The suit has gone through a lot in the last century. Once the go-to attire for men all over the world, from office workers, politicians and mafioso to those just heading down the social club on a Friday night, its decline in popularity over the last two decades has been rapid.
This decline has had such a drastic effect on the way men dress that uber-stiff banks JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs famously relaxed their dress codes, removing the need for employees to wear a blazer or tie. High street staple Marks & Spencer, a go-to destination for suit-buyers, also announced in 2019 it would be reducing its formalwear offering by 14 per cent to make space for more casual clothing on the shop floor. It makes you wonder what the suit’s place is in menswear today.
Quite simply, it is no longer a requirement for most. Today, wearing a suit is a choice. While there is a wider variety of clothing on offer today than ever before, an increasing number of style-conscious men are choosing to make tailoring part of their signature look.
Wearing a suit today can be as much of a statement as wearing the latest hype trainers. And there are many ways of doing it. From pin-collared and pinstriped to relaxed and unstructured, tailoring in 2020 is whatever you want it to be.
We spoke to and photographed six London-based menswear experts, each with a passion for their suits, and each with their own distinct style. The varied ways they each approach men’s style shows the versatility of tailoring, and how it can be worn in fun, new and exciting ways. None of them have to wear a suit for work, but they choose to. And so can you. Long live the suit.
Occupation: Founder, Trunk Clothiers
Wearing: MAN1924 Jacket, Trunk Knit, Trunk Shirt, Trunk Trousers, Rolex Explorer watch
Tailored Tip: “When it comes to wearing sneakers with a suit, I think you need unstructured tailoring for it to work.”
During my years working in the finance sector, I would wear Savile Row suits from Richard James or Kilgour, which were more structured. But during this time I was travelling a lot to Italy and I discovered soft tailoring. I think unstructured tailoring agrees more with my personality. I don’t like things that are too precious.
Knitwear makes tailoring a bit softer and easier. I also like Oxford shirts a lot, which are softer than more formal shirts. Polo shirts are great too as you don’t have to worry about ironing them, and you still look quite smart. With a crew neck you can easily wear a tie, but you could also just wear one with a T-shirt to dress things down a bit further.
Dressing is about attitude and being confident. Don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing. It can be a bit confusing and daunting, there’s lots of advice out there, I think every person just needs to decide what’s right for them and then not worry about it too much. Being comfortable is very important in all this. Dressing well and being comfortable is important, but I think there’s so many other things in life that are more important. Clothing shouldn’t distract you, it should complement you and give you more confidence to do whatever it is you want to do.
Soft tailoring is much more common now. Everyone knows there’s much less demand for ties. People are appreciating a more dressed down look. All these things come and go in cycles. Things went very far towards sneakers and streetwear, but I think things are coming back [to tailoring] a little bit now.
Occupation: Menswear stylist
Wearing: Vintage Goldcase blazer, Issey Miyake trousers, Gap long sleeve T-shirt, Marni trainers
Tailored Tip: “M&S has the best offering of suits at a very affordable price. The fabrics are amazing.”
Tailoring is all about details. If you want to go for something classic but also easy to wear, never go for a turn up on the trousers. It adds another level of formality to things that is perhaps unnecessary. It’s important to try on different fits, and if you are going suit shopping, try going with a friend. They’ll be able to tell you if it’s too small, short, or skinny. So no turn ups, and more friends.
M&S has the best offering of suits at a very affordable price. The fabrics are amazing. They have quite a few fits, and you’ll find something really reliable.
Brands like A Cold Wall are introducing tailoring you can wear with sneakers. Comfort is priority and it’s the same when you’re wearing a suit. I think when you wear a suit now you should be wearing it for comfort. And trainers allow you to have that flexibility. But where I’m going and who I’m seeing will determine whether I’m wearing trainers with a suit, or shoes with a suit. I wouldn’t wear sneakers to a wedding. Tailoring is gradually dressing down, while still maintaining a level of decorum.
Instead of buying a top and a bottom, you’re just buying a thing. Which kind of makes dressing really easy. But the suit will never lose that connotation of being a form of formal attire. If someone is wearing a suit, you assume it’s smart, regardless of what the suit is.
Occupation: Menswear Influencer
Wearing: Gieves & Hawkes three-piece suit, Carmina shoes, Turnbull & Asser shirt, Eton tie
Tailored Tip: “It’s much harder to dress well casually. Wearing a suit is very easy in a way.”
I love British tailoring for the history and heritage. You have the roped shoulders, the structured silhouettes and I really respect that. I then love Italian tailoring for spring and summer because its unstructured, lighter fabrics, a bit more fun and playful than British tailoring.
Over the last 5 years I’ve been transforming from a more slim fit to something wider and with more drape. That’s my idea of comfort now. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than wearing skinny trousers and sitting down. I don’t own a pair of jeans. I just love suit trousers and wear them on my days off as well. Having a loose fitting trouser is way more comfortable, they’re like jogging pants. I haven’t ever in my adulthood worn jeans.
