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Monday, August 8, 2016

Is The Suit Dying? Well, What Do You Think?

My favourite pastime must be reading blogs about tailors that I will probably never have the chance to indulge in myself. I can read about their studios, their histories, their shared values, their client lists and their particular style ethos's for hours and hours and thank goodness me that the internet has given us some beautiful content to consume. One of the better blogs on menswear in the world and probably the least recognised out of the 'bespoke' tailoring blogs is Timeless Man written by Andrew Doyle.

It is a younger man's foray into the world of tailored clothing and other men's stimuli that nobody really appreciates the amount of money and time that a blog writer puts into such a blog. Firstly, nobody in the tailoring community will give you a free suit. The cloth costs money, most of the workers are on an hourly wage, so there's not a chance on God's green earth that they'll do it for free. Then there is the time to take the photos, which ordinarily requires a tailored clothing lover of equal standing but with a camera and flexible enough work hours to take shots, and then finally there is time taken to collate all the information, masticate all the adjectives, the nouns of the things you saw, the tricky descriptions for how something appears subjectively; then begins the writing and the editing.

When I started out writing this blog I had plenty of time up my sleeve, a great deal of passion and some money. Those things have all been slowly diminished over the years as life takes it's grip - raising a family, the flood of content on the internet, endless bills - you know the rub, I don't need to waste more time complaining.

All this was done to benefit the 'artisans' that many of us believed would perish without out our voices and without our passion. It was therefore extraordinarily confronting the other day when I was in a popular menswear retailer in the city which I will mention, Harrolds, and the sales staff that was speaking to me said 'we hardly sell suits anymore'.

What? No suits? I could feel myself guffawing, "but you are a suit shop!" I felt like exclaiming. But they weren't. In fact, Harrold's had been evolving for many years into a contemporary menswear designer label house. I looked around the room and it was predominantly Asian customers buying the uber cool hip labels such as Thommy Brownne and Comme Des Fuck Down. Where had all the big hitting suit customers gone? Why were there so few suits on the rack other than the Caruso section?

Whilst I was sleeping in my Vaucluse Studio the whole world had shifted away from the world of suits in favour of contemporary wear and athletica. In an article deriding Donald Trump for being one of the leading reasons why the suit being considered an archaic symbol of 20th Century hierarchical work places and institutions, the author Luke Leitch goes on to state:

The suit reigned supreme as the default vernacular of menswear for most of the 20th century, but has been in decline for much of the 21st. Yes, financial professionals, civil servants, lawyers, politicians and undertakers are still institutionally uniformed in tailoring. But sportswear and workwear (jeans, etc) now rule on the street. And this trend has trickled up. The male digital entrepreneurs who represent the apex of influence and aspiration in 2016 wear T-shirts and hoodies. The ultimate expression of masculine, millennial power dressing is now informal wear: wearing track pants to a board meeting and sneakers instead of brogues shows that you don’t work for the company – you started it.

This June, the largest financial institution in America, JPMorgan Chase, updated its dress code by downgrading the suit: in a company-wide memo issued to 237,000 employees it specified that “casual pants” and “casual shirts that are business appropriate” are now acceptable working attire. Only for meetings with clients – such as Trump, perhaps – who expect to see Chase bankers in top-to-toe tailoring is a suit now required.

Only yesterday I met a mournful luxury-tailored menswear executive in a $4,000-ish cashmere blazer (soon to be available for far less on clearance): anonymously he conceded that his firm’s suit sales are slumping. Brioni, one of Italy’s most wonderful tailoring houses, was recently forced to lay off several hundreds of its tailors. And Canali and Zegna have both recently parted company with their chief designers.

It might seem a little sad to say but I think Mr. Leitch is onto something. These days I wear bow ties mostly with jeans and a sports jacket. Even then there are days where I choose a long sleeve polo over a shirt and, on a day when I am off to the gym, I will spend half the day in variations upon the modern 'athletica' theme from velour tracksuit pants and Nike Jordans to summer shorts and trainers.

It does concern me a great deal that the world's wealthiest and hippest are shunning the suit. It is understandable that if someone elevates themselves out of the slave like wardrobe of the navy suited clerk or employee, that they might indulge in something more expressive, but to do away with the suit entirely, that seemed until yesterday a big stretch.

However, the writing is on the wall. The suit in it's more conservative form, is dying. As more and more people head to technology jobs and away from traditional employing institutions, whilst banks re-design their workplaces to have hot desks and bean bags, whilst nobody will be allowed to have a corner office anymore, whilst the trend is for communal jamming breakouts with accoustic guitars such as I saw in the Facebook HQ in Sydney, whilst employees are told to lie down and think as much as they are instructed to work, well then, don't expect the suit to be hanging around. If you are dismantling the framework by which people traditionally earned a crust, then everything is up for consideration.

It reminds me of my my fellow bloggers who have given so much of their time and money, myself included, to keep the flame alive on what is a dying art that itself perhaps needs evolving. If I were setting up a bespoke atelier in today's market, I'd be offering custom made bomber jackets and patinated leather sneakers with matching iPad covers.... This surely is where all the money seems to be heading these days.

Australian blogger Andrew Doyle, author of one of the better tailored clothing blogs in the world, Timeless Man . 

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