Life Advice

Clear out those three-piece suits and free up some rail estate

Moving across the pond from London to New York, former US Mr Porter editor, Dan Rookwood, talks about his journey through style, and the joys of a new, versatile wardrobe

When I was US editor of Mr Porter, the one-stop online shop for credit card- punishing menswear, dressing the part was literally in the job description (bullet point No 9, if memory serves). But I didn’t quite nail this requirement straightaway.

At my recent leaving do, I was reminded by a colleague of the first time he and I met, which was four years ago at a dinner to introduce Mr Porter to press in LA. It was held at a restaurant in Venice Beach and for some reason, I elected to wear a double-breasted Prince of Wales check suit, a knitted tie with collar bar, and double monk strap shoes. Everyone else wore jeans, T-shirts and a sunny disposition. There’s that famous Oscar Wilde line: ‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated’. Well, Wilde was half wrong.’I thought my suited look was timeless. Turns out it actually was a trend, as I soon discovered when I moved Stateside’

‘I thought my suited look was timeless. Turns out it actually was a trend, as I soon discovered when I moved Stateside’

It took me a couple of months to recalibrate my look upon moving across The Pond from London to New York. I arrived all buttoned up, like a British three-piece envoy to the United States. I remember standing on the L train platform at Union Square soon after I landed when a woman sidled up and asked: ‘English or gay?’ I beg your pardon, I replied, instantly revealing I was at least one of these. ‘Are you English or gay – or both? Because no straight New Yorker dresses like that.’

In London, I didn’t stand out nearly so much. From around 2010, I wore a suit – or at least a blazer and smart jeans – pretty much every day; not because I had to, but because I wanted to. It was the look for guys in their 30s. Even the fast-fashion likes of Topman, H&M and Zara were wall-to-wall in slim- t suits for twentysomethings. We wore shoes rather than sneakers, notably brown brogues. This was the rise of ‘sartorialism’ and it turned out a tribe of well-dressed, well-groomed gents. Perhaps it was the Mad Men/Boardwalk Empire effect, or the emergence of photographers who diffused sharp style on a new social media platform called Instagram. Maybe consciously or subconsciously, we were all smartening up our act in the wake of the recession. It was probably a combination of all of the above, but whatever the reason, suits were cool and London was at the centre of it. When London Collections: Men first launched in 2012, the front row was dressed to the nines in Savile Row.

‘The prevailing wind of menswear has changed, blowing in more relaxed air’

‘Fashions fade, style is eternal,’ as the iconic designer Yves Saint Laurent famously put it. I thought my suited look was timeless, which is part of the reason I invested so heavily in it. Tailoring has been around for centuries and a well-made whistle has always looked good. Turns out it actually was a trend, as I soon discovered when I moved Stateside, it just happened to be one I could buy into. But all trends must die, valar morghulis.

I scarcely wear suits any more; they just hang forlornly in my wardrobe, taking up valuable rail estate. The prevailing wind of menswear has changed, blowing in more relaxed air. Perhaps it’s reflective of today’s increasingly exible working environment, where business and leisure often happen at the same time – or certainly segue from one to the other. This presents dilemmas for the man about town, such as: ‘Can I claim this back on expenses?’ and ‘What should I wear?’

It’s up to you to work out the former, but as for the latter, the key is to create a versatile wardrobe comprised of pieces you can dress up or down as the diary dictates. The sharp line between smart and casual has blurred. Deconstructed tailoring is now often dialled back with sharp striped T-shirts or fine-gauge knitwear. Workwear – another hardy menswear perennial – has rebounded in a big way. Think Japanese denim and rugged twill chore jackets, or canvas overshirts. Performance wear and elevated sportswear have become acceptable in many offices. Indeed, it is not just encouraged in my new role; again, it is written in the job description. Not all that surprising I suppose: I now work for Nike.