This is an edited version of my column in Platinum Business Magazine, January 2015
Designer Pierre Cardin once said, ‘I can go all over the world with just three outfits: a blue blazer and grey flannel pants, a grey flannel suit, and black tie.’ All are, of course, variations on the suit, which became the ubiquitous ‘uniform’ for many men in the twentieth century.
The suit as we know it today began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, when riding jackets and waistcoats became shorter to accommodate city dressing, and darker colours began to dominate. By the end of the 1930s, the three-piece suit (jacket, trousers and waistcoat) had become the accepted daily wear of office workers in Britain. This hasn’t altered much, and remains the basis of the modern suit.
The twenty first century is arguably more casual, and this relaxed approach has crept into suit wearing too. So many men wear badly fitting, scruffy suits – I’m sure Mr Cardin would despair. This is ironic, given the fact that men take more care about how they look and recognise that their clothes are a vital aspect of their ‘brand’.
Let’s get back to looking sharp, gentlemen. In this article, I am going to remind you what to consider when buying a suit, the key elements and the most common mistakes. My aim isn’t to encourage you to instantly revamp your wardrobe, but inspire you to invest in it.
Cut, cloth and colour
The cut is the basic pattern regarded as the standard by tailors and manufacturers. It is better to buy a well cut suit in a lesser fabric than vice versa. Above all, the cut should look ‘natural’, allowing movement and suiting your measurements.
A medium weight cloth (12-13 ounces) is sensible for a suit you can wear most of the year. A tailor will advise choosing a cloth as heavy as you can bear as it hangs better, but keep your personal preferences and purpose in mind. Wool is by far the best cloth for suits. The ‘super number’, as in ‘super 150’, denotes the fineness of the individual fibres (much like the thread count in sheets).
Many men choose traditional colours: blues and greys. Think of building your suit wardrobe – start with the basics in block (plain) colour then move on to different textures and patterns.
The most common mistake is poor fit, with many men opting for jackets and trousers that are too big. Is this because our obsession with ‘comfort’ has crept into our psyches to such an extent that everyone automatically goes up a size or two? Know your true size, and stick to it! Remember the tailor’s mantra: balance and harmony are the keys to a well-fitting suit that allows the wearer to look ‘natural’.
Keep in mind that a good wardrobe (with the suit as a central element) is built over a number of years – a bit like decorating your house or building your business. It is a personal process and should result in a style that is uniquely yours.