Men seem to have an atavistic need for the two-piece, no matter how many pundits of post-pandemic menswear have read the suit the last rites. However, like so many things, the summer suit is heading for reinvention in the shape of separates, updated seersucker, finally learning to love the creasing of linen and, if in doubt, paired with plimsolls.
I love suits but I am anomalous in that I wear them because they please me rather than because my occupation obliges me to. These days it is hard to think of too many jobs that require a suit: chauffeurs of Mercedes S Classes and BMW 7 Series, expensive security guards of the sort that have a coiled wire emerging from their collar, barristers, job interviewees and of course politicians. Politicians in particular perform a tense dance with the suit, as seen at G7; the goal seems to be the achievement of a drab formality with the minimum of aesthetic pleasure.
But for those of us not driving an oligarch or attending inter-governmental forums, the summer suit is a chance to lighten the mood and ease oneself gently back into semi-formality. We have to think about what we wear to garden parties, alfresco opera performances, race meetings, tennis tournaments and outdoor lunches (handy hint: if they are serving anything fancier than burgers and own-brand lager, ditch the cement-coloured cargo shorts . . . come to think of it, just ditch them altogether).
The British male response to the admittedly capricious summer does at times seem fairly binary, but there is a course to be charted between the Charybdis of the cargo short and the Scylla of the summer suit that channels the Man from del Monte and Col Sanders. Success often lies in making the right fabric choices.
Over the past couple of years, seersucker has been moving away from its fine blue or fine red stripe orthodoxy and has emerged from the chrysalis like some gloriously multicoloured butterfly. “I have made more seersucker suits for Wimbledon and Goodwood this year than I have made in the last 10 years. It is having a real renaissance and it is down to the colours,” says Terry Haste of Savile Row’s Kent & Haste, for whom the current polychromatic seersucker brings out his inner Ken Kesey. “There’s blue and green, blue and gold, blue and brown, there are checks and block stripes.”
One of the leaders in imaginative seersuckers is Neapolitan fabric supplier Cacciopoli, but more than offering colour, seersucker banishes concerns about creasing: the pucker is the point; in effect it comes pre-creased, pre-relaxed and summer-ready.
It is this sense of approachability that, says Michael Hill of Drake’s, also accounts for the popularity of linen this year. “Our big hit has been our linen suiting. There is nothing revolutionary about the winning colours: navy, khaki, ecru and tobacco.” But what is different is the emphasis he puts on a garment that he distinguishes from formal tailoring by calling it a “games suit”.
“It is about embracing the creasing. You don’t want to be too precious and the fact that you can throw it in the washing machine helps to make the suit that bit more approachable. Guys are wanting to wear tailoring in different way, with a polo shirt or T-shirt breaking up the jacket and trousers. This summer we are seeing more and more of a high-low way of dressing that mixes formal garments with something informal, a great old baseball cap and a canvas plimsoll with a suit. Get it right and it is dynamite.”
Part of the rethinking of the suit is that Drake’s does not sell the games suit as a suit but as separates that can be worn as a suit. This seemingly counterintuitive psychology of selling a casual summer suit as two matching separates is also in play at Connolly, which offers a ripstop version that Connolly owner Isabel Ettedgui describes as a “technical seersucker”.
“We sell them as a jacket and a trouser with elasticated waist,” says Ettedgui. “Men like that because they feel they can buy it separately, even if they don’t. We have sold it to guys who are 23 and who are 73 who like the casual tone and wear it without socks.”
It is a similar story at Zegna, where creative director Alessandro Sartori describes the classic formal suit as something largely popular with bespoke and made-to-measure customers “who wear a suit for their own pleasure”. Ready-to-wear is a different matter. “From pret-a-porter they buy separate pieces choosing an overshirt or a chore and building a suit with matching top and bottom,” he says. Fabrics are silk and cashmere twisted together, and linen, cotton and hemp blends in fresh pastels.
At the celebrated Neapolitan tailor Rubinacci there has also been a marked shift towards a more casual elegance. “The safari is the winner this summer because it is comfortable and it is easy,” says Mariano Rubinacci. “It is relaxed because it is made like a shirt in that it is unlined, but it is worn as a jacket so it can be formal, and it is practical with all the pockets.”
And when it comes to vintage clothing, I am very envious of a brace of Madras cotton jackets that my younger son picked up at Portobello Market: a garment with the Proustian power to summon up images of Eisenhower-era America. The more vigorous the check the better . . . but wear with plain trousers.
Even Huntsman, that bastion of Savile Row grandeur, has noted a pronounced move towards separates. “Long before Covid it became more acceptable for guys to rock up to meetings in blazer and smart trousers,” says creative director Campbell Carey. “This summer we cannot sell enough open-weave hopsack mesh blazers. The weave construction means they can twist in many tones and colours making it very versatile with what you pair it with, and you can have it unlined to let air flow in and out.” Carey is also offering what he calls a “weekend cut”. It is still in the Huntsman silhouette; high armhole, one button, suppressed waist, “but the shoulder line is slightly softer, we have softened the canvas construction and the facing construction is all one piece, replacing the [stiffer] horsehair.”
When it comes to shirts, the idea is to look like you got dressed with the intention of wearing an open-necked shirt, rather than you’ve come from a mafia funeral and hastily removed your tie and unfastened your shirt collar. My tip is to wear something like Bel of Barcelona’s genius linen button down shirt. It’s constructed without a neck band and top button, but with inner facings to look smart while the collar keeps its roll thanks to the buttons at the collar points.
From there you can dial it down further to an open-necked resort shirt with a lido collar of the sort proselytised by menswear designer Scott Fraser Simpson. And if you are feeling adventurous look at the Instagram account of Wei Koh, founder of Rake Tailored garments, who has been spending some of his lockdown in Singapore matching his extensive collection of suits with Hawaiian shirts and filming the results.
FT Weekend Festival
The festival is back and in person at Kenwood House (and online) on September 4 with our usual eclectic line-up of speakers and subjects. Infusing it all will be the spirit of reawakening and the possibility of reimagining the world after the pandemic. To book tickets, visit here
But even in today’s permissive sartorial climate there are still times when the Hawaiian shirt might be considered de trop and that one might feel more comfortable (or less conspicuous) in a tie; and for this the knitted silk tie is perfect. It is an excellent travel companion inasmuch as it refuses to crease or deform when screwed up into a ball and stuffed into the corner of a suitcase and although it sounds oxymoronic it looks relaxed — if you don’t believe me google images of David Hockney and knitted ties, he can make it work with paint stained trousers and rolled up sleeves.
It will be interesting to see if even the knitted tie can survive the prediction by Huntsman’s Carey, that separates have got a long way to go yet. If this summer has been about breezy mesh blazers, he is now turning his attention to the other component of the two-piece and, inspired by the breadth of choice of seersucker, he is working on what he calls a collection of “snazzy shorts”. “They are for next year,” he says, “but make no mistake, blazer and shorts are coming.”
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