Naysayers have been predicting the demise of the suit for decades, but new, more casual cuts, relaxed silhouettes and athleisure influences are keeping the trusty two-piece firmly in fashion
Men: here's how to look sharp in a suit
JP Morgan made headlines last year when it announced that it was adopting a “business casual” dress code. For many, this was the final death knell of the suit. If investment bankers were rejecting the trusty two-piece, what hope could it have?
Truth be told, naysayers have been predicting the demise of the suit for the best part of two decades. Radical changes in work culture, personified by those T-shirt-and-flip-flop-wearing upstarts over in Silicon Valley, have shifted perceptions of the suit and raised questions about its standing as ubiquitous office wear.
And yet, there is the argument that since suits are no longer an enforced uniform, men can get back to actually enjoying them. In a recent interview with The National’s Luxury magazine, Christophe Goineau, head of silks at Hermès Men’s Universe, made an observation about ties that could just as easily be applied to suits as a whole.
“A tie is not an obligation anymore. So now, when a man buys a tie, it’s done for pleasure. He is selecting more carefully, trying to find the one about music, because he is a musician, or perhaps the one connected to racing cars. For me, it is more exciting to create ties now than 10 or 20 years ago. Then it was an obligation, and men were buying ties because they had to. When you have to do something, it becomes disconnected to pleasure,” Goineau notes.
Now that they can be bought for fun again, we’d propose that every man have at least one well-cut, perfectly fitting suit hanging in his wardrobe. And for those for whom wearing a suit feels like punishment, relax, because with new cuts and new fabrics, the modern two-piece is light, comfortable and easy to wear.
These days, you are more likely to see a suit worn with trainers than with wing tips, and only the most steadfast of gentlemen will be caught sporting a pocket square. No longer inhibited by formality and tradition, the modern suit is worn with hoodies, crew-neck sweaters and even bomber jackets – just as a handmade bespoke suit speaks of social status, so a suit and T-shirt speak of youthful insouciance.
For the autumn/winter 2017 Dior Homme show, for example, designer Kris Van Assche delivered suits with cropped sleeves and trainers. He mixed double-breasted jackets with utilitarian trousers, and skinny-fit suits with ankle straps and hip-hop headwear.
In February, Louis Vuitton collaborated with streetwear label Supreme on a collection that is a perfect meld of street style and high luxury. Fast forward to the spring/summer 2018 collections and all bets are off. Balmain, Dior Homme and Hermès all highlighted the process of suit-making, sending theirs down the runway with tailor’s chalk and marking stitches on show.
Louis Vuitton embraced the 1980s with oversized drop-shouldered jackets and rolled sleeves. Balenciaga, meanwhile, embraced the anti-suit, using head-to-toe colour to create a uniform. Slouchy cut blazers and pinstripe shirts sat with high-waisted dad jeans, all held together by sharp-as-a-tack crocodile dress shoes.
Even Hugo Boss, which has spent 70 years developing the perfect suit, is embracing this more relaxed approach. “When you look at our archives, and we have archives from the 1970s and 1980s, everything was different. Lapels were wider, fits were wider, and now it’s getting more and more fitted,” says Ingo Wilts, chief brand officer at Hugo Boss.
He highlights how suits are being influenced by the increasingly popular athleisure trend, which is seeing fabrics that are more commonly used in the sportswear sector being adopted by luxury fashion brands. This is all driven by the need to adapt to the changing habits of suit wearers.
“Men travel much more than they did in the past,” Wilts points out. “They are constantly on a plane, and we have to react to this. Our travel suit is made from a different fabric, it’s packable, easier for you, and you don’t have to iron it so much. Now we are looking ahead to the next thing, about how all our suits can have more stretch in them, because people are getting bigger and it’s all about comfort.”
Before you head out to buy your own suit, you’ll need to decide on a few basic things. First off: do you want a single- or double-breasted jacket? Single-breasted options come in cuts that vary from boxy (think 1950s), slim (tailored into the waist) and skinny (which requires some panache to pull off), and with one, two or three buttons. Note that the bottom button should never be fastened. Long thought of as the staple of older men, as the flapped front and wide-set buttons are flattering to a rounder physique, the double-breasted suit is making a serious fashion comeback, and will add unexpected flair to any wardrobe.
