A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column concerning my decidedly negative opinion of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s appearance at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. I found his ill fitting suit, untucked shirt and generally sloppy appearance both confusing and disappointing.
I received a host of responses; a number of them from Londoners defending Johnson’s well known eccentric style. Normally I am less vocal about this sort of thing. Individual style and personal proclivities are just that – personal – so, who am I to judge?
However, I firmly believe that there are times and places when you should make the effort to be well turned out. Weddings and funerals are two good examples. Representing your city and by extension your country, at a globally televised ceremony is also one of those times. I do not suggest that the British people foot a sizable bill for some extravagant bespoke work-up. I simply pointed out that a well fitting suit and closed jacket can do wonders for one’s image on the world stage.
The mayor’s questionable tailoring is thrown into sharp relief to me becuase more men actually seem to be focusing on dressing well. Washington D.C., though still beset by slouchy jackets, too long trousers, and sleeves that virtually reach one’s knuckles, has a growing population of men who express an elegant sense of personal style. And for the majority of younger gentlemen taking their first tentative steps toward the world of better clothing, the suit is where it all begins.
In particular, I have noticed more young men in suits, and not just the Jos. A. Bank standby. More and more I see more modern silhouettes, nicer fabrics and more attention to detail. This makes sense because at its heart, D.C. is a suit town and if there is going to be an uptick on the professional style front it will start with suits. From A-List lobbyists tucking into the best table at the Palm to the ambitious college grads haunting the halls of Congress looking for the next big move, suits are an equalizer. Once can find a nice suit for a few hundred dollars or have a personalized work of hand crafted art for several thousand.
I hope that guys are finally realizing that there is no shame in dressing well and looking good. Though the suit may scare some men a bit, there is nothing to fear. Regardless of cost, a suit that is properly tailored to your body will fit you, flatter you, and make you look better, not worse. A well-tailored suit will hide your flaws and even out your physical idiosyncrasies.
The Washington, D.C. fashion ethic tends to favor the “look good, but not too good” approach, but that is not the same thing as looking like a baggy slob. And therein lies my problem with Mr. Johnson. Being irreverent and eccentric is not the same thing as being sloppy. The former is clever and nuanced; a wink and a nod to the establishment. The latter is just shoddy.
What are the key points to making a suit look good? First, get a properly sized suit. Too many men opt for suits that do not fit well – usually they err on the side of roominess. Don’t fall into that trap; ignore the size label and go for fit first. The suit jacket should fit closely to your body but not feel constricted. Your tailor can make quick work of the sleeve length, darting, button placement and the way the jacket lies across your shoulders. When it comes to how cuff you should show, ¼ to ½ inch is fairly standard, but it’s really a personal choice. Regardless, the goal is a visually we-balanced arm.
Your suit trousers should be hemmed. Cuffed or not, many men like their trousers to have a slight break over the shoe. However, this is a very personal thing and some prefer no break at all while others like a prominent one. This will often depend on the style of suit: modern and slim or classic and sack. Whatever you choose, make sure that when you look in the mirror you see an outfit that’s balanced.
So, take yourself and your best suit to a good tailor and experience the difference of wearing something actually fitted to your body. Be a man, show a little cuff and invest in a nice pair of shoes – Alden Medallion Tip Bals are quite nice – to highlight your newly visible feet. Once you have one good suit, one that fits well and makes you stand a little taller, you will understand why suits are the cornerstone of a good wardrobe.