The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
So, when did you last wear a suit? Chances are it was for a job interview, a wedding, funeral, or maybe a court hearing. Maybe you work in corporate finance — but even then, the most traditional firms like JPMorgan Chase have seriously relaxed their dress codes in recent years.
Let’s rewind to a few decades ago, when a suit was arguably the most important item in a man’s wardrobe. Nowadays, most guys don’t even have one (an unofficial survey of the Highsnobiety Berlin office shows that less than 20 percent of male staff own a suit), and even if they do, it's unlikely to be bespoke.
Sadly, suits and the institutions of fine tailoring that make them made-to-measure (such as Savile Row) have somewhat retreated from contemporary menswear to accommodate modern man’s suiting equivalent: jeans, T-shirt, sneakers, and maybe a hoodie. It’s more or less a reflection of the time. Perhaps menswear is just more profitable as a casual enterprise. People want casual clothes to support their casual lifestyles, casual sex, casual $30,000 student debt, and casual tonnes of Arctic ice melting into the sea.
The fact that some of the most wealthy among us wear jeans and a black T-shirt every day as a post-capitalist status symbol (e.g. Mark Zuckerberg) means that suits as a form of “power dressing” don’t quite add up anymore. It just doesn't scream "flex" in the way a pair of Triple S and an ALYX chest rig can, but that's changing.
Because maybe we don’t want to be so casual anymore. As Highsnobiety editorial director Jian DeLeon said recently, “Men just want to look handsome again” — and what’s more handsome than a suit? The trend barometers are ticking and it seems that suits and tailored outfits are about to come back, but not in the way you think.
Reflecting on this year's shows, Browns menswear buyer Dean Cook tells Highsnobiety, "Tailoring dominated the runway, there’s no doubt about that. Designers such as Balenciaga and Dior unveiled this [tailoring] trend in a very soft way, from tonal colors to relaxed styles fused with a streetwear twist."
And he's right. If we look at the most recent Dior menswear show, it was the marriage of high fashion and streetwear incarnate. Newly appointed artistic director Kim Jones (an ardent fan of both streetwear and fine suits) set his runway around a 10-meter-high effigy of KAWS' BFF character, an iconic figure from street culture.
It set the mood for the show, suggesting that the collection would be the culmination of the high fashion-meets-streetwear trend that Jones actually catalyzed himself with the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collab the year before.
And what did Jones present? Suits, lots of them. In pastel colors with floral details, Matthew Williams-made industrial rollercoaster buckles and backward caps, and KAWS accessories.
The collection showed that tailoring doesn't have to be confined to a traditional palette of black, gray, or navy, nor does it have to look traditionally "smart," a fairly useless descriptor when it comes to men's fashion.
Were there any other significant suits this year? David Beckham’s Jones-designed morning suit at the British royal wedding was noteworthy enough to become a meme, which as far as 2018’s slightly skewed metrics go, makes it highly significant. Travis Scott’s super-slack pants and blazer combo during his Jimmy Fallon appearance was a departure from his usual vintage band merch styling. And recently Luka Sabbat broke away from his modern cowboy aesthetic to don a mint chocolate chip tailored suit and shirt ’fit.
However, no suit did the media rounds quite like Kanye West’s outfit at 2 Chainz’ wedding. The neo-mint suit by Louis Vuitton was a pretty classic cut with a tonal LV monogram embossed all over. It was, in this writer’s opinion, perhaps a size too small up top — and anyone that rich should really own an iron? — but whatever, to each their own. West wore the suit with a pair of fucking slides (again, a tad too small), which aside from putting Twitter into hyperdrive, embodied the tailoring resuscitation perfectly: suits are coming back, just not in the way you think.
So what’s clear is that some of us are wearing suits again, and in a sense, tailoring has actually borrowed style tips from streetwear, with suits arriving in a kaleidoscope of colors, prints, and silhouettes.
