A Reader’s Question: Retro or Fashion

“I notice you often wear very different cuts of suit. Some of them seem to be homage to 1920s/30s – the tailored ones with pleated trousers and turn-ups – and some of them are of a more fashion forward cut; slimmer trousers, shorter jackets. I think most of these are from cheaper stores. I was just curious to understand what you think I should go for; a retro look or a current one?”
– Bruce, Chicago


The above question was sent to my blog recently and instead of returning a simple answer email to the sender alone, I thought I would construct a more formal, discursive response for the column. Apologies to Bruce, but I cannot confine my opinion to a private communication; this is a good question and something which needs airing.

Firstly, I would not say that the ‘homage’ suits I own are particularly that retro; my wool flannel chalk stripe with a wide peak-lapel, double-pleated trousers, turn-ups and virtually no break does, admittedly, have a slight inter-war aesthetic and such thoughts were not absent from my mind when I was choosing it, but I didn’t decide on it because of some desire to affect a period costume, however beautiful.

There are those of considerable confidence who reject the modern fashion of suit. They may purchase vintage suits or have bespoke suits made in a particular style. As the fashionistas laugh at their wide trouser legs and large lapels, they chuckle back at the modern fondness for cheap materials and transient aesthetics, espousing advice about style trumping fashion which, for what it is worth, is not incorrect. After all, style is about self-assurance and identity; when you know what you want to do with clothing, you just do it.

If you are more susceptible to the opinions and concerns of others, fashion may lend a helping hand. If you shop with the tide, a suit of fashion is something that is chosen for you; for ‘fashionable’ is simply another word for ‘popular’. However, it is not only on the high street that fashion dictates. Incorrectly, many people believe that considerations of fashion do not occur in the tailor’s shop. In fact, many tailors are asked for advice on what is popular, what is fashionable; “Can I have a thinner lapel?”, “Can I have slimmer legs on the trousers?” Though admired artisans and arbiters – to a certain degree – of sartorial taste, tailors are not in a fashion-free vacuum.

My initial reaction to the question was that if you have to ask whether you should follow current cuts of suit or adopt a retro style, you should probably choose the former as you probably haven’t got the self-assurance for the latter. However, this is not only about aesthetic preference but also guidance; it says a lot about the growing disillusionment with fashion and the interest in breaking out as an individual, and some people welcome the advice to make the step.

Therefore, my opinion is this: if you are neither a determined fashionista, nor a confident retroista – much like myself – take what you like from both. This doesn’t have to be field warfare; there is no need to enlist to join the ranks of either army. If you are undecided, this probably means you are torn. If so, just ensure you are comfortable with the untidy inconsistency of being a sartorial magpie.