The fashions of classic menswear

Friday, March 16th 2018
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Although we sartorial enthusiasts aspire to style that lasts decades, not seasons, I think it's important to recognise the fashions we still follow.

While we shun band T-shirts or 'ugly' trainers, we are still strongly influenced by our peers and those we see around us.

[B&Tailor (Chad is pictured above) have been more adept than most tailors at picking up on these sartorial trends]

Take the lapel.

Most tailoring enthusiasts today will tend towards a wider lapel than is seen on a high-street suit. It may be 9cm, it may be 8cm, but it will certainly be wider.

[Above: Relatively wide lapel on Shibumi Firenze suit at fitting stage]

They tell themselves it is more stylish. I tell myself the same thing. But of course there is nothing fundamentally better or more flattering about a wider lapel.

Very skinny lapels are certainly silly, but so are overly large ones.

The only thing that is consistently stylish and flattering is balance - not too far one way or the other.

The same thing goes for the height of a lapel. 

A few years ago we seemed to reach peak lapel height, with collars shrinking and lapels flying off the back of shoulders.

Today the most progressive suits seem to be dropping their lapels, with the gorge sitting somewhere mid-chest.

[Pictured above, a Dalcuore jacket on the left and Ethan at Brycelands in a Liverano on the right - with different lapel heights]

There is a vintage influence here, and arguably it makes the chest seem larger.

But fundamentally it is a fashion, and we should recognise it as such.

The other obvious fashion is the width of trousers.

[Tom Stubbs and Nick Foulkes pictured above for How to Spend It]

Skinny trousers that cling to the leg are rarely flattering, but wide trousers can be taken to extremes too. The fashion today seems to be towards wider and higher styles.

What other sartorial fashions are there?

The most obvious are big waistbands and extended waistbands, and recently gurkha-style waistbands. Less obvious perhaps are deep turn-ups or cuffs, and three-roll-two jackets.

There are also trends in shoes (double monks seem to have had their day); trends in shirt collars (longer and pointier) and of course shorter-lived fads for cloths (such as navy seersucker or tobacco linen).  

[Below: A Drake's point-collar shirt]

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of these.

As I wrote back in 2008, I think you should be aware of your fashion cycle you're in - and enjoy it.

But I would add that moderation is paramount.

Savile Row tailors used to say that they followed trends in suits - just slowly. When the trend was for five-inch lapels in the seventies, theirs were 3 ¾. When it was two inches in the nineties, theirs were 3 ¼.

I think this is a good rule to follow, and we shouldn't pretend that we're not following our own, low-level trends. 

I have most of my non-English jackets made in a three-roll-two style. I also tend to have 5cm turn-ups and patch pockets. But I eschew gorge lines that are too high, and double breasteds that are taken to extremes.

Don't pretend you don't follow fashions. Just be aware of it and enjoy it in moderation.

As an aside, it is possible (and perhaps interesting) to break down these fashions into groups based on how long they last.

(Almost like colours grouped together by wavelength.)

There is the long-wave, generation-spanning menswear trend that has seen the lounge suit replace the frock coat and now, arguably, replace the dinner jacket.

There are trends that last a decade or so, and tend to be seen in lapel widths, trouser widths and collar shapes (most of those mentioned above).

And there are also fashions that last 2-3 years. The trends around cloths probably fall into this group, as do things like tie bars, or trouser pleats.

US Esquire did a lovely piece in 2015 that used Google data to measure the popularity of various items of menswear, such as pocket squares (below). It was fascinating to see tie bars go up as fedoras went down.

Of course, that piece is about mainstream trends, and we are not mainstream.

Indeed, there is an argument that just as the internet makes trends more global, it also enables subcultures like classic menswear to carry on outside of the mainstream, as global websites and forums group a few hundred like-minded souls together to reassure each other.

So perhaps we are setting our own fashions now.