I’m going to lay my cards firmly on the table and say upfront: I am not a fashion guy.
At least, I don’t aspire to be a fashion guy and I don’t identify myself as ‘fashionable.’ I subscribe, wholeheartedly, to Yves Saint Laurent’s age-old wisdom that fashion is fleeting , style is timeless. I’m paraphrasing because Saint Laurent actually said ‘fashions fade, style is eternal’ which is perhaps even more pretentious than my own rendering of the maxim.
Of course, much of the time, engaging with menswear in any meaningful capacity means acknowledging some kind of pretension. Many seasonal fashions or trends hinge on an idea rather more conceptual than the clothes most men are prepared to wear; there were lots of wide-leg leather trousers on the Autumn/Winter ‘19 catwalks this previous Paris Fashion Week, for example. And while I find myself capable of taking the majority of high-end fashion trends with a pinch of salt, the catwalk’s current bent for comically oversized tailoring is, I’m afraid, a step beyond the pale.
Why mess around with a formula that isn’t broken? The suit in its conventional form, when designed, cut and tailored with skill, is the most elegant and empowering artefact a man could wish to own. Mankind has worn a suit jacket and trousers in some form for approaching 600 years now, and if I had a penny for every time I read an article heralding the suit as the ultimate in masculine sex appeal, I’d be penning this now reclining on a sun lounger in Biarritz.
Even so, for the past couple of seasons, a number of designer brands have decided that you should be strolling through Soho wearing jackets that touch your knees and hang from your shoulders like a child wearing a school blazer his mother hopes he’ll grow into. It’s not an elegant look, it’s not empowering, or sexy, and it’s not terribly practical either.
I’ve no doubt this is a well-intentioned attempt to move the suit forward, but it’s not a successful one. At its best, the suit evolves through playing with its construction, colour, and by using informal materials and textures – not by ballooning it into something that doesn’t fit.
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that fashion at its core is a vehicle for personal self expression, and if someone enjoys or identifies with oversized suiting, that’s their prerogative. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of difference between stretching out a jacket’s proportions till it looks like you’ve lost yourself in a hall of mirrors, and embracing a well-fitting garment that makes use of a generous, flowing silhouette. I’m all for wide-leg trousers, for example, which help to flatter the form and lend long, fluid lines to the bottom half of your silhouette. I’m also very much in favour of A-line raglan coats, which are similarly flowing and supremely elegant. Suits with sleeves that swallow my thumbs, though? Perhaps not.
The tailored jacket is a form-fitting garment; it’s been form-fitting since the late 16th century. Yes, it’s evolved, but just because you can experiment with something, that doesn’t always mean you should. Call me a stick-in-the-mud if you like, but I’ll stick to clothes that fit me this spring. Here’s hoping you will too.
The alternative to oversizing?
1. Flatter your form
The suit at its best is a svelte, slimming creation. Choose a jacket that fits properly – it’s all in the block. If you’ve got square shoulders, wear a softer, deconstructed jacket created in the Italian mould. Whether it has shoulder pads or not, it should sit snugly around the chest and collar, like this camel blazer from Husbands (mrporter.com). The sleevehead seams should sit just on your collar bones with your arms filling out the sleeves comfortably. The back of the jacket should follow the natural curvature of your spine and the side seams should present a clean hourglass figure without any tightness or pulling when fastened. Your jacket’s sleeves should show a half-inch of shirt cuff, too. If in doubt, find a decent alterations tailor and let them do their thing.
2. Fit your trousers
Trousers that are too long bag at the ankles. There’s nothing more inelegant – it’s even worse than wearing your trousers too short. Also be sure that your trousers are hitting your waist and hips where they should. If you’re wearing pleated or high rise trousers they should sit further up your frame than jeans or casual chinos, right on the top of your hip bones. The hems should shiver on the tops of the shoes, but not break – so said Oscar Wilde. These brown checked flannels are just right, and pair perfectly with chiselled G.J. Cleverley monk shoes (mrporter.com). Many men buy trousers with a mid-to-high rise that are supposed to sit atop the hips, and choose to wear them like jeans. This is both unseemly and unattractive. Don’t fall into that trap.
3. Get the details right
It takes some experimentation, but if you’re serious about getting your tailored wardrobe right, try to develop an eye for what works for you. If you’re short and square, a double-breasted jacket probably won’t do you any favours; if you’re broad shouldered, look for jackets with wider lapels that can balance against your frame rather than skinny lapels that you’ll dwarf. If you are slim, pleated trousers will look the business, if you’re not, stick to flat fronts. Those with long legs will suit turn-ups, shorter legs tend to work better with plain hems. If you’re not sure which way to go, something like this contemporary Canali suit (mrporter.com) will flatter most shapes; it’s lightly constructed, not too slim or too short, and the trousers taper just so.