There are some who’ve predicted the demise of the lounge suit and even those who say it’s already dead, but don’t get the menswear defibrillator just yet. This old-timer has a pulse. Its strength is its adaptability; the lounge suit is a constantly evolving menswear staple and should provide us with stylish formalwear options for some time yet. But how is this the case, and what exactly is it anyway?
Nowadays, the term ‘lounge suit’ is usually only seen on invitations, signalling a reasonably formal dress code – in plain English it translates as: a suit with a shirt and tie. However, this belies the real flexibility of the modern lounge suit. Depending on fabric choice, it can be at home in the boardroom, perhaps as a dapper grey flannel creation, or on the streets of a summer holiday destination in the guise of a cool tan linen suit.
This versatility has allowed the lounge suit to keep ticking over then, as Eric Musgrave, author of Sharp Suits, notes. “There will always be a significant number of men (and a few women) who choose to wear a tailored suit, who enjoy wearing a suit, and regard wearing a suit as an expression of their personalities. In his 1994 book The Englishman’s Suit, the Queen’s Savile Row couturier Hardy Amies wrote: ‘Men wear a suit because it’s the gear of the gentleman the world over’.”
It can’t be denied that the popularity of the common suit as we know it is dwindling, but it will never truly die – not according to these style dignitaries – down to its adaptability, lasting appeal and the simple fact that people still enjoy wearing them.
The lounge suit represents an expression of style, a preserver of standards and is still often seen as a sign of a gentleman. However, to avoid perishing it has become more suited to a casual look in line with wider men’s fashion trends, and is carving a fresh future for itself – as you’ll see in our comprehensive guide to the lounge suit below.
What Is A Lounge Suit?
As we said, ‘lounge suit’ is something of an umbrella term these days – it covers the ordinary two or three piece suit, single or double-breasted, that you wear to work, weddings or less formally at parties. Musgrave elaborates: “It indicates that a business suit, rather than cocktail attire or a casual jacket-and-trousers outfit is expected.”
Going back a few decades though, the lounge suit originated in Victorian times as relaxed wear to be worn at home – the formal work uniform of the frock coat would be put to one side for something more comfortable. It was also used for casual wear outdoors, at the coast or in the countryside, perhaps. A variation of the lounge suit, the tweed suit was one of the first examples of what was then called sportswear, providing a warm and weatherproof outfit for country sports.
From early in the 20th century the lounge suit was used increasingly for business. “A combination of wars and mass-production elevated the lounge suit to everyday wear and it was particularly well received in the corporate world,” Christopher Modoo, creative director of tailoring brand Kit Blake. “In the 21st century though, it is considered formal wear.”
That partly explains the decline in its fortunes, says Musgrave. “The suit is not ‘dying’ but, generally speaking, it continues to fall out of favour as dress styles change.” However, more relaxed styles and the development of the suit as a casual garment allow it to be worn in more social situations than ever.
When To Wear A Lounge Suit
Most commonly used for work, the suit’s crisp look sends a message about the wearer that’s hard to put across with anything more casual. Although some captains of industry have taken to jeans and T-shirts, the impact of the well-fitting suit is hard to beat, emphasising efficiency, reliability and confidence. However, you don’t need to go down the power move route with a pinstripe suit, white shirt and striped tie; a relaxed linen suit can give the impression of competence without looking too daunting.
The suit is used increasingly for stylish casualwear. Tailored with less structure and with lighter fabrics (a style borrowed from Italian tailoring), it’s now ideal for holidays and weekends. Such a suit can be worn as comfortably as a pair of jeans and jumper; it’s a question of relaxing into what you’re wearing without feeling self-conscious. This is achieved by making sure that you pick the right suit for your body shape and wear it with well-chosen shirts, shoes and accessories.
Simon Maloney, product & marketing director of heritage menswear label New & Lingwood, takes the view that “you will start to see suits being worn more and more with T-shirts and other layering pieces. The tie and shirt will remain in many workplaces, but it’s begun to look a little too formal. We hear, for example, private bankers do not want to intimidate clients who are often in T-shirts and jeans. Wealthy people don’t have uniforms.”
