With times of financial insecurity, invariably there comes a return to proper business wear - the Friday casuals and tie-less weekdays become too risky for those whose superiors work in the same office, and convincing a client that you have their best interests are at heart when taking their money is even harder, making the appearance of sobriety and professionalism ever more important. But this bearish turn after years of bullish business is only a small part of why men return to classism and elegance in their dress.
After working in the industry the past 12 years, I have seen a shift from the mindless optimism and consumerism of the early 00’s, with clothing traded merely on the strength of the model wearing them, to a much more educated man, looking for quality, heritage, and an individually tailored product. While we have had a new suit wearer looking for only the hallmarks of traditional tailored excellence - the surgeon cuff, the channel cut sole, the bridle leather attaché - increasingly this is being bastardized by clever marketeers, much like the over use of the very word “bespoke”. So where is the new value in menswear? In clothing tailored not only to your body, but to your life, personality, needs and idiosyncrasies - be they physical or otherwise. The new suit wearer doesn’t want to dress like this American designer, that Parisian house or this Savile row cutter - they want to dress of themselves.
And dressing of yourself can mean much more than gorge height and lapel width. It’s about what you do functionally in your suit, the climate you wear it in and the image you wish to present. One of the best dressed men I have the privilege of making for - Most Exerent’s GW - has clothes that speak not only of him, but that carry what he needs to carry, perform for the different clients he may meet, cities he may be living in or persona he needs to present. While some suits are in unlined, high twist cloth, cut fuller in the leg and more generous in the sleeve to allow the sharpest result when getting off a plane and into a meeting, others might have hidden phone pockets and lining details for while he is at home. Suits made in two colors of the same cloth - generally navy and grey or mid blue and cream - allow for four different looks from minimal packing space. Trousers are sans belt loops to allow multiple colours of shoe and bag without worrying about having the right belt. The best dressed man might only have 5 suits and 10 shirts, but you can bet they will all fit perfectly - both on the wearer and with each other.
In 1956’s “The man in the gray flannel suit”, Gregory Peck wears what came to signify mindless corporate adherence - the clone like sack suit in a gray worsted, black oxford bals and a fedora. More than 50 years later, a classic gray suit and polished black shoes are nothing of the sort. Indeed, to wear a suit now is bucking the trend, and to wear it well - in gray rather than black, a plain worsted rather than a myriad stripe, fitting comfortably and tailored correctly, rather than overhanging the knuckles and falling off the hips as young trends have seen them evolve. Much like the punk who wears ripped denim and a Mohawk to “rebel”, Friday casual and branded sportswear no longer says much of someone being an individual and comfortable in their role, but more that they lack the confidence to dress.
While the modern city has a dearth of good tailors, and the younger man a lack of funds to visit the best, it doesn’t mean that to wear ready to wear clothing means all chance of individualism is gone. Indeed, for many young men still proportional in their measurements, off the rack may achieve a better result when beginning to build a wardrobe. My steadfast rule has always been, whatever you are willing to spend on a suit, allow at least 20% of that figure again for alterations. A $9000 suit 2 inches to long in the sleeve and trouser will look like it’s worth all of $90, just as an immaculately finished and fitted $900 suit will stand up credibly beside one 5 times it’s value. Sadly most young men miss this part though, and rather than having their clothes fit them well, they spend the extra money on a branded wallet or cufflinks, making the whole far less than the sum of it’s parts.
An average suit below the $1000 price point should perform it’s duties for 2 years or so, a suit double that price might live to three times it’s age when well cared for. A bespoke suit, handmade from the best cloth can expect to be inherited by your son. But only if well treated. Likewise a good pair of shoes might live live for 15 years where an average pair only 5, but if any garment is worn continuously you will be lucky to get 6 months before t starts looking like a dogs breakfast. I’d advise young men to buy two pairs of shoes, and two suits, at the limit of what they can comfortably afford. Rotated, aired and polished, they will only get better, and mean that they are still good garments by the time you can afford to go shopping again.
Pocket squares, knit ties, cufflinks and tie pins are all great things to have. I couldn’t feel properly presented without them. But never at the expense of a great pair of shoes, a suit that fits or simple clean classics. In that sense, Peck’s grey flannel wearing Tom Rath had a head start on everyone.