Fashion is a preference
initiated by a minority then arbitrarily adopted en masse regardless
of its suitability to the wearer. Style, on the other hand, is
the selective incorporation of sartorial traits to complement a
person’s unique characteristics. The first
approach to dressing benefits a person by chance, the second by
Additionally, fashion is
intended to stand out from the sartorial norm which guarantees its
obsolesence once its novelty wears off (thus its association with
calendar seasons). Conversely, tried-and-true style will
continue to flatter a man through numerous fashion cycles.
That is why a high-fashion suit will typically have to be replaced
after two years while a classically styled tuxedo will often remain
appropriate for a lifetime.
This page does not focus on
style tips specific to formal attire as they are already included in
the pages detailing
Contemporary Black Tie.
Instead, the advice here pertains to men’s suits in general so that
readers can determine which basic variations will best flatter their
physique and stand the test of time. Frugal buyers can then
adapt their timeless tuxedo to future fads simply by updating the
accessories every now and then.
Silhouette / Cut
The cut of a suit determines
its general silhouette which generally falls into one of four
classic American cut: a full
cut with little shape to it; jackets are usually 3-button models
with soft shoulders, rumpled chest and undefined waist while
trousers are unpleated and uncuffed
classic English cut: a
long-fitting, hourglass silhouette; jackets have a moderately
structured shoulder, full chest and distinct waist and trousers are
classic Italian cut: a
streamlined, fitted silhouette; jackets are usually 2-button models
with high, squarish shoulders, high armholes, shorter length and
close fitting in the chest and hip while trousers are lower rise and
“Updated American”: the
comfortable classic American silhouette enhanced with
English-inspired tailoring; jackets feature smaller chest, higher
armholes and more pronounced waist than the traditional American
The names of the categories
are somewhat irrelevant because designers today focus on silhouettes
they find attractive, not ones that are linked to their national
important is simply to be aware that different types of silhouettes
exist. The average-sized
man is lucky in that he can choose his cut of suit based solely on
aesthetic preferences. Other body types should seek out a cut
that compensate for their physiques as required. In this
regard, heavy, thin, tall and short men should all avoid tightly
fitted clothes as they tend to emphasize girth and stature – or the
Single-breasted models come
in one-, two- or three-button modes. One-button styles are
pretty much limited to dinner jackets which makes this the most
formal and timeless choice for black tie. Two- and
three-button models are the norm for business suits.
Three-button models designed to close with the top two
buttons are generally ill-advised because their cut
appears boxy even when the top button is left undone. This makes
heavy and short men appear wider and, paradoxically, tall men seem
Suit jackets are not meant
to be fastened with the bottom button. This is not so much a
matter of tradition – apparently Edward VII began the custom as his
girth expanded faster than his wardrobe – but of practicality:
better-made jackets are cut so that the front halves gently curve away from
each other at this point.
Double-breasted models are
also an unwise choice for an all-purpose tuxedo as they are not only
less formal but they also have a tendency to make the body appear
wider and shorter. This style does make an excellent secondary
jacket, though, provided a man has the right physique – or the right
tailor. Since the classic four-button style of dinner jacket
is pretty much extinct, off-the-rack buyers will have to settle for
a six-on-two or six-on-one model (see photo on right). The latter’s
lower buttoning point creates a longer lapel line which emphasizes
the height of the wearer but can also throw a jacket out of balance
as explained in the waist description below. Like
a single-breasted jacket, the bottom button on a six-on-two
double-breasted is typically left unbuttoned.
Classic Tuxedos page
explains why black and midnight blue are the only colors appropriate
for year-round tuxedos and why the latter option is more becoming
and more practical. The white dinner jacket is a classic
alternative providing its use is limited to the etiquette prescribed
for Warm Weather Black Tie.
