Formal and Office Attire
Your most pressing style questions answered
How do I tell if a suit fits properly?
While the prevailing silhouette is as tight now as it ever has been, suits still have to fit - stretching and pulling remain unflattering even if a jacket is cut like a second skin. Ideally the jacket will be as wide, but no wider, than your shoulders, the collar will sit flat against your shirt collar, the back will fall in a fairly straight line from the shoulder blades, the armpits will be quite neat (because otherwise the jacket will restrict arm movement), the buttoning point will be on the same latitude as your belly button, there will be enough shape to give you a waist, and it'll be close - but not tight - around the stomach.
I'd like to buy a suit that I can wear to work and in the evening. Shall I buy a black one?
The only black suit a man truly needs is a dinner jacket, although many choose to wear black for day and night. Unless the invitation calls for a dinner jacket or tuxedo, there's nothing wrong with wearing a blue or grey suit in the evening. Basic colours take on a subtly different appearance in mohair fabric, which is just shiny enough to stand out at night.
I wear a suit to work every day but I've got a job interview at a firm where everyone dresses casually. What on earth should I wear?
It's more important to feel comfortable than to slavishly follow the dress code so, if the thought of casual clothes fills you with dread, stick with a suit and wear it well. However, if you do have time to prepare I'd consider some neat chinos, navy-blue socks, brown loafers, a white shirt and a blazer. A knitted tie is an optional extra; it'll improve the outfit without making it significantly more formal.
I want to buy a jacket, and it will be a while before I buy another. Is there anything else for it but to buy a blazer?
There is a reason that the navy single-breasted blazer is ubiquitous. It has rightly been described as the little black dress of the male wardrobe, and that metaphor hints at how varied blazers can be. It is best to overcome your misgivings by finding a modern one, without brass buttons or padded shoulders. An alternative, for the colder months, is a tweed jacket in a broad grey herringbone.
I see men in very short jackets. Should I emulate them?
Short is where we're at, and the man to thank or blame is the US designer Thom Browne. His clothes seemed outrageous when they first appeared, but his influence has been huge. Any man remotely interested in fashion will want to wear jackets (particularly blazers or tweed jackets) far shorter than tradition dictates. However, clothes shouldn't look shrunken, because that leaves men looking like overgrown schoolboys, or simply fat. Regardless of body shape, it's probably best that your backside is covered.
Will I look like the Prince of Wales if I wear a double-breasted jacket?
Yes, but only if you wear a big, loose, old-fashioned one. Double-breasted jackets are very stylish, and contemporary versions, which are neat in the body and relatively short, are extremely elegant and bear little relation to what HRH wears.
I am newly single and I want to update my wardrobe. What should I be looking for and what should I avoid, with a female audience in mind?
Do not try to reinvent yourself, because it will probably be unconvincing. Instead concentrate on updating the classics for a fresh and contemporary look. Jeans, shoes, shirts and suits mustn't look outdated or worn out. Few girls notice the intricacies of how a man dresses, but they are likely to notice your watch and your shoes; either can be taken as an indication of your income bracket, so make sure you're happy to be judged on them. And it's obvious, but make sure you reload your underwear drawer.
Double-breasted jackets and suits look cool, but how do I make one feel cool in summer?
A double-breasted jacket is going to be warmer than a single-breasted jacket in the same material, not least because you really have to wear it buttoned up. However, you can mitigate against the heat by choosing a fabric that breathes. Lightweight high-twist wools (sometimes known as fresco cloth) made into unlined, largely unstructured jackets will be the breeziest option. There is a cloth called Solaro, available only in a tan colour with a reddish background, that is said to reflect the sun's rays, which you might consider for a bespoke commission. It's good enough for some of the best-dressed men in Italy (Luca di Montezemolo, Matteo Marzotto, Lapo Elkann), so it's good enough for us.
How long are suit trousers meant to be?
Right now they feel right anywhere between the shin bone (although this needs careful thought, good socks and beautifully tapered trousers) and the top of the shoe with a maximum of one break in the fabric. Any longer than that and your trousers will 'puddle' on your shoes, which looks juvenile and scruffy and makes your legs look shorter.
Are turn-ups cool now? All the trendy types roll up their jeans, but how does this translate to suits?
This is up to you and your inside leg measurement. Turn-ups are a very personal thing but what is universal is the fact that they shorten the apparent length of the leg; shorter guys may want to consider this fact. And, traditionally, they make a suit less formal than it otherwise would be, which is why dinner-jacket trousers never have them.
I find it uncomfortable to wear a tie. Is it OK if I just ditch it?
There are times when going tieless will impede professional or social success so, before you dump the silk, ask yourself where the problem lies. Physical discomfort is most likely to be caused by a shirt collar that's too small. Or is it just that you don't like your ties: might a woollen tie, a bow tie or a knitted silk tie redefine the item? If you remain unconvinced, how about some kind of neckerchief or cravat? If, however, you are set on this course do think about your shirt, because an open collar needs to stand up to look right.