Relaxed as menswear has become over the last decade, there’s space in every man’s wardrobe for a damn good suit or two. Indeed, tailoring is best when you wear it because you want to, not because you have to. A suit you wear for your boss is a straitjacket; a suit you wear for yourself is liberating.
That’s why, counterintuitive as it might seem, right now is the best time there’s ever been to buy a suit. There has to be a reason you’d pick the fuss – and the expense – of a two-piece over a pair of jeans. Which means all manner of cuts, colours, patterns and god-knows-what-else that make wearing a suit more about having fun than looking like everyone else in your office.
The best suit in any wardrobe is the one that fits perfectly. Get the high street’s most polyester offering tweaked to your shape and it will always look sharper than that half-price-but-two-sizes-too-big Zegna number you swiped from eBay. Even if it means a static shock every time you shake hands.
That’s why bespoke suits have always been the tailoring pinnacle. A suit cut to your every bump and curve fits like a second skin. It’s also eye-wateringly expensive and (whisper it) normally quite boring. Savile Row is known for many things, but boat-rocking is not one of them. If it’s innovation you’re after, you need to look at where every tectonic shift in your wardrobe starts. Because while bespoke tailors offer something classic at the highest possible quality, designers are there to provide ideas you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.
The Case For A Designer Suit
Designers obsess over the suit. It embodies menswear, which makes it ripe for interpretations both classic and abusive. It’s been shrunk and scaled up; split up and added to; ripped apart and stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster. “Think of how Giorgio Armani relaxed tailoring in the 80s, or Thom Browne skinnified it in the 00s,” says Toby Standing, from men’s styling service Thread. “Those radical shifts in style and silhouette only come from designers, because they’re always looking for something new.”
But the best designer suits aren’t only for men on the bleeding edge. They also offer the kind of quality you don’t find on the high street, in fabric and construction. Or, at least, they can. “Sometimes you’re just paying for the name on the label,” says Standing. “But with the right brands, you get the best of both worlds – interesting design and impeccable craft.”
Suits are complicated and, predictably, the brands with experience tend to be the ones who’ve got the technique down pat. Great fit can be a matter of millimetres; great fabrics can take years to track down. All of which is to say that just because Gosha Rubchinskiy makes suits now, they’re not necessarily worth the designer price tag.
Instead, look to labels whose collections grew out of tailoring, rather than expanded to include it. Then inspect any potential new purchase for these five signs of quality.
What To Look For In A Designer Suit
Unless you’re in the military, your arm rarely hangs completely straight. The best designer suit brands counter that curve through your elbow by cutting one into your jacket sleeve. Straight arms are cheaper to make but they also bunch where your shoulder meets your chest. A sleeve that matches your body shape will stay smooth all the way to your wrist.
Between your suit’s outer fabric and inner lining is the canvas, a layer that gives the suit some body and ensures it drapes properly. It can either be stitched, which is complicated but means the jacket moulds to your body. Or it can be glued, which is quicker and cheaper but leads to a suit that feels wooden and shapeless. Designer money doesn’t necessarily mean the right kind of construction, so pinch the fabric between the buttons; if you can feel a layer that moves around, it’s built right.
The best suits have depth. Cheap suits look like they’ve been pressed flat, generally because they have. The giveaway is how the lapel flows down from shoulder to top button. On a well-made suit, the lapel and chest canvases are stitched together so that the lapel stands slightly proud. On a machine-made suit, they’re fused together and the lapel looks like it’s been ironed down.
A high armhole, sitting snug almost against your armpit, means the jacket pulls less when you lift your arms. The suit moves with you, rather than against you, so it fits better and feels more comfortable. Lower armholes do the opposite, but they also fit a wider range of body shapes. If the armhole finishes nearer your belly button than your nipples, then you’re paying for the label and not the craft.
Like the rest of your wardrobe, natural fabrics tend to trump anything with a ‘y’ in. Nylon and polyester wrinkle and breathe poorly, but you’ll often find them snuck into suit linings to help cut costs. You don’t need to go for silk, though; viscose or cupro behave like silk but without the price tag.
The Best Designer Suit Styles
Though synonymous with bespoke, the brands of Savile Row have long dabbled in ready-to-wear, too, offering their classic cuts and craftsmanship but without the waiting times, or credit card-melting price tags. Yet plenty of designer brands such as Tom Ford and Paul Smith have adopted the Savile Row style too. Sure, you’re not going to get quite the same fit as you would if Gieves & Hawkes’ master tailor measured you up himself, but you do get all the hallmarks of classic, British tailoring – a strong shoulder, suppressed waist and physique-enhancing shape – which also means your suit will look good for as long as you can stay the same size.
Tailoring’s other powerhouse takes a softer, more louche approach to the suit. Deeming English suits unbearable under a Mediterranean sun, its tailors tore out all the padding and structure to create a softer silhouette that dresses down as well as up. There are regional variations between Naples in the south and Milan up north, but as a rule of thumb, Italian designer suits tend to be the kind that transition effortlessly from beach to bar to boardroom. Although ideally not in that order.
The streetwear suit might seem a misnomer, but as the older generation slips into something more comfortable, their kids are kicking back in a most unexpected way. Brands like Pari’s AMI and New York’s Noah craft tailoring that slots as readily over a hoodie and under a parka jacket as it does a shirt and overcoat. With elements of Italian slouch and London street style, it’s an easy, breezy new way to wear tailoring.
Blame Gucci, but tailoring right now is a riot of silks, patterns and eye-popping colour. Creative director Alessandro Michele has jazzed up every red carpet over the last few years and that sense of anything going is now trickling down into other brands as well. Richard James does his in teal and pistachio, Folk has embraced burnt orange and Saint Laurent will do you one in a suitably La La Land green velvet.