The man's suit - now stabilized
Slim Suits: The Attraction Is Physical – by DAVID COLMAN/NY Times
WONDROUS planetary alignments may excite astronomers, but not the average Joe, who just wants to see a nice comet. The same is true in the slow-moving world of men’s wear. But a harmonic convergence in tropical-weight wool is taking place even as we speak, and men should listen up, because it will probably affect their lives a lot more than Mercury going into retrograde ever will.
Anywhere a man shops — fashion houses like Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent; the English-y prep confines of Polo Ralph Lauren and Paul Stuart; traditional Italian luxury houses like Brioni and Kiton; old-school American clothiers like Brooks Brothers and Hickey Freeman; and trendy young lines like Rag & Bone and Trovata — the most popular suit is an elongated and trimmed-down silhouette that is sending other shapes packing (and don’t forget the mothballs).
With slight deviations to reflect taste, the specs of the contemporary man’s suit are as follows: a two-button closure; narrow lapels in a high-notch or peak style; high armholes; narrowly set and thinly padded shoulders; low-waist, slim-cut pants with hems that never quite touch the top of the shoes, daring to bare (just as women first did a century ago) a bit of sock or skin.
This is not a sudden convergence, having been a decade or more in the making. But the fact of a single silhouette coming into focus at so many diverse clothiers represents a rare consensus in the world of men’s wear.
“A few years ago, you could distinguish what was Armani, what was Brioni, what was Prada,” said Salvatore Cristiano of L&S Custom Tailors, who has been altering and making clothes for men on the Upper East Side for 33 years. “Now you can’t tell the difference.”
The change underscores how influential the more slender, body-conscious man has become to mainstream fashion. Fashion-watchers may be tempted to locate the epicenter of the trend as Mr. X’s collection of four years ago or the smashing style of rock star Y or movie star Z. Though you can track elements of the look to the influence of a designer — the shorter jacket and pants can be credited to Hedi Slimane and Thom Browne, the two-button stance to Tom Ford , the high armhole to Helmut Lang , the skinny lapel to Jil Sander, the flat-front pants to Romeo Gigli — the slimmer shape owes its success to one man, the guy known as the end-user. Today he has the same agenda for his tailored clothing as for his T-shirts and jeans.
“You get to show off your physique more,” said Michael Chan, 30, an equities trader in New York who in the last year bought two slim, two-button suits from Seize sur Vingt, a custom suit maker in NoLIta. “It’s a more fitted look, not so baggy or amorphous, so you can see the body shape.”
All the three-button suits in his closet? “I don’t wear them anymore,” he said. “Those big, boxy shoulders, all that room swimming in the waist, it looks totally outdated, like you’re back from the 1990s.”
Indeed, if “clean” was the buzzword of the 1990s, leanness has now edged closer to godliness. Consider the promotion that Bloomingdale’s is having for men tonight at its New York flagship. Sponsored with Equinox and Men’s Health, which tirelessly promotes weight loss for men, the “New Suit, New You” campaign extols the joys of a slimmer silhouette both in and out of clothes.
“In some ways, it makes it harder to get a guy into a suit now,” said Kevin Harter, Bloomingdale’s men’s wear director, pointing out that a less constructed suit follows the contours of a man’s entire torso; it’s not a padded armature that rests on a man’s shoulders and closes at his waist. “Five years ago, you could just put a guy into an off-the-rack suit, and if he could button it comfortably, you were all set. Now it’s a little more involved. It’s all about the fit around the chest and the waist and shoulder.”
Todd Komarnicki, 41, a screenwriter and producer, welcomes clothes that keep him on his toes (and on his bathroom scale). “It demands the best of your own physique,” Mr. Komarnicki said. “You shouldn’t hide in a suit. You should be proud.” Moreover, he added, the two-button suit feels less formal. “It’s kind of fancy-casual. You can get dressed up in it, or you can rock sneakers with it, which is what I did for my wedding.”
As daunting as the new silhouette may be to middle of the roaders, most men will want to upgrade their softwear or risk being left behind. Many will have to look in their closets and decide what to weed out to make room for the new industry standard.
They are the lucky ones. Some will have to look not in the closet but, say, the refrigerator to ask themselves, “O.K., what do I have to lose?”