can try tees, shirts, knitwear, waistcoats and even other jackets underneath a blazer [see look book bottom right], whilst you can also throw an overcoat, trench coat or even a leather jacket OVER your blazer if you want to create interesting layered looks.
Example Outfit 1:
Example Outfit 2:
Example Outfit 3:
So there you have it, a complete two part guide on how to dress down your suit and get much more use out of it on a daily basis. Now we want to hear your opinions and/or personal techniques:
- Have you ever considered utilising your professional suits in this way before?
- How do you dress down your full suit?
- Have you got any tips or techniques we missed that you like to use?
- How do you use your trousers and/or blazer separately?
- What is your favourite after work outfit and how do you modify your suit accordingly?
- Do you have a ‘go-to’ outfit that you use for events, parties or the dreaded ‘smart-casual’ invite?
Let us know in the comments below…