Wednesday, September 27, 2023 Sep 27, 2023
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SUITING the new mood

By Jeffrey Miller |

the interest in business suits as fashion, which emerged from the menswear collections last fall, has been carried over with a vengeance into the 1984 spring season. The idea in the fashion industry that suits will be the new warm-weather uniform is based more on the principle of impact than on any sudden regard for sobriety and tradition. For business-suit die-hards not particularly accustomed to being in vogue, the season is extraordinary enough. To an entire generation of American men weaned on sweatshirts and sneakers, the thought of dressing in suits for the upcoming months is as fresh as the first whiff of spring.

In a well-cut suit, a fellow can feel-whether he’s on a business or social appointment-appropriately dressed and therefore relaxed, most of the time. His image can be strong or quiet, deferential or cold. Grandfathers understand the suit formula, but after the breakdown of dress codes during the Sixties, many younger and even middle-aged men abandoned suits, not so much as a concept as in the actuality of everyday lifestyles.

Recently, though, designers have deigned to realize-of all things-the practicality of suit-wearing: that uniformity is dependable and convenient on a daily basis, that although a well-chosen suit may never require another thought as to function, just varying the accessories can change an entire look. Yet at the heart of the suit revival is the irony that a sober, striking appearance has become fashionable again in the springtime, usually the more laid-back of fashion seasons. The visual effect of a chic business suit will be considerably heightened when surrounded by warm-weather disarray. The new suits have equally to do with dressing up for business in a reviving economy as they have to do with the bold aesthetics of 1984.

Always a basic (as well as a prestige) item, the Brooks Brothers suit serves as an inspiration to designers bent on fashion purity as their statement for the spring season. Somehow tailored to encapsulate the all-American boy in each of us, the Brooks suit, with its strong proportions and clean design, conveys sartorial honesty on American business style. But the look is not without its adversaries. Many people accuse the suit of utter shapelessness but, in fact, when properly fitted, the Brooks Brothers classic, with its natural shoulders, plain-front pants and ample swagger, holds together magically by the middle jacket button in some vague but perfect shape.

The ultimate in new Brooks style (in direct reference to the old Brooks style) is its spring navy-blue, pin-striped, tropical-weight worsted-wool suit. Some men prefer this suit in Brooks’ 60 percent wool/ 40 percent polyester fabric-it’s as sturdy, handsome and seasonless as the brogues or penny loafers prescribed to anchor the Brooks style. The cotton oxford-cloth, button-down collar shirt (another Brooks staple) serves these men’s looks well but is too sporty to be worn with most other dressy suits this season.

The choice of a tie-and ties, more than ever, are the icing on the cake-will grant the Brooks Brothers look its versatility. The Brooks silk repps, always the purist’s choice, are handy when opting for invisibility; the bow ties are for frisky types or for the professorial. A designer tie will instantly slicken up the look. And an antique tie (or an old one of yours or your father’s) will bring out the latent, stylish Fifties qualities that are indisputably Brooks Brothers.

Ralph Lauren stresses luxury and comfort in his Polo line this season, but never at the expense of decorum. Along with many other American designers and manufacturers, Lauren updates the business suit, softening its appeal without diminishing its effect, by using suit fabrics not readily available in places like Brooks Brothers: linen or cotton or blends mixed with silk. The emphasis of these fabrics is on texture rather than on pattern or color. In fact, throughout the suit collections, color remains vehemently neutral, which again bespeaks the understated-but-strong feeling of the season.

European designers have produced similar styles, more rooted in the plain and roomy American silhouette than in the more angular, fitted, continental shape. Surface interest in the fabric is prevalent, as is the inclination to keep suit patterns simple and colors neutral, although the Europeans have added a subdued “lake green” to the repertoire of navy, tan and shades of gray.

