Fit above all else
Several men’s style websites run forums that ask ‘what am I wearing today?’ Several blogs out there do the same. A few days ago I made the mistake of perusing them, looking for inspiration.
In my mind, the people on the site would look like those photographed on The Sartorialist. They would be dressed with obvious care and knowledge of the pieces that clothed them, with a spark of originality that inspires. Each would be a budding style expert, translating the experience of such forums into fresh, personal creations.
Instead, it was all rather depressing. First, they were keener to talk about the brands that made their garments than about how those garments were made, cut or designed. Each person listed the relevant brand for each item – Loro Piana, Zegna, Brioni – without anything about why they thought a particular combination worked, or why they admired the shape of a particular piece.
Second, not one single post impressed with its understated elegance. Each seemed to equate an interest in men’s style with flamboyance. One individual was particularly pleased with his cream suit, cream tie and white shirt. With a white fedora. This is not style, it is caricature. Another finished off his grey jacket and black trousers with a pair of white clown shoes. With their pointed toes they were almost as long as his shins.
Thirdly, most depressingly, and in a way linked to the other two sources of woe, none of them showed any knowledge or indeed any interest in fit. Trousers puddled on shoes. Shirt cuffs hung three or four inches beyond the jacket sleeve. Shoulders bulged out of jackets that were too small. Indeed, several jackets weren’t even done up, which is not a good sign in itself but also prevents anyone seeing whether it fits.
This is linked to the first two points as fit had obviously been sacrificed to brand and exuberance. There were many discussions of shops and over-the-top accessories. But none on cloth or cut.
One gentleman was very proud of his Zegna jacket, which was lovely except that his shoulders were visibly straining against the top of the jacket sleeve. Not just a little, but a lot. It looked like he was wearing a sweater. A polite suggestion from another contributor that his jacket was too small brought the response that “I like my jackets in this style, it’s a personal thing. I think it makes the outfit tighter and sleeker.”
Now, fit is obviously a variable. There are many questions of personal choice, and many variants in style around the world. But the variations are all more subtle than most people think (with the probable exception today of Thom Browne). The difference in silhouette between the Sack, the Drape and the Continental is largely in the waist and the trousers, in small alterations to the length of the jacket or the curve through the chest. No one advocates puddled trousers. No tailor has ever deliberately made jackets so tight that the back strains against its stitching. If you want a tighter suit, this is achieved through darts and a sleeker chest; perhaps through less shoulder padding or a shorter jacket. Material does not strain on purpose, because it is uncomfortable and because it is inelegant.
Fit is more important than anything else. If I have realised one thing about menswear in past five years, it is that. Clothes can be cheap, they can be threadbare and they can be hideously patterned. But the man wearing them will always look better than his contemporary if they fit him well, and his contemporary’s do not.
Of course, this tenet is debateable at its extremes. But rules are always so – they are simple in order to be easy to remember and easy to bend. I believe that fit is more important than anything else, and this is the first advice I would give to any style novice.
While there are few websites that display photographs of their authors wearing well-fitting clothes, they seem to be vastly outnumbered. Hopefully, there is a forum out there on fit that I am yet to discover.