We’ve waxed lyrical about how men’s dress codes are breaking down, how casual dress is taking over and why sportswear is the de facto king of men’s fashion. But in this new relaxed world there is one mainstay that refuses to disappear: the suit.
We’ve seen it rise and fall in popularity over the years, but it never truly went away. In a true sign of the times, tailoring featured extensively in the first Louis Vuitton collection from Virgil Abloh, shown alongside cutting edge streetwear suggesting the two have finally become symbiotic. The suit, and old ideas of formal attire in general, no longer has to have stuffy connotations – it can be worn through choice; it can be sexy and relevant.
After all, no matter how casual fashion gets, there are still times when you’ll need to wear one – weddings, fancy parties, big job interviews, they generally all require one. “Many people now only wear formal clothing to weddings and funerals”, owner of Grenson, Tim Little admits. But how can you wear yours without looking old hat?
Formal Attire In The Age Of Sportswear
Up to only a few years ago, the formal attire equation was simple: suit, shirt, tie, pocket square, smart shoes, done. Whilst it ticks all the formal boxes, this is a look that’s far from inventive and has been knocking around for decades in various forms. It’s no wonder only one in ten people in the UK now wear a suit to work – it’s become boring, and stinks of conformity and boardroom meetings.
It’s a good job then designers are beginning to herald in a new era for the old faithful. Forget everything you know about suits – this is tailoring for the next generation, it’s tailoring for those who may never have chosen or even needed to wear a suit before. It’s got nothing to do with Savile Row. It kicked off with the spring-summer shows of 2018 – there was Louis Vuitton’s all-white double-breasteds; Dior’s couture-inspired suits worn with nothing underneath; Paul Smith’s voluminous 1980s takes, and Raf Simons’ oversized designs with no shirt or tie in sight.
What does this mean for you and I? Formal attire has moved on. The suit doesn’t have to be treated like the business accomplice it always has been. Creative director of Savile Row house Gieves & Hawkes John Harrison agrees: “There is definitely an easing up on tailoring”. Yes, there are times when a shirt and tie are needed – those pesky weddings – but you can also replace the shirt altogether, and still be the best-dressed man in the room. From wearing trainers with tailoring to how your suit should fit, here are the new rules of formal attire.
The New Rules Of Formal Dress
Simplify Your Look
When it comes to tailoring, too many people get carried away. No, you do not need a tie pin, collar bar, pocket square, braces, pocket watch and a cigar hanging out of every pocket. Pare things back and let the suit – and your personality – do the talking. Not only will it take less time for you to get ready, you’ll also look less affected and more natural. For a simple wedding look for example, ditch the pocket square (fussy, unnecessary), and opt for a plain knitted tie with an Oxford shirt. Simple and effective.
Forget ‘Slim Fit’
‘Slim fit’ has dominated mainstream clothing over the past decade, but it’s on its way out, especially when it comes to smart attire. Unfortunately ‘slim fit’ tends to translate as ‘too tight’ and nobody wants a suit they can’t move in, or even do up. A suit should be flattering, not contouring, so look for wider cuts that complement your body shape rather than restrict it.
Aim For Comfort
A suit doesn’t have to have heavy structure. Whilst those of Savile Row tend to have a militaristic cut – built up roped shoulders, heaving chest canvassing – an unstructured suit strips all of this away, offering a far more comfortable end product that won’t make you feel like you need to stand to attention when you wear it.
Try oversized outerwear over the top for ultimate comfort points. It doesn’t have to be huge, but a coat in the next size up will ensure your suit fits underneath, and it can double as a cosy weekend jacket. Just tailor the sleeve length so you can still see your hands.
If You Want Colour, Go Earthy
Navy and grey will always be the most popular options, but a colourful suit can make for a striking choice. If in doubt stick to earthy colours of deep greens and browns, which are flattering for most skin tones and keep the rest of the look simple to allow the suit to take centre stage.
Ah, the age old debate of whether trainers can be worn with a suit. We’ll end it here: yes, it can be done. It’s very easy to get wrong though. The trick is to tone everything down – the suit should be unstructured and made from a more casual fabric such as cotton; wear a T-shirt instead of a shirt, and tailor the hems of your trousers with no break. Oh, and the sneakers themselves should be minimal, too.
Forget Old School ‘Rules’ Of Formalwear
Unfortunately, the traditional origins of tailoring means it comes with plenty of pomp, and a few so-called style ‘rules’ that are dated and need to be ignored. ‘No brown in town’ and ‘never wear navy and black’ are the two that first spring to mind.
Another, and one you’ll read on plenty of styles sites, is that you should never wear a pre-tied bow tie. What purpose does this serve other than to stroke the wearer’s ego that he, in fact, is wearing a ‘real’ bow tie? Well, there isn’t one really. If you’re after a bow tie then, regardless of whether it’s pre-tied or not, go for it. It shouldn’t be untied on the night anyway – you’re not James Bond.
This is perhaps the best rule on this list, and the most effective way of transforming your formal attire. Simply swap your shirt for a fine gauge knit – whether that be a crew neck, roll neck or Breton stripe. This immediately helps to strip away the business-like connotations of the suit, and gives off a contemporary look and feel that simply can’t be achieved with a shirt and tie.
For Shoes, Think Versatility
What’s the use in having multiple pairs of similar shoes that serve different purposes when you can have one pair that does it all? Save your cash and look for versatility when shopping for footwear on the smarter end of the spectrum. A pair of Derby shoes is always a good option, but look for something a little more robust that’ll pair well with jeans as well as tailoring.
Alternatively try a traditionally formal style – a monk strap or Chelsea boot – but with a chunky commando rubber sole bolted on for ultimate smart casual prowess.
Crockett & Jones
The Modern Shopping List For Formal Attire
The Unstructured Suit
If you’re going to own only one suit, opt for one with little to no structure and you’ll find yourself wearing it even when you don’t have to. It’ll be comfortable, easy to wear and you can dress it up or down with ease. Simply wear with a shirt and knitted tie for work, or a T-shirt and trainers for date night.
A Textured Blazer
For times when a full suit is just too much, a blazer worn with complementary trousers is a solid bet. Said blazer should be made from some sort of textured fabric – a herringbone cotton or tweed perhaps – so that it looks as though it was meant to be worn solo.
A Knitted Tie
Whilst it may be less formal than the pure silk variety, the knitted tie is also less stuffy and far easier to wear. Although usually finished with a square tip, you can find the odd knitted tie with a pointed end to replicate the more traditional look of a printed silk version.
The Jersey Shirt
Menswear has evolved, and so too have the fabric options available today. It’s now possible to purchase classic types of shirt in cotton jersey – the comfortable fibre usually reserved for polo shirts. With the same look of a traditional dress shirt, these jersey shirts have a slight stretch meaning more freedom of movement and comfort, yet appear just as smart. A win win.
Some Rubber Soled Dress Shoes
Why go for a leather sole when you can have rubber? More durable, waterproof and slip-resistant, rubber soles make for ideal everyday work shoes yet, because they are usually chunkier, they’ll also pair up equally well with your weekend wardrobe.
To top off your formal look, finish with an oversized coat. Not only will it show your fashion nous and ability to play with proportion, it will also ensure your two-piece fits underneath and will be endlessly more comfortable than a restricting, slim-fit jacket.