Single-breasted suits outnumber double-breasted, and trousers are pleated-singly, though-in an attempt to clean up the line of the double-pleated models a year ago. All-cotton suits show up throughout the European collections, but not the sporty twill versions-the fine, flat, Italian-cotton styles in subtly woven checks that appear cool and breezy on the wearer but never unbusinesslike.

Cottons are used more and more for spring suits these days, but linen is the hands-down most attractive fabric of the season. Linen has been popular for some time with designers of sportswear and resort clothing (and it’s showing stronger than ever in 1984 women’s collections), but nowhere has it been put to more refreshing use than in this spring’s business suits. Most of us are aware of linen’s extreme tendency to wrinkle, so psychological adjustments are in order-especially if linen suits are ever to be taken seriously by bankers and lawyers. Designers have attempted to compensate by using weightier fabrics in dignified shades of charcoal and navy when tailoring very serious business styles.

And what could fit the mood of the season more perfectly than a dark linen suit sporting, somehow reverently, a light pin stripe or a feint tattersall check? Long a symbol of gentility and erudition, linen suits add just the right touch of recherché elegance to an otherwise fairly intractable fashion season. Is your board room ready for it? If you think so, find any excuse to make linen the season’s wardrobe addition. Weekend or dinner suits break up easily into stylish separates; use these to practice wielding your wrinkles before taking the serious step.

With this general resurgence of dressy suits upon us, a word to the wise is in order: No degree of fashion savvy, no amount of price tag dollars, no crash course in “attitude” will make up for a suit with a bad fit. Even among Brooks Brothers mesomorphs, there are as many bodily variations to throw off the shape of a suit as there are to set it off. Ill-fitting pants and jackets can occur even after the first round of alterations so, for heaven’s sake, persevere-or your money, time and attention will have been wasted. Especially when altering a linen suit, allow room for movement (or a waistline) since the fabric will crease even if it’s stretched a little. Since the new suits are cut fuller anyway, a slightly fuller fit (though a dignified one- never clownish) is the general rule. Otherwise, keep an eye on these potential problem areas.

The obvious first: Sleeve length should reach the edge of your hand, not just your wrist. And cuffs on trousers-de rigueur a couple of seasons ago (there was a claim that they weighted the fabric for the perfect drape)-are neither necessary nor fashionable in a season of clean, modern suits. The trouser length should be cut for a slight break over a tie shoe; the fabric hemmed under at the bottom of the pant will act as anchor enough.

The amount and placement of fabric suppressed at the waist is crucial to the proportion of the suit. The top button in two-button suits and the middle button in three- button suits fall between your navel and your hips (you decide which level looks balanced). When the button closes the jacket, the waist should be suggested, never really defined.

The shoulder and neck area is also critical to a becoming fit and, although tricky to fix, can usually be done. The collar of the jacket must always lay smoothly against the shirt collar, which fits smoothly on the neck. The space below the collar and between the shoulder blades must be crease-free, even when your hands are in your pockets. The shoulder seam should extend a little beyond your own shoulder, not rest directly on top; you should feel the slight weight of a jacket’s shoulder and not the pinch of one.

Since their revival several seasons ago, pleats on pants add style to suits as long as the wearer is thin enough that the pleats don’t add bulge. In making sure that the line of the suit is not disrupted, check the length of the pleats. Do they cause puffiness at the abdomen, or worse yet, a sack at the waist when you’re seated? Does the area remain flat with your hands in or out of the pockets?

Essential to the fitting session is anyamount of experimental movement aftereach area is pinned. If this makes a department-store tailor impatient, then your bestinterests are served elsewhere. Cross yourarms in front of you; sit down and cross yourlegs. Is your suit flowing freely with you? Ifyou keep feeling or seeing pulls, then buy asize up and alter down. There are enough restraining factors and contrary effects outsideof the fitting room, especially in those high-toned business and fashion circles. Work onthe proper fit until you have it, until you’rebeautiful and comfortable. Remember, nonchalance originates here.

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