The Glossary Of Contemporary Tailoring
Before you read on, let us prefix this with a brief note: contemporary suiting isn’t about following the rules. Its Renaissance is powered by the freedom to blend genres, put aside ideas of ‘occasion dressing’ and just wear whatever you’re into. Nevertheless, understanding a suit’s individual components can give background to that informed insouciance you’re after - enter our glossary of tailoring terms, including pre-existing rules to make or break as you see fit.
Tailoring doesn’t have to be worn solely for formal or professional occasions. It bears repeating, suits can be what you want them to be, with a single caveat: if you’re given a dress code to an event, stick to it (see Dress Code below).
You’ve seen bags worn ‘à la garotte’ around the neck, but alternatively try the sleekest of bum bags at the waist or a pouch bag clipped to your belt loops. After all, filling your pockets with a day’s sundries ruins the line of your trousers.
Were once commonly detachable and starched and now aren’t. A good fit should allow space for one or two fingers to be inserted around the neck when buttoned.
The bugbear of the tailoring non-conventionalist. Unless an invite stipulates a certain look, be it ‘white tie’ (waistcoat and tails) or ‘black tie’ (evening jackets and bow ties) etc., go where your heart takes you.
Linens to be worn only in summer, heavy wools only in winter. Everything in between is negotiable.
From pocket squares to cummerbunds to armbands to tie pins, jewellery, hats et al. These can be a minefield, either offering a sophisticated flourish to an outfit or transforming you into a ‘Class of ‘08’ fedora-wearing prom guest. Proceed with caution (or throw caution to the wind - the choice is yours.)
Savile Row tradition dictates that a blazer should finish on the edge of the shoulder, with the overall length hitting mid-crotch for those below 5ft 9, and lower down for the taller amongst us. But these rules aren’t set in stone, every era has new dictates on how suiting should be cut. Subvert the current norm for interesting results, even a subtle variation on lapel width can be a statement.
Colour is personal, you know what you like. The old adages about ‘red and green never being seen’ and something about navy and black being bad together is nonsense. There is only one clear ‘no’ in this arena: don’t wear a cheerful shade to a funeral unless given prior permission, nobody will care for how lilac expresses your quirky personality.
There are plentiful variations on what can be worn under a blazer, but if sticking to classic shirt rules - a shirt should fit not too tight, finish below the wrist and ‘shoot’ one centimetre of exposed cuff from the jacket sleeve.
Traditionally, penny loafers, brogues and Derbys strike a more casual note whilst monk straps, Oxfords and opera slippers ratchet up the sense of ceremony. In actuality, pair your suit with whatever works best, not forgetting the option of slick sneakers. Take heed of your grandfather’s advice though and invest in some trees, spring-loaded wooden feet that keep your shoes in shape when stored - a life-changer.
The suit is made up of a few immutable pieces, so shape is where you can experiment with this form of clothing. The width of the shoulders or the height of a trouser waistband shift incrementally with the tastes of the time, giving you scope to riff on the styles of a multitude of different decades.
Whilst not necessarily serving a practical function, the tie is an essential element of tailoring ornamentation. Wear yours sleek, squared-off, bowed or loose, or perhaps disposed of entirely for a rebellious riposte to traditional suiting norms.
A ‘break’ in a trouser leg is where the hem meets the shoe and causes the leg to wrinkle up, half a ‘break’ being the standard. Tapered, cropped, flat-fronted with ironed creases, single or double pleats, whatever you like, but remember it’s how the trousers sit on your behind that’s most important.
Now that we’ve covered some suiting terms, a note to end on: remember that nailing contemporary tailoring is about embracing sartorial freedom. To follow or flout these rules is what’s kept the style evolving. In short - wear however you please.
Ross Aston is an editorial consultant and the Features Director of MARFA JOURNAL and Features Editor of MORE OR LESS. His work has also appeared on Vogue.co.uk, Buro, Conde Nast Intl., PORTER magazine and GARAGE. In his spare time, he enjoys wildlife gardening and keeps his tools in a #OldCeline tote.
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