In the latter case there are a number of stylistic concerns to keep
in mind before attempting to channel Sean Connery in Goldfinger or
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca:
pure white is too stark for
refined clothing and highly unflattering to fair-skinned visages so
be sure to opt for subtle off-whites instead
heavy and short men are
ill-served by a mixed-color jacket and trouser combination because
it visually separates the body into halves rather than emphasizing
verticality the way a suit does
overweight men also have to
contend with the fact that light colors make a physique seem larger,
a trait which will conversely benefit their underweight brethren
Colors and patterns suitable
for jackets intended for less formal black-tie occasions are
described in Classic
Alternatives. Men fortunate enough to be supplementing
their core formal wardrobe with these styles should also keep in
mind by the height-reducing effect of colored separates. As
well, they should note that plaid patterns can add width.
The width of suit jacket
shoulders varies with fashion trends but the ideal is for them to
extend to the end of the wearer’s natural shoulder line – or just
slightly past them if necessary – so that they are in balance with
the width of the hips. Shoulders that are too wide will make
the head seem smaller while narrow shoulders will cause the head to
appear larger. Unless a man
has a disproportionate head size he will do best with just the
minimal amount of shoulder (and chest) padding that is needed to
hold the shape of the jacket.
Generally, lapels ought to
extend about halfway to the shoulder. Very narrow lapels go in
and out of fashion but they break the visual balance created by a
proper lapel width. If you insist on varying lapel width with
the times, at least make sure that the suit silhouette and (bow) tie
width are of a similar stature. For example, narrow lapels
would be incongruous on a baggy suit worn with a wide tie.
A lapel consideration
exclusive to the dinner jacket is the impact of shawl versus peaked.
Shawl collars tend to negatively accentuate a portly man’s roundness
while the upward sweep of peaked lapels can positively emphasize
height on shorter men and shoulder width on slim men.
The placement of the
jacket’s waist, or narrowest point, affects the perceived length of
the wearer’s torso and legs. Some experts believe that in
order to maximize both torso and leg length the jacket’s waist
should be about half an inch below the natural waist (see left
sidebar). Others argue that placing it slightly higher will
make a suit more elongating and slimming.
The jacket’s waist is
highlighted by waist suppression and button stance. Waist
suppression is the tailored narrowing of the jacket’s waist. A
lack of suppression results in a shapeless coat that inhibits the
suit’s ability to maximize the leg line while a highly pinched
waist can appear feminine. The ideal option lies somewhere in
Button stance is simply the
location of the waist button (the button that fastens the jacket)
which is the top button on a two-button jacket and the middle one on
a three-button model. It should be positioned in alignment
with the jacket’s waist line to keep the jacket in balance.
Fashion-forward formal jackets frequently ignore this balance to
Ventless jackets are the
most formal style as explained in
They also have the advantage of being slimming which is good for
shorter and heavier men.
Side vents make a dinner
jacket slightly less formal but provide its wearer with more comfort
and less wrinkling when seated. They also allow him to reach
into his trouser pockets without causing the back of the jacket to
be pushed up over his seat. Since they are arguably less
slimming than ventless models, side vents may be advantageous to
tall or lean men.
A center vent is neither
formal nor practical and should never be seen on a dinner jacket.
Properly constructed dress
trousers will follow the natural line of the body by fitting snugly
at the waist, expanding comfortably at the hips and thighs then
gradually tapering down to the ankle.
Young men are often mortified to find out that dress
trousers should sit at the waist, fearing they will resemble old
fogeys who hoist their belts up to their chest. All they know is the familiar comfort of
jeans and khakis slung down around their hips. The
truth is that both approaches are correct because it’s all a matter
Rise is the measurement from
the bottom of the trouser crotch to the top of its waistband. Casual
trousers are designed with a short rise because they are intended to
sit at the hips where they will inevitably end up if they are not
worn with suspenders or custom made by a tailor. Dress
trousers, on the other hand, are cut with a long rise to flatter the
wearer by visually slimming the wearer’s waist and lengthening the
leg line. Wearing such trousers down at the hips not only
negates these traits but also makes a mess of the pants.
Pockets and pleats intended to sit snugly are flared open by
the wide curvature of the hips, the crotch sags and sways beneath the
natural crotch and the waistband falls below the waistcoat or the jacket
closure thereby exposing an unsightly gap of shirt.
