The formal tieless jacket – with Steven Hitchcock blazer

Monday, September 28th 2020
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How smart can you be without a suit or tie? 

Formality in tailoring is often discussed in terms of these two things. And it is true that wearing a suit rather than a jacket, and a tie rather than an open-necked shirt, will usually be smarter. 

But it is also possible to be formal and elegant without them. 

Morning dress doesn’t always have matching trousers, after all, and neither do all dinner jackets. There is a long tradition there. 

And while a tie does ‘finish’ the neck in a way that feels formal, alternatives like a roll neck can look just as put-together. 

Today’s outfit - making use of a superb cashmere blazer Steven Hitchcock made for me recently - is intended to illustrate one variation of this. I wore it recently and it felt exceptionally formal. This article is a working-through in my mind, of exactly why. 

Overall the materials are luxurious, while the colours are stark.

Cashmere has a slight natural shine, but one that comes across particularly as the material folds and rolls. The pile makes it shine on its edges and its ridges.

Shine isn’t always formal (think of a cheap shiny suit) but a subtle shine that works with contrast usually is. Hence grosgrain against barathea in black tie, or a worsted suit with woven silk tie. 

Here, the cashmere contrasts nicely with the flatness of the linen shirt. 

The trousers are made of a material rarely seen on PS: wool gabardine. 

I rarely wear wool gabardine because it’s so smooth and silky: these trousers were made for me back in 2011 and they’re the only pair I’ve ever had. 

But when it’s the look you want, gabardine can be beautiful. It’s a dense weave, so it drapes fantastically, and it has a distinctive, subtle shimmer. 

In Alan Flusser’s words it is "still regarded as one of the most luxurious lengths of worsted ever to grace a male thigh". I see Bryceland’s are offering their Winston trousers in wool gabardine at the moment too. So perhaps it’s making a comeback. 

Linen might not be the first material you’d think of for a formal shirt - that would probably a superfine cotton.

But when worn under a jacket, as here, linen’s wrinkling is hidden and the collars and cuffs are pleasingly crisp. In fact, in some ways it performs better than most superfines, which also quickly wrinkle.

A one-piece collar is also generally thought of as casual, which makes sense, given its openness and easy roll. But there is something formal about the lack of seams in that roll towards the neck - there is a nice cleanness to it. And in linen it looks sharper than cotton. 

On this particular day this particular shirt is misbehaving a little, rolling out of the jacket and showing its points. But the appeal of the simplicity is evident.

The colour palette, as mentioned, is stark. 

The jacket is not just navy, but dark navy. It’s the navy that should be used in most menswear really, including crewnecks and pea coats. But it is specifically needed for this outfit to be formal. 

The shirt is white, the trousers are cream. Both create contrast with the jacket. 

They would look odd, perhaps, if the jacket were removed. But on a formal occasion that is less likely. 

The shoes could be black. They’re not, they’re a very dark brown, with even darker polish on the toes. But they don’t feel much more informal than black would have been. (A bigger difference would have come from not having cuffs on the trousers.)

Their bespoke make - with the pitched heel and slim waist, which makes them appear thin and delicate - is certainly formal. And perhaps dark brown adds a little more interest to an otherwise stripped-back look. 

The handkerchief is white linen. Again, high contrast, in both colour and texture. 

A dark, finely patterned silk would have added more interest still. But there is a point to the starkness: it is deliberately, demonstratively formal. A little jewellery in the buttonhole might be a better way to achieve that interest. 

The jacket is the fourth I have from Steven Hitchcock, and given how great the last one was - in charcoal tweed - he was the first person I wanted to make this one. 

I wear more casual tailoring these days, more Neapolitan cuts and more casual materials. But there will always be a place in the wardrobe for an English jacket, and I love the way Steven builds in so much subtle drape into his tailoring. 

This jacket is very comfortable, with space in the chest and an easy waist. Yet it looks very shaped, and flattering. 

We only made small changes during the fitting process, but both illustrate the style I increasingly prefer. 

The shoulders were widened a touch and the waist button lowered a touch. The shoulders by less than half an inch, the waist button by no more than that.

Small changes, but together they noticeably enlarge the triangle created by those three points, and so the overall size of the upper body.

Interestingly, Steven commented that a corresponding but inverse triangle controls how he fits the jacket. Its vertices are the back of the neck and the bottom point of each armhole. 

The jacket is something that I hope will become a foundational piece in my wardrobe. My previous navy cashmere, in a lighter weight Zegna cloth made by Solito, didn’t wear that well and I’m not sure the cloth suited the cut. 

This one already feels better, and has been worn with green flannel and green covert twill, as well as this gabardine. 

The outfit overall perhaps shows that, in an age when ties are ever rarer, it’s still possible to be extremely elegant.  

In fact, given a tie today might seem more corporate day in the office than dressy evening in town, this open-necked luxury might be the best of both worlds. 

Cashmere from W Bill - 21700, 13oz. Actually in their overcoatings bunch.

One-piece shirt from Marol, also shown and discussed here

Shoes from Yohei Fukuda here.

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man