When did you last wear a suit? For a job interview, perhaps? A wedding, a funeral, or even – gulp – a court appearance? In the past couple of decades, the suit has suffered a seemingly irreversible decline, from its status as the cornerstone of the male wardrobe to its current position as an ‘also-ran’ contender; in the open-necked, cashmere-hoodied environs of the modern office, as many as one in five men don’t even own one.
But like other phenomena whose death has been declared – painting, vinyl, even the beard – it seems we’re not quite done with it yet. The suit may have been out of fashion, but fashion now has its eye on the suit. The spring/summer 2019 catwalks were full of tailoring, but not as we know it – these were suits with a sportswear twist, in loose, slouchy cuts, vibrant colours, and performance fabrics, with eye-catching detailing and a far-from-formal attitude. Today’s tailoring trends are less suited-and-booted than suited-and-sneakered.
The double-breasted suit – buttoned-up livery for senior bankers, right? Wrong. “Today’s double-breasted cuts take their shapes from the 1970s and ‘80s, and are much lighter and freer in the way they’re worn,” says Timothy Everest, the tailor and designer who’s long married the notions of smart-casual; his new venture, MbE (which stands for Made by Everyone), offers everything from bespoke Harrington jackets to luxury cargo trousers.
For spring/summer 2019, Kim Jones at Dior offered pastel-coloured DB tailoring with floral details, while Dunhill’s blazers came in silk and leather; its clean-silhouetted minimalism echoed Brunello Cucinelli’s celebrated, easeful “one-and-a-half-breasted” jackets. “Everything’s cyclical, and after years of streetwear, I think men want to look handsome again,” says Everest. “Younger guys are cottoning on to that, but in their own way – the new suits are an elevated, luxe version of the streetwear styles they already know.”
To nail this look you’ll need to master the art of high-low dressing, or in non-menswear speak, learn to balance the number of smart and casual items in your look. Swap the bomber out for a double-breasted jacket, but keep the light wash jeans and hoodie before footing with a pair of ‘proper’ shoes.
You know that tailoring is having a moment when a house best-known for its luxury hoodies and ironic T-shirts sends suits onto the catwalk. Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2019 offerings at least conformed to the brand’s oversized aesthetic, with square-cut jackets in poppy red and electric blue falling to mid-thigh.
They weren’t the only ones pumping up the volume; Paul Smith’s checked DB suits buttoned somewhere about the belt area evoked Will Smith in his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air prime. “I thought after all the slim shapes we’ve been seeing, it would be nice to style the show big again,” he explained. “The big shapes, the 14 and 15-year-olds have never experienced, because if they go to see a band, they’re all in skin-tight.”
Of course, only a complete newb would think it’s a simple case of buying a suit jacket a few sizes up. Instead, look for tailoring cut with a generous relaxed fit to retain a sartorial slant, but one with all the easy wearability of a cardigan
Brown Is Here To Stay
For the past few seasons, chocolate, caramel and tan have been seriously challenging the reign of navy, grey and black as tailoring’s go-to shades. And by accessorising suits with graphic V-neck knits and gold pendants, celebrity fans like Ryan Gosling hit the ’70s-revisited moment that brown exemplifies.
Learning how to wear brown isn’t as tricky as you might first imagine. “It’s a less formal colour, so it lends itself naturally to the more playful shapes and styles that we’re seeing in tailoring,” says Everest. “So many of the new suit shapes are designed to be worn with T-shirts or knitwear rather than a suit and tie.”
He’s not wrong. In fact, a lot of the recent catwalk looks featured nothing under the jacket at all apart from a necklace. This may be too much for most men, but it emphasises the laid-back nature of the new tailoring.
Not since Robert de Niro appeared in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 opus Casino like a tone-on-tone colossus – modelling blue, green, and cream shirts and ties like they were his birthright – has tonal dressing been so popular. David Beckham, Ryan Reynolds and Nick Wooster are among the men-about-town reviving the look, and it’s been all over catwalks from Louis Vuitton to Bottega Veneta.
Everest dressed Tom Cruise in blue tonal outfits for the first Mission: Impossible film, and recently shot a campaign for MbE featuring a grey Donegal tweed suit with a grey Prince of Wales shirt and dark grey tie. “Tone-on-tone looks good again, and it suits the kinds of shapes and cuts we’re seeing today,” he says.
The key is to mix up the hues and textures just enough so that there’s plenty of interest and variety in the outfit. “There are so many varieties of grey – at least fifty shades, I’m told – that it’s the way to go, I think,” adds Everest.
A Return To Tradition
Based on Newton’s Third Law – the one that states for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction – many are speculating that the ubiquity of streetwear is giving way to tradition, and that suits and ties could soon rule the roost again.
“There’s a whole generation that hasn’t been dressing up because they haven’t had to bother,” says Everest. “They look at the Pitti peacocks, buttoned up and accessorised to the hilt, and they seem hopelessly over-dressed to them – it’s just not relevant to their world. But they are interested in tailoring that borrows some of the techniques of streetwear, from bright colours to performance fabrics.”
So while Gen-Z might not head to Savile Row, they will look to people who mix up smart and casual pieces in unique ways, like a tweed jacket and a knitted tie with jeans or cargo trousers.
You don’t have to go as far as Timothée Chalamet by wearing a sparkly black Louis Vuitton harness over your tailoring, but one way to ‘street up’ a suit (and possibly foil the baggage allowances of low-cost airlines) is to accessorise with wearable luggage.
A cross-body bag will give you some extra slouch (see Hermès, Lanvin or, of course, Zara) while the more fashion-forward could ape Louis Vuitton, not with faux bondage, but with chain-embellished totes and thermos flasks (handy for styling out the chill during the colder months). Junya Watanabe’s mini-rucksacks, meanwhile, were cut from the same cloth as his jackets and tailored shorts, casting the term ‘three-piece suit’ in a whole new light. “It subverts the whole smartened-up thing, and it chimes with the experimental aesthetic in menswear that’s going on right now,” says Everest.
It’s not a look suited to strait-laced offices, but one that when paired with a simple single-breasted jacket, ankle-length trousers and dad trainer looks dope AF (as the kids would say.)
Previously, there were three words guaranteed to strike fear into the perennially skinny-jeaned: “wide,” “legged,” and “trouser.” But after foot-skimming efforts by the likes of Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney and even Cos appeared over the last few seasons, the modern ‘Oxford bag’ (a reference to the ridiculously wide-legged trousers of the 1920s) may be about to go mainstream in tailoring.
“The wider shape goes perfectly with the slightly longer and boxier jackets,” says Everest. “We started experimenting with this look a few years ago, and it’s definitely gaining traction. It harks back to Thin White Duke-era David Bowie, or early Bryan Ferry, but with a contemporary twist. So what’s not to like?”
If wide-legged trousers as a trend still seems like absolute Madness to you, look for slightly narrower straight or relaxed-leg cuts instead, or styles that are pleated or finished with press folds for a bit of added structure.