So the suit has become an adaptable garment worn for formal business use through to casual. But, a word of caution: a suit must fit well if it’s to be successful. “The important thing to aim for in a suit is a good fit to the jacket,” says Musgrave. “That means it has to fit on the shoulders or nothing else will work. Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will have to have an off-the-peg suit altered, usually in the jacket side seams, length of sleeve, waistband and leg length. If the suit requires more than these adjustments, it’s the wrong size or style for your body”.
The Best Lounge Suit Combinations
Nowadays the best option between the formal, dark business suit and a more casual look is the grey two- or three-piece worn with plain shirt and plain knitted silk tie. Simplicity, timelessness and adaptability are what’s on offer here – this look is as suited to the boardroom as it is to relaxation and travel. A plain blue shirt and knitted burgundy tie add a sophisticated elegance and the look can be made more formal by a good quality pair of black Oxford shoes or, alternatively, dressed down with brown suede loafers.
A restrained Prince of Wales or Glen check two-piece worn with a striped shirt and madder silk tie gives the impression of a man who knows his own style and has the confidence to carry off a classic but individual look. Again, shoe selection is important. Wear as good a pair of shoes as you can afford, as a poorly designed pair will drag down the appearance of even a good suit. With a check suit, brogues in black or dark brown will suit the more country feel of the cloth.
Finally, don’t discount a linen suit. The crumpled look and airy cloth give a casual feel and help the wearer feel relaxed and cool in the hottest weather. While you can go tieless with any suit, a bare neck looks best with a linen or cotton suit where informality is the key. Wear with a linen shirt and loafers or good quality retro sneakers.
Suave Lounge Suit Styling Tips
Make sure that your suit fits perfectly. Many men overlook this simple but essential requirement. You will neither look nor feel your best if the fit is not spot on.
Buy a pure wool suit rather than a man-made fibre mix. The cloth will breathe better and recover well from crushing. “Pick a medium weight worsted in a plain weave,” says Modoo.
Consider a tailored suit – made to measure or bespoke – if your budget allows. It will fit better than any off-the-peg suit, unless you’re lucky enough to be a perfect sample size.
Avoid a plain black suit unless you’re attending a funeral.
Go for superfluous details. Contrast-stitched buttonholes, skinny lapels, a short jacket that exposes your backside and tight trousers will make you look like a teenager in his first prom suit.
Buy a cheap suit. It will not be a good purchase; the cloth and cut will be poor and it will soon fall apart.
Hesitate to take an off-the-peg suit to a tailor to have it altered so that it fits perfectly. Arm and leg length can easily be altered, whereas shoulder width cannot.
5 Key Lounge Suits
A classic grey hopsack suit is about as versatile as you can get, and can be worn year round. If you must have one suit this could be it, just remember to keep the details classic: two button front, double vents, medium width notch lapels, and flap pockets are all advisable.
A rival to the grey hopsack suit’s adaptability is the navy wool suit, which is arguably more flattering to a greater range of skin tones. A navy tailored fit suit from Marks & Spencer represents good value if you’re buying a suit on a budget but for something more opulent head to Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes.
An unstructured cotton suit is a good option for those who want a suit but without any of the stuffiness that often comes with them. Oliver Spencer’s take is a good example of the new wave of casual and comfortable-fitting suit, which is good for smart casual parties or less formal workwear.
Recently making waves in the fashion industry – turn to Louis Vuitton and Dior’s SS19 shows for evidence – the double breasted suit offers up a marked point of difference with its wrap-around front. A double-breasted linen suit from Reiss provides a comfortable wear for the office or a garden party when the weather warms up.
Prince Of Wales Check
The (subtle) statement lounge suit, Prince of Wales check is surprisingly easy to wear and will never go out of style. Try a versatile POW check suit from Alexandra Wood, or opt for something made to measure or bespoke. The range of choices and the perfect fit make the additional expense of having something tailored to your body worthwhile.