Price is obviously the great differentiator between suits. Off-the-peg or ready-to-wear suits come at a lower price point, are made from standard-quality fabrics and will be cut for generic sizes. Meanwhile, made-to-measure suits are superior in both cut and fabric, and are tailored for a personalised fit.
Off-the-peg jackets are generally made using fused construction (i.e. glue), which means they are stiffer and stand away from the body. In comparison, made-to-measure suits are fully hand-stitched, which is also known as fully canvased, which creates a jacket that moves and gives, and over time will mould to the wearer’s frame.
Another element that is often overlooked, but crucial to this region, is lining. An off-the-peg suit will undoubtedly be fully lined, because it requires more time and skill to create a jacket without a lining, or that is half-lined. As an integral part of a jacket’s construction, the lining helps to hold the jacket in shape, so making one without lining is a test for any tailor. As well as being better-cut, an unlined jacket is cooler to wear.
One company that is working to offer well-made suits at high-street prices is Suitsupply. Established in 2000 to combine the best of ready-to-wear and made-to-measure, the brand now has stores in 24 countries and recently opened its first outlet in Dubai.
“We stay away from lined jackets here, because of the climate,” Fokke de Jong, Suitsupply’s chief executive and owner, explains when I meet him in the company’s new CityWalk store. “But a jacket has to have some sort of structure inside it to give it form. To make sure there is shape without a lining, we apply old techniques of tailoring to all of our suits, using thin layers of horse hair and cotton, held together with stitches. Because it is in layers, we can mould it, and can shape it properly.”
Inspired by high-street giants Zara and H&M, Suitsupply handles everything from design to production in-house, and is able to pass the savings of not having any middle men onto its customers.
In addition, de Jong wanted to be able to offer his customers a tailor-made service for a high-street price. “We have our tailors and we stage them in the middle of our stores to do the alterations. Eighty per cent of the time, they will do them while you wait.”
Even though there is a definite shift towards a more relaxed dressing style, among those who can afford it, there will always be a place for the crème de la crème of suiting: bespoke. Literally hand-measured, cut and sewn to a customer’s exact requirements, bespoke is a time-consuming and precise journey. Able to control every element, customers will select the type and weight of fabric used, through to the number of pockets they require.
For those with the time, money and inclination, there are plenty of brands willing to craft your dream suit. Dunhill offers a fully bespoke service, bringing its master tailors to the region four times a year to meet with clients. In the brand’s Emirates Towers store, one of those tailors runs me through the process.
“Nothing is pre-cut at all. When I take someone’s measurements, I start with a blank piece of paper, and craft a paper pattern. I will then mark it off on the fabric in chalk, cut it out, bundle it all up with extra fabric, and all the bits and pieces, like buttons, wrist pieces, horse hair and collar canvas, and give it to our tailor. We are a small team, and everything is done by hand. Bespoke is not a one-hit thing. You have a consultation, then one, maybe two, fittings before we deliver the finished product. It is very much a journey.”
The process of putting together a bespoke suit can take up to nine months, and is often the result of a long-lasting, trusting relationship between client and tailor. “Part of what we do is sitting down and talking to people. We spend an hour talking about someone’s lifestyle, and we become part of their virtual team.
These people have an extensive lifestyle, with people they trust. They have solicitors who handle their business, architects who create their houses, people who run their lives, and we are the ones who dress them. It’s an incredibly important relationship.”
For those who question whether the Dh23,000 starting price of a bespoke Dunhill suit is worth it, consider the level of detail involved. “If a gentleman has a favourite pair of shoes, we can tailor and cut the trousers a little shorter, to show them off. We do shirts as well, and very often we will make the sleeve cuff a little bit wider on one side to accommodate a gentleman’s watch.
“Suits are made to fit a body that is constantly moving, so I spend a lot of time just observing the customer. In front of a mirror, he will stand upright and stiff, yet when he walks away and relaxes, I can see what I need to adjust. The way we make a suit hasn’t changed in 100 years. It is still all handwork, and it is all crafted from the ground up.”