The default uniform of office worker drones, barely changed since the time of Beau Brummell, the suit can understandably feel like a horsehair-canvassed straightjacket on self-expression. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
While what you see most of the time on the commute might seem stale, designers are constantly tinkering with the suit’s silhouette and styling on the catwalk and in boutiques to keep it fresh. Below are seven contemporary moves to bring your tailoring into the 21st century and out of the 18th.
Warning: depending on what you do for a living, some may be NSFW…
Do Things By Half-Zip
Nodding to both the athleisure and seventies trends without coming over too The Damned United, a half-zip top is a halfway house between a full-on tracksuit and bog-standard jumper that can still double as a goalpost.
“Half-zip tops are brilliant as way of playing down the formality of a more tailored jacket or coat and adding a sporty element,” says Luke McDonald, stylist at online personal shopping service Thread. “They style brilliantly under single-breasted coats, macs or even a casual suit jacket, so long as it’s not too slim.” Why is figure-hugging tailoring a problem? Because if there’s not enough room under it, then you’ll get ugly bunching.
A knitted version is more refined than a PE lesson cotton-poly blend; too chunky and it’ll look like you bought it from a camping store to wear at your kid’s football matches.
To dramatically switch up your suits or separates, jack in your jacket altogether.
“Try swapping your blazer for a fine knit cardigan,” suggests Daniel Rhone, personal shopper at Selfridges. “It gives you some of the structure while at the same time being less overly formal.” He advocates a shawl-collar cardigan, which is practically a jacket with a ‘lapel’. Or try a so-called Milanese knitted blazer, which further interweaves the two categories.
For something more contemporary, exchange your standard-issue jacket for something uniform in a different sense. “The bomber jacket is the perfect alternative to a tailored jacket,” says Rhone. Just keep it contemporary: fitted and clean, as opposed to boxy and unflattering. And wool is smarter than nylon.
NB: You can be too polished though. “Where a leather bomber can be quite difficult to pull off dressed up, suede is less overcooked,” says Rhone. “Just make sure you check the weather forecast.”
Flying in the face of pretty much everything you’ve ever been told about a suit’s fit, tailoring – on the catwalk, at least – has of late been getting boxier and baggier than an Amazon logistics hub. Fashion, hey? Gotta love it.
Before you unlearn all you have learnt, young shoulder-padawan, bear in mind that this is very much a fashion world thing. Rock up to most workplaces, even business-casual offices, in an exaggeratedly proportioned suit of armour and you will stand out in the worst way: sideways.
Outside of the Balenciaga show and in the real world, oversized tailoring tends to work best when it’s softly constructed from drapey fabrics, and casually styled with tees and jumpers. What Giorgio Armani has been nailing since the eighties, basically.
Avoid the cantilevered shoulders look, it’s a tad Talking Heads – or maybe that should be “shrinking”.
Divide And Conquer
Suit separates provide more interest and more options; however, they also provide more opportunity for inadvertently killing your vibe.
“The key to separates is mixing up both the texture and colour, so for example a blue blazer with a pale chambray shirt and white denim jeans offers a great mix,” says Thread’s McDonald.
Patterns will raise your interest level and game from block-colour basic, but squeeze too many into an outfit and you’ll only cramp your style. “If you’re messing with patterns then leave it to one item,” says McDonald. “Don’t do multiple unless you know exactly what you’re doing. So if you have a check blazer in grey, stick to a solid burgundy roll neck and navy chinos rather than attempting a second pattern.”
Check yourself before you wreck yourself. But only once, mind.
The athleisure movement has seen sporty details such as drawstring waists and cuffed ankles crop up on tailored trousers, while wool is being benched in favour of athletic fabrics such as jersey. John Lewis has even released an ‘athleisure suit’ this season.
A drawstring waist is more under the radar than cuffed ankles, but you probably still don’t want to draw attention to it. Casually untucked polos, tees and shorter-length, soft-collared shirts will team more harmoniously than a Jermyn Street button-up and tie combo.
Sweats-ready jersey also softens the dressiness of tailoring, so sub it in to take the edge off a formal outfit or smarten up a very casual one. And restrict the sweatshirt material to one half of your body (most likely the jacket – joggers could be incongruous with a blazer), otherwise you’ll veer a little too close to a tracksuit.
Gilet The Smackdown
Uprooting the established layering order, wearing a gilet under your tailored jacket is as Italian as negronis and gesticulation.
“You can get away with adding a gilet to most suits that you would wear to the office,” insists McDonald. “A gilet with a V-neck is easier to style, because it mimics the line of a waistcoat. And you want to stick to a contrasting colour: don’t match your jacket.”
Indeed, contrast is the appeal as much as warmth, whether tonal or texture: glossy nylon against relatively matte wool. That said, bodywarmers in less out-of-place fabrics such as wool, corduroy and suede also abound. But avoid excess bulk and outdoorsiness: you’re not doing gorpcore.
“Colour-wise, navy, grey and olive green are most versatile, but if you want to emphasise the casual element, go for something bolder like burgundy,” adds McDonald.
Throw In Shades
Recent seasons have expanded the suit palette with primary and even pastel tailoring. But there’s a reason why most tailoring is conservative: the more it deviates from the navy and grey norm, the less versatile and always-appropriate it is, and the greater its potential to be a wardrobe white elephant.
If you’re branching out, then start with dark shades of forest or olive green, or burgundy. Brown is also relatively low-key but still swervy, while camel is impactful without being too tricky. Keep it to just a jacket, mind.
As your suit (or jacket) is a statement, it’s a good idea to keep your shirt and tie muted: plain white and a dark, block colour, say. Accessorising with lighter or darker tones of your suit’s hue can also work well – but maybe not if it’s millennial pink.