Fiona Firth, buying director at MR PORTER, says, "With tailoring back in focus, we’ve seen a shift towards a more sophisticated aesthetic for Spring/Summer 2019. As luxury streetwear has evolved, men have embraced softer fabrics and larger proportions — both design elements we now see incorporated into contemporary suits and tailoring.
"A well-made suit will always resonate with our customers, and I think the ‘new formal’ trend we’ve seen from the runway will appeal to men who want to look smart without worrying about the constraints a traditional suit might impose.”
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the game-changers from the past year.
Sies Marjan SS19
New York-based label Sies Marjan unveiled its first menswear collection for SS19, mirroring its FW18 women’s offering, mixing plush fabrics with casual, easy silhouettes and beautifully soft gradients.
Alexander McQueen SS19
Designer Sarah Burton paid homage to iconic British artist Francis Bacon, whose haunting paintings depict the human condition at its most fragile and violent. The tailoring for SS19 was unequivocally elegant (this is still McQueen, after all), but Burton used fabrics and threads inspired by Bacon's brush strokes to bring the suits to life.
Actor du jour Timothée Chalamet lived up to the title of his latest film, Beautiful Boy, donning an experimental (and indeed, maximalist) floral-print suit from Alexander McQueen's FW18 collection at the film's premiere in London yesterday. The suit was most likely inspired by the works of Flemish Baroque painter Alexander Adriaenssen.
Louis Vuitton SS19
Virgil Abloh's Louis Vuitton debut was a technicolor exploration of 2018 style codes down a rainbow runway, like white light hitting a prism. Abloh's vision of contemporary tailoring introduced transparent, iridescent, and plastic accessories alongside suits in bold primary colors (with subtle LV monograms) and a few neon bibs thrown over the top, too.
Hedi Slimane evoked the wrath of Celine fans everywhere when his SS19 debut with the house appeared to revert back to peak Slimane a la Saint Laurent. That is: skinny suits, silver bombers, and even skinnier ties.
One hot take here is that a designer doesn't really owe anything to his or her predecessor, and if you have a winning formula — as Slimane's Parisian waif/cool kid via Los Angeles style has been — why change it? Has anyone ever tapered a trouser leg quite like this?
Dries Van Noten SS19
Dries Van Noten is one of the most traditional fashion houses out there, yet even the Belgian designer is finding ways to bring tailoring up to speed.
As Firth tells Highsnobiety, “The tailoring presented by Dries Van Noten really encapsulates the ‘new formal’ trend for me. Suit jackets were slightly nostalgic, with strong shoulder silhouettes and subtle draping at the waist, allowing for greater freedom in styling."
Reflecting on other SS19 standouts, she adds, "P. Johnson, on the other hand, continues to showcase his exceptional unconstructed tailoring, with lightweight suit jackets that feel like a second skin.”
Balenciaga, a house that dived headfirst into luxury hoodies and ironic T-shirts, has turned out some of the strongest tailoring of the year so far, which speaks volumes about the changing tide of trends. These are the new codes of refined power-dressing taking shape, indicative of how menswear might look once the luxury streetwear lamp flames out.
What’s interesting now is to see how these houses are picking up blazers, shirts, and trousers again and making them relevant for younger customers, too. Hell, suits can even be worn ironically now.
The power and status that a suit was intended to signify in the ’80s (homeowner, CEO, married with children) might not resonate with Generation Rent, but the fact remains that tailored garments make you feel fucking amazing. A well-fitted suit will fix your posture so you stand up straight, and the transformative magic that happens when you wear a suit doesn't change whether it’s paired with YEEZY slides a la Kanye, with post-streetwear straps via Kim Jones, or with a cheeky tag poking up off the left shoulder as seen on Demna Gvasalia's Balenciaga above.
This isn’t to say that handcrafted hoodies with "GUCCY" embroidery are about to disappear entirely. And why should they? They’re fantastic. But now that streetwear is unequivocally mainstream, the subversive edge of a $600 hoodie with a big logo on the front doesn’t have the same bite as it did a few years ago.
Check out eight of the best tailored looks from SS19 here.