The Suit - Man's Best Friend
The suit is a very versatile part of a man's wardrobe; Western dress code doesn't insist on a suit for every day activity anymore but at one point in time men wore them practically each day of the week. For the most part, dress code is a fairly loose term used for workplace or special events. "Back in the day" there were varying levels of dress code, including, by rank: Court Dress, Formal, Semi-formal, and Informal. As for casual codes: Smart casual, Business casual, Leisure attire, Active attire.
Today we will look more at casual codes, specifically Smart casual. A loose definition goes something like: Used for business purposes, church events, "night on the town" and everyday wear. When picturing a suit that falls under "smart casual", think of a blazer or sports jacket, collard shirt and dress trousers. Footwear includes loafers and dress shoes but never "sneakers" or men's sandals. Please don't wear sandals - men's toes should never be seen.
Smart casual is kind of interchangeable with Business casual since both incorporate similar articles of clothing. An important note: both Smart and Business casual do not allow jeans. Only Dr. House can get away with that. Neither requires neckties or cuff links, but are acceptable. Hell, more than acceptable!
It's very important to look put together; keep all your clothing clean and rumple-free and dry clean when possible.
The simplest definition of a suit: a garment made from the same cloth, consisting of at least a coat and trouser. For the most part, you will put together trousers, jacket, dress shirt and a necktie when you wear a suit; but these items are not always sold together. When you purchase a two-piece suit you get the trousers and jacket; when you purchase a three-piece suit you get a waistcoat (or vest) included.
Three common forms of suits are:
Bespoke - a garment made by a tailor ("tailor made") out of cloth chosen by the client. The tailor will make the garment to the measurements, taste and style of the wearer. This isn't really common practice anymore since it's pretty expensive and most suits are mass produced. But if you can splurge on one really good suit, you might as well; a Bespoke can be used for most formal occasions and special situations.
(these images illustrate the suit as it's being made by a professional tailor)
Made to Measure - a pre-made pattern is altered to fit the client, though options and fabric are limited. While these aren't as expensive as a Bespoke, they are a little on the pricey side. However, having one or two in your closet will help boost your wardrobe considerably.
(this image illustrates the suit being tailored by a professional)
Ready to Wear - the least expensive and most common suit. They are not of the highest quality but can be altered by a tailor to fit the wearer; alterations are always suggested if you are purchasing a Ready to Wear suit.
(this is an image of a Ready to Wear, which, as you can see is totally inferior)
No suit should be skin-tight. Instead, it should hang from the body in a flattering way. You will achieve this by choosing a flattering cut; there are a few variations (all of these are acceptable in current fashion):
Double-breasted - a conservative design with two vertical rows of buttons. Though not really considered "fussy", this is not as common among modern suit-wearers. But a Double-breasted jacket always looks sharp and impressive.
Single-breasted - has a single row of buttons. This is a classic design and will fit right in to any work environment.
British suit - tapered sides, minimal shoulder padding and two vents (a vent is a slit in the bottom rear of the jacket; originally designed for sporting jackets, they were kept for practical reasons: they made it easier to sit down and often improve the hang of the jacket). British suits are slightly boxy and tend to look very formal.
(Prince Charles, remembering he's never going to be King and a few selections of British suits)
Italian suit - strongly padded shoulders, minimally tapered and no vents. These suits are usually very slender and look "modern." The trousers are slim and, occasionally, tapered.
(some variations on the Italian suit - both very sexy)
American suit - much more casual. They have moderate shoulder padding, moderately tapered sides and a single vent. This is a very masculine suit; it hangs from the body in a slightly looser way than the British, which is why it's considered "casual."
(sort of like Wall Street, but less douche-y)
The most common fabric used in suits is wool, which can be made into a variety of yarns. Wool is often associated with bulky, warm-weather clothing but many advances have been made in making a finer fiber from wool. Traditionally, linen is used in hot weather; North American fashion is fond of seersucker. Cashmere is popular but expensive - as is silk or silk blended with wool. There is the option of synthetic materials but they are cheap and very rarely recommended - they don't feel very nice, either.
When it comes to color, conservative is always a good bet. Look to black, light grey, dark grey and navy; brown and olive are also acceptable, as are lighter shades, in summer, such as tan and cream. Black isn't recommended for day-to-day wear, but for more formal occasions and funerals.
Patterns are a great way to express yourself. Solid colors are traditional, but pin stripes are classic. Plaid is a fun pattern and herringbone is pretty slick looking.
A good rule of thumb is to try to look like Don Draper any chance you get.
Up next: The Jacket and Trousers