How The Men’s Suit Is Being Reinvented
Tailoring is back for summer 2019, but not as you know it
Backstage at Dunhill. Photograph by Mr Jason Lloyd Evans
There’s a tendency to think of tailoring as though it were classical sculpture in a museum: silent, immovable and impervious to change. The title of one the most famous books on the subject, and the name of a popular tailoring blog, Permanent Style, says it all.
Indeed, we are regularly told that the suit is dead, destroyed by the combined forces of athleisure and streetwear. The buttoned-up formality and elitism of tailoring seems at odds with our supposedly laid-back, egalitarian world. A quick glance in any office or on the rush-hour commute will show that suits are no longer required for all but a few professions.
And yet, at MR PORTER, we still seem to sell an awful lot of them.
The story of tailoring’s demise is not that simple. Epochs in men’s fashion don’t just start and end neatly like an episode in a Netflix series. Instead, change comes unpredictably, and styles have a tendency to get mixed up in new and unusual ways. With remarkable resilience, tailoring has managed to adapt to the modern world.
The suit is back! There, we said it. But this time it’s had all the stuffiness and formality knocked out of it. What was once buttoned up and uptight is now undone and sexy. What was corporate armour is now soft and sensual. But the sense of authority and glamour that you can only get with tailoring (no matter how hyped or limited-edition your hoodie) has been retained. Gentlemen, we have what is known as a win-win situation here.
The new look has emerged from some unlikely quarters. Tailoring brand P. Johnson, for instance, hails from Australia, by way of Italy, with the products made the traditional way in an atelier in Tuscany. The label’s free-flowing tailoring makes use of lighter interlinings and construction techniques to create an easy-wearing garment with soft shoulders, a longer length and generous lapels.
“Our work is light and soft for versatility and a nonchalant feel, but also because we are Australian, we’re naturally laid-back and relaxed,” says Mr Patrick Johnson, the man behind the brand, whom we profiled in 2017.
Tailoring like this has to be worn to be believed. You would happily go to bed wearing P. Johnson. Just as well, because once on, you won’t want to take it off. The soft, comfortable feel of the new style of tailoring is just as important as the look. This Italianate sensuality can also be found at Barena, Boglioli, Caruso (with its famous butterfly jacket), Incotex, and the cashmere king, Brunello Cucinelli. The origins of the look come courtesy of another Italian you might have heard of, Mr Giorgio Armani, who designed the double-breasted suits for Mr Richard Gere in 1980’s American Gigolo, which, when worn undone, were the tools of his trade.
What the Italians have in chic elegance, London makes up with its street-tough creativity. From Teddy Boys and mods to Mr Ray Petri’s Buffalo boys, tailoring in the capital city is not only the uniform of the establishment, but its rebellious youth cults, too. This interplay between classicism and iconoclasm is embodied by the style of Mr Charlie Casely-Hayford and his late father Mr Joe Casely-Hayford, who died earlier this year. “The guy who wears a tracksuit cares just as much and is just as precise as the guy who wears a bespoke suit,” says Mr Casely-Hayford, who regularly appears on the best-dressed lists of GQ and Esquire. “What’s exciting about this new school of tailoring is seeing those approaches come together. It’s for guys who want the authority and elegance of a suit, but without the formality and stuffiness.”
Dries Van Noten
Once upon a time, wearing sneakers with suits was the subject of much anguished commentary in men’s style writing. Can you? Should you? Today, Mr Casely-Hayford’s bespoke atelier on Chiltern Street cuts suits with the correct proportions to complement a client’s favourite Air Force 1s or Reebok Classics. Similarly at P. Johnson, “Our soft approach means you can wear a T-shirt and trainers in the day time and a shirt and tie at night,” says Mr Johnson.
The new relaxed agenda has made its way into the ateliers and studios of luxury houses and ready-to-wear designers. Dries Van Noten’s SS19 double-breasted cotton khaki suits styled sans anything underneath are perfect for an evening stroll along the Amalfi coast.
Mr Mark Weston at Dunhill also went low and sexy this SS19 with silk moire jackets made to look more like sporty nylon when it is actually a fabric we commonly associate with eveningwear. Concealed buttons on double-breasted jackets were yet another nod to the new youthful sportiness in tailoring.
The Haider Ackermann take is typically languid and romantic, with low-breaking, four-button, double-breasted jackets styled with silk pyjamas and cropped trousers. Just the thing for a cat nap. Meanwhile, at Ami, geography-teacher sandals were styled with dusky, pastel-toned, single-breasted suits with oversized shorts.
The old tailoring was almost militaristic in its neat perfection and also required lots of accoutrement and hardware: pocket square, tie, starched collar, cufflinks, maybe even a tie clip or collar bar. The new tailoring has been de-mobbed. T-shirts, rollnecks or camp-collar shirts and Sea Island cotton polo shirts, worn with the collars flapping over the lapels, now make much more sense. Key accessories include easy, breezy confidence combined with a low-key swagger.
Haider Ackermann Wool-Blend Coat
Dries Van Noten Camel Double-Breasted Wool-Blend Twill Suit Jacket
AMI Grey Slim-Fit Tapered Mélange Virgin Wool Drawstring Trousers
Dunhill Stone Mohair and Wool-Blend Suit Jacket
Boglioli Navy Cotton-Corduroy Suit Jacket
Brunello Cucinelli Brown Alessio Houndstooth Wool and Cashmere-Blend Blazer