In an effort to accommodate
men of different heights, off-the-rack dress trousers are usually
offered in long rises for men over six feet tall. However,
each manufacturer interprets “long” differently and even a “regular”
rise is meaningless to men with disproportionate waist lengths.
Consequently, the only way for a man to be certain that a given
trouser is cut properly for his physique is to try it on. When
the garment is sitting at the natural waist (see left sidebar) the
trouser crotch should not be pulling up against his crotch or seat
(indicating too short of a rise) nor should it hang too loosely
below these areas (too long a rise).
The final consideration in
regards to rise is the best method for keeping the trouser waist in
place. As explained in
Classic Tuxedos, a
belt is contradictory to the nature of formal wear and so is not
even a consideration. This leaves a choice between traditional
suspenders (braces in UK) and modern adjustable waistbands. Men who have the funds
for perfectly tailored custom trousers – and the body shape to keep
them in place – can choose based solely on personal
preferences. Everyone else has to contend with the inescapable
fact that adjustable waistbands must be tightly cinched into the
stomach to avoid constantly hiking up one’s trousers over the course
of the evening. Suspenders, on the other hand, guarantee the
perfect placement of the trouser while allowing the waist to be
loose and comfortable.
The preferred appearance of
elegantly draped pleats versus clean and smooth flat-fronts is a
matter of personal taste. There are, however, some practical
factors that should be taken into consideration before choosing one
style over the other.
When it comes to the naturally high waist of
dress pants, pleats add comfort by expanding to allow more room for
the way that a man’s hips splay when he is seated. They also
serve to emphasize the wearer’s leg line by extending the trousers'
crease and they conceal the bulk of any objects placed in the front
pockets. More relevantly, pleats can also minimize a
protruding stomach by allowing the trousers to fall straight down
from the belly rather than curving inwards underneath it. Flat
fronts, conversely, require flat stomachs.
Pleats can be forward
(facing the fly) or reverse (facing the hip pockets) and there are
differing opinions on which style lies flatter against the body.
Pleats can also be single, double or triple although double pleats
are by far the most common.
The width of the bottom of
the leg will vary with current fashions but the ideal is about two
thirds of the length of the shoe. Trendy cuts with especially
narrow legs don’t harmonize with the natural leg silhouette, require
the pants to be cut short (to avoid fabric bunching up on top of the
shoe) and are guaranteed to date themselves within a few
Whether made as part of a three-piece suit or as a separate
accessory, a suit vest (waistcoat in UK) should only be
slightly visible above the lapels of the closed jacket and should
extend down far enough to cover the trouser waistband. Suit
vests are typically constructed with a full back made of silk or of
the suit's lining and have a buckled strap that can be used to
adjust the fit. Vests should be constructed to fit the torso
This silhouette could probably be described as
"Updated American", a safe middle-of-the-road cut for every man.
The 3-button model (right) is a monotonous column
of fabric compared with the 2-button which exposes more shirt and
Six buttons in a traditional keystone pattern
(left) and a modern trapezoid pattern (right). The first
suggests a narrower waist.
Matching jackets & trousers create an unbroken
vertical line while separates split the body in two.
Note also the slimming pinstripes vs. broadening square
These softly padded shoulders harmonize with
the wearer's natural shoulders. The lapel width is also
Waist suppression on the left differentiates between a full chest and hips and a narrower waist.
Lack of definition on the right suggests a
shapeless bean pole.
A keystone button pattern and noticeable waist
suppression allow this jacket to be buttoned below the waist (for
sweeping lapels that emphasize height) without throwing off its
The long trouser rise on the left prevents a
gap between trousers and jacket. It also emphasizes the leg
line. (photos: The
Suspending the trousers from the shoulders
instead of the waist keeps them in place, increases comfort and straightens pleats.
Pleats allow the trousers on the left to
follow the natural curve of the hips. The flat-front
trousers allow no room for seated hip expansion or
a larger butt or gut.
Ideal trouser width should cover most of the
Three-piece suit vest.