On the weekend I’ll style a suit trouser with a polo shirt, and dress it down. That’s what I love about the suit. You can take the trousers, mix them up and wear them with something else and you have a whole new look. The versatility, that’s what I love.
I’ve never worn a suit with trainers. That’s not something you’ll see me with. I appreciate the look, and love that it makes some people more comfortable with tailoring, but it’s just not me. With suits I currently have the run of one in, one out. I currently have 15 in my wardrobe.
Occupation: Founder, Shaun Gordon tie-makers
Wearing: Vintage suit, Shaun Gordon tie, Turnbull & Asser shirt
Tailored Tip: “If you’re interested in buying a vintage suit, the first thing to do is find an alterations tailor.”
Shirts and ties are where you can really express individuality. And the suit is the perfect frame for everything. The shirt is like the canvas and the tie is like the painting, as it were. The tie is where the colours come through.
If you’re interested in buying a vintage suit, find an alterations tailor. Have that in place first. One thing I have to thank the universe for is a good alterations tailor. I would then say try and learn as much about the decade that you’re drawn to as possible. And try and have fun with it. Test stuff out, the only way you know if you’ll enjoy vintage clothing is trying stuff on and wearing it.
My style gives a nod to the 1940s and ‘50s era. But I don’t think it’s a direct copy. It’s an interpretation and a nod. I used to go full on with the vintage look, but I’ve relaxed it a lot. I have a son now, so I can’t always wear my beautiful three-piece suit that I’d love to wear. I love wearing suits. If I could sleep in a suit I would.
Keep trainers in their proper place. Use them if you’re playing basketball or football, or wear them with your Levi’s. When I see a man or woman wearing a beautifully cut suit on the Underground, worn with shabby New Balance trainers because they leave their shoes at the office. They’ve killed their own look. That’s a sartorial suicide right there. I say ‘no’.
Occupation: Menswear journalist
Wearing: McCann Bespoke suit, John Smedley roll neck, Loake shoes, Rolex GMT-Master II watch
Tailored Tip: “Retailers are seeing the possibilities [of the suit], and I think sales could rise again.”
I’m not a fan of skinny or slim fits, but they still seem to be popular. That just adds to the restriction of the suit. I think it’s all about comfort now. People are moving from suits partly because dress codes are changing, partly because there’s a big move towards people wanting to feel comfortable. We’ve seen the rise of athleisure. I don’t wear it myself but I can see why people do.
I have no doubt that people will still be wearing suits in 50, 100 years time. I think once people begin to see the many other ways you can wear suits, it can be a casual thing and doesn’t have to be overly formal. Tailors and retailers are seeing the possibilities, and I think sales could rise again.
If it’s a formal pinstripe suit, you have to be careful about wearing it with a T-shirt, but it can be done. But, a T-shirt easily works with linen, cotton, corduroy, tweed or just something that’s less structured and formal in style.
Probably because of my age, I’m not wild about trainers and tailoring. I so rarely see people do it. It can be done and if you do it successfully it just adds to that relaxed feeling that can be had if you wear a suit in the right way. I think it’s good that people are breaking up that tradition of always wearing suits with formal shoes.
Occupation: Menswear Journalist
Wearing: Edward Sexton made-to-measure three-piece suit, John Smedley knit, Crockett & Jones loafers
Tailored Tip: “The biggest mistake men make with tailoring is fit. Fit on the average guy is just perennially disappointing to me.”
I don’t really wear a suit often now, I think separates are more interesting. The key thing to a suit, is buy one you can break up. I wear this jacket a lot with knitwear. The easiest way to contemporise anything tailored is to put a knit under it, whether it’s a crew neck, roll neck or mock-neck.
A chocolate brown suit is seriously underrated. It’s less formal than a grey suit and more formal than a blue suit. Its the kind of suit that’s very ‘day-to-evening’. You can wear a dark brown suit to the office and no one will really register that it’s different, and then you can swap out the shirt and tie and put a t-shirt underneath and it’ll look really cool after work. It also suits way more skin tones than grey, it warms you up. The important thing to do is find a brown suit with a bit of texture in it. A flat brown suit starts to feel a bit 70s costume. Go for chocolate brown flannel or tweed.
The thing that we all fixate on is that the suit is formal. The only thing to fixate on in a suit is that the jacket and trousers match. You don’t have to think about a suit beyond those terms. It doesn’t have to be difficult to wear. All there is to a suit is that the jacket and trousers match. Beyond that, you can do whatever the hell you want with it. It’s been there for 200 years.
I can’t think of another item of clothing that’s 200 years old. It’s as adaptable as it gets. The thing that guys get worried about is actually the thing that gives it its strength: the jacket and trousers match. That’s all there is to it.