Like any other piece of clothing or accessory, the suit goes through many a fashion cycle. It goes from skinny fit, skinny lapels to large padded shoulders and a looser fit to DB with huge lapels and all the way around again. But through all that, remember that fashions come and go, but style is forever. Today's post will detail how to pick a suit that will never look dated and look good from now until forever.
Please do me a favor, scour the internet for photos of well-dressed gentlemen from the past 100 years. The majority of them wore suits that would not look out of place now. Just take a look at this picture from 1959 from the film North by Northwest starring Cary Grant, or if you want to go further back in time, take a gander at this dapper gentleman from the 1920s:
Now moving on, let's look at three elements you can focus on to ensure your next suit can be worn for decades.
Element #1: Fit
The foundation to any suit, period. Trends regarding fit have ranged from loose and baggy (think 1980s Armani) to tight and skinny (late 2000s to mid-2010s). Tell me, how many stylish men do you see today wearing those "trendy" period suits? The answer is none. They are probably sitting forlornly in the realms of their closets or a thrift store somewhere.
Instead of focusing on what fit is trending now, focus on what fits your body right. Are the shoulders the right fit? Can you move your arms comfortably? Do the lapels break on the chest or lay flat? If you cannot afford to purchase suits bespoke or made to measure, then have your off-the-rack suits altered to the proper fit in the sleeves and trouser legs to fit your body right. This will ensure that you can wear the same suit for decades and never look dated.
Element #2: Lapel Width
Sometimes you can tell a suit is out of style by looking at the lapels. Are they massive like an angel's wings or narrower than an Italian side street with two-way traffic? Anyone wearing a suit like that could be mistaken for wearing a period costume of the 1970s (wide lapels) or mid-2000s (Mad Men inspired narrow lapels).
A happy medium regarding lapel width is 3" for notch lapels and 3.5" for peak lapels (peak lapels are typically wider than notch). With the standard tie being 3" wide (I could do a whole other post about trends in neckwear throughout time), this creates a nice proportional look between lapel and tie that is pleasing to the eye. 3" lapels will look good now, and 20 years from now.
Element #3: Shoulders
Much like fit and lapels, shoulders have seen their fair share of trends over the years. Massive shoulder pads circa the 1980s "power look" to the unstructured Neapolitan style of today. Again, the key here is a happy medium: a minimally padded shoulder that still has a natural feel to it. However, this will differ according to your shoulders; for example, if you have very sloped shoulders, you may want to consider a little more padding to give a leveled-out balanced look to the shoulders.
And one last note with regards to shoulder, keep in mind that while certain elements could be modified regarding padding if your shoulder is too large or small for your frame, there is no fixing it. You will need a different size suit.
Bonus Element: Quality!
This matters above all else. If you purchase your suits from a "fast fashion" outlet like Zara or H&M, don't expect to be still wearing them in 5 years, let alone 10. On the other hand, if you have your suits made (bespoke or made to measure) or purchase off the rack from a reputable brand (Brooks Brothers, Brioni, Canali, etc.), you can look forward to many years wear with them, assuming you maintain them properly. Trust me. You'll love hearing the comments years from now of, "Is that a new suit? It looks great" and your reply of "Oh, I've had this one for 20 years".
A quick real-world example of timelessness and quality, Lapo Elkann was bequeathed his famous grandfather's (Gianni Agnelli) bespoke suits made by Milanese tailor A.Caraceni which he still wears to this day; we're talking suits made from the 60s to 80s. If that's not a lesson in timelessness, I don't know what is.
To conclude, I strongly encourage you to avoid trends when shopping for your next suit and aim for a look that will still be wearable 20-30 years from now. Perhaps you too will be able to bequeath your best suits to your children or grandchildren. And lastly, as I always recommend, focus on buying better rather than buying more. Buying better equals purchase quality, and it's better to have 2-3 top-quality suits than 5-6 cheap, shoddy ones.
Until next time,