Reader Question: Just One Suit

I’m in the market for a bespoke suit. However, I really don’t think I’ll be getting another one any time soon so I want it to be, above all things, useful. I was thinking of a blue or grey, maybe patterned (?) I want it to be adaptable for anything; city, country, dinner with friends, night out at the theatre etc. What would you recommend? What weight cloth should I get? Should it be plain/patterned? Waistcoat? I need advice!

It’s a wonderful thing, in a world facing severe economic headwinds, if you happen to be in the market for a bespoke suit. Embrace the moment, for you are fortunate.

Utility has never been fashionable, but it has recently become more appealing. Particularly in an age where ‘throwaway fashion’ is being treated quite as literally as it’s moniker suggests. The era of cheap clothing is bound to end at some point but at the moment, it represents a low bar for price tolerance. This in turn has led purchasers to question the high prices of designer and tailored clothing; “What you give me” they state “has to be so much better than what I can get elsewhere.” The demands on tailoring are increasing. This is no bad thing. The number of new tailoring firms opening has been healthy for the sector, despite the snobbery of the establishment against the ‘new kids on the block.’ Price competition, as coarse as it sounds to the pure aesthete, has been helpful.

What this change has meant, above all things, is that the new, wider market for tailoring wants more from bespoke suits. They might own a Reiss, an Austin Reed or a Zara suit to endure the swivel-chaired monotony of the office, but they want a bespoke suit for special occasions. They are often content to continue purchasing off the rack – if it represents value. Knocking people out of the habit of buying quantity for less is very difficult. And when they seek ‘the One’ bespoke suit, the crowning glory of their wardrobe, they want something that is going to work to their advantage. And then some.

In truth, it is difficult to think of a suit that would be ideal for all of the activities that our enquirer suggests. A night at the theatre suggests a completely different suit from a suit worn to the races in the country, if traditions are to be (loosely) adhered to. However, this is the new age of tailoring; frankly, it’s a new age entirely. People wear jeans to the theatre, and even to the office; a country suit may not be the purist’s choice, but it looks a darn sight smarter than a printed hoodie. This is why I would advocate the style of suit I consider to be of the greatest utility; the brown, mid-weight wool.

However, even as I write those words I can hear the peal of bells; the Church of Sartorial Purity ringing out in protest against the sacrilegious abuse of the holy (albeit hopelessly outdated) rule: “No brown in town.” It is true that blue and grey are more common, and certainly more traditional in town. However, they are equally strange and out of place in the country. A critic would suggest that brown in town is as much of anathema as blue and grey in the country, but I am not so sure. The brilliant thing about a brown suit is that it is far easier to dress ‘down’ for the country and ‘up’ for town; a man in a blue or grey suit in the country, irrespective of his carefully chosen accessories, would always look like a marooned City dweller.

My advice to our enquirer, if he is serious about adaptability to the country and town, is to plump for brown. A mid-weight wool in herringbone or subtle dogtooth, the colour of milk-chocolate would form a lovely background for blue, pink and white shirts – and Tattersall if the country mood is right. Adding a waistcoat, though not cheap, would increase utility further; three-piece for winter, two for